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50 Shades of Sleep: Anxiety, Sleep, and Newborns

50 Shades of SleepBurlingtonVT Moms Blog is partnering with Phoenix Physical Therapy to bring you our latest series titled “50 Shades of Sleep”, about…you guessed it….sleep.  Like an elusive treasure, we find ourselves obsessing about sleep not only for ourselves but for our children as well.  Although we may not consciously recognize it we are constantly making decisions surrounding the subject of sleep.  Is it OK to co-sleep?  Can babies really be trained to sleep?  What are night terrors?  When do you move your child from your bed to the bassinet or to his own crib or into his own bed?  Does the thought of SIDS scare everyone?  Is it normal for kids to wet the bed and up to what age?  And does it all change when they get older?  Our goal through this series is to invite you into an open conversation about all things sleep, and to acknowledge that no matter your struggles or choices, you are never alone.  

Anxiety, Sleep and Newborns

Anxiety does funny things to you as a mom. I’ve dealt with bouts of it my entire life, but it became more severe during my pregnancy. I lost a pregnancy before having my daughter, and as soon as I became pregnant again, the anxiety kicked in and so did the negative self-talk:  E Baby

“What did I do wrong the first time?”
“Will it happen again?”
“I’m not taking care of myself enough.”
“I won’t be a good mom.”

All of this negativity manifested itself in debilitating ways: upset stomach, panic attacks while driving, shaking, crying in the bathroom while holding my belly. And that led to feelings of guilt and worrying that the anxiety would hurt the baby. Anxiety about having anxiety…

I turned to my counselor, Sam, who had helped me through the loss of my first pregnancy. She was my voice of reason, my friend when I needed one, and more than that, she taught me the tools to be my own best friend. The first thing she told me was that the anxiety would not hurt the baby. It would have to be the type of anxiety you’d have if you were in a war-zone. And, even then, babies have survived that. She even told me that studies have shown that normal levels of anxiety during pregnancy are proven to make babies smarter. (Now you know why my daughter could count to 10 and say her ABCs at 1-year old.)

As I made my way into the third trimester, I began to relax. I could feel my baby moving inside of me, reacting to my voice. She would even kick in time to the songs I was singing, my little, tiny dancer.

My worries moved beyond my pregnancy and even beyond labor. “What about SIDS?” I thought. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is a fear that plagues all new moms. We do what we can, what the doctor recommends – we put the baby to sleep in her crib, on her back, with no blankets, on a fitted sheet pulled tight around the mattress.

“But what if the baby rolls over??” I bombarded my counselor with questions. “What if she has super-human strength and can get under the fitted sheet?” “What if I swaddle her and she gets out of the swaddle?? Then there will be a blanket in her crib!”

Sam soothed my fears. “If she’s strong enough to do all those things, she’s strong enough to overcome those obstacles.”
“But you don’t know that,” I sobbed.

“No, I don’t. But I do know that you are strong, that you are smart, that you love this baby, and you will do anything you can to keep her safe. And that’s all you can do.”

“Sam,” I said, “I think I just want to hold her for the first month… you know, all the time, until we’re past the age when SIDS is most likely to occur.”

And do you know what that lovely woman said to me? She said, “You can. You’re the mom. It’s your choice. You can. And, when she’s born, the nurses at the hospital will hold her for you, too.”

“Really? Nurses will hold your baby all night for you??” I thought. (Yes, they will!) But even as I heard myself say it, I thought I sounded crazy. You have to understand, I grew up with a really relaxed mom who had been babysitting since she had been 11 years old. My only sister worked at a day care throughout her teenage years. She makes taking care of babies look as easy and relaxing as folding a load of laundry.

My mother still says to this day, “Gretchin, I can’t believe you held that baby for the first 6 months of her life.” (That’s a mom-exaggeration. I held her for one month.)

But to do that, I had to push everyone else’s voice out of my head and do what my instincts told me. Yes, we held my daughter for the first month of her life. I even stormed into the hospital nursery the night after I had her to make sure that someone was holding her at all times. I must have looked like something out of a horror film – wild, curly hair in my face, hospital gown barely hanging off of me, and a raspy voice asking, “Where’s my baby?” A male nurse was casually rocking her, looking bored. He said she was just fine. Two years later, I ran into that same nurse at the hospital, and he remembered me! In fact, he said, he’d never forget that moment for as long as he lived…

As the month rolled on, Mark and I took turns holding her. I breastfed and pumped but supplemented with formula, so he could feed her in the night when needed. We slept in 6-hour shifts. When I got really tired and Mark was working, I used a co-sleeper in our bed and slept with my arm against her side so that I could feel her breathing.

After a month, I transitioned her to the crib, and I slept in the room with her. When she turned 1, I moved back to my own bed. We did a very “lite” version of Cry-It-Out, with some minimal fussing, and she started sleeping through the night right away.

My anxiety subsided too, as she began to rely less on me, as she became her own little human being, capable of telling me exactly what she needed and when.

Thinking back to that first month of chaos and exhaustion, I’m glad I trusted my instinct, that I did what I felt I needed to do at the time, even if other people (including myself) thought I might be “crazy.” I know when we have another baby, it’ll be easier, and I’ll be more relaxed.

Yesterday, I threw my arms around Mark’s neck, gave him a big kiss on the cheek, and said, “Why are we waiting? We could have another baby soon?” I made the same promises I did when pregnant with my daughter, “I’ll do everything. You won’t have to do a thing,” but I think he remembered those four weeks of 6-hour shifts, my freak-out moments, making him comply with all anxiety-ridden first-mom routines.

He gave me a look of mock terror and said, “Yeah right.”

50 Shades of Sleep

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11 Responses to 50 Shades of Sleep: Anxiety, Sleep, and Newborns

  1. Nissa March 24, 2014 at 8:28 am #

    Thanks for sharing your story Gretchin! I think a lot of moms (including myself) struggle with the fear of SIDS. It’s important to know we are not alone!

  2. Trish March 24, 2014 at 10:14 am #

    Gretchin, thanks for sharing your story! You are NOT alone. You are brave and honest and I appreciate you.

    My first born slept in our bed until he was about 6 months old when we decided to test him out in his crib….you know, that big thing that cost so much money and we had yet to use. Anyway, he took to it with no problems except for the fact that he rolled over and slept on his tummy. I FLIPPED MY SH*T! He had never slept on his belly before! He was always in bed with me! He was a strong, capable, big baby and yet still, I freaked out. Total anxiety. Called my mom for days in a row while he napped so she could talk me through it. In retrospect, it seems really silly. But in the moment, my emotions were real. Parenting is scary stuff sometimes.


    • Gretchin
      Gretchin March 24, 2014 at 10:47 am #

      Trish, thank you so much for sharing!! I’m glad I wasn’t alone in my anxiety-ridden, sleepless nights (and days)! I too spent days on the phone with my mom. When E finally did sleep, I even called my mom and cried… “Wahhh… she doesn’t need me anymore!” Haha! Parenting is the scariest, wildest, weirdest, and most amazing thing I’ve ever done!

  3. Elissa March 24, 2014 at 11:57 am #

    Omg that male nurse story and running into him again, I’m dying. My attempt at silent-body-shaking laughter-while-nursing-my-baby-to-sleep (you know the one) totally failed, but it was worth it

  4. Elissa March 24, 2014 at 11:58 am #

    Also I still regularly check my kids to make sure they aren’t dead while they sleep. Thankfully the anxiety has lessened significantly

    • Gretchin
      Gretchin March 24, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

      Hahaha!! Elissa, so glad to make you laugh! I still check E every night before bed if I don’t hear her rolling over in her crib on the monitor. I just can’t stop! But, yes, the anxiety is lessening thank goodness! 🙂

  5. Shannon
    Shannon March 24, 2014 at 7:55 pm #

    Please take this as a compliment…I’m so glad that there are other moms who are as anxious as I am. Thanks for your honesty in this post.

  6. Parenting Tips July 29, 2014 at 4:28 am #

    Great article! Thanks for sharing this. I’ve read alot of articles already regarding parentings and like you, all of them are afraid of SIDS too.

  7. Celeste April 19, 2015 at 1:50 pm #

    My son slept in my arms for six months as well! I had terrible post partum anxiety and sleeping together was out only option for sanity. And sleep. I wouldn’t allow the nurses to take him in the hospital (I was convinced they were going to circumcise him against our wishes, oh Lord) so I was tired, REALLY TIRED. He’s for now and he sleeps in a toddler bed next to mine, but not sure to my anxiety anymore, he’s afraid of the dark. He saved me back then, so I thought the least I could do is return the favor 🙂

    • Gretchin
      Gretchin April 19, 2015 at 6:47 pm #

      Oh, Celeste! So glad I’m not alone!! 🙂


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