Sleep, like fog, comes on little cat feet…
Not really but I have always wanted to start a post like that!!!
When it comes to sleep, particularly babies and sleep, a whole lot of untruths go by, white lies of course. One thing leads to another and before you know it you are the only person on earth whose baby does not sleep through the night. What I have learnt about sleep, not from any experts mind you, but from experience with se7en+1 babies, is that sleep is all about attitude… our attitude to our babies rather than whatever the latest “baby book” or “baby expert” says about sleep.
The first untruth is that babies sleep and eat… trust me after carrying this little character around for nine months I don’t want them to be sleeping… I want to meet them and I want to engage them. Why in the world would I work so hard to survive a healthy pregnancy only to have a baby that sleeps twenty-two hours a day. It doesn’t make sense and it’s not going to happen. Anyway, here are a list of se7en sleepy thoughts I have had and se7en things that have helped.
- Sleep Needs: We consider ourselves to be sleep deprived when we have had an interrupted night. In a culture where we are expected to perform at our maximum all out best 24/7 even the thought of being sleep deprived can send us into a whirlwind of stress. Supermoms need their sleep after all. And we know that the ultimate torture is to wake someone as soon as they fall asleep. It took time for me to realize that sleep disrupted wasn’t necessarily sleep deprived.
The trick: After months of what felt like absolutely no sleep at all a friend suggested I keep a sleep diary, you know a food diary but for sleep. So, I kept a sleep diary for a week for the babe and I and wrote down every single time he slept – even for ten minutes and every time I slept, even for ten seconds… and discovered after just two days that I was getting more sleep than I was getting before I had children.
- Sleep Expectations: So much emphasis is placed on “Does your baby sleep through the night?” As a new mom you are asked that question long before anyone asks “What’s your babies favorite game?” or “Goodness your baby looks so alert.” It is hard in the competitive world of motherhood to be the one with the less than perfect child, the only one that doesn’t sleep.
The Trick: And I will tell you a secret, we all wake up at night. All the time! For all sorts of reasons – even our babies. They may be cold, they may be hot, they maybe thirsty, they may have woken with a fright, they may just be lonely or just not tired anymore. It could happen to any of us. It is a human thing to wake up, not just a baby thing. And I speak for myself here, all my needs are important!!! If I wake in the night, for any reason, it is an important reason… Babies are the same, not all infant needs are about food but all their needs are important and they are just too small to meet them themselves.
- Sleep Myths:The first time I realized that folk were being less than honest about the “whole sleep thing” was when I visited a friend with my newborn, she had three older kids. When she heard our child slept in our family bed she was appalled and said her children never ever slept in her bed. Then through chatting and so on it arose that her husband slept with their toddler in his bed until midnight, then he moved into the five year olds bed, while she (the mother) slept on the couch with the baby. She was right – nobody was sleeping in her bed!!!
The Trick: The family bed works for us. I am all for a family bed and no one is lurching around the house in the night playing musical beds.
- Sleep Attitude: The lack of sleep when our first child was born was so incomprehensible that I am still reeling from it. The two hourly wake up call for the first countless years of his life were indeed a sleep deprivation experiment of note!!! Not to mention I cannot tell you if any other of our children are good or bad sleepers. What I can say is my attitude to sleep changed dramatically from my first child to the next and the next. Time taught me that my children’s night time needs were as important as mine. Over and above that everything we read is geared towards our right to sleep all night it took a while for me to learn that only a mother can really attend to a babies needs in the night. I had heaps of friends with babies whose husband got up in the night to change diapers and bring their babies to them. Why have to sleep disrupted parents?
The Trick: Is to stop worrying about how many times you get up in the night… Seriously meet the need and keep sleeping, if it isn’t morning don’t even glance at the clock… it is sleep time, not checking the clock time. And seriously stop counting the times you are woken, if you are awake enough to be counting then you have woken too much!!! Really it was a huge break through for me to change from thinking: “aaahh, that baby is awake again…” to “oh look how pleased he is to see me, even in the dead of night.”
- Sleep Time Needs: A common question I get is my child has doubled from it’s birthweight and it should be able to sleep through the night… Seriously do you ever go twelve hours or longer without even a drink of water. There is no documented evidence to prove that cereal will help your child sleep longer in the night. Your baby got to double its birthweight on milk, so why is milk suddenly not good enough. The World Health Organization recommends that babies have milk exclusively for their first six months. Really where is the extra nutrition in cereal compared to your babies regular milk? Frankly I am happy for my kids to learn the whole sleep thing before I start to disrupt their lives with solids.
The Trick: Don’t confuse issues, sleep is sleep. Starting solids is a whole-nother thing.
- Sleep Needs: Your baby gets enough sleep, otherwise it wouldn’t be thriving. Babies have their best sleep of the day in the evening, before midnight or with mine before eleven. It even has a name – it is called the core sleep. Even a baby that cries for hours in the early evening eventually sleeps.
The Trick: Go to sleep with your baby. If you are so tired that you cannot face another thing then don’t, don’t even look at the dishes… get your sleep then. I feel no shame – NONE – when I go to bed at se7en with my kids and surface at eleven to do some quick chores. And if I am really tired I am quite happy to sleep on through!!! Generally I clean everything up for the next day, but sometimes it just isn’t worth running on empty. Chores go so much quicker in the light of day when you have had some sleep. Trust me if someone calls you at sundown they will be far more appalled at waking you than you will be at being caught in bed fast asleep.
- Sleep Habits: With my first child we did the whole supper, bath, books, bed routine. (Yes everyone gets a story at bedtime, every night from the day they are born, it is important to me to give my kids that). It took years for me to realize that for my first born there was no such thing as a soothing story, a book at bed-time stimulated him through the roof!!! Rearrange your routine to one that works for you. Books before supper worked better for us. Every other child of ours was born into the routine and I never had to establish it. Hood #8 was born and the next night at bedtime we had supper, baths, and bed. A little bit of a prayer and lights out. Everyone does it and I don’t leave the room, I am tired, I am with them and I am going to sleep. There are no arguments!!!
My Absolute Best Sleep Trick: Is to play very dead in the night – no stimulation: no special soothing music, no special lamp, no special games and especially no special books (learnt that the hard way with a first born smashing Richard Scarry books on my head at two in the morning when he was nine months old… no not even special fluffy toys. Our bed is quite simply the most boring place in the house and we sleep in it!!! I only tend to a diaper if it is dirty… and the reason I am saying all this is because with my first born every time he woke: I changed his diaper before I fed him, put on his special lullaby classical music cd and lit his special “soporific-lavender” candles. He built up into a really wakeful state, whose surprised!!! Subsequent children have been fed in the dark, held when they needed holding, comforted when they need comforting but certainly never entertained in any way.
I hope this helps you guys, who ask me about babies and sleep, just a little bit. I specially haven’t quoted any experts or offered any of “the best books”… You have probably waded through heaps of information by now anyway!!! In fact by the time you have read through all the literature you baby will be finished with mastering sleep anyway. I really just wanted to provide some sleep tricks that have worked for us.
And since this blog is always about answering questions and I cannot possibly imagine I will ever write a whole post on bedwetting. I was asked a while back – in the olden days before Hood #8 was born. What to do about bedwetting? And this is what I do… Nothing, except a whole lot more laundry. Actually I don’t bother with the whole “you must be dry at night” aspect of toilet training. I pop my little kids into a disposable diaper at night until they complain about it… and that is usually a while after they are dry in the day… If they ask I will say: Let’s just see if your body is ready to sleep without a diaper… if the bed is wet then their body isn’t ready and repeat the experiment a couple of weeks later. I have no worries about putting a toddler in a diaper at night – really, they sleep in my bed and there are limits!!!
Finally, I know that by the time they reach college they will all be sleeping and out of diapers and no longer nursing… But I am very sure I will have a whole lot of other parenting challenges to cope with by then!!!
I popped this post onto the Works For Me Wednesday Site – go and have a look there for all sorts of tips on absolutely anything.