Ah, the emotive topic of sleep. We meet again.
Some of you may have come here looking for advice or guidance when it comes to your baby sleeping through the night. My advice is to be patient. Some people like to go down the route of sleep training but that isn’t really how we roll around these parts.
I am someone who has been severely sleep deprived for a long time. A solid 18 months I would say. Billy was “not a sleeper” I suppose you could say. He was also just a baby and babies are not necessarily born sharing the same obsession with long periods of uninterrupted sleep that we have. He was my little Billy Bear and in truth I wouldn’t change a single thing. Would more sleep have been nicer in those eighteen months? Of course. However when I look back on the first year and a half of his life I certainly don’t look at it in negative terms associated with his sleep patterns. I remember the good times we have shared, the snuggles and the giggles.
That is not to say that we were not tired. Oh my God were we tired. I honestly never really experienced that level of exhaustion before. I mean, I thought I had. I look at my teenage brothers and their ability to sleep in half the day and it definitely feels like light years ago that I was doing that very same thing.
If we are blessed with having another baby in the future I will approach the topic of sleep very differently. Firstly I won’t expect anything. I just won’t expect sleep. It’s amazing how you just adjust to these things. You have your bad nights and bad weeks. The weeks where it feels like you will never sleep properly again. Then a decent night bounces your way and it injects a bit of life in to you. It carries you through the more difficult times.
We are talking about babies here. Babies who by their very nature just want comfort. I’m not saying that breastfeeding and co-sleeping are the only ways to comfort a baby but they happened to be two important parts of our little story. I’ll cherish both of them forever. In simple terms, you have to do what feels right for you. Follow you instinct and try to drown out a lot of the advice and here-say that will come your way.
It’s funny, I was obsessed with books when I was pregnant. I read them all. I wanted to be prepared for everything and understand it all before it even happened. The research genuinely is redundant though. There is nothing that will prepare you for being a parent other than experiencing it. You learn on the job and before you know it you are confident in your abilities. Not all of the time but a big chunk of the time.
Billy was always going to sleep through the night when he was six months old. I just knew it. Solids would sort it all out. Six months came and went and the sleep situation didn’t change at all. After a couple of months I accepted it and looked forward to his first birthday. He had to sleep by the age of one, right? Surely he would be exhausted from all that walking and running around. Oh, did I mention I had decided he would walk by one years of age too? I had heard a couple of mothers talk about their children walking by their first birthday so naturally I adopted the same idea and looked forward to waking up on the 9th of June to a baby who had suddenly learned how to walk down the stairs and iron his own clothes (joking, nobody irons in this house).
By about fourteen months I had calmed down a lot about the whole thing. The walking, the sleeping, the whole lot. Sure the little man only got his first tooth around the time of his first birthday. He didn’t crawl until about the 11 month mark. It was around this time that I decided to give myself (and himself) a break and stopped obsessing over the milestones. Yes I was tired. Very tired. But the pressure of these timescales and countdowns was far more exhausting.
I stopped googling, posting, reading and writing about sleep. Instead I focused on getting it wherever I possibly could.
One night we randomly introduced a bottle at about 11pm. I was (and am) still breastfeeding just before he went to sleep but for whatever reason, this particular night, Daddy gave him a bottle at 11pm while I was asleep. He guzzled it and slept for six solid hours. I woke up the next morning, leaped out of the bed and frantically checked that he was breathing. He was. Quite well in fact.
And so we tried it again. And again. Before we knew it we had developed a little routine whereby I did the bed-time and Daddy did the “wake up bottle”. That’as right, our eighteen month old was waking for a bottle at 11pm. He was also sleeping better than he ever had before.
Now, before I go any further. Some of you might be wondering about why we don’t just offer him a bottle at bed time before he goes to sleep. Instead of breastfeeding. A bottle obviously leads to a long stretch of sleep. Right? Well no actually. When I am there he looks for a breastfeed before bed. I am more than happy to give it. It’s our thing. His one and only breastfeed. He very naturally went from a child who fed all day and all night to a child who fed all night and rarely during the day. He then became a child who didn’t feed at all during the day and just fed at night. Now we had found ourselves in a situation where he only fed before he slept at night. One breastfeed somewhere between 7pm and 8pm. I was (and am) confident that this feed will stay around as long as it needs to. I have never forced anything on him and it’s all been very natural. I’m really grateful and proud of this.
So the bed-time breastfeed stays. Funnily enough a bottle at bed-time makes no ounce (get it) of a difference. He still wakes for the 11pm bottle regardless.
So I feed him before bed and it’s about a five minute round trip from putting his sleeping bag on and saying goodnight to Daddy to being fast asleep. It is so easy. I sit back on the super comfy rocking chair and almost fall asleep myself as he has his breastfeed. It’s a really special time for us to reconnect at the end of the day.
By this stage I tidy up a bit, make the lunches for the next day, do a bit of washing and possibly get some work done. I might watch a TV show or read a book. Then I go to bed.
99.9% of the time I will not see my baby until about 6am the next morning. In my eyes, my little man now sleeps through the night. Sure he wakes at 11pm religiously for his 8oz bottle of warm cow’s milk but I am not awake to even notice. That’s Daddy’s job. I do the boobs and he does the bottle. It works very well. He wakes for the bottle and it’s almost like a dream-feed. We don’t turn lights on or talk to him. He drinks every drop and is asleep in Daddy’s arms by the end of the bottle. He then goes back to sleep for another 6-7 hours.
There is of course the odd night where he is teething badly, has a dirty nappy or is just a bit unsettled. Every child does. We take these nights as they come and he is always welcome to snuggle up with us in our bed. It may not be the most comfortable sleep but it’s the right solution for us. I like to think of it as a 22 month old hot water bottle.
But, let me say this again…. 99.999999% of the time I lay my baby down to sleep at about 7.30pm and do not see him for about 11 hours.
From a woman who never ever thought I would sleep for more than twenty minutes in a row, let me tell you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And you know what? It’s totally worth the wait. You don’t appreciate sleep until it’s gone. When it returns you have a whole new appreciation for it. Every moment is that little bit sweeter.