Learning how to help our baby sleep better, one night at a time

I've taken the week off to unpack and spend some time with Madelyn before she starts daycare next week (eek!) Yesterday, we went to the Round Rock Public Library to get a library card and explore the baby book section.
I’ve taken the week off to unpack and spend some time with Madelyn before she starts daycare next week. (Not sure who that will be harder for — her or me!) Yesterday, we went to the Round Rock Public Library to get a library card and explore the baby book section.


Madelyn slept through the night for four consecutive nights this week!

She woke up a few times and cried for a bit but then went back to sleep. I don’t want to jinx it, but this feels like a victory, considering she has been waking up two to three times a night to nurse since she was just a few months old.

During the move, we bounced from St. Pete to Fort Worth to Austin over a two-week period. Madelyn was so disoriented that she began waking up four to five times a night and was often inconsolable. I was tired and frustrated and wondered why my 11-month-old baby still had the nighttime sleep habits of a newborn. My go-to coping mechanism was to empathize with her — to think about how unsettling it must have been to wake up at night in a different place with different sounds, surrounded by unfamiliarity.

I also turned to my favorite mom-related Facebook group — Precious Little Sleep — which has more than 31,000 members who post dozens of updates a day. The moms in the group seek and offer advice about how to help babies get the sleep they need. They vent and post funny pics of their babies looking wide-eyed into the baby monitor camera, or sleeping on their knees with their little butts up in the air. The posts are a reminder that there’s no silver bullet, and that even though you hear about all of these magical babies who sleep through the night, you’re not the only one who has a seemingly nocturnal child.

Sleep deprivation leads to desperation.

Companies realize this, which is why there are countless products aimed at helping babies sleep better. The variety of choices feels both comforting and utterly overwhelming. Early on, Troy and I blew so much cash on swaddle blankets that other parents swore by. They had words like “miracle” and “magic” in the descriptors — language that inspires a fleeting glimpse of hope. Some of the swaddle blankets looked more or less like baby straightjackets, so much so that when we bought them we were convinced there was no way Madelyn could ever wriggle out of them. But our determined baby girl always found a way out — one toe, one fist, at a time.

At various times we tried the “cry it out” method, but to no avail. When your baby continuously cries for 30 minutes during a cry-it-out session (and simultaneously breaks your heart), it’s honestly just easier to go into her nursery and nurse her.

Breastfeeding is the one thing that has always pacified Madelyn, but it’s not an ideal solution when you want sleep. With newborns, around-the-night nursing is to be expected. But by the time your baby is almost a year old, you can’t help but yearn for a different remedy that won’t require ongoing, interrupted sleep.

As a mom, breastfeeding feels like a superpower. It can also feel all-consuming and lonely knowing that you are responsible for all the night-time feedings and the only person who can give your baby what she wants and needs. Troy is an amazing nurturer and would help at night if he could, but Madelyn won’t take a bottle, which makes sharing nighttime duties difficult.

Troy and I were worried about how Madelyn would do at night when I was out of town last week for a four-day work trip (one of a few I’ve taken since she was born). We assumed she would wake up a lot and be inconsolable. But in fact, the opposite was true. She slept like a champ.

Since Madelyn won’t take a bottle and realized I wasn’t there to nurse her at night, she simply stopped waking up as much. I’m not sure why this particular trip has that effect on her, but I suspect it’s because I’ve been weaning her off breastmilk and onto more solid foods, so she’s not as reliant on me for nourishment. She has also been eating more food lately and goes to bed on a more full stomach.

The trip signaled a turning point, and what I hope will be the start of better sleep for Madelyn (and mom and dad). Babies have a way of constantly switching up their routine. Just when you think you’ve figured them out, they find new ways to surprise you. They are our best teachers, constantly reminding us what it means to be patient, selfless, and grateful for small victories.

For now, I’m grateful for the extra sleep (and for our healthy, loving, and strong-willed baby!) and I’m staying optimistic.


Published by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Mallary is a mom of two young kiddos -- Madelyn and Tucker. Mallary absolutely loves being a mom and often writes about the need to find harmony when juggling motherhood and work. Mallary is the Assistant Director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, where she manages the Center's various programs related to distance learning, freedom of expression, and digital journalism. Previously, she was Executive Director of Images & Voices of Hope and Managing Editor of The Poynter Institute’s media news site, Poynter.org. Mallary grew up outside of Boston and graduated from Providence College in Rhode Island. In 2015, she received a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University. She now lives in beautiful Austin, Texas, with her kids, husband Troy and cat Clara. She's working on a memoir, slowly but surely. You can reach her at mjtenore@gmail.com.

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