Sleep: Sleep is a naturally recurring state characterised by reduced or absent consciousness, relatively suspended sensory activity, and inactivity of nearly all voluntary muscles.[1] 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 😉

20 Comments on Sleep

  1. judithkingston
    June 20, 2013 at 7:11 am (8 years ago)

    Another top instincts post! 🙂

    I started off very routine focused with my son, but I feel more confident now that routines can be nudged rather than enforced and have ended up somewhere in the middle of the extremes.

    My daughter was a genius at self-settling for months, but since she has started to move she really struggles to get to sleep unless she is dog tired – just because as soon as you put her down she starts rolling and sitting and crawling. Now if she wakes in the night, I often find her sitting in a corner of her cot, crying mournfully because she can’t work out how to lie back down. Each developmental stage can cause night waking again, you just need to support them through it!

    • InstinctiveMum
      June 20, 2013 at 8:15 am (8 years ago)

      Supporting them through it is a definite! There’s always a reason… Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment!

  2. emilytealady
    June 20, 2013 at 7:36 am (8 years ago)

    I can’t even live in a routine myself so getting my baby into one wasn’t an option! brilliant post and totally agree. We have worked it out together and that’s the best way I think. I think if you never get to experience those early morning wake ups, just you and baby, the rest of the world asleep, precious time together, you’re missing out!

    • InstinctiveMum
      June 20, 2013 at 8:16 am (8 years ago)

      It really is a wonderful, peaceful time when it’s early and just you and them. I think I will actually miss the night feeds when they’re gone!

  3. thesecretfather
    June 20, 2013 at 8:11 am (8 years ago)

    A great topic to post about, because sleep is such a big deal. I also agree that it is about finding the pattern that is right for the child. Our first was a bad sleeper, but I think that was our fault. My little man was a better sleeper but I think that was because we had learnt how to encourage bedtime routines. They are 3 and 1 now and both generally sleep from 8pm to 7am. Those broken nights seem a long while ago now, but things can always change so I’m not counting any chickens just yet!

    • InstinctiveMum
      June 20, 2013 at 8:14 am (8 years ago)

      Interesting how you attribute your children’s sleeping habits to things that you have done; trust me, I believed that too…and then my third came along and I truly realised that it’s primarily down the to child themselves. Good sleep association can definitely be encouraged, but sometimes they will still find sleep difficult. And as you say…it can all change at any time!

  4. themotherhoodsite
    June 20, 2013 at 10:06 am (8 years ago)

    I found much to agree with here! I’m frequently asked by friends and family whether my son sleeps through yet, one even phrased it “I assume he sleeps through the night now?” Thankfully I have no problem with Baby T waking once or twice a night and am happy to tell people that this is so. Nevertheless, the expectation that a baby will sleep through, that it is somehow the holy grail of early parenting irks me. He will sleep as he wants to sleep and provided that he and I seem to be doing well on that then I don’t see a need to change anything, nor do I believe it is necessarily in my gift to do so!

    While I’m on the subject of sleep and things I find irksome, it also annoys me when others repeatedly ask where Baby T is sleeping these days – in the bed, in the cot, in our room, in his own room – they never used to ask who was sharing my bed in my single days and I don’t see that this is any more their business than that was – if I want to discuss it, I’ll bring it up!

    Mini guest post there for you, but this is a subject that I am passionate about!

    • InstinctiveMum
      June 20, 2013 at 10:23 am (8 years ago)

      Ah I love the mini guest post! If you would like to be passionate and right it all down in a full guest post I’d be more than happy to publish! The more people that talk/write about it the better! 🙂

  5. Dawn Frazier
    June 20, 2013 at 10:44 am (8 years ago)

    This is an excellent post, and new mums especially should read it! I, like you, tried to do everything ‘by the book’ with my son. Fortunately for me, he was a very good sleeper from an early age – and still is. I was a lot more relaxed with my twins. Even though they are identical, I had one twin who would just fall asleep easily, the other twin needed more attention. What works for one child might not necessarily work for another.

    • InstinctiveMum
      June 26, 2013 at 7:39 am (8 years ago)

      Couldn’t agree more, they are all so different and accepting that and being relaxed about it so important! Thank you for reading!

  6. Sam Candour
    June 20, 2013 at 5:46 pm (8 years ago)

    I’ve been considering writing almost exactly the same post, now I don’t have to! (You’re a lot less ranty than I would have been too). I understand but hate the obsession with sleep; I’m certain that it exacerbated my PND the first time.

    Both my children are what Dr Sears terms high-needs (google it, it’s really interesting). Both resisted sleep from about 3 weeks old. Until she was 2 DD still woke multiple times a night; DS still does at almost 18 months. The implication that a baby who doesn’t sleep well is naughty infuriates me.

    • InstinctiveMum
      June 26, 2013 at 7:42 am (8 years ago)

      Yes somehow either the mother or the baby is blamed and it’s really often no-one’s fault! And yes, Dr Sears stuff is very interesting! Thank you for reading. 🙂

  7. Xandi | The Mummy Scripts
    June 20, 2013 at 7:15 pm (8 years ago)

    Great post m’dear! I am completely with you on ALL of this. Why put yourself and your child through stress by trying to fit a square peg into a round hole so to speak? Just like we are all different so too are babies. I think as mothers we really give ourselves a hard time trying to do what is expected and considered ‘right’ but most likely ends up being SO wrong for our personal situations. All three of my children have developed differently were sleep is concerned and I honestly don’t think I have had a solid nights sleep in 5 years. But I am a Mum. That’s part of it and it’s not forever as you say. xx

    • InstinctiveMum
      June 26, 2013 at 7:43 am (8 years ago)

      Absolutely…it’s not forever, soon they’ll be teenagers and we’ll be struggling to wake them up lol! Thank you for reading and commenting as always lovely xx

  8. Laura Huggins
    June 20, 2013 at 8:01 pm (8 years ago)

    I am very much against Controlled Crying, it is cruel! Children get upset when they need something.

    Cameron is 3 and stil doesn’t sleep all through the night every night. And 99% of the time there is a reason like his eczema.

    Thank you for linking up with the Weekend Blog Hop

    Hope to see you again this weekend

    Laura x x x

    • Cindy
      June 22, 2013 at 1:25 pm (8 years ago)

      What a beautiful post. I too am alarmed at the rise of sleep training as a business. I love that you respond to each of your children according to what they need. This will help them be more secure and confident as children.
      Being a mom of young children was the toughest job I have ever had, but also the most rewarding

      • InstinctiveMum
        June 26, 2013 at 7:45 am (8 years ago)

        Oh it is so tough, but so worth it! Thank you for reading x

    • InstinctiveMum
      June 26, 2013 at 7:44 am (8 years ago)

      Ahhh I didn’t link up this weekend I am so sorry, I will do so next time I promise. And I understand how hard it is for you, my daughter suffered terribly with eczema, antihistamines were our saviour and if it’s reassuring at all she has completely outgrown it now xx

  9. Zaz (@mama_andmore)
    June 23, 2013 at 8:52 pm (8 years ago)

    What a helpful, thoughtful post. My daughter is a sleep monster, always has been, and her little bro a much lighter sleeper. I think that all parents clutch onto the idea of “sleep training” in desperation to come out of the tunnel that is sleep deprivation (aka, torture), and who can blame them? What I have always done is go by instinct, follow my child’s lead to an extent, do what feels right for me as a parent (not always what they want to do, i.e. be held constantly, or use my hand as a comforter), and most importantly, with every challenge, I think, “this too shall end!” – by the time they’re 18, they’ll be using the loo, getting dressed by themselves, and sleeping… and I’ll have something else to worry about! Thanks for linking to #PoCoLo xx

    • InstinctiveMum
      June 26, 2013 at 7:50 am (8 years ago)

      Pleasure to link, thank you for taking the time to comment! Yes…one day they will be teenagers and we’ll be nagging them to get up! 😉 xx


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