When baby sleeping techniques fail, will our marriage survive?

Guest post by Pemcat
Tired Parents Set from VirtuallyVinyl

I don’t know what I expected regarding sleep with a baby, but it certainly wasn’t that he’d be waking up every hour to two hours at night at six months old, having done this for several months.

We fully intended to follow the National Health Service‘s guidelines on reducing SIDS — keeping him in our room until six months old before moving him into the nursery down the hall. Because of course, by that point he’d be sleeping through that night.

Surprisingly, that isn’t where we are now. And I had given little thought to our relationship would cope in this situation.

Don’t worry though, the nursery isn’t unused — my husband sleeps there more nights than he doesn’t, as he doesn’t cope well at all with disturbed sleep. At night, my son needs me, so in the morning I need my husband to be well rested and take him so I can nap before he goes to work.

At six months, our son is the prime age for sleep training, or so they say. We won’t be doing sleep training with him anytime soon, as my ability to cope with the night wakings far exceeds my ability to leave him alone to cry.

I feel a lot better about this than I did a few months ago. I have stopped expecting tonight to be better than last night, so I am no longer disappointed when it isn’t. My expectations have adjusted and I now expect him to learn to sleep over years rather than weeks.

Quite a lot of our parenting techniques haven’t turned out to be what we expected.

In fact… quite a lot of our parenting techniques haven’t turned out to be what we expected. The all-singing, all-dancing Travel System we carefully researched and purchased has barely been used (though it makes a good shopping trolley) as both my son and my husband and I are happier when he rides in the baby carrier. We seem, somewhat to my surprise, to be accidentally attachment parenting him.

We’ve been taking it day by day, and I thought I had better check in with my husband on where he sees this going. In some ways he gets the raw end of this deal…

I get plenty of affection and snuggles with my son whilst my husband is at work. My son gets his needs met to the very best of our abilities. My husband’s interaction with his family is often a few snatched hours in the morning and evening whilst he looks after his son and his wife collapses. Perhaps this wasn’t what he signed up for. Perhaps he would rather try and force our son so that he fits in with a more sensible adult schedule.

There is little point to throwing all our energy into meeting our son’s needs if it results in his family falling apart. His need to be comforted throughout the night doesn’t outweigh his need for his parents to have a strong marriage.

My husband’s take on this thing? He trusts my emotional judgement more than he trusts his own, and if I think that this is what our son needs right now then he’ll do whatever needs to be done to facilitate it for as long as it takes. What a gift, and what a burden!

I pointed out that he may not quite have realised the scope of what “as long as it takes” might be. That, although our son likely won’t wake hourly forever, it’s normal for children to not sleep through the night consistently until age five.

My husband thinks about this for a moment. It’s a big ask, I know. He tells me that some of the generation above us have been making noises about how we need to start setting boundaries and limits with our son. (Surprisingly, they haven’t tried taking this tack with me!). He tells me that, in light of that, perhaps we had better stop talking to them about how we’re handling the nights.

This man. This wonderful man. We’ll be alright.

Comments on When baby sleeping techniques fail, will our marriage survive?

  1. Our son is coming up to 16 months, we also intended to follow NHS guidelines to the letter & ended up going with the flow of our little man. He moved into his own room 10 days ago, in a single bed because one of us still needs to sleep with him for at least part of the night. Some nights are now amaaaazing & he sleeps from 7pm til 3/4/5am before demanding a cuddle. Last night was not, he was up every 2-3 hours again. But overall he is learning to sleep longer & will now cuddle up to sleep with Daddy (I am still feeding him & he stopped taking a bottle at 3 months so from then until 10 days ago I did all the night wakings). All I can say is it will pass, he will sleep one night (possibly only one!!), and you may (or may not, depending on how cold you like your revenge) enjoy waking him up with a wooden spoon & a saucepan when he’s 15 & wants to sleep in til noon. For now, it sounds like you’re doing a grand job & your OH is an absolute star. Keep on rolling Mama!

  2. 1) Is baby sleeping right now? If yes, GO SLEEP!

    2) Due to supply issues we had to supplement with formula, which made it easy for daddy to take one feed every night. I’d go to bed as soon as the baby went to bed, then he’d stay up and do a bottle right before he went to bed himself, keeping an ear out for any other night wakings. Then he’d wake me for the middle of the night feed, then he went to bed himself (usually on the couch since it was furthest from the baby’s room) while I handled any wakings after that point. It meant we each got five or six hours of uninterrupted sleep plus naps in the non-working hours. If you’re able to pump enough you can do this too, I was never able to pump ahead.

    3) Another ditto to intending to follow all the guidelines. Then reality hit and cosleeping was the only way we were all going to remain sane. I did my research (probably while I was trapped under a nursing or sleeping baby) and made sure our sleep space was safe. We were able to transition the baby to a crib around three or four months old but some part of the night was still spent cosleeping because it helped him sleep (and us!) sleep a little longer. He also spent nights in his swing, I think that was usually when he had a cold and laying down meant he’d get congested and wake up because he couldn’t breathe properly. Do whatever works and keeps everyone safe.

    4) You’re still deep in the trenches but it sounds like you have a solid team. That’s awesome.

  3. My daughter never slept well. Never. She’s four and a half, and she still gets out of bed at least once most nights. It takes 30-60 minutes to put her to sleep every time–and that’s a triumph.

    I think it’s important for healthcare providers, psychologists, and so-called “sleep experts” to start acknowledging life in the trenches for parents. Sleep training is, in my opinion, a joke. My daughter would cry nonstop for hours, or until she made herself throw up. We tried at least six methods over the course of two years, because we thought that’s what we were supposed to do. It was torture for all of us. There is no normal, and so “best practices” lose all meaning when your baby literally won’t sleep without touching mom for the first 12 months of her life. You can’t reason with an infant.

    It sounds to me like your husband is being extremely understanding, but you’re burnt out. And, oh shit, have I been there. My daughter wouldn’t accept anyone else–including her father–for the first year of her life. My advice: Get a babysitter. Go out for two hours. That’s it. My husband and I would just go eat ice cream together. Or, you know, sneak away to have sex. You can do this as often as you need to, until you start to feel like a human being and your relationship starts to feel solid again. It made a tremendous difference for us.

    You can do this. You both can. You can still be romantic, and you can still have sex, and your marriage will not collapse. You’re not doing anything wrong. Just like the WIC (Wedding Industrial Complex) tries to tell us what weddings and marriage will be, the Mommy Mafia is trying to tell you what your family is “supposed” to look like right now. Tell them to suck it.

    • I actually wrote this about four months ago. Things are better sleep wise than they were…little one wakes up every two hours rather than every hour. Doesn’t sound like much but that’s a HUGE reduction in number of night wakings. We have been out a few times in the day leaving him with family. Also, unexpected benefit of baby led weaning: if you go out for lunch or early dinner baby (fairly) quietly entertains himself with food whilst parents eat and chat. I’m less exhausted and don’t have to go to bed immediately when baby does (he’s in a side carred cot and my husband puts him to sleep then puts up a barrier until I join him later) so we get an hour or so together just us in the evenings. So, yeah, some of that other activity you mentioned happens.

      Next challenge: I go back to work in the mornings when baby is one. Wish me luck! Suspect energy levels will backslide for a while…

    • I hear you! My son woke up every 45 min to hour and a half between 3 and 6.5 months of age. Then it got a bit better, but as your daughter, he’s almost 4 now and still wakes up most nights. We still co-sleep though (who would have thought that when I was preggo??) so sleeping again happens fairly easily and having an extra single mattress next to our bed ensures space for everyone. My main advice to the author: as you already said, minimize expectations and take one day at a time. It is true at the end that this time passes quickly (in hindsight!!).

  4. I strongly believe that we get who we get. Some parents are blessed with easy sleepers some are not. Both of my children are/ have been very challenging sleepers. Really relate to your comment about your ability to cope exceeding your ability to let him cry. Sleep training was never for us, so the only other answer was to tough it out. With a 3 year old and 6 year old its now been almost 7 years since I’ve slept more than a 3 hour stretch and it is HARD. I jokingly say that i used to be smart – now my mental stamina and acuity are, well, reduced. What’s the alternative? For us there isn’t one. I can only offer up a hearty “me too!”, let you know that it does get better (probably), and thank you for getting the word out to hopefully make other parents aware of the realities (not ridiculous expectations) of infant sleep.

  5. If/when you reach the end of your rope, check out precious little sleep.com. Super funny, very focused on research and very encouraging and helpful. You can sleep train! You and your baby (and husband) deserve it!

    • I don’t find this comment at all useful. The author has already said she does not want to sleep train. Why can’t we just leave the mother to decide what is best for her and her family? Who deserves to meddle in that???

    • I have checked out that website and associated Facebook group as part of considering whether or not sleep training was for us. If anything it put me off.

      I’m never going to say we would never sleep train. That would be arrogant and foolish. There are a great many things that are more important than not sleep training, and if one of them were threatened our decision to not sleep train would change.

      However, I know a great many people who did NOT sleep train but were able to make get through the (on average it seems) somewhere between a year and two years of frequent/regular night wakings, followed by a few years of occasional wakings with their family, relationships and sanity intact. I’m hoping to be one of them.

      I also don’t think sleep training is the magic pill it’s sold as. I know a number of people who tried sleep training but report it didn’t work for them.

      Not all children are the same/have the same needs/respond to things in the same way. Also true of parents. Huge surprise, I know.

  6. This could have been written by me, nine years ago. How I feel you! Utter exhaustion can do weird things to your brain and mood.

    Do what feels right, as you said. Be aware that your limits might change in time. What is right now, might not be later. If husband is already in the habit of sleeping in the other room, you might become bitter and resentful when he still does this and you are working too. Baby won’t become a magically good sleeper because you have to get up earlier, in fact he will get worse because suddenly he won’t have his mama all day. (Sorry for saying that but it was my experience)

    Some kids are naturally good sleepers. Others aren’t. There is also clearly a part of soothing oneself that is learned. Let me share a little anecdote from last year with my eight year old. She was just as you described, as an infant. She grew into a so-so sleeper as we finally used those sleep training techniques, desperation and pure exhaustion as well as recognizing her “help me” cry from her “angry do what I want” cry helping our tolerance.

    We went on holiday last year and she shared a bed with me out of lack of space. For two weeks, we coslept. When we returned; the no-sleep started again! Waking every two hours, crying for me; she was scared, thirsty, her tummy hurt, she heard a sound, whatever. (Cause at eight, she speaks!) After two weeks of no sleep and working anyway, I broke down at two am and yelled “Just sleep! Why won’t you sleep? When will this stop?” Kiddo looked me straight in the eye and calmly answered “When you sleep with me again.I want you in my bed.” So from there we talked it out and made it quite clear that this wasn’t happening. And the next night, the hourly wakings stopped…

    So. Do what you feel is best for your family. Your choices WILL have an impact down the road. The sleep thing factored heavily in our choice not to have another child. (And if you are wondering, she is a gifted, well-adjusted little person with anxious tendancies. She survived sleep training. And so did we.)

  7. Possibly an unpopular opinion, but I fall firmly in the “put your own oxygen mask on first” camp. You can’t take care of anyone else if you’re not taking care of yourself. To me, getting no more than an hour or two of sleep at a time sounds like absolute torture (in fact it bears a lot of similarity to actual torture methods.) An hour isn’t long enough to get into the deeper cycles that your body needs. A few wakings a night is handle-able, but every hour is a straight-up health risk. Not to mention the risks of operating a car (or any number of other daily activities) while in a state of perpetual and absolute exhaustion.

    ‘Course I also feel this way about, like, people who stay up til 4 am partying and go into work at 8. Our society is, en masse, completely exhausted. And frankly we’re not doing so hot.

    • I agree on many points you make, but I do feel we are coping. And interestingly, it seems that one of the side effects of breastfeeding is that mothers find it easier to get to sleep and spend more time in deep sleep once asleep. I certainly don’t feel as bad as I “should” given the sleep I’m getting!

      Of course, breastfed babies tend to be more often the culprit for this sort of sleep pattern than formula fed babies, so, swings and roundabouts!

  8. Recently I have become a mom. My new born son can’t not sleep properly in night . Because He sleep daily in day and in night he never sleep and to him safety i can also not sleep in night. I can’t understand what i can do to get rid this problem. I never explain this things to my husband.

  9. My son was the worst sleeper in the history of babies! I needed to rock him to sleep and feed him at night a few times. We co-sleep for 9 months. I was googling the internet and I saw a lot of people talking good things about the HWL method from ebook “How to teach a baby to fall asleep alone” by Susan Urban ( http://www.parental-love.com ). I was tired and didn’t know what to do so I decided to try it. After a very short time, it was 3 or 4 days he started to fall asleep on his own in his crib without any rocking or cuddling. I was able to put him into his crib and leave – how awesome is that 🙂 We also got rid of night feedings. Every parent should read this ebook. Only a dozen or so pages and such great results!
    This guide is much more approachable and easy to digest than the books we have bought (who can read 300 page books when sleep-deprived and spending time with a sleep-deprived baby??)

    • A few days ago after reading comments here I got “How to teach a baby to fall asleep alone” guide and I wanted to give you some feedback – the method from the guide has worked very fast and it is quite gentle one. I am very pleased I have tried it. So one more recommendation for this guide from me and my family!

    • I’m so lucky to see this post! A few days ago I got Urban’s guide and I’m loving it! My daughter turned 9 months and the method described in this guide has worked extremely well! I don’t want to speak too soon but it looks like my big girl is finally able to fall asleep on her own in her crib! niiice 🙂

    • My husband and I felt like a light turned on after we read this guide. We did the sleep training and it worked. We love this book and its advice. We get it for any friends having a baby. I highly recommend this book. It’s a quick read, is easy to reference, and the methods she teaches are spot on.

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