Sleep like a baby. Restless, noisy and at the most inconvenient times.

6 Jun

I’ve been really lucky with my baby’s sleep.

Wait! Don’t shoot!

What is it with the jealously, snide oneupmanship and passive aggressive snipery when it comes to sleep or lack thereof? Some parents wear their sleep deprivation like a badge of honour and resent others whose baby sleeps well. Why? I know not. I never resented the good feeders. Sleep is a touchy subject.

My baby came with her own problems. Colic, reflux, low weight and some rather shocking facial scars (more on this another time, but she’s healed now and fine). Sleep was (and still is) a piece of piss.

My skinny, 3 weeks prem baby was never very eager to feed. She never cried or woke for feeds as a newborn. She was fed by the clock for months. I think this is one of the reasons she sleeps well and responded to sleep training. Hunger never really disturbed her.

I used Elizabeth Pantley’s book The No-Cry Sleep Solution and it worked for us. It’s a gentle, sensible and helpful book. I recommend it.

My baby slept in our room in a Moses basket at first. Nobody slept much. She was nocturnal for the first 3 weeks. 3 weeks she should’ve really still been inside. She barely opened her eyes during the day. When she did her eyes were black. Like a shark. I’m not kidding.

The colicky rage began at 4 weeks or so. I was feeding her every 3 hours. My husband went back to work. Nobody was sleeping at night. It was harsh.

In the middle of the night my husband ordered a rocking stand for the Moses basket. That’ll help, we thought.

The baby continued to take an age to settle after every night feed. And then, when she slept she would snuffle, squawk, make tiny pterodactyl noises and even scream IN HER SLEEP. I was mostly awake. Yawn.

I wasn’t comfortable with co sleeping all night. We’d nap together just the 2 of us, but my husband and I didn’t feel co sleeping was a solution for the 3 of us at night. I move around a lot in my sleep and felt restricted and uncomfy with the baby next to me at night. And I was terrified of hurting her, although I know this is very rare when co sleeping correctly.

After another restless night with my phone alarm going off for feeds at 12, 3 and 6 my husband rise for work exhausted and I felt tearful at the prospect of the day ahead. I ordered a co sleeping cot, mattress and sheets. It was expensive. This’ll help, we thought.

The cot came. I built it. It was fantastic. It helped a lot and I recommend it over a Moses basket. It’s this, by Troll.

The baby slept better with my arm sound her, but she didn’t sleep quieter. I did not sleep.

She made choking noises in her sleep. Why? To render me useless, exhausted and hyper vigilant at all times it seemed. I feared cardiac arrest, hallucinations and insanity.

At 8 weeks we moved her (and the co sleeping cot) into her room next door. I know the guidelines say to keep a baby in your room for 6 months, but its not The Law. It didn’t work for us. I was knackered.

The first night she wasn’t in our room I felt horrendously guilty. Then I went to sleep. It was awesome. I still had to feed her in the night. The late feed at 11pm saw her through til 2.30, then she’d go til 6.30. It was better for everyone.

Bedtime was a bit of a mare at first. She’d shout, refuse milk, generally writhe like a speeding squid, make a huge fuss and attempt to win the prize of falling asleep in my arms. I was keen to not let this become a long term habit.

At 10 weeks I felt ready to try to put a new regime into place. Using Elizabeth Pantley’s wise, gentle and common sense words we began sleep training. The first night was awful. She cried. I cried. I wanted to give up. I wanted to scoop her up and take her downstairs and forget all about it. But I didn’t. I kept going in to soothe her, and left as soon as she calmed. I did this approximately 90 billion times.

The second night was harsh, but she settled quicker.

The third night was ok. I was still going in to her room a lot but she was settling down well and I no longed felt like an ogre.

On the fifth or maybe sixth night I put her into the cot, kissed her and closed the door and went to sit in the garden, staring at the baby monitor. She slept.

As we drank wine in the early evening sun I felt very peaceful (if somewhat drained). The week of sleep training had been hard on me. I’m not sure how hard it’d really been on the baby though.

Attachment Parenting people will tell you that every cry inhibits a baby’s neurological development and damages their confidence/self esteem/fucks them up in later life etc. This is clearly bullshit. Babies cry. It’s their only way of communicating. And, babies don’t know what’s best for them, because they’re babies. They haven’t got a fricking clue. You can’t just do what they want all the time, forever.

Of course when babies are tiny and new they need their needs to be met at all times, but if say, you’re stuck in traffic and your 4 month old starts to cry, then I don’t think much long term damage is going to befall them if you don’t stop the car in the middle of the South Circular and get them out of the carseat immediately. Same with bedtime. Babies need parents to help them learn that the cot is for sleeping. Of course if you rock them to sleep each night, they’re going to be mightily pissed off when you just put them in the cot one night and sod off. But, unless you want to he rocking your 7 year old to sleep each night (or worse, having them cosleep -shudder) at one point you need to bite the bullet and establish a new, more appropriate routine. It takes time (up to 8 days) for a baby to adapt to a new routine. You need to be consistent. It’s not about bring mean or rigid. It’s about creating an environment where the baby understands that its time for sleep and feels comfortable.

As I said, this worked for our baby. I am an expert on my baby. Not all babies. Not your baby. But I think her good nights are partly down to setting up the framework for independent sleeping early. Now at 15 months she goes to bed at 7pm and wakes up between 6.30 and 8.30am. We’ve had a couple of teething induced night waking phases. Starting the day at 4.15am is shit. End of. I remember holding my 9 month old in one arm while trying to open the door to my car with a huge set of Early Learning Centre keys. Sleep deprivation: making parents act mental since the dawn of time.

Right now, all is well. I’m just taking the good while we have it, as with everything This Too Shall Pass. Apply this to everything. I owe this calming mantra to a very wise woman, The Parenting Geek. Read more from her at here.

The good times are temporary and teething, growth spurts, language and all kinds of developmental stuff impacts sleep. The idea of moving my child into a bed is unthinkable. It will involve bolting all the furniture to the wall for a start (she’s a climber). I’ll jump off that bridge when I come to it.

As for the bad sleepers, my advice is this: If what you’re doing isn’t working, try something new but try it properly. Give your baby a chance to get used to a new routine. Be consistent. Remember you are in charge. You know better than your baby, even though they will try to convince you otherwise. Remember, they are essentially tiny terrorists, hellbent on getting their own way. And everyone knows you shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists.

And if all else fails remember you can always wake them up whenever you like when they’re teenagers. It’s a long game, parenting.

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