A close friend of mine has just had baby and it's bringing back all of the emotions I felt when I had Billy. I've been texting her and it's literally transporting me back to when I was in the hospital and how I felt in those early days. It's like a surreal bubble, and even though I know it was me, it feels like it was a dream on some level. So without getting too caught up in talking about my own experience, I wanted to talk about something more specific. Sleep.
I've been thinking about the types of questions people ask you in those early days, and even now when Billy is almost seven months. One of the most popular, and perhaps most sensitive questions people ask you, is about that little word, sleep. "Is your baby sleeping through the night?". I've thought about writing this post for a long time but was struggling with how to articulate it properly (particularly how to articulate it when I'm tired. You see, this sleep thing is rather important for us adults too). I wanted to talk about it properly because it's actually quite difficult to explain the significance of such a seemingly simple and direct question.
Any new mother will tell you that they've been asked this question a million times. And in those early days, and on any given day really, it can make you crumble. It's such a sensitive topic because unless your baby is sleeping "through the night", you automatically feel like a complete and total failure when someone asks you that question.
Before I go any further, can I just tell you that both my public health nurse and GP told me that the norm is actually for a baby to NOT sleep through the night. And, most interestingly, sleeping "through the night" is actually considered to be sleeping for five hours straight. I was shocked by this because ALL I was hearing about were all these babies who were "going down" at 7pm and not stirring until 7am. Well, I've cracked the code. I think that the reason we hear so much about these perfect sleeping babies, is because the women who are sleep deprived, and who have perfectly normal babies who do not sleep through the night, are hardly going to scream it from the rooftops now are they? They're too busy trying to figure out ways to answer the question without sounding like they're doing something wrong. They're too busy wondering why their baby isn't co-operating.
"Em, he sleeps for a good stretch yeah. Just wakes for a few feeds like. But it's grand, I'm not tired like"
"She's a little party animal, doesn't want to miss anything"
"I think he has night and day mixed up. I'd say he'll start sleeping through the night in a few weeks"
"do you know what? She was actually in a great little routine and then she started teething so now she wakes up loads"
"yeah, he loves his sleep. I do nearly want to wake him up for a play"
Girls, stop making up answers. Stop feeling nervous every time someone asks you that question. You are doing an amazing job. You've done nothing wrong. And for the record, your baby is just doing what it was born to do, be a baby.
Our society is absolutely OBSESSED with babies sleeping through the night. First you are pregnant for 9 months, then you go through the traumatic experience of having a baby, then you are enjoying the incredible and overwhelming love and emotions that come with actually now having a baby. You are tired. So very tired. And happy. The last thing you need is pressure. And in my opinion, that is what it is.
I've literally been asked the question a hundred times. And I've answered it a hundred times. Insecurely in the early days. But now I scream it from the rooftops.
MY BABY DOES NOT SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT. That felt good.
So anyway, the point of this post is really just to vent because I have so many friends who feel the exact same way that I did and whom are almost ashamed that they have so far "failed" in the sleeping department. I couldn't really not write a post about it. It's such an important topic in my opinion.
This is all becoming a bit of a ramble because ironically enough I'm exhausted because Billy has been sleeping really badly this week. He's sleeping awfully because he's been sick for a few weeks now. He's had tonsilitis twice and a combination of pain and coughing has him waking constantly and it hasn't been easy to settle him. Up until he got sick he changed his sleep pattern dramatically. He was waking a LOT at night for feeds. He's always been a really hungry baby. But then when he got closer to 6 months he started waking less, and before I knew it he was only waking once for a feed between the time I put him down and the time we got up in the morning.
Because of it's relevance to the post, I'm letting you all know that this post was interrupted twice so far due to Billy waking and needing settling. Once was for his soother, another time was because he managed to roll his way down the cot in to a weird position. Not because I did anything wrong when putting him to bed tonight.
So where was I? Oh yeah, Billy was only waking once a night for a feed. It was heaven. There were still a few "doddee runs" where he would cry because he lost his soother in the cot. But those I can handle. So right now he's just getting over his second infection and I'm hoping he'll get back to that again. I honestly didn't know myself.
There is also the topic of how you put your baby to sleep, and that is also an area of talk where emotions run high and people feel very opinionated and defensive. I'm not going to delve in to it too much, but there are many people who chose to put there baby to sleep by following the "cry it out" methods. There are also those who do not chose to do this. I am one of those people who do not chose to do this. I know it is a very sensitive subject for a lot of people, and I know that sleep deprivation is one of the most difficult things to cope with and sometimes you will do just about anything to get some sleep, so I am not about to get all judgey right here. But what I will say is that I personally do not agree with that method for my baby and for my family. It's not something we ever wanted to do. And that's not because I'm a "hippie", or a "know it all" or anything other than it simply being something I would be extremely uncomfortable with. It's not for me. Or my baby. I'll leave it there.
If you would like to entertain some sort of sleep training methods that have a gentle baby-friendly approach then please have a look at Elizabeth Pantly's "No Cry Sleep Solution" book. It has some great ideas and is a gentle way of helping guide your baby in to positive sleep methods and associations.
The funny thing is that we can take all the advice, do all the research, and read all of the books but ultimately every mother, father or guardian will do what they believe is right for them as a family. I have friends who put their baby down at night in the cot and the baby will just go to sleep him/herself. They don't need any help, rocking, soothing or singing etc. Billy is not like that at all though. He needs a bit of rocking, singing, and soothing to help him get to sleep. Of course it would be a LOT easier for me and everyone if he just went to sleep when we put him down, but that would require a few horrible nights of me letting him "cry it out" and getting himself so worked up that he falls asleep with the exhaustion of crying until he realises that nobody will come when he cries and that when I put him down in the cot he must sleep. But I refuse to do that.
Of course it would be a lot easier to leave him have a sleepover with grandparents or friends if he just slept easily in that way and didn't require rocking, singing and soothing etc. But is that really all that important? Fundamentally I'm not willing to do that in order to make life easier for the adults. So for now if Billy has a sleepover somewhere he'll require the same amount of cuddling, rocking, soothing etc that he gets when he is home with his mammy and daddy. And that's the way we want it. We don't leave him crying, and that's our choice as his parents.
I was putting Billy to bed tonight. He was nearly asleep in my arms and I was singing to him while I rocked him in my arms and walked around the room. I then rubbed his face for a few minutes. When he eventually drifted off to sleep I looked at his beautiful little face and I thought about how in a couple of years, or even months, I will long for these days again when my baby needs me to cuddle him to help him fall asleep. I looked at his little face and I felt really happy knowing that he fell asleep in the comfort of my arms, secure, happy, content, comfortable and peaceful. Even in the midst of the tiredness, even though it takes a bit of time to get him to sleep at night. He's happy.
I've seen first hand that babys change all by themselves. I did nothing differently and one night Billy randomly went from waking every two hours looking for a feed, to waking just the once. I didn't force anything or try any methods. I also know that he will wake several times tonight looking for comfort as he has done since getting sick. But then he'll settle again in a few nights and my good night's sleep will be restored. And if he doesn't, that's OK too.
This post is not to offend anyone who uses different methods. It's just to show a different perspective on it. I too was/am a first time mother who felt the pressure when people asked that question. And here I am, almost 7 months later, and I suppose the point to be made here is that babies are not programmed to sleep through the night. They are born with a natural reflex to drink, eat, cry, and sleep when they are tired. They're SUPER intelligent. Sometimes it's OK to let them take the lead. It's OK to want to do things a bit differently to your friends or family. Have confidence in your decisions and remember that you know best. Every baby is different and no one rule fits all.
Oh, and just remember that it is perfectly normal to fall hopelessly and passionately in love with coffee. It'll get you through the tough times!