Never in my life have I been asked so much about sleep. And never have I given so many different answers. It’s hard to even know where to start in writing a blog about sleep because our experience has been so varied. I could write a different story for each night. I wrote a summary of Nala’s sleep patterns over the last 5.5 months. It’s over three pages. It’s a nice record for me, but I’ll spare you the lengthy details. Instead I’ll focus on the sleep advice I’ve received and a topic that is being hotly debated in my house – to co-sleep or not to co-sleep?
My daughter started life as the type of sleeper that everyone wants. She slept a lot, anywhere. She did not need to be rocked or settled, she would just close her eyes and sleep. (Seasoned mother I see you smirking here, you know this is just the newborn stage, I did not. How would I know that? Everything I’d ever heard instructed me to prepare myself for sleepless nights from the day my baby was born…) Yes my daughter would feed through the night. But she’d also fall straight back to sleep. I was thriving as a new mother, so confident and loving my daughter so much that I barely noticed I wasn’t getting more than two hours of sleep in a row. She’d fall asleep before she’d finished a feed. All the midwives and lactation consultants told us to keep waking her. We’d undress her in the night to wake her up, my husband would play games with her, teach her to dance, we’d squeeze her feet. If I went back in time I’d ignore this advice and get as much sleep as we could. I now know that my daughter was never going to starve and my milk supply wasn’t going to suffer. But persist we did. She must stay awake long enough to feed both sides. This could take up to an hour and a half. Still, she was a text book baby. She barely cried at all.
We’ve always taken her anywhere we want to go, regardless of whether she is due for a sleep. If we are out she sleeps wherever we are. We never set a routine. She only went to bed when we did. If she fell asleep before then, it would be on the couch, or in the bouncer, or where ever she was. We broke all the sleep rules. When my daughter was 11 weeks old we took her to a wedding. She slept in her pram and didn’t stir through the whole thing. When she was six weeks old she slept through the night. I was too scared to tell anyone. I thought I might jinx it.
Right from day one she was our world. We held her as much as we could. And when we couldn’t hold her I’d put her in the baby carrier, close to my heart. We knew ‘you can’t spoil a baby’, so we hardly ever left her alone.
At 4 months she hit the famous 4 month sleep regression. She decided she didn’t want to sleep on her own any more. She’d wake up in her small cot, find herself alone and freak out. The instant we picked her up she’d settle, completely content – just as long as we didn’t put her back to bed alone. She wanted to sleep with us. And when she did she was in her absolute happy place. She started sleeping on daddy’s chest, or my chest, or in our arms, or in between us. Hearing our hearts beat and feeling our warmth put her to sleep. And between us she sleeps so well. If she stirs she realizes she is snuggled up and safe and she goes straight back to sleep. I understand it because I no longer like sleeping by myself. I also get a lot of comfort from knowing there is someone next to me. I have wondered over and over ‘why is it, that as a society, we expect our babies to sleep on their own in the first place? They are so little, and love us so much, and get so much comfort from knowing we are there. Why do we try so hard to teach them to sleep on their own?’
Are we bad parents if we let our daughter sleep between us? Apparently so, says every sleep book I’ve read. And so does our culture. I didn’t know much about babies before having my own, but I knew I needed to buy a small cot or bassinet for when she was a newborn and a larger one for when she had her own room (her own room! What??? I can’t imagine putting our small princess in her own room…).
When discussing sleeping arrangements my mum said, “well Katie, you’re the boss”. But I can assure you, I definitely am not. And this has very much been my experience as a mum. My daughter has told me when she will feed, she decided when she would start solids, she decides when to go to bed and where she will sleep, she decides when to wake up. She knows exactly what she wants, what feels right for her. It’s instinctual for her, she hasn’t read any baby books. Yet I go with it, because so far it has worked. And she is growing into a truly happy little person.
But what if my baby never learns to sleep on her own? What is she never turns into an independent woman? And it’s all my fault? And she’s the only kid who can’t go to sleep overs? And my husband and I completely loose touch? And it destroys our marriage? And what if she’s still sleeping there when baby number two comes along? What if she never, ever leaves? What if she gets so big that my husband and I are each falling off opposite sides of the bed? And how can she go to bed at 7:30 if she wont sleep without us? And what if I never have my evenings to myself ever again? Imagine all the things I could do in life if my baby was asleep at 7:30!
So far we’ve been non committal either way. One night we are determined to teach her to sleep by herself. The next we enjoy her cuddles so much we don’t want to put her down. A normal night involves her falling asleep with us and waking up with us in the morning, but being transferred to her cot a few times in-between. We know this is confusing for her. And it’s time. It’s time to make a decision. It’s time to make a decision about what type of parents we want to be. But I’m truly divided. I’m scared of creating bad habits. But I’m stressed and overwhelmed by the thought of trying to teach her to sleep alone. Sleeping in our bed is SO much easier. And our baby is too little, and too cuddly and too loved. I wont lie – we like it as much as she does.
For me mothering is about reading as much as I can, and then doing what feels right for me. It’s worth reading, because there are plenty of people who know a lot more about babies than me. But perhaps I’ve read too much. Perhaps it’s all the sleep books (and fellow mummies and baby specialists) that have made me so scared to do what I know my daughter wants. And it’s all these sleep books that make me blame myself for the fact that she doesn’t want to sleep on her own. That make me feel like I’m somehow failing. Like if I could only learn to put my daughter down ‘sleepy but awake’ I’d be a better mum, I’d have an easier future. Because I’ll probably pay for this later. I’m creating bad habits. I’ve already created bad habits. But like most things in my life, I’m doing what feels right at the time, and I’ll worry about the future when I get there. And like most first time mums, I don’t have any answers, I’m just learning as I go. One day at a time.