There are infants who sleep through the night right away, or even within a few months of bringing them home from the hospital.
We were not that family.
Read more about our experience with infant reflux:
As I’ve shared before, our firstborn had silent reflux. Acid burning, pain abounding…heartburn. In our experience, reflux is worse at night, and greatly affected his and our sleep.
When many parents say they had a hard night, it means the child was up a few times, perhaps staying awake for a (whole) hour, or that perhaps they were up at 4 am for the day. Let me be clear that I am not diminishing how this feels in the morning – tired is tired! But I think it is fairly safe to say most babies and parents manage one solid 2-4 hour stretch of sleep per night, most nights. They are tired, but are usually functional the next day.
When I say we had hard nights, I mean that most nights, he did not sleep. There were 3-5 hours stretches of crying and discomfort followed by a 40-minute nap. But even this short stretch was interrupted by writhing and painful screams.Then we repeated the crying and short nap, or he was up for the day. He did not sleep a 3-hour stretch until 10 months.
As his nursing mama, neither did I. And often, neither did my husband.
We tried everything. We held him, we tried walking, co-sleeping, swinging, bouncing, singing. In desperation we tried crying it out but it was short-lived and agonizing for mom and baby – a hurting baby cannot self-soothe, nor should he have to.
We spoke to doctors, lactation specialists, other parents and read books, articles and blogs by sleep consultants. There were many great tips, but none helped our son sleep.
If you think that sleep-deprivation is hard on your body and mind, imagine how it affects a baby – they are supposed to sleep twice as much as we are!
He, and we were exhausted – a term I no longer use lightly.
After 10 months, his sleep ebbed and flowed along with his silent reflux symptoms until FINALLY at 15 months, he slept through the night. This too came and went, but his sleep generally improved so MOST nights were silent nights.
That is, until the reflux returned with vengeance when he was 2 1/2 and I was 7 months pregnant with our second baby. Then his sleep success derailed and we recognized old patterns of returning pain and chronic coughing. This was no sleep ‘regression’. It was sleep succession. But we will save the story of toddler reflux for another day…
Because our sleep experience was a struggle, my goal is to share how to survive – to endure, to wait for healing, and to do everything in your power to encourage sleep. But more importantly, my goal is to empathize, and encourage parents that sleep does come, even if not right away.
10 Survival Tips for Parents – When Your Child Does NOT Sleep
1. Schedule YOUR sleep
While parents may not need as much sleep as a newborn, they do need consistent sleep. When your child doesn’t sleep, sleeping when the baby sleep doesn’t work. Consistent sleep-deprivation has consequences. Parents need to make their own sleep a priority. Be creative. When our son was young, I worked. Some days I went home and slept for 2 hours before picking our son up from daycare. OR, I’d work a few longer days, and take off early on a slow day and sleep for (gasp) 3 hours! If you don’t have daycare as an option, read on…
2. Enlist help
While not all parents have volunteers to stay up at night with the baby so the parents can sleep, most have someone who will come during the day. Ask for help. And accept it when it is offered. Don’t be prideful. Don’t shrug it off. Sleep is necessary and important. Ask them to come over and snuggle your child. Be sure they understand your child might cry the whole time. Our son’s grandparents, aunts and uncles and our close friends were willing. We weren’t good at asking.
3. Be transparent
Nothing good will come from pretending everything is fine. Don’t sugar coat what is going on. While there is a fine line between explaining the facts and complaining, if you aren’t truthful and transparent, your sleep-less existence will be lonely, and without help. And, others will not understand why you suddenly traded your social life for sleep.
4. Request advice from professionals
Assuming you are already navigating reflux treatment, don’t neglect to see lack of sleep as a symptom that needs to be addressed. When sleep is this difficult, more than just a pediatrician may be needed. Request a consult with a GI doctor, ask for a sleep study, or meet with an occupational or sleep therapist.
5. Try new strategies
I cannot advocate the ‘cry it out’ method because we learned that a hurting baby cannot self-soothe. They hurt and need help. However, there are many other great options to try. It is a good idea to try different sleep positions, but instead of buying a bunch of rockers, swings, crib wedges or chairs, borrow them. Research them. We used a Nap Nanny (no longer sold, but this Dex DayDreamer™ Infant Sleeper is today’s equivalent product) with an angled back to help with reflux. It was the only place our son ever slept at all for most of the first year. Please note: the most important comment on these sleepers is to never place them in a crib. They are intended to use on the floor for baby’s safety.
6. Join a support group
Did you know there are GERD support groups all over the world? You can find the Reflux Rebels or Reflux Support Group on Facebook. The Facebook groups are generally closed, which means only group members can see your posts. You will find people struggling with the same issues, encouragement, and wise advice from real-life experience.
7. Don’t wake the baby
If your baby does not sleep, DO NOT interrupt sleep for any reason. The theory that sleep begets sleep is true in our experience. There is no event more important than your child’s sleep if they NEVER sleep. Do your best to set conditions for sleep and then protect that schedule. If that means leaving early, coming late, or not attending something, SO BE IT.
The best comfort I found during this time was prayer. And scripture. It is no surprise to God that you are tired or struggling. He sees your child and He sees you. Let Him carry you, and trust that He will bring both healing and sleep in His time. AND, know that your struggle has purpose, even if you cannot see it yet. Trust His plan, purpose and promise that He is working in all things for good of those who love Him…
9. Hang on to hope
Our son struggled for much longer than we wanted him to. And there were days we thought he would never, ever sleep through the night. But he did. And now he sleeps hard, and well. Eventually, even your child will too.
10. Know you are not alone
Other moms have endured what you are enduring. Find them. They won’t waste your time with advice that won’t work, they’ll instead spend their time listening and encouraging. They will understand that not all problems can be fixed with a book, herbal remedy, fancy swing or sleep-training method and they will remind you that some problems have to resolve with time.