Sleep: Sleep is a naturally recurring state characterised by reduced or absent consciousness, relatively suspended sensory activity, and inactivity of nearly all voluntary muscles. It is distinguished from wakefulness by a decreased ability to react to stimuli, and is more easily reversible than being in hibernation or a coma. Sleep is a heightened anabolic state, accentuating the growth and rejuvenation of the immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems.
Ok, so this maybe a slightly ranty post and I’d just like to start by saying it is not written out of any bitterness that my children don’t sleep. Because they do. We have no bedtime battles and only one or two 10 minute night feeds with the baby. No…this post is written out of frustration, out of repeatedly seeing post and tweets and hearing conversations about babies and sleep and the ever elusive ‘self-soothing.’ Out of hearing the question ‘Is he good?’ repeatedly asked about babies…as if any baby could be bad! Out of suddenly, whether or not your baby sleeps through has somehow become the mark of being a good mum. It always seems to be one of the first questions asked of any mum, and it drives me nuts! Why does whether or not my baby sleeps matter? They are a baby of course they probably don’t sleep through (and if they do you are very lucky!) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…I’m 36 and I don’t sleep through!
Sleep training is a hugely profitable business. It feeds off a mother’s desperate need for some shut-eye, for them to feel part of the ‘my baby sleeps through the night gang’ and not a complete failure as a mother. Obviously if your child doesn’t sleep you are in no way a failure, but certain books and ‘experts’ and unwanted opinions can sure make you feel that way. The very phrase ‘sleep training’ sends shivers down my spine. Are our children dogs that need training or robots that need programming? Um no, no they most certainly are are not. How about we talk about ‘sleep encouragement’ instead? I do believe that it is our role as parents to set up good associations with sleep, to encourage our children in to good sleep patterns and help them to go to bed happy, but you do not need to enforce a strict routine that may go against all of your babies natural instincts to achieve this. You do not need to use horrible techniques like CIO or CC which only serve to make everyone distressed. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should all be attachment parents either, some babies don’t want to co-sleep even if you would like them to, and some mums just aren’t comfortable with it, which is ok. I just wish we were more well informed, and that people would be more honest about how their babies sleep. I have recently read feeds on Twitter and Facebook encouraging CIO with babies less than three months old, with one even suggesting feeding solids to a 5 week old baby to try and get them to sleep, all of which understandably terrified me. The people who wrote these posts all said these techniques had worked for them, and that now their babies miraculously sleep through. *sighs* I find this hard to believe, and if it is true, then at what cost?
What I would love to encourage is for mums to know that the words ‘baby’ and ‘sleep’ often don’t go together. That it’s normal for babies (especially breastfed ones) to wake during the night…until they are quite old. Developmentally night waking is a protection against SIDs, it is instinctive and meant to happen. If breastfeeding, the night feeds are the richest and help to produce more milk. I’m not going to go into the scientific reasons behind this or start talking to you about baby’s brains and their development because I am not an expert in any way shape or form. But I am a mum who trusts her instincts and will accept night wakings and try to look for a reason why it is happening and address it, not try to fix it, or ignore it in the hope of more sleep. Babies are not robots, some are naturally good sleepers and others need some encouragement. Never in my opinion does leaving them to cry or forcing them to sleep at certain times for certain periods of time induce a good association with sleep…for anyone.
My children have all slept very differently. My daughter was breastfed and never a great sleeper at first, and I wish I’d trusted my instincts more then and co-slept as I feel she would certainly have loved this, but twelve years ago 24 year old me, a me who was terrified of doing anything wrong and followed rules to the letter, wouldn’t go against the advice which was not to do it. Because I was led to believe that if I did do it my baby would die and it would be my fault. So we endured lots of nighttime cuddles with me forcing myself to stay awake so that she could sleep, until (as mentioned in a previous post) it was suggested I did controlled crying with her by the health visitor trying to help with my PND. I hated every second of it and vowed never, ever to do it again. My second child was much better. He liked sleep and would drop off anywhere, a cot, a car seat, a playmat. He still had nights when he didn’t sleep and needed someone there with him, but co-sleeping was never an option for him and these phases never lasted for long. Now, at his bedtime, if we’re not in the room when his tv programme finishes (yes, he’s allowed to watch TV before bed, it calms him down!) he will come and find us and tell us it’s his bedtime, always more than happy to go. And then there was my third baby. Ah and boy did he not sleep at all when he was born…co-sleeping was the only option. I still felt very nervous about it and this time, as I was not a single mum like I was with my daughter, I would make my husband sit at the end of the bed and watch us to make sure I didn’t roll onto my baby whilst I was asleep. Over time I became more relaxed about it and would co-sleep without him watching us. And now my son, even though he was held, rocked, cuddled and fed to sleep everyday for the first three months of his life at least, sleeps best on his own; in his cot.
What I have done with all three is practise the theory of trial and error, and once I’ve found something that works I’ve stuck with it. From birth night feeds were done in the dark with no noise, but I’ve never done a regular routine as such. My daughter had awful eczema and the advice then was not to bathe her regularly as it dried the skin. My children have all had muslins as comforters, the boys had dummies and my daughter her thumb. My youngest is one and is regularly fed to sleep, I’m pretty sure he won’t still be needing a bottle of milk to soothe him into a peaceful slumber when he’s 21 so I’m not worried. I’ve fed them all on demand and if that demand is at three o’clock in the morning then I will meet it. I’ve always used a verbal sleep cue and learnt to recognise the signs that they were sleepy. If they cried I would, and still do go to them, straight away and address their needs. Each of their natural times to sleep, including for naps, have been very different and it frustrates me that children are all expected to slot into this 7pm to 7am sleep time! It is simply not true!
Sleep deprivation and disrupted nights are tough, and it’s a part of parenthood that is hotly debated and treated differently in every family. But I’d like to end by reassuring any mums out there with a baby that doesn’t sleep that is it perfectly normal, and accepting it is a great first step as it takes the pressure off. It is also perfectly normal for babies who were previously ‘good’ sleepers to change. There is no need to analyse everything you do and then subsequently beat yourself up and feel guilty for ‘doing it wrong.’ Chances are, if you are responding to your baby and letting them show you their natural instincts and individual intricacies then you are not failing anyone. Don’t feel pressured into pressuring your baby to sleep through, they pretty much all get there eventually. You cannot spoil a baby with love, you cannot spoil a baby with cuddles and affection. You cannot get into bad habits that can never be broken. And one day, you will without doubt have that all elusive 8 hours uninterrupted sleep…I promise 😉