Professor's House

My Baby Won’t Sleep – How to Get Your Baby to Rest

The book said that by four months all kinds of amazing things would start to happen. By six months there was every likelihood, if I did things right, that my new baby would start to settle himself, they call it self comforting. The book is wrong. My baby won’t sleep. I’ve tried all those convincing suggestions that have been outlined in every book. The books are wrong. All of them.

Despite all my studying of the opinions of experts, I have come to realize there are plenty of things about babies that we mere humans just don’t understand. You can try to soothe them with every trick in every book ever written (although I personally have never tried the Brandy trick—giving alcohol to babies just seems wrong) and you can still end up with a fussy, wriggle mess squirming in your arms and wailing at the top of their lungs. Sometimes I think babies read those books too, while they were waiting to make their grand entrance, so they got off on the right foot when it came to frustrating their parents. A sleepless baby can mak you lose your mind if you’re not careful.

It seems that when my baby won’t sleep there isn’t really a pattern or a noticeable change in his world. Sometimes, when he reaches a milestone, it seems like he becomes restless for a few days, but then there are other days that he is restless and it almost seems like he’s forgotten the milestones he has already reached. Then there’s the golden oddball rule. If I get him to sleep early, he sleeps later the next morning. Those late nights trigger his early morning alarm clock and there he is, wide awake and ready to roll at 5:30 in the morning. Logic would tell me that his behavior should truly be reversed.

There are nights when he sleeps in increments of about an hour and a half. Some books say that you’re supposed to go in and comfort him without picking him up while other books say that you’re supposed to ignore him completely. It seems that neither of those books know what they’re talking about, because one night one tack might work and then another night I have to switch it up on him again.

All I know is that if we’re all going to survive the sleepless baby syndrome, we’re going to have to get creative. In fact, I think I am throwing away all the books and going instead with my instincts. I know this much; babies cry and behave in irritating ways for a reason. Their actions are not random. Even when we don’t understand their reasons, we can’t very well point a crooked finger at them and accuse them of attempting to drive us out of our minds. We have to wait at least two more years for that, maybe even three. When a baby cries or fusses or refuses to fall into that peaceful slumber that makes us forget how irritating their behavior really was, they are trying to either communicate something or accomplish something.

Thus enters the most difficult aspect of parenting (outside not following them around with one hand ready to catch their fall well into their fifties) and our greatest challenge as human beings; to guide them gently toward behavior which is better for them without convincing them they are wrong. In many cases, at this age, this even has to be accomplished without words.

I’m into rocking. I think that when my baby won’t sleep he needs to be rocked. Let the Freudians and the parental saints of the world disagree with me, but rocking solves what I can consider to be either one of the major sleep disruptions without drugs, manic parenting, or otherwise unruly behavior. If he is trying to accomplish something, such as learning to sit up, crawl, or blow raspberries through his lips, then my rocking should be able to slowly distract him. After all, we want our babies to accomplish things. It’s important in their growth. Just because they aren’t doing it on a schedule that is more convenient for us doesn’t make it wrong. He just needs help shutting his little brain down so sleep can enter. Come to think of it, when I’m trying to accomplish something, I could stand a little rocking myself, a little coaxing into shutting my brain off and help in understanding the faith that the task will still be there the next day.

The other problem that rocking solves is when he is sleepless (and so am I) is his desire to communicate something. Babies dream much earlier than most scientists originally thought. Their thought patterns are more sophisticated than most grown ups are willing to admit. There could very well be a new noise, a new shadow, a new smell, or a new illogical fear that he is trying to assess. Despite the fact that he is not wailing and flinging himself about with treacherous fear ridden sweat dripping from his forehead doesn’t mean that his lack of sleep might not be fear based.

He can just as easily be trying to communicate his need for more parental time. Who knows? Again, there will be critics who will determine that caving into such a “trivial” need will teach bad habits. I would like my child to learn that when he really needs me, I’ll be there. Sure, I might be buying myself a few extra sleepless nights, but is that such a terrible payoff for his comfort in knowing that he can close his eyes, and if the world should go up in smoke during those countless hours of beautiful unconsciousness that his parent will show up, sleepy and bleary eyed, but there nonetheless?

While rocking doesn’t work every single time, it is definitely one of my favorite aspects of problem solving when I can’t figure out the problem. Of course, there are other efforts that can work just as well for different babies. Some prefer a gentle but steady patting on the back while others would go for lying peacefully down next to their beloved parent until sleep becomes apparent. Either way, what really matters, in my humble opinion, is acknowledging that the overall importance of his experience is genuine and true, even when we don’t get it.

While there are many experts that could bust holes the size of Montana through my theories, I believe strongly that when in doubt, you can’t go wrong in loving a child. There a million ways to go wrong when my baby can’t sleep, including that whole alcoholic beverage trick. I prefer to try to solve the entire problem, not just the immediate behavior that is momentarily keeping me awake.

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