Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Holy Grail of Parenting

How are they sleeping?

Do they sleep through the night?

How often are you up with them at night time?

The sleep question is one of the most common from friends without babies, and a few with children of their own.

Before L arrived J's biggest fear was how he would cope with sleep deprivation. He is like your worst toddler who has missed his lunchtime nap when tired. He also works long hours and is responsible for a large team. They need him on top form and not being a grumpus. 

I, like nearly all pregnant women, slept awfully for most of my third trimester. Life's cruel way of preparing you for the wakeful nights to come. I have always been better on no sleep than J and as an early riser it doesn't matter what time I go to bed I will wake at 6.30. 

Then L arrived. Her midnight arrival meant for her first night she slept. 24 hours later she was very much awake and attached to my boob or screaming prompting a very unhelpful midwife to suggest formula would keep her quiet and a very helpful fellow mum in my side room helping me swaddle L. A sign of things to come. And a sign of the importance placed on sleep even for a one day old.

Right from the earliest days during the night I would feed L and put her straight back in her crib. No talking no funs no extra cuddles (unless seriously fussing and needing to co sleep but we only did this twice). I would leave her full of milk and contented in her crib to go back to sleep. She rarely needed the dummy at these times and it remains the same. I wanted her to learn as quickly as possible that nighttime was not funtime. For the most part I think it has worked. 

Sleep seems to be on the pedestal of parental achievement. If your baby sleeps through you have cracked it and reached parental nirvana. It made me overly aware of sleep and to really stress about sleep habits and routines from the earliest days. I was more worried about sleep than her erratic feeding patterns, weight gain or developmental milestones. At my weekly mums meet up we all talk about how our baby is sleeping with envious looks at the wonder sleeper and sympathy for the mum of the terrible sleeper.

I think this sleep stress made me rush to use a dummy as it quickly got her to that golden goal. Slumberland. I also wonder if she picked up on my sleep based stress. I was all to aware at wakeful times during the night that L would wake J and this in turn would affect his work and his mood. 

We now have a set bedtime routine. Quiet time and stories, bath, sometimes massage, feed and then in cot awake with dummy. She generally goes off well and her night waking's are lessening and her night feed decreasing. She does wake for the dummy sometimes and this needs addressing. 
L is nearly 5 months old. This is all pretty average. She isn't a wonder sleeper and she isn't a terrible sleeper. She is average. We have arrived here mostly through accidental parenting. By following her and having a few bedtime and night feed rules.

So it is going in the right direction yet I still feel pressure to get her through the night. I still stress and read and worry about it the most. I ask countless people for advice and insights, I ask for peoples sleep secrets hoping that one of them will be the answer for L and us and she will get the long restorative sleep she needs after a busy day rolling and growing.

Can we ever take sleep down from the parenting pedestal? Should we take it down? Or have I just overly analysed sleep and now worry about it too much?


  1. I sympathise. I went to an NCT coffee morning a few weeks ago and at least 4 people asked 'how is she sleeping'. my answer was 'erratically'
    We don't use a dummy but she uses her thumb instead, which is just as irritating and cannot be given to the 'dummy fairy'. Some nights she sleeps really well and doesnt wake till 5am or later, other nights she wakes up 3 times! The arrival of the first tooth was met with a 12 hour straight, then a few days of constant wake ups. There is NO pattern to it, but I think breast fed babies to generally have a more erratic sleeping pattern according to my health visitor!
    We put A in her own room at 6 weeks as her noises woke me and my noises woke her! It helped but most mornings I wake up with her in the bed after the last feed because I fall asleep doing it!

    If you get a chance to read 'french children don't throw food' do, there are some interesting things on sleep behaviour. If you have a kindle I can email you a copy of it actually?

    And yes, I think we should take it off its pedestal so the people whose babies sleep 12 hours from 2 months can stop being so smug!

    1. Yes I am inclined to agree for the same reasons. But then I am sure the smugness has a comeuppance eventually.

      I think the variability is really hard to deal with. Before baby arrives you expect sleepless nights and the exhaustion that comes with it. But how much it can varry is hard work. I have learnt not to celebrate too much too soon with L. Take everyday as it comes and try to sleep through when she does!


  2. I found my kids went through stages where they slept brilliantly or the opposite. My worst problem was I had twins and too often their sleep patterns weren't synchronised at all!

    1. Gosh your twins kept you on your toes! I think there is a lot to be said for the natural sleep instincts of a child, which can be inspire of or because of what else is going on. Your twins prove that even in the same setting with the same input (I am assuming, correct me if wrong) a child can sleep or not sleep.

      What did you find helped you get through the stages when they weren't sleeping?

  3. All kids are different and some naturally need more sleep than others from very young no matter what sleeping techniques you use. #PoCoLo

  4. Sounds like you're doing all the right things hon, and I agree that making it clear from the off that nighttime isn't Funtime will definitely help in establishing good sleep habits. I also think it's a myth about breast and bottled fed babies, as long as they've had a good full feed before bed it shouldn't matter where the milk came from.

    I read endless advice and over analysed it first time round but my 4yo was the last of my NCT group at 9 months to properly sleep through and achieve the coveted 7-7. It ended up being short lived and just after she turned two she stopped. Now we're lucky if she sleeps through twice a week! My 21mo on the other hand slept through all by herself at 10 weeks and has been amazing ever since. We're crossing fingers that our third sleeps well as can just about cope with one bad sleeper in the family!

    We put the S word on such a pedestal because it's so important to our daily lives. It's difficult to fully function when it's been months & months since you last had a decent night. There's a very good reason they use sleep deprivation as torture! #PoCoLo