Sleep, Baby, Sleep!
After my last post about co-sleeping I had a lot of lovely comments. And it made me realise yet again that, with parenting, it's so easy to assume everyone is doing very well and doing things 'by the book' and that you're the odd ones out (a current fav phrase by my 5yo!).
But two things occur to me here: firstly WHICH book?! All roads lead to Rome (as they say). And in the case of parenting little ones, Rome is synonymous with the lack of sleep! If you have babies or small children, you are going to be tired, very tired, more tired than you thought possible and still be alive. In fact, nothing can actually prepare you for just how tired you can be with a new baby. It is incredible how little sleep you get and how tired you are. You will undoubtedly meet someone at a playgroup whose baby slept through at 6 weeks old. But you can guarantee that everyone else who isn't shouting about it, is struggling just like the rest of us and just like you. There are books strongly advising you what to do, what not to do. There are health professionals doing the same. Sometimes they agree, sometimes you're left befuddled and confused by their conflicting advice. And almost always you're harbouring that guilty feeling that you daren't voice, that you shouldn't be doing what you've ended up doing with how you sleep and how your baby sleeps.
Which leads me to my second thought. Where does this very common guilt come from? It arises because there are the books on the one hand and reality on the other and a yawning gulf between them which we're often too afraid to acknowledge, even more so to talk about. You feel you should be doing certain things in certain ways but you can't quite get it to work and you end up feeling guilty and like a terrible parent for failing to make your square life fit into the round hole of the advice. But babies are human beings. No adult I know is exactly like another. We all eat different things at different times. We all sleep differently, need more or less sleep than each other, and at different times. Sometimes we're very tired, other times we breeze through on a few hours. And babies are human just like we are. Why on earth they're expected to do exactly the same as each other I've never understood. One size just does not fit all. And to think that it does can result in unnecessary guilt on the part of parents.
So here, unashamedly, are our brave and wonderful Shepherds & Shakers talking about how they sleep, why they do it this way and whether it differs from their expectations pre-birth. We are proud to present reality: sometimes harmonious and 'by the book', other times representative of the gulf between real life with babies and toddlers and what we're 'told' we should do. Whilst I'm a big co-sleeping fan and would shout it from the rooftops, the point here is that, frequently, we all do what we need to do to survive. Each to his and her own. And here in this blog post, whilst we don't advocate any of these 'techniques' (particularly the tummy sleeping), we are simply sharing our stories. I hope you find it interesting and, particularly to any new parents reading, helpful.
Aki & Minna
We have always tried to follow our instincts and make sleep time as harmonious and positive an experience as possible. Our daughter has always been a good sleeper, but never wanted to fall asleep alone. So we never pushed her. Even today we stay in her room till she falls asleep. We all actually cherish bed time: evening story, chats and cuddles. It is a beautiful way to end the day. She slept in our room the first months and then moved to her own room. But we put her to sleep in our bed and later on lay next to her. Now her bed is big enough to have one of us next to her.
My wife and I - probably like most first time parents - imagined that the newborn baby would sleep happily in their new Moses basket or crib. Unfortunately for us, that was not the case. Our newborn baby would only sleep being held and also skin on skin. Eventually this migrated from sleeping on my chest to co-sleeping with us and as the baby grew bigger, I was kicked out of the bed! Fast forward 5 years and my wife and first born still sleep together.
Sleeping arrangements second time around were definitely different as we were having twins. We initially tried the twins in the cot as it would be ideal, but they would only ever sleep 15 minutes or so at a time. Time for plan B: my wife bought some special newborn pillows which the twins hated! Time for plan C: we were given two rocking-type baskets which, with a little persuasion, the boys would happily sleep in! Hurrah! Unfortunately for me, the rocking baskets did not fit into the spare bedroom so I ended up sleeping in the living room on a mattress on the floor!
Sleep is a touchy subject in our household because I somehow managed to give birth to a nocturnal child....one that seems to not need much sleep during the day either. However, when thinking and reading about parenting approaches while pregnant I came across the co-sleeping studies and it just made sense to me. We bought a little cot to sit beside the bed and she slept in that on her own for about a week until I was so tired of getting up all the time and just one night brought her into the bed with us and we all managed to get some sleep. It then stayed this way until my daughter’s second birthday when SHE asked to sleep in her own bed in her own room....much to the delight of my bf who wasn’t the biggest co-sleeping advocate. Co-sleeping is a wonderful thing but I do believe that both partners must agree to it. Where I loved it and made my bond with my daughter even stronger...it did bring distance to my relationship with my bf. Children always tend to change relationship dynamics no matter how much you prepare or how long you’ve been together. I now understand how important it is to find that common ground...especially if your partner wants to be very involved. My daughter now three still joins us in bed most nights but starts out in her own bed. This seems to be a happy medium my partner and I found which I think is the most important thing. Whatever you choose make sure both are on board to support one another because it gets very lonely and frustrating for all.
My babies didn't sleep! Not really, until I had to employ various sleep training techniques down the line (probably another can of worms of opinions!). I hadn't really had a certain sleep arrangement in mind, but I suppose I didn't question having them in a crib by my bed to start with (6 months for one, 4 months for the other) for allllll night grazing, before they outgrew it and moved into a cot in their own rooms. For us though, this worked so much better, suddenly everyone started sleeping more soundly, mostly us not disturbing each of them with every cough/rustle of the duvet etc etc, so they began to sleep through. They're both ridiculously light sleepers still, so on a practical level, own rooms rather than any form of prolonged co-sleeping just suited us better. That said, like everything in this myriad of parenting obstacles, no one should be judged for however they and their Littles nod off. Sleep deprivation and consequent sanity deprivation are no small things, and whatever works best for everyone on a practical and mental health level has to be a winner. Sleep is sleep, however you can get it! Anyone who judges otherwise is not worth sharing your precious time with!
My first boy barely slept at all for the best part of a year, so it was really tough. He just would not sleep on his back in his cot. He needed to be upright in a carrier/buggy or in someone's arms to sleep and after many painful trips to the GP he finally got diagnosed with reflux. We had a bit of a breakthrough moment when my husband put him in his Moses basket lying on his front. Usually any kind of transfer would immediately wake him up but not this time. So against all advice we let him sleep on his tummy from about 8 weeks old. He slept in his Moses basket next to us until he could no longer fit in it and then he slept in his cot which was next door. It took until he was about 1 for him to finally start sleeping through. He is now 6 and still sleeps on his tummy!
My second boy was much easier, probably because I was more relaxed, but also because he didn't have reflux thankfully. He slept in our room in his Moses basket and then in the travel cot when he was too big. I was breastfeeding and just found it so much easier having him next to me. He was (and still is) a pretty loud little boy so I was concerned that he'd wake his brother in the night if I put him in his room (near his brother). He went into his own room at about 8/9 months and definitely slept better than my eldest boy at this age. Strangely now my eldest sleeps so well but the little one (3) is much more restless. He goes through phases of sleeping through but then phases of waking loads in the night. I think when I was pregnant I'd imagines babies sleeping constantly and not really considered that they might not sleep at all! It definitely was a shock. But saying that some people are lucky and get babies that sleep through at 6b weeks, like two of the babies in my NCT group, grrrrr!
Our first baby slept partly in her bedside crib attached to our bed, and partly in the bed between me and the crib. I had a lot of feeding problems so night feeds were torturously long (breastfeeding, bottle feeding, expressing, sterilising etc) so having her close was not only what we wanted, it was the only way I could survive. It worked well so we then attached her cot to our bed for a while. When she outgrew the cot, it felt natural to keep her in the same room and keep her close. When our second baby arrived, our first daughter was still in her bed in our room. We'd intended for the baby to sleep in the bedside crib as before, but she had other ideas! She would only sleep with actual contact and of course with our daughter in the same room we couldn't afford to have the baby wake her up. We initially slept downstairs taking turns to sit up while the baby slept so that we didn't disturb our daughter. But my boyfriend then had to go away with work after a few days and this wasn't sustainable for me on my own. One miraculous night, I bravely tried to get the baby to sleep in the bedroom. I got her to sleep on my chest then lay down silently and very slowly lay her right next to me and...she stayed asleep! It was incredible. And so our co-sleeping family room was born. The bedside crib stored toys and stuff and our baby daughter slept in the bed with our 2yo in her own bed in the same room. It was initially absolutely the only way it could work. Survival during a very tough time. And we've simply continued to this day.
When we had our first, we always wanted to have him right next to us for the first months and then move him to his own room. So when he was born, he slept in his cot right next to us which worked well with the night feeds and cuddles. Before moving him into his own room at about 8 months, we had a transition phase where he was still in our room but further away from our bed. He never minded any of the changes, however he was always a light sleeper waking up several times a night to have boob. When I got pregnant with my second, I reached my limit of being able to cope with the sleep deprivation and nausea, so it became my goal to wean him asap. The crucial step - night weaning - was hard, but short and very effective as it led to a wonderful few months of him sleeping through the night... until his little brother came along!
I'd say that I started out following the 'rule book' with her in a cot as I was concerned about all the risks we are told about co-sleeping with a young baby. I never did the thing of leaving her to 'cry it out' as it just felt wrong and not instinctive at all. Even though she's been in her own bed for years now, the reality is that we often end up in the same bed at some point during the night. Part of that is the 'path of least resistance' argument. I have to get up at 6.30am for work and I need to sleep, simple as that! Also someone (actually a doctor) gave me some good advice once. Once they are older they'll want to be all independent and won't want to know you half the time. So enjoy all the extra cuddles and snuggles with them while you can as it's precious time spent!