“Does your baby sleep through the night yet?” This was what I was asked every time we met someone new, from the supermarket worker, to the old lady waiting at the bus stop, to mums in baby groups for the first 8 months of J’s life. Why are people obsessed with how my baby sleeps? What is it to them? Can’t they tell from the bags under my eyes and the mismatched clothing that I clearly had very little sleep last night? Are they just asking to irritate me?
I am a first time mummy, but through talking to friends and family and discussing the subject in forums and classes, every baby is different when it comes to sleep. One baby may sleep 6 hours at a time from 3 months old, another may wake every 3 hours until they are 18 months. Some baby’s are ready to drop their night time feeds from as early as 4 months, others are still having milk regularly at night aged 2. Even siblings can be completely different, which sometimes confuses parents who have had a first born that sleeps long stretches from an early age. When number 2 comes along they don’t understand why their newborn wakes every 2 hours for the first 6 months. Some parents feel that they are failing if their baby isn’t meeting societies expectations and they arrive at baby groups close to tears and full of frustration. They look jealously at parents who are bright eyed and full of energy because they have had 8 hours sleep the night before. These parents are not failing. Every baby is just different and that is okay.
The baby industry is overladen with products that supposedly help a baby get to sleep. What works wonders for one doesn’t entice even a yawn in another. In my opinion, the best thing to do is whatever works best for your baby and you – within the realms of reasonable parenting! (Letting the dog babysit so you can go to a hotel to catch up on zzz’s is obviously not!) If the sleep deprivation or the crying become too much (trust me I’ve been there) then ask someone to help. Incessant crying is exhausting and upsetting and sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture for good reason. Don’t suffer in silence. We use Ewan the sheep as our sleep inducing product of choice. We play it as we feed little man his bed time bottle and it helps to calm him. We used the heartbeat and womb noise when he was under 6 months but then it stopped working so we switched to the music option. We also make shushing noise and sing lullabies (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is his favourite) if needed. We started this when he first came home from hospital and he knows this means it’s time to sleep.
I recently read a review for The Whisbear on one of my favourite parenting blogs – Life with Baby Kicks. It sounds like a great sleep aid. Check out the review The Whisbear.
Sleep strategies fill the forums as people debate their usefulness. Some have been advised by their health visitors to try the controlled crying method. Friends who have tried this have had mixed results with it seeming to work for a period of time but not consistently. I have heard people say it worked well for them but I don’t know them personally to have asked for their experiences. It isn’t a method that my husband and I have chosen to try so I can’t share my own stories about this method. Other parents I know follow some of the gentle sleep methods such as white noise, rubbing and patting baby’s back and shushing. There are many different books and websites out there sharing their version of what works. Try out the methods you feel comfortable with, if you are relaxed they are more likely to work for you.
J didn’t sleep lying in his crib/moses basket until somewhere between 3 and 4 months. (The sleep deprivation prevents me being certain of the week.) He had awful silent reflux, so hubby and I did shifts where we held him while staying awake ourselves. Many parents may have chosen to co-sleep but I was terrified of SIDs so we decided not to. The perk of this is that we learnt lots about our little man’s sleep patterns. We could recognise his routines, signs he was tired/hungry/in pain, requirements for comfort etc. which has come in very handy later on.
Once he could lie down we held him after a feed because of his reflux. We learnt that if we waited too long he would be in a lighter sleep cycle and wake up crying so we had to time it just right. Even now, at 13 months, we hold him after his bedtime bottle. We have in the last month finally gotten the reflux under control so over time we will aim to start phasing this out but not until we think he is ready.
At 14 months J doesn’t have an exact bedtime. If he naps past a certain time, or for longer than usual because he is sleepy after a fun morning activity, then his bedtime will be later. This is no different to me having a nap in the afternoon and then staying up longer. However, we do have a bedtime routine. We will watch an episode of Peppa Pig to quiet him down, read a couple of quiet books downstairs and then go upstairs for a bath. We use fake candles in the bathroom for low light and sing songs such as 5 Little Ducks. Then he is put into his pyjamas and sleeping bag (a nightly battle – as soon as he is out of the bath he wants his milk) and given his bottle with Ewan the Sheep playing and just a night light on.
He wakes for at least 1 bottle every night. He is not fully weaned (reflux food issues) so I think that it is understandable that he needs milk overnight. If J is teething then it can be harder to get him to sleep. We may try the ‘Monica’ method (in Friends there’s an episode where Monica finally gets Rachel’s daughter, Emma, to go to sleep), or we may need to dance around the room while playing one of the Fisher Price lullabies that we found on You Tube. It has graphics that help to calm him if he is crying. If this doesn’t work then we use the extractor fan in the kitchen (which is particularly noisy) and walk up and down singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. As a last resort, which we had to use on Christmas Day as he was so hyped up, we go for a quick ride in the car. One of these has always worked as long as he is tired.
Initially it really upset me when people asked if he slept through the night. When I replied, “No,” they would shake their heads as if he was naughty or give me a pitying look. After a while, I realised that either they didn’t know any different, they didn’t have children, or they had forgotten the reality (like the grandmother who thinks a 6 month old should be potty trained). I don’t mind that my baby is hungry after 5 or 6 hours. I don’t mind that he wants a reassuring cuddle to help him go back off to sleep. I don’t mind that he needs comfort when he has tummy ache, feels sick or is teething. I don’t mind when his nappy has leaked and he needs a change. He knows I am there for him and that is what is important. I wake up to go to the toilet, to get a drink, because the wind is banging the gate or because I’ve had a bad dream, so why should I expect my child to be any different? Ultimately, I will do whatever works best for J and his needs and this is what matters most. So no, my baby doesn’t sleep through the night and that is just fine with me.