Yes, I am going ‘there’ with baby sleep.
Baby sleep is perhaps one of the most contentious issues for parents. I have learned that as soon as your baby is born, people will ask you relentlessly how they sleep. “Is he a good sleeper?” “Does he sleep through?” and my favourite; “Is he good?”
My response to the above question is that Auden is a pretty chilled baby who wakes up a ‘normal’ amount every night. This varies between 4-8 times night. I know that some babies sleep through the night naturally, but most do not, and Auden is one of those.
I apostrophised ‘normal’ because you would not know it was normal based on most of the information on baby sleep that is commonly circulated.
It is one of the most discussed topics amongst new parents, and many feel like something is ‘wrong’ with their babies, or that they need to “sort their sleep out”. I obsessed about this when Frankie-Rose was a baby so this post is, in part, addressed to my past self.
Here are some of the things I wish I knew before I had babies.
- It’s normal for your baby and toddler to wake through the night, lovely tired mama. I know it sucks sometimes, but it’s normal.
- Babies have all sorts of needs, both physical and emotional, through the night. For studies and further information about kids waking through the night right into the second and third years of life, see this from the Infant Sleep Information Source , this from La Leche league and this from Evolutionary Parenting.
- I wish I knew that sleep progress is not linear, it goes up and down (a period of long stretches of night sleep followed by a period of lots of wake ups at night) and again, that’s normal.
- I think my most life changing lesson from first time round was to be kind to myself. So I remind myself again, in the midst of my multiple wake ups:
- When your baby is teething and has screamed for hours at night, be kind to yourself.
- When your toddler is suddenly waking up after years of sleeping through, be kind to yourself.
- When your baby is going through a developmental leap and wants to be attached to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, be kind to yourself.
- Take that nap, have that bath, ask for help (no really, do- life saving for me)
I think if past me, and other prospective parents knew that it was normal, before they had babies, it would have made/would make all the difference to our expectations of how much sleep we will get.
How to cope with baby related sleep deprivation
But whilst it’s normal, it is not easy.
Oh, it is not easy. I am typing this from the depths of sleep deprivation. Auden is teething and is waking loudly, multiple times through the night. I am tired and have a cold and it is really hard. Stress, anxiety and depression are amplified when you’re tired, so often, your relationship with your friends and family become strained too. If your own oxytocin levels are running low, you can end up being controlling and grumpy with those around you.
You cannot pour from an empty cup.
My primary bit of advice is to focus on rest and self care. Nap. Go to bed really early (like, with your kids) at least once a week. Put your needs first sometimes. Or you’ll crumble.
What we are doing to get some rest!
- Rest. This is so so important. My word for the year is “nourish”. I have put a daily reminder on my phone and it helps me to take action every day to nourish myself in some way. I also like “vitamin P”- an idea I learned about from Gemma David. the “P” stands for Pleasure and she says its important to take Vitamin P every day. Happy mum = happy kids.
- Trust your instincts. I am telling you what works for us, in our family, but its really important to trust your own instincts about what is safe and what works for you and your baby. Your mama heart knows best- dig deep and listen.
- Co-sleeping (safely). Read some safe co-sleeping advice here. We have altered a full size cot into a co-sleeper, and I have included a little video at the end about how we did it. No having to get up through the night to settle my baby. Close, milky cuddles. Precious memories.
- Create a comfortable cot. I want Auden to love sleeping, love being in his cot and have wonderful memories associated with it. So I have put an Eve Sleep mattress in it. It is really comfortable for him (springs then memory foam) , and also breathable and non toxic too which is reassuring for me (you have to be careful with cot mattresses). It is then topped with soft cotton towelling sheets. The Lullaby Trust recommend removing all toys, bumpers, blankets etc before the baby sleeps.
- Follow their rhythm. We are implementing a gentle, baby led rhythm. I thrive in a routine so it makes sense for me to follow my babies cues and implement one for them, too. With both kids, I have waited to see what patterns form naturally, then encouraged them. Auden, for example, can fall asleep by himself without breastfeeding, something I have “nudged”. I am definitely not about really strict routines however!
- Focus on something else. Have you ever noticed that when you focus on something bad or painful it feels worse? But if you can distract yourself from that stubbed toe, car sickness or random nausea, it often passes? Same with “normal” (sometimes totally crap) sleep. If you can focus on the other stuff happening in your life rather then reading about baby sleep, talking about baby sleep, and stressing about baby sleep, it will feel like a less big deal. I had to learn this the hard way, first time round.
How we turned a normal cot into a co-sleeping cot:
Martyrdom and boundaries
I also warn my past self against martyrdom. Whilst I don't feel comfortable with leaving my baby to cry alone (the research against it is pretty compelling) , it might be right for your family to implement some form of boundary. When Frankie-Rose was 15 months old we gently night weaned. We explained to her clearly what was happening (night night boobies! see you in the morning!) then Dave basically took over the night parenting; he cuddled and held her instead of me. In hindsight, I wish we’d done it a bit sooner (I was in a baaaad place with sleep dep). Alternatively, some parents feel they can cope, that it requires a lot of effort to do otherwise, and have simply adjusted their expectations. I think I'm somewhere in the middle!
When I embarked on this post I did not envision how much I would have to say about it! High five if you got to the end, especially if you are also sleep deprived!
How have you approached baby sleep? I would love to hear how you’re getting on, and also just offer you a virtual cup of coffee and hug If you are in the doldrums. It is hard!
This post is in collaboration with Eve sleep, who provided a mattress for Auden which is comfortable for him, and reassuring for me. It's designed and made in the UK, using special 3D technology, and it 4 times more breathable than standard cot mattresses. Thank you, Eve!