How My Overtired Baby and I Finally Got the Sleep We Deserved

"My heart warms every time I see the peace on my baby's face with every nap."
by Sasha Lim Uy Mar 3, 2018

I thought my son was textbook. He was born at exactly 40 weeks. He latched right away, and he fed and slept like clockwork. Then, the three-week growth spurt hit.

This is the second part of this new mom's diary on her first month with her newborn baby. Read how she discovered her baby was too tired to sleep here.

It was as if someone flipped a switch, and my "easy" baby just stopped napping — he was fussy and crying, always crying. People talk about colic and kabag. They don't talk about overtiredness in babies. It is a vicious cycle that takes its toll on babies and their parents and caregivers.

I kept blaming myself for putting my baby through this. I should’ve said no to that lunch. I shouldn’t have brought him to that reunion. I should not have awakened him from his nap to take him to someone’s birthday.

I was a physical and emotional wreck — and my lack of sleep and wavering spirit were compounding each other. I cried when he did, forcing a smile through my tears as if to assure him that I wasn’t breaking because of him. I burst into tears at even the slightest provocation.

My husband was supportive, but he also had to work, and I was left alone with a red-faced baby. I found out later that my yaya, whom I initially thought was with me in my plan to reset my baby’s sleeping patterns, disagreed with how I was handling the issue. She half-heartedly did what I asked, but when she thought I was asleep, she continued to stimulate him despite his antsy responses.

My yaya continued to rock and bounce my baby like a truck driving through C5 even though I told her he preferred a gentler touch.

Outside our little bedroom, she would tell others about how I should just let the baby play until exhausted so that he (and she, I guess) could sleep. She completely ignored everything I explained to her about overtiredness. Forget the studies and expert recommendations and the agitated baby in front of us. The worst part was the people she’d talk to — who never witnessed our situation at all — believed her.

This episode with the yaya broke me. The weeks of exhaustion, my raging hormones, and the desperation to set my baby straight caused me to explode. I needed the yaya to do what I asked, and the blatant refusal of support was the last straw. I didn’t need to be questioned about my methods of raising my child — I was already doing that on my own!

In my heart, I knew that I was doing the best for my child and that alone should have been enough for me to shrug off other people’s opinions. But I was already on the warpath towards my son’s well-being. I needed to fight for my son’s sleep because no one else would.

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Even though I knew I needed help, I started to decline the yaya's help. I needed someone who comprehended what we were trying to do and why. It turned out I didn’t have to send her away.

The yaya gave up on us three times, resorting to excuses why she could no longer care for our baby — and then taking them back. I would take her in but with limited responsibilities because the yaya landscape these days made it hard for me to be choosy. She was a bad option, but I also understood that I couldn’t care for my child if I collapsed or got sick. Every time she made a retort, I would bite my tongue and remind myself that my baby needed all the help he could get.

I needed to fight for my son’s sleep because no one else would.

The yaya decided the only way SHE could survive was to limit herself to a night shift (when my son’s sleeping is the most unpredictable), but she later decided she couldn’t do even this. I agreed only to be agreeable, and I would be with my son for most of the day.

It was, to cut a long story short, a challenge. I was still reeling from the emotional blow of feeling completely unsupported, and I was putting up a brave and determined front for my baby’s sake. We would cry together, and I would constantly message my husband at work to tell him that I was losing my mind.

I thought I had postpartum depression except that I love my baby so much. I didn’t want to leave him to cry it out or just stick him in his crib until he passes out. I needed a break, but I couldn’t sleep until I knew that he was sleeping, too. Even then, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t dreaming when he was.

I swallowed my pride and sent out an SOS to the one person I was confident could make things better: My mom.

My mom is a champ with fussy babies (my brother was no walk in the park), and even when she couldn’t help my son sleep, I knew her presence would soothe me enough to restore my energy.

The first time I asked her to come, my mom dropped everything to be with me. She understood the situation and adopted our modified version of Dr. Karp’s wearying 5S program. She would jiggle on her toes for hours and shush-shush-shush until her throat dried up so that the baby and I could get some rest.

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She realized that my son preferred pink noise over white, and she developed other ways to make life easier for whoever it was putting the baby to sleep. She eventually started coming almost every day, ready to jump in for anything, from putting the baby to sleep to soothing him for his other perennial issue — gas. We found another person who was willing to help us. From then on, it was just a consistent and constant process of putting my baby to sleep.

PHOTO: iStock

We’ve moved to a new home, and it gave both my baby and me a much-needed change in atmosphere. Our old yaya (who took care of him when he was born up until before his three-week growth spurt) returned and accepted the situation. She listened to us when we told her about spotting tired cues like yawning, listlessness, sneezing, and covering his face; now she quickly gets my baby in the mood for sleep whenever she detects any of his cues. He could now nap even with light streaming through the windows and with the pounding of hammers in the background.

Overtiredness could be an effect of something more serious, like lactose intolerance or reflux. For our peace of mind, the pediatrician gave my baby a complete work-up. He was recently diagnosed with colic, and our persistent bouncing and rocking caused him to refuse to be put down, even and especially at night.

My heart warms every time I see the peace on my baby's face with every nap. But I follow it up with a prayer, that this is just a phase and that one day he’d come home to his crib and rocker.

Babies test your tolerance and determination, yes, but a high needs baby pushes you beyond your limits. I’ve never found myself this calm (nothing will faze you after all that crying), energetic (you develop particular stamina with all those waking hours), and patient (not just with your baby but with all those around you).

The struggle isn’t over. While it’s been slightly easier to make him sleep, there are good days and bad days.

And there will be days when you still want to surrender, but with time and a proper support group, you can pull through.

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Sasha Lim Uy eats to live and lives to eat. For five years, she handled SPOT.ph's food section and edited the last two installments of its Top 10 Food books. She is a curator for Madrid Fusion Manila and currently works as the managing editor for Esquire Philippines.

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