The curse of the overtired baby

OvertirednessToday Lottie is three weeks old. My biggest learning so far on this raising-newborn journey is the importance of getting enough food into her, and enough sleep. Because what I’ve realised is you can’t have one without the other!

Today the CAFS nurse visited and Lottie was weighed for the first time since leaving hospital. She has put on 32g a day over the last two weeks, which is a good amount and makes me feel satisfied that the feeding situation is on track. We’ve now also been trying out the Tizzy Hall Save our Sleep routine method for two weeks, with mixed results. But I also think Lottie is getting enough sleep because as of last night she’s up to an approximate average of a 3 hour feed routine day and night.

These simple statements make the whole situation sound much easier than it really is. And that’s the one thing I find really difficult about both Tizzy’s advice and also Dr Brian Symon’s advice, whose book I am also reading. Both advocate self-settling without parent intervention so the baby learns how to put themselves to sleep, as well as fixed routines to make sure that your baby is getting enough sleep and food from day one. Both explain the major issues a child can have if it is allowed to get overtired, as babies then have trouble feeding and sleeping sufficiently because they are too tired to function. However, even knowing and completely understanding all this useful information, there doesn’t seem to be much advice out there about what to do if your baby isn’t going to sleep easily and how to stretch their awake times and sleep cycles to hit the magical suggested routine times.

As an example, at night I am still demand feeding as per Tizzy’s advice and I’m fairly happy to be finally reaching 3.5 hour or 3 hour cycles. My baby self-settles herself to sleep when I put her down at night after 30 – 40 minute feeds. This is mostly without a peep as she is so milk-drunk she is close to asleep by the time I put her down, give or take a couple of minutes of fussing. But, during the day, particularly in the morning, I find she is wide awake and sometimes it’s really hard to get her to sleep. I’m told I’m lucky that she is already recognising that night time is for sleeping and daytime for being awake. I also consider myself lucky that when she is wide awake in the mornings during the times she should be asleep, that she’s not screaming her lungs out. She lies in her cot, wrapped, burped, with a dry nappy and full tummy, so all the ducks are lined up for sleep. But her eyes are wide and she’s looking around the world happily like she has no intention of ever going to sleep again. When this happens, I am absolutely paranoid that she’ll reach the point of overtiredness which will put the rest of the day, and possibly the night sleep/feed schedule out. So I have been offering parent-intervention of sorts – by relying on either pushing her in the pram to sleep in my living room or out on a long walk, or putting her in the car and driving her to sleep. So far I’ve only done the driving to sleep thing when I’ve actually been going somewhere so it’s not like I’m having to go way out of my way to get her to sleep. But the pram pushing thing has got to the point a few times where she will wake up the second I stop pushing, and so I find myself obsessively keeping her moving for the entire 90 – 120 minute sleep. Great for my fitness, but not great for my sanity or productivity!

The reason I persist with working to get the daytime sleeps happening, is because as I said, I really do understand that overtiredness is a curse that can cause havoc for baby and family. Dr Symon even goes as far as saying overtiredness, if it becomes a prolonged situation for a baby, can affect their development and personality, making it difficult for them to learn skills and turning them into whingy, stressed and unaffectionate babies and toddlers. His controversial sleep-therapy which aims to teach babies with sleep problems how to self-settle by letting them cry for short periods without parent-intervention, is designed to break the overtiredness curse, to make the baby a contented, well-fed, and a well-slept member of the family. However, I would really like to avoid this controlled-crying-like sleep-therapy method as the idea of letting Lottie cry herself to sleep is horrible to say the least. That’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend it if it does help the child to get more sleep in the long run as from what I have read, the emotional damage from prolonged overtiredness is much more problematic than a few nights of crying for the child. Problematic for both baby, and family. So it’s a bit of a catch-22 really, like many situations faced by new parents.

Apparently it’s quite common for some families to get used to their baby being overtired every day and to believe that it’s normal for babies to cry for hours at a time, usually around bedtime in the evenings. This is not a normal I’m willing to accept, and so I will continue to try to find ways to get Lottie to sleep during the day and to stay asleep for long enough to keep her from getting overtired. As I said, this is proving to be a challenge! I’ll keep you updated on how the next couple of weeks pan out.

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