I know what it's like to get only a few hours' sleep per night – intermittent sleep. My oldest woke up every three hours until she was two and a half.
The youngest one is 25 months and until two months ago, she would wake up every night just after midnight... and only finally settle again before sunrise.
It started at 7 months. Instead of going back to sleep after being breastfed, she'd simply stay awake. We went through the checklist: no overstimulation before bedtime, good routines, full tummy, dry nappy, neither too hot nor too cold, not too noisy and not too quiet, no fun in the middle of the night, shorter naps during the day, soothing white noise, no junk food, no mosquitos. Ticking the list, doing everything by the book, but she Just Would Not Settle.
Every night was different: some nights she'd be screaming, twisting her body and arching her back with winds and cramps. Other nights she’d just wake up and happily stare at us, play with my eye lashes and give us winning smiles. Sometimes she'd finally fall into a light sleep in our arms, but the moment we'd put her down, she would cry. Or she'd be so tired, trying to settle, but her little body wouldn't lie still for more than a few seconds.
Teething, separation anxiety, they all came into the mix. But her waking up for 4 or 5 hours at night couldn't be normal, I thought.
At her 9-month check-up, the paed said she's 100% healthy and suggested that we cut out sweet potatoes and butternut as the sugars are quite complex and could cause digestive problems in young babies. That really helped for the cramping. Not so much for the sleeping.
A few months later the paed prescribed melatonin for a short period to help reset her internal clock, and another few months later, Vallergan, a very strong antihistamine, for 10 nights to knock her out. But the moment we stopped the meds, it was business as usual. And I didn't want her to be on strong meds all the time, so we left it. She was healthy after all.
So it went for 16 months. With a full-time job and an energetic 5-year-old, stealing a nap in the afternoon was like an urban myth – something that did or did not happen to a friend of a friend but which we weren't able to recreate. Every morning my husband and I would drink our coffee, take a shower and drag ourselves from point A to B. We were on autopilot but my wings were coming off. B was cranky as hell, always slapping my hand away. I became increasingly teary-eyed and emotional, and I generally felt like a terrible, absent-minded mom to my two angels.
Then one night two months ago, while squeezed in next to B on her little bed, half-falling off but not daring to readjust, I noticed that it was mostly her legs kicking and twitching. And I thought, wait a minute, restless legs? The next morning, hubby mentioned – out of the blue – that she could have restless legs. Well. I asked Dr Google, which explained that restless legs usually occur after inactivity for several (around 5) hours. It suddenly made sense why she would go to sleep fine but wake up between 12 and 1.
That night when she woke up, I rubbed and squeezed her chubby little legs for a minute or so, and tucked her back in. She slept on till 4am and when she woke up again, I massaged her some more. Voilà! She slept till 7.30. I felt like we'd hit gold.
Someone recommended we put a potato in her bed to help curb the restless legs. Well. Let me tell you. I was desperate enough so I went and bought potatoes, big ones.
And we've been sleeping ever since.
Of course, the massages and potatoes aren't the heroes of this tale. Google also taught me that an iron and folic acid supplement can do wonders for restless legs. So with the potato-shopping I went and bought a paediatric syrup. B has been taking it for two months and we're all sleeping. Such a simple remedy. So simple. (And if you're wondering, no it hasn't made her constipated yet. Maybe she had a really big deficiency, I don't know.)
I know doctors roll their eyes when we consult the internet, and it can be downright dangerous to trust your child's health to Dr Google. But in this case, the internet supplied us with a very sensible, non-medicated solution.
Now that we’re sleeping again, I feel exhausted, all the time. It’s as if my body is saying okay, we’re going to do this now? Bring it on! But those long, interminable nights of walking up and down with B, lying next to her and whispering “shhh”, is a distant memory.