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Jun 23 2014

Ask a Sleep Coach: Single Mom With Two Sleepless Tots

By at 10:10 am

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Dear Batya,

I have a 3.5-year-old and 8.5-month-old. The baby is waking and feeding every two hours. Everyone says to try and cry it out which I can’t do. Others say I’m feeding him too often. I try not to pick him up unless necessary. I just lay my hand on him. I’m getting very sleep deprived as my husband (of 19 years) just left me and I don’t have anyone else to help me. Will he learn to sleep on his own with time or do I have to teach him? People say I need to be stronger with him. I am trying to follow Attachment Parenting. He slept with me until he was 6 months old and always woke up happy. It’s difficult now because the older child comes in and wakes us as there’s no husband anymore to go to. Please help.

All the coffee, vitamin pills, energy drinks, and pick-me-ups in the world won’t help if you are chronically deprived of sleep. Sleep deprivation is hard to handle, and can negatively take a toll on other aspects of your life as well.

I’m so sorry to hear about the rough time you’re going through, and it’s definitely not easy to deal with this all on your own! Sometimes it might feel like you need super-human strength to work on your kids’ sleep (and sometimes you do!), but a few main ideas will definitely help pave the way to better sleep…and soon.

1. Divide and Conquer. Whenever tackling more than one child’s sleep at a time, I always tell parents to pick the one child that they are having the most difficulty with first. Otherwise, trying to divide your efforts and work on everyone’s sleep simultaneously will result in doing a half-baked job with both kids, and only more exhaustion and frustration on your part. From what you’ve written, it seems like your 8.5-month-old is the more challenging one of the two, so I suggest starting there. After you get his sleep improved, you can then move onto your toddler afterward.

2. Battle Over-tiredness. If you’ve read any of my other sleep articles here on Kveller, then you know how I feel about ALWAYS making sure that daytime sleep is predictable before ever moving to night sleep. It’s crucial to first ensure that Baby is getting sufficient day sleep and isn’t over-tired, because if he is, he will only fight sleep more at night! If you just focus on night sleep (without taking his days into account) then it’s kind of like building a house without a strong foundation…potential for disaster. So I suggest first tackling Baby’s habits for a few days and figure out the best time to offer naps, bedtime, and mealtimes. Keep a log for a few days, taking note of Baby’s habits. When is he irritable? How long does he naturally seem to want to stay awake? When is he more prone to fight sleep? Keep your eyes open for those optimal times, and you will see how it contributes to Baby falling asleep easier, staying asleep longer, and being a happier, better-rested child.

3. Don’t feel pressured. It’s true that most “sleep training” books and programs rely heavily on letting your baby do “controlled crying” until they finally fall asleep. It’s a harrowing experience for many parents (especially AP parents), and if it’s something you don’t feel comfortable doing, then you most definitely should not do it! A middle-ground approach is to incorporate a “Drowsy but Awake” philosophy at bedtime. After his bedtime ritual, when your baby is winding down for sleep, put him in his crib while he is still awake but aware of his surroundings. Make sure he is comfortable and ready to drift off to dreamland. (He should be drowsy enough that if you continued to nurse him he would fall asleep at this point.) Encourage falling asleep in the crib with your help. You can pat him, sing to him, rub his back and comfort him, but try your best not to pick him up and take him out of the crib. He may protest, but that is simply because he does not yet know how to fall asleep by himself! He does not feel alone or unloved because his Mommy is there, helping him along the way. After all, how can he be abandoned if you’re right there with him? Once he “gets it” at bedtime, you can start doing it in the middle of the night (when it’s not time to feed him). It will take some effort on your part, but you will soon be pleasantly surprised to see that he IS capable of falling asleep and remaining asleep on his own!

4. Forget everyone else. It sounds like you’re getting a lot of confusing, mixed messages about what’s right for your kids and their sleep. I remember when I had my first, everyone told me what they thought I should be doing, and it was all so contradicting and “know-it-all” sounding! So remember: YOU ARE THE MOMMY!!! And as the parent of your baby, only you know what is best. It’s so important to remain in-tune with yourself and your own beliefs and parenting philosophy. Do you want to continue co-sleeping? How do you feel about nursing at night? What are your ultimate goals for your baby’s sleep and how would you ideally want to get there? Only you can determine when to implement changes to tackle your baby’s sleep challenges as any plan of action will only be successful when YOU are ready for it.

5. You’re AWESOME. OK, it is hard to ignore everyone’s advice. Especially when you’re so exhausted and ready for sleep…like this minute. But please realize you’re doing a pretty great job! You’re a single mom with two little kids and that’s no easy feat! Make sure to make time for yourself (even though you’re tired), and remember that not many women could remain so strong in the face of such a challenge. I am definitely the president of your fan club.

Do you have a sleep question for Batya? Send it into info@kveller.com with the subject line “Sleep Coach.”

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