My baby boy doesn’t just fight sleep, he fights it with boxing gloves on. Seriously, at one point when he was really small, he’d ball up his little fists and wave them in the air, as if he was Rocky Balboa doing 10 rounds with Clubber Lang with Eye of the Tiger blaring in the background. I can tell you it was soul destroying, especially in the early days when I didn’t even know there was a difference between a day nappy and a night nappy.
Even now 7 months on, it can be hard, especially if he’s having a bad day and is fighting sleep with every ounce of his little being. I couldn’t tell you why he does it. But the routine is the same. We are playing and he starts to show the signs of being tired. Staring into space, then if I miss that vital cue, next is a dramatic backward swan dive and a hard rubbing of the eyes. So off we go to the cot for nap. The second I lay him down, the protests begin.He might arch his back and thrash his legs, then he rubs his eyes again and starts what I like to call the ‘death -roar.’ The little eyes begin to roll back in his head until I can see the whites and the lids become heavy, exhaustion is taking him, but he is having none of it. The lids shut for the most fleeting of moments and I hold my breath, as if it makes a difference! Then as if there’s magnets attached to his little lids, they bolt open and the roaring starts up again.
The more he fights it, the more tired he gets and the more tired he gets, the more he fights it. It’s a vicious cycle I know so well, but dread. I watch as he gets more and more upset. Red in the face and tears streaming from his sad eyes.It’s like he’s angry at the sensation of being tired; he’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore! In the early days, I tried a myriad of things to soothe him.
I’d pick him up. He still cried.
I’d put him down. He still cried.
I’d sing to him. He still cried.
I’d rock him. He still cried.
At this point, he’d been fed, he’d been changed. He wasn’t too hot or too cold. The bottom line was, that the child was just tired. The only solution was for him to sleep. But he just couldn’t let himself.
It’s incredibly hard to survive each day when you’ve a baby that roars, for whatever reason. Be it colic, silent reflux, trapped wind, leg cramps or in this case fighting sleep.
I remember waling to my mum in the early days ‘why is he doing this? He’s already lying down and he’s tired… all he has to do is close his eyes?!?!’
She smiled sympathetically but with a knowing look. ‘All babies fight sleep Niamh and you were terrible for fighting sleep!’
Ah, well played karma, well played.
1. All joking aside, it can be really distressing to see them so upset and it can wear you down to a nub. But here are some ways I’ve used to cope with it, that I hope may help another mama.
2. Know that it does get better. For me, my baby boy has certainly improved as he’s gotten older. He still has his days where he has those boxing gloves on, but it’s a far cry, (pun intended!) from those early, crazy days.
3. Do try things like white noise machines, playing lullabies on your phone, or really boring podcasts about the economy which my husband found to work a treat! In my case when he would be napping downstairs, the extractor fan was a godsend. It took the edge off the harsh silence, yet the monotonous low hum wasn’t too distracting for him either. If that thing ever breaks I don’t know what I’ll do!
4. I would remember to tell myself that ‘he will sleep eventually Niamh, this won’t last forever.’ It can be terror-inducing to think your baby will never stop howling, but they will. I know that is no good when you’re in the middle of the maelstrom, but rest assured, the baby will become tired and fall asleep eventually.
5. Remove yourself from the environment. The roaring would really go through my brain, so sometimes after a long block of his screaming, I would just have to get out of the room, even for a little while. I’d put him down in a safe place like the cot, knowing he was fine and I’d leave the room. I might even go into the back garden for a count of ten and fresh air before going back up. It really helped.
6. Okay this might be controversial, but when you know your baby and you know the only thing that is wrong with them is that his is fighting sleep, then earplugs are well worth considering. I’d pop them in while I sat beside him in his cot as I tried to soothe him to sleep and it took the edge off this piercing screams.
7. You’ll eventually know what works and what doesn’t. Again when you’re in the line of fire, this might not seem helpful especially in those early days when you aren’t sure what cry means what? At the start, they all just sounded like roaring to me. But the more you get to know your baby and he you, the more you’ll be able figure out what he likes or doesn’t like to help him sleep. I tried pacing the floor, rocking him and even let him cry it out for over 40 minutes etc., but none of it worked. Sometimes taking him for a walk in the pram was my only option or even a long drive in the car sometimes worked. In the end, I had to accept that when I lay him down, there’d be the initial scream and squirm, then I realised he liked to have his forehead or tummy rubbed while he fought the sleep. Sometimes he just wanted my hand on his face. He’d hold it there until eventually it helped him to calm down and he’d nod off… as for getting said hand off this face and creeping out of the room? I think that’s for another blog post entirely!