There's a dirty little secret about babies that you may not know about until it hits you square in the forehead and causes you to at least momentarily question this whole parenthood thing: sleep regressions. Sleep regressions are going to be the bane of your existence. If you're wondering what the hell they are, trust me when I say you'll know soon enough and no amount of research will adequately prepare you for the road ahead. There are things new moms need to know to survive sleep regressions though, and while knowing them won't keep you from struggling when your baby eventually has a sleep regression of their own, they can at least help you to see the forest through the trees.
For those of you who don't yet know what a sleep regression is, it's basically a phase that lasts for several weeks at certain times during all babies' lives. Four months, six months, and nine months are the most common sleep regression stages, although there can be (and usually are) others. They are basically periods when babies are going through a developmental leap, which impacts their sleep (and, therefore, yours) dramatically. If they were sleeping through the night, they will suddenly regress and sleep in two hour increments. Just when you were used to getting six hours of sleep (on a good night) you're back to getting zero. It's difficult, to say the least, but it's something every parent experiences and eventually gets through.
Both my kids were fantastic sleepers for the first several months of their lives. I was one of those parents who shamelessly went on and on about how lucky I was to have a baby that was sleeping through the night at six weeks or, in the case of my son, two weeks. Of course, I got my ass handed to me during the four-month sleep regression with both kids, and pretty much didn't sleep through the night again unless I was away from my family. In fact, that particular sleep regression was the reason both kids ended up co-sleeping with us at five months old. My partner and I just couldn't take it anymore.
The only thing that got me through multiple sleep regressions was the knowledge that it was going to end. Remembering that whatever phase my kids were going through was temporary, helped me focus on the bigger picture (even through the fog that was my exhaustion). Trust me, if you can just hang on to that one piece of knowledge, hopefully you can use it as a light at the end of the tunnel. If that one piece of knowledge doesn't do the trick, well, here are 10 things every new mom needs to know if she's going to survive sleep regressions:
This Too Shall Pass
I know, I know; this is kind of the worst thing to hear, especially when you're going through a rough patch, but trust me when I say that it will be over, eventually. According to the Baby Sleep Site, sleep regressions last between 1-4 weeks, so it's best to just buckle down and remind yourself that it will end.
You May Need To Sleep Train All Over Again
Lots of parents just do what they need to do, including going back to old habits like using a pacifier (ha ha, some of us never stopped using one!) or rocking the baby to sleep, in order to make it through a sleep regression. If you had used CIO (otherwise known as the Ferber method) previously with your baby, you may need to go back to square one and start over.
It Pretty Much Always Sucks
OK, it doesn't suck quite as much as that first week or two with a new baby (when you're up in the middle of the night, muddling with a diaper and trying to mop up the poop that just sprayed out while you were changing them) but it's pretty damn close. You probably aren't up at night, just staring at your baby to make sure they continue to breath, but you are having to say goodbye to the sleep you thought you had, and that can be just as exhausting.
It Doesn't Make You A Bad Parent
You didn't do anything wrong and you didn't cause the latest sleep regression. Trust me. Regardless of whether you co-sleep, use the Ferber Method, breastfeed, use a pacifier, or whatever, there will be sleep regressions. It's a developmental thing, not a parenting thing.
The Rules Are Going To Change. Again.
If this is your baby's first sleep regression (which hits around 4 months), there's a good chance that the rhythm you had gotten into is going to disappear and that baby who slept through the night, well, won't be anymore. What worked before the sleep regression might not work during or afterwards, so trying new sleeping techniques might be necessary. The only "rule" about parenting is there are no rules.
You're Going To Need Lots Of Coffee/Tea
Waking up every 2 hours, or even more frequently (bless your tired soul), and continuing to function is going to feel impossible. If you have to go in to work throughout one of these regressions, caffeine is going to become a necessity.
You May Need To START Drinking Coffee
Did you see what I wrote, up there? Caffeine is going to become a necessity.
If Nothing Else Is Wrong, But Your Baby Isn't Sleeping, Blame It On A Sleep Regression
Sleep regressions quickly became my go-to excuse, especially when things weren't going well. Either that, or teething. It was also a great way of getting people off my back about questioning why my baby wasn't sleeping through the night, because who needs that pressure?
You Can't Make Them Go Away
Sorry, but it's true. Your baby needs these sleep regressions in order to process the emotional and physical development that's going on inside of them. It's a crap way for them to do it, if you ask me, but my baby never asked my opinion, so there's that.
Do What You Need To So You Can Ride Them Out
I mean it. Take naps when you can, drink more coffee if you need to, nurse your baby to sleep, order in dinner if you're too exhausted to cook, whatever. It's a crap time, and survival is what you need, not guilt.