So, it turns out there are these things called "sleep regressions" for babies. They seem to happen at fairly consistent intervals for a lot of children (although some lucky families never experience them). Basically, developmental work is happening at such a fast rate in your baby's brain and body that "shutting it off" and going to sleep becomes impossible for them for a time. It's not like they intentionally decided, Oh, I'm just not going to sleep for a little while and drive everyone absolutely bonkers! But that is cold comfort at three in the morning. 4 months, 9 months, 12 months, and 18 months are all pretty common time periods for parents to wonder where in the h*** their little sleeping angel went.
For us, this one at 18 months has been the first one we've really noticed. At four months, we did not yet have a consistent bedtime routine, and I was still expecting Vicki to wake up all the time. The nine-month regression is usually linked to crawling, pulling up, and walking, which she did so late that this one kind of got skipped. At twelve months I just didn't notice anything. But eighteen has hit us hard. It's been about a month of on-and-off issues. Of course, it's hard to tell what's going on. There are teeth, there are illnesses, there are schedule inconsistencies. But this has been too long to be any of those things for this whole time.
The thing that blew me away is that no one really discusses this with you. Not your doctor, not other parents. You expect the newborn and early infant phases to be sleepless. You know that some kids just are better sleepers than others. But after a year of sleeping pretty well, and eight months of sleeping all night by herself, to learn that it's totally normal for your child to just completely stop all of that!? In some ways, it feels worse because you know that she is capable of restful, uninterrupted sleep. It's just not happening. A few of my favorite parenting blogs discuss this at length.
Here's what it looks like for us: we consistently try to put Vicki to bed between seven and eight. I usually go on the earlier side, Jeff usually does later. She typically sleeps about eleven hours, so that makes wake-up time right for our morning schedule. During this regression, she may fall asleep completely in my arms after her bath, as I sing the same three songs to her that I always have. She might nurse a little bit, she might not. (I'm trying to break the bedtime nursing association, which is actually going well.) But she will be out. Limp, twitchy, deep breathing, etc. When I lay her down either on her mattress or in her pack and play, she instantaneously awakens, screams, and cannot be calmed. We have attempted letting her cry for five to ten minutes. Not a good strategy. She doesn't release tension - she escalates. So, one of us goes back in and holds her until she falls asleep again. Same routine. The second she is placed down, she jerks awake, angry.
After four or five rounds of this, it's time for something different. One of us will go in and lay with her on the queen-size mattress in her room. Sometimes this works right away. Sometimes we can even slip out after she falls asleep. Lately, it's been an infuriating cycle of her thrashing and tumbling about on the bed, crawling over us, pinching our faces, etc. I've taken to restraining her in bed by holding her tightly, so she gets the message that this is sleeptime, not playtime. Needless to say, this is not welcomed. More screams. At least I'm holding her while she screams? This is a new development for us, as she has always been totally calmed by my/our presence in bed. Now it almost seems to make no difference whether one of us is there or not.
Eventually, she will fall asleep. Then she will awaken in a few hours and we go through the same thing again. Last night she was awake from two to four as we went through this. It blows. My only hope is in reading that this usually stops as quickly as it starts. The 18-month regression has been known to last for up to two months (oh Lord please no), but then it just goes away.
So, this is my public expose on the sleep regression. I have no advice. I just want to tell you that they're real, and your kid is not just trying to aggravate the living daylights out of you. Although it feels that way.