Sleep. I’ve been obsessing over it since July 2nd 2014 when my first born popped into the world. Popped makes it sound effortless….just to be clear, it wasn’t.
I was clueless when it came to sleep and babies. I mean, I knew it was most likely going to be rough, I knew that it was the question I would be faced with the most ‘so how’s the sleeping going?’ but I didn’t know the real deal – that sleep deprivation was going to be torturous, life defining and relentless. Some of you might be reading that and thinking I’m being dramatic – I’d hazard a guess that you are the people who have a sleeper.
It was around the seven month mark that my first slept through and eight months for my second – and let’s just address now that when I say sleeping through I mean down at 7/7.30pm and up after 6.30am, although ideally 7am or later (a girl can dream). I think bodies must adjust to a lack of sleep, or at least figure out how to function on a handful of hours because I think the only time I’ve actually slept the entire night since having children is after a holiday that provides me with jet lag – that thick tiredness that you can’t shake and you slip into a coma like state oh so easily.
So what’s normal? What can we control? How do we get through it? Here are some of my insights that have become (hopefully) a little more balanced over the years as I’ve got to grips with parenthood….
- Every baby is different. We all say it, but we don’t all practice what we preach and I get it, it’s hard to be rational in the wee small hours when all you want is some shut eye. Your mate’s kid that has slept through from six weeks was just ready to do it then (or said mate is stretching the truth a little – I assure you, it happens). The next door neighbour who hasn’t had a full nights kip for two years because the off spring JUST WON’T SLEEP – they’re normal too. I would actively encourage you to talk about the impact of your new sleep pattern is having on you, but don’t over think what is going on with other babies.
- Sleep associations are real. Feeding to sleep, rocking to sleep, a song, a TV programme and all that’s in between, whatever your baby associates with the going to sleep process does stick. Now that isn’t to say you should be avoiding sleep associations – although I’m sure there are baby sleep experts that would shout quite loudly at me for saying that. My most over used phrase is ‘whatever gets you through’ – if that means you don’t want your baby to have to be fed to sleep then that’s absolutely fine, but if the only thing that will send them to the land of nod at 2am in a warm bottle / boob and you’re running on empty then just go with it. These phases don’t last forever and your mental health comes first.
- Sleep encourages sleep. I didn’t get this memo until quite late on with my first, probably around the time I was wondering how she knew the most effective form of torture is sleep deprivation (I mean, probably, I’m not actually up on the alternatives). The daytime napping wasn’t happening and the nights were more than just a little testy. I took to a routine at that point and although it took about two months for us both to get the hang of it life was easier. We both knew where we were, it was easier to leave her with other people and although we still had wake ups during the night they became fewer and shorter, and those precious daytime nap times were like a spa break for me.
- It’s ok to ask for help. I know this one is hard, for a host of different reasons – some of us don’t like asking for help, we might not have anybody to ask, or we don’t know what to actually get help with. There’s so much going on it can be a challenge to think where the help is best sent – putting a wash on, holding the baby, taking the baby out of the house, doing a spot of ironing and all that’s in between. I always go for the washing/ironing or holding the baby! And sleep – always take the opportunity to sleep, if someone else is in the house then your brain can switch off a little easier knowing that if you happen to not hear the bambino squark (you will) and carry on sleeping (you won’t) then you’re safe in the knowledge there’s someone to wake you up. If you’re feeling like you don’t have anybody to ask please speak to your GP or health visitor – we’ve all got those and they will have ways to help.
Some babies just get sleep – how to doze off by themselves, how to go a long stretch without feeding, when to do it during the day to avoid getting over tired. Those that don’t will need some guidance, and the challenge is that they’re looking to you to help them when you’re at your weakest, the tiredest and probably your emptiest of energy but you WILL get through it. Hearing people say ‘it’s a phase’ used to make me angry until I realised it was true – nothing lasts forever including sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep can play mega tricks on your brain so don’t suffer in silence, ask someone – anyone – for help if you need it. You’ll be amazed how many hands shoot up when you ask for a couple of hours shut eye by yourself.