I really wished I had researched more about sleep before having Hunter. In my first pregnancy, I really wanted to breastfeed and had heard a lot of unsuccessful stories, so I really focused all my energy into researching it, asking friends, seeing the lactation consultant and learning loads, mainly about the benefits and what to expect with breast feeding. It worked because I successfully breastfeed Hunter for 12 months which was my goal and I am pretty proud of myself (I will write a post on this soon). Anyway, back to sleep (oh I wish 🙂 I would say my number one shock to the system when I had Hunter was the lack of sleep. I am one of those people that LOVE my sleep and need a lot of it. I am not an early riser, I am night owl (*note your babe might be the same, it is our temperament) so living on only a few hours of sleep in a week (dead serious), I think I went into shock because I just wasn’t expecting it. I remember messaging one of my friends who also has beautiful scrumptious boys and saying “what is wrong with him? He just won’t sleep! He will only sleep in my arms or being vigorously rocked or sometimes not at all. He isn’t on a schedule, shouldn’t he be sleeping by now??” She was a lifesaver and reassured me her two boys were exactly the same and she was the same with her first but with her second, she decided to ‘let go’ and enjoy motherhood and stop focusing on trying to get him to follow a schedule or be a particular way. Our stories were pretty much the same. Thank God! First tip: speak up and talk to your friends and family. Don’t hide the fact that your baby doesn’t sleep, it is okay, it is completely NORMAL, more so than I thought. And FYI sleeping through is no more than 5 hours!
The first few weeks (days even), I am not going to lie, hands down the lack of sleep is what I remember the most. Not the labour, not the contractions, not the breastfeeding (yes my nipples were cracked and sore), and not my major surgery I had 4 days after having Hunter (another post to come on that), but the lack of sleep is all I remember. For me, that was the hardest part. I remember asking my friends, so when do they actually sleep? 3 weeks, 4 months, f*ckkkk 6 months, surely not? Where I had Hunter, it was a great system which I also think was due to my breast feeding success, you have to take the baby to the nursery to feed not in your room. Midwives 24/7 in there and other Mother’s and their newborns – dressing gowns, slippers, bags (under their eyes of course) and that face. Just let me sleep, please, for 10 minutes. I remember walking down there at 2am (that is when babes loves to party), and dragging my feet, like a toddler being dragged away from the swings, I thought, shit, my legs are literally going to fall off. So the beginning was definately tough and the lack of sleep and exhaustion was hard to say the least. But I went back again didn’t I? So must not have been too bad, right? Also just want to point out, Hunter is a TERRIBLE sleeper and still isn’t great. Your baby (and I am praying second babe) may be a fabulous sleeper. But I just want to prepare not scare.
So as I have set the scene, H didn’t really improve and just got worst. I was completely clueless. I remember around the 3 month mark, it just got worst and he probably didn’t settle until at least 6 months (at 6months he would at least sleep for 2-3hours – heaven!). But it was at that 3 month mark, you start getting the comments and the sleep deviation really sets in. So I tried EVERYTHING. I mean everything. Even in the middle of the night I bought a $500 sleeping program online who guaranteed a ‘gentle’ approach to helping babe sleep. It was just another sleep training program and pretty much like the free information you get from online guides and ‘sleep schools’. Now please remember this is my story and your story will be different from mine. Sleep training, crying it out – may all work for you, but it didn’t for me. This post is really for the Mama, who needs reassurance that there is nothing wrong with your baby or you and if you don’t want to sleep train or it isn’t working, you don’t have to.
I focused soooooo much on trying to get Hunter into a routine but it just didn’t work for him, and he still has a very flexible routine now, I have now learnt it is his temperament and personality. So while I have been pregnant this time round, I have really dedicated my time in researching about sleep. As I didn’t do this with H and just felt all over the place. I see a beautiful midwife and lactation consultant from the hospital, she really helped me with breastfeeding but mainly I love her approach to motherhood. Her advice is very much based on researched and she can back anything up, but she also is a mother and grandmother herself and really focuses on the child as an individual and makes sure everything is tailored for you and your babe. Her main thing is – you know best and to trust your intuition. Oh my goodness, she is spot on. Every time I did this with H, everything fell into place. The moment I did something I thought I was meant to do, it all went to shit. This is the key word to motherhood – intuition.
So after all my research, meetings with my midwife, talking to friends, and on the job training 🙂 I found a fantastic book which I love. I literally read it in 2 days. It was like it was written from my heart. I believe this is a must have book for all pregnant woman and new Mamas. Why I love it? Firstly, it says to follow your intuition, every child is different (no parent or sleep manual will work – EVER), it is reassuring and nurturing, it is written by a lactation consultant, there is loads of research and the best part there are heaps of real life stories from other Mamas. I am going to point out my top 5 quotes from the book to give you a taste and what really helped me. The book is called ‘Sleeping like a baby, simple sleep solutions for babies and toddlers’ by Pinky McKay.
Sleep: one step at a time:
“I spent so much time trying to teach my first baby to sleep. I wish I’d spent it enjoying him” Megan
The most important point of all. It will take time and look completely different for every family and child. Go gently. But most importantly follow your intuition. It will never fail you and always guide you. Do what feels right and what works for you. You don’t ever have to explain yourself. If you and your baby are safe, healthy and happy, stick to it. If you want to try new things, give them a go and be consistent but if it doesn’t work that is ok. Some beautiful strategies and examples in the book. Remember do everything with love, how can you go wrong with that?
Sleep training & controlled crying
“The cries of an infant are the voice of Nature, suplicating relief. It can express its wants in no other language.” Mrs Parkes, Domestic Duties, 1825
Sleep deprivation is a cow! And the moment you tell anyone about how your babe
doesn’t sleep – you will get, have you tried sleep training? Shits me! I have tried all the sleep programs and had all the certain sleep ‘schools’ on speed dial. I remember starting them and thinking, all those mothers who say they can’t get their babies to sleep, just haven’t persisted or tried hard enough. But I did. It didn’t work. It made me so miserable and made me feel like a complete failure. I believe I am a natural mother and motherhood came to me so easily. Other than sleep, H was thriving and such a happy baby. But doing these programs it stressed Hunter. I always felt like I was going against the what I truly thought was right. There had to be another way. As I have mentioned it is very important to follow your intuition, but it also important to learn from others and do your research. Educate and empower yourself. I would suggest, reading and learning about different sleep strategies and programs. They do have some great tips and tricks that may be suitable for your babe. In particular, learning about baby’s sleep cycle, active alertness and sleep cues etc. The moment, I started to ‘watch’ Hunter, and was able to identify the hunger cues, the cuddle cues and the sleep cues – life became a lot easier. With routined sleep programs, they are good because they offer babies a secure and predictable environment. However, think about yourself, how would you feel being told you had to eat at 12:30 on the dot or sleep at 1pm – what if you aren’t hungry or worst, hungry at 1145? We want a secure environment yes, but we also want babies to learn flexibility and not just be so mechanical and structured. If you have read any of my other posts, you will know that I am a highly organised perfectionist and love lists and schedules. But I am also an educator and something I learnt very quickly in teaching and now motherhood, you need to go with the rhythm of the child, they are all different and require personalise needs. Your baby is no different. I really want to point out something I have found in my research and it goes into further detail in the book, which is the science behind controlled crying. I wish I had come across this before having Hunter. Again, no judgement, but I think it is really important that all parents know of the dangers and risks of controlled crying. I really do not think it is spoken about enough.
Firstly, it is a myth you will teach your baby ‘bad habits’ or ‘spoil them’. Your baby doesn’t have an agenda or deliberately trying to inconvenience you, he is simply expressing natural biological urges to be nurtured and nourished and to feel safe. He has no control over his needs and how they are met.
Secondly, crying it out has now taken on the more ‘gentle’ terms of controlled crying, controlled soothing, spaced soothing, gradual withdrawal. Basically, the difference is you don’t just shut the door on baby and let them cry till they are exhausted, but you offer interval reassurance throughout the process. The Australian Association of Infant Mental Health (AAIMHI) advises, “Controlled crying is not consistent with what infants need for their optimal emotional and psychological health, and may have unintended negative consequences” – okay that was enough for me. Also go with common sense, we don’t need a journal article telling us that if a baby is left alone for twelve hours, they could aspirate vomit and choke or become overheated. There is no published documentation where there are any ‘safe’ guidelines on how long you can leave a baby to safely cry it out.
Paediatrician William Sears says that babies that are ‘trained’ to sleep well and appear to be ‘good’ sleepers, are being trained from the beginning to not express their needs and because they just stop after a few days of ‘training’, which doesn’t mean they have learnt to self soothe, they have learnt to stop expressing themselves and have given up because you haven’t responded to them. Don’t know about you, but I don’t want my baby or child to ever feel I have given up on them at any age. Babies (and children + teenagers) need our help to learn how to regulate their emotions. When babies are left alone, they fail to develop the understanding that they can regulate their own emotions. A longitudinal study of depressed and healthy preschool children who underwent neuroimaging at school age showed that children who experienced responsive early nurturing had a larger hippocampal volume – a brain region that is key to memory and stress modulation. This means that by responding to your baby when she is young, when she is older she will have a better capacity to soothe herself and calm down if she is feeling upset, angry or anxious. You don’t ever get this time back, the hippocampal volume can never increase later in life, it is during infancy it develops. As an educator, who specialises in gifted education, I know the effects of children and the RAPID increase of anxiety in young children. I have preformed a lot of research on how anxiety affects intelligence and learning. We live in a society, which has a growing number of suicide and mental health problems. I know for me, if I can help prevent this in anyway, any form of sleep training or controlled crying isn’t for me and I just wouldn’t take that risk,
“The newborn baby will have only three demands. They are warmth, in the arms of its mother, food from her breasts, and security in the knowledge of her presence. Breastfeeding satisfies all three.” Dr Grantly Dick-Read
I am not going to write too much on this because I will be doing a blog post on this soon. I am also not going to comment too much on formula feeding because I haven’t done it and I am not an expert. I am a Mother, who researched breastfeeding and really pushed through (I mean not just the cracked nipples or waiting for my milk, I had major life-threatening surgery 4 days after Hunter, and was only on a drip and liquids for 6 weeks when I first had him.) I get it, it is very difficult but it can be done. But the one thing I really want to point out is, firstly no judgement and if formula feeding works for you, that is your choice, but I really want to emphasise that MOST of the research done on sleeping and baby sleep guides and what is considered ‘normal’ is based on formula fed babies and not breast fed babies. So already if you are breastfeeding all the information about sleeping is going to contradict. I don’t care what anyone says, formula fed babies and breast fed babies, sleep differently. It is a proven researched fact. As do boys vs. girls. These sleep training programs, crying it out approaches, how much you want to put ‘gentle’ in front of it, they are based on formula fed babies (and don’t even consider that all babies are different, even if they are littler than the average baby). So please do not get disheartened if your babe doesn’t sleep to these ridiculous guidelines. Also remember if you are breastfeeding, your baby is used to being on you all the time, it is his comfort, that is all he knows, putting him in a cot is very unnatural and a western ideology.
“The bosom of a mother is the natural pillow of her offspring” Dr JT Conquest
I was that person pre-baby that said I will never ever co-sleep. I was so against it. But I am a proud mother who co-sleeps, who loves it, embraces it and can’t wait for babe number two to join us. It has taken me 12 months to be able to admit that. Co-sleeping is not a guilty habit. 80% of parents co-sleep (in Australia) and breastfeeding and co-sleeping are inextricably linked. Australia is extremely unique compared to the rest of the world. In Europe, South America, Africa and Asian – co-sleeping is the norm, cots and bassinets are the taboo and ‘strange’ thing to do. Psychologist Penelope Leach states, “Western cultures are unique in the amount of physical separateness which they impose on infants, inventing innumerable gadgets – prams, cots, baby chairs and bouncers.” Also think about our ancestors, where do you think the cave woman put their b
abies to sleep? Yep, on them and with them. It is the most natural and nurturing thing you can do, especially for newborns. Again, all babes are different and some prefer their own space and go into their cots earlier than others. What I have found with Hunter is, when he is ready he will do it, not a minute before or less. He now starts out in his cot (3 months ago, he would of screamed), I lay with him and hold his hand, after about 10 minutes he falls asleep. He will wake anytime from 11pm-3am and comes in with us. When he is sick or teething this varies which we accommodate for. I am not saying you need to co-sleep, I am saying it is ok to and it is very natural. Do what works best for you and baby. Remember as parents, we do need to be selfless. If your baby is happy, content, relaxed sleeping with you, maybe he is telling you something. Don’t worry they won’t always be sleeping with you. Relax and enjoy the snuggles. Hunter is always so much calmer when he is with us.
Time to sleep
“Always kiss your children goodnight – even if they’re already asleep’ H Jackson Brown, Jr, author
I think it is really important to have some sort of ‘routine/association’ with sleep. As structured or as flexible as you like, even if babe is co-sleeping, so sleep is always associated with positivity, something to look forward to and a way for you to communicate with your bubba that it is sleep time. The book goes into more strategies for this, but it can range from soft music, the same book being read, a song, a bath, massage, putting sleeping bag or swaddle on. With Hunter, I always sing him his favourite song ‘Little Little Boy…” and give him a massage and read the same book to him.
Remember it is a proven fact that, when you are stressed, baby feels this. Babies are no different to other people in your life, when someone you love is stressed, you feel it too. So try and enjoy the ride, remain calm and remember you won’t ever get these days back, they will be all grown up one day.
Would love to know what you think, your story and what has worked and hasn’t worked for you.