Thursday, December 30, 2010

Operation A-to-sleep

This is a picture of our happy family resting, 4 days after A was born. The only pictures I have of A sleeping are from her first few weeks. After she shocked us by sleeping through the night for 2 weeks straight at two months old, things slowly went downhill from there. While other Mommies and babies were enjoying increasing time spent sleeping at night, A was waking up more and more frequently. She also did not nap, unless resting on one of our chests. As soon as I would lay her down in her bassinet, she would begin to squirm and let out a big cry.

I don't know what I expected in terms of a babies' sleeping pattern, but I was not at all prepared for the battle that ensued over our child's sleep. We consulted every book and website imaginable. We commiserated with our friends, and tried different tips we were given by other well-rested parents. Nothing worked. A would not respond to anything that wasn't human - the swing, a vibrating chair, soft relaxation music, a "lovey," and the list goes on. The only thing that calmed her were our arms, and very intense rocking. I became a pro at being a jiggling, swinging, rocking Mom. I lost something like 20 lbs.

We found out at 4 months old that A had something called GERD - Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. It was probably made worse by an allergy to cow's milk protein, which can pass through a mother's breastmilk. We felt relief at knowing that something was actually wrong, but that didn't lessen the increasing burden of sleep deprivation.

At that point, A was waking up every 30 to 45 minutes, all night long. It was a form of slow and terrible torture. Being the source of milk and comfort, I was the primary caregiver at night. Tom helped when he could, but it was just easier for me to stop the screaming by breastfeeding her and dozing off myself. She would then wake up screaming and the process would start all over again (little did I know that feeding her was probably not the best thing to do, as this would exacerbate the acid reflux hurting her tiny tummy). I still get weepy over the times I "lost it" - screaming in frustration at A waking up for the zillionth time, breaking my toe after kicking the wall, having visions of myself throwing her down the stairs. I scared myself more times then I'm willing to admit - I just thank God that I had a supportive partner who could step in when I got to my breaking point, and that I never did anything to hurt my baby. I don't know how many times I said "I wasn't meant to be a mother," because I couldn't forgive myself for the times I lost my cool.

Very very slowly, things started to improve. For one, I was able to handle the sleep deprivation better as I adjusted to it. We learned "tricks" to get longer periods of sleep - most of the time it was having A on our chests and propping ourselves up with a bunch of pillows. The upright angle and our comforting warmth allowed A to sleep for longer periods. And secondly, I learned how to cultivate more compassion for both myself and my daughter, and was able to overcome times of impatience or anger. As A grew and turned into a little person, I was better able to associate her daytime self with her nighttime self.

We are now at 16 months, and life is very good. We adore our daughter, and I no longer think I shouldn't have become a mother. In fact, I'm enthralled with the job, and can't wait to do it all over again. Next time around I think my expectations will be much more realistic, and although we desperately hope that our (potential) second child will not have reflux, we at least have the knowledge and tools to deal with it if it does happen again.

However, it is time for A to learn how to sleep. All those months of holding, comforting, rocking and sleeping chest-to-chest have created some habits that need to be changed. A still wakes up frequently at night - usually every 2 hours, although sometimes more often if she has a sore tummy. I'm convinced that she still has some digestive issues, but we're not really sure what they are, and whether my eating dairy again is playing a role. I have been unsuccessful in giving up my cheese and yogurt!

And so, the journey starts now, as we attempt to break some of the habits she has learned. Some crying will be involved, although I hope to be there to help her work through her frustration. My goal is to have her sleeping at least 5-6 hours at a time, but it all depends on so many factors. She is one of the most strong-willed little babies I've ever met, so we'll see how she does when she is told "no."

Follow along and see how we do...


  1. Two of my grandbabies have the same problem. M,is now 8 and has just grown out of his tummy troubles. Miss V. will be a year in February, but was diagnosed much quicker than M. My DD and her husband have had a terrible time of it with these kiddies but rest assured, there IS light at the end of the tunnel. Best of luck to you. Don't be discouraged. It WILL get better.

  2. I've been back-tracking and reading your posts. Seems we have children close in age and both with a milk protein allergy. My son always had low weight (failure to thrive), spit up a lot, and frequent night wakings. As soon as I cut out all dairy (and I mean all dairy - even the traces of dairy in many processed foods), he turned into a perfect little sleeping angel. I'm wondering if this is still an issue with your daughter now?


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