First of all, get your baby sleeping through the night. This is very important. Sleep regression is hell with any baby, but it’s a particular kind of hell when your baby has been sleeping through the night and you’ve been smugly congratulating yourself on his wonderfulness, and, consequently, your own amazing parenting. ‘Oh yeah, he can be a bit of a nightmare during the day but he’s so good at night!’ You say breezily. Even better if he’s been such a good sleeper since the beginning that you’ve never felt that sleep deprived at all. This ensures that when sleep regression hits, you’ll feel every hour of it. Every long drawn out, floor pacing, frustrating, rocking, crying, hour. At the end of week 1, you’ll be crying. By week 2, you’ll be homicidal. If it lasts into week 3, you might need to be committed.
Once you’ve established that it’s not a horrible, unwelcome fluke that he doesn’t sleep through the night any more, you hit the Internet with a vengeance and discover that 3-4 month sleep regression is an actual thing. Google tells you, as is google’s wont with any type of motherhood question, that it’s your fault. You’re feeding him too much. You’re not feeding him enough. You’re comforting him to sleep too much. You’ve broken his trust because you let him cry that once for 35 seconds while you fled downstairs screeching at your husband that you needed more milk and what the hell is he doing, not providing it instantly, the very second that you needed it? You need to rock him to sleep or co-sleep, because that’s what animals do in the animal kindgdom and humans are very neglectful, putting their own selfish needs for sleep and worries about cot death and suffocation ahead of that. You need to teach him to self soothe. You’re not cuddling him enough. You’re cuddling him too much and spoiling him. You leave the internet feeling a wrung out husk of your former self and with no solutions. To make yourself feel better, you turn to your birth group Internet forum (yes, these are actual things. They’re a whole blog post in themselves) You discover that the forum is full of despairing parents ready to throw themselves off bridges over the lack of sleep/ the broken sleep/ the fact that their babies have NEVER slept and are now sleeping even LESS and they didn’t even know that was possible/ the fact that they were a perfect sleeper and now they…well…aren’t. You instantly feel better, because misery loves company and also you don’t want to feel like it’s just your baby because that would be a whole new world of worry.
You resolve that this sleep regression will not beat you. You decide, in the middle of the night out of desperation, to sleep train, because it’s definitely best to sleep train right in the middle of the baby’s worst patch of sleeping ever, at 2am, and during a growth spurt when they need food. You give up on sleep training somewhere around the third cry, because he’s just too little, and the way his face crumples and he stares up at you beseechingly through the darkness breaks your heat. You’ve never been good at sleep training. You google some gentler methods. You pick the baby up and put him down approximately one hundred and seventeen times. You keep your hand on his chest, because every baby loves a hand on its chest instead of being snuggled into its mother’s arms. It’s practically the same thing. The baby has no truck with this. He cries. And cries some more. You eventually feed him to sleep like always, because food is the answer to everything (except when Calpol is the answer) and you’re exhausted and he falls asleep perfectly contentedly and you feel validated. Look, you’re practically an attachment parent. You’ve learned from the animal kingdom and he’s a happier baby for it. Until he wakes up again two hours later. You have only just gone back to sleep because: google. And also the fact that you got yourself unwittingly and somewhat foolishly embroiled in a particularly vitriolic anti-vaccinations thread which seemed of paramount importance at 2am.
You curse google and sleep regression and babies and everything else in the world. You look at his cot resentfully through the darkness and think dark thoughts about your husband, sleeping peacefully and obliviously. You stumble to the cot, longing for sleep, and he smiles up at you in the dim light and your heart melts.
Your daughter arrives, and cheerfully announces she’s been woken by his crying and can she help? She speaks exactly as if it’s 8am and not 4am and sadly in her head it obviously is because then she lies beside you in the bed for the next two hours, not sleeping. You are not especially pleased to see her because right now you wish someone else was entirely responsible for all of your children and you were in a dark bed in a dark room by yourself anywhere apart from here. You feed the baby and then also lie awake for the next two hours, worrying about the lack of sleep you’re having and cot death and the packed lunches you haven’t made for the morning and that bill you still need to pay and how you will cope if this continues when you go back to work and how you’re probably creating bad sleep habits FOR LIFE (look at the other child, bloody lying awake at 4am) and that girl who didn’t get the B you wanted her to get in 2007.
Around 6am, precisely one hour before the other child will be up for the day, full of the joys of his ten hours of uninterrupted sleep, you fall into the depths of a dreamless sleep, congratulating yourself on the way. You’ve survived. You’ll be a zombie by 1pm, but right now, you’ll take it.
Disclaimer: the child is now back to his lovely sleeping self so it turns out Google was wrong. But I’m saying that in a very un-smug, non tempting fate, whisper.