When you’re expecting a baby ‘they’ come out with a never ending tirade of advice, whether you want it or not. By ‘they’ I mean relatives, friends, neighbours, the checkout woman in Asda, the postwoman, friends of friends, coworkers, everyone on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and your other half’s best friend’s boss. Basically everyone in the world has their own opinions on how to raise children, even those who have no children. Especially those who have no children.
Sleep is the one sticking point everyone disagrees with. We have a common aim: to achieve sleep, preferably a lot of it and desirably, all in one go. We like to call it ‘Sleeping Through The Night’ and it is achieved by going to sleep in the evening of one day and waking up in the morning of the next. Preferably after 6am. Desirably after 8am but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. How we get to this restful destination is what causes the world to have an endless supply of opinions and causes the most arguments.
The key fact you should hold in your head is that the little person you gave birth to has never slept alone before. He has been inside you for a good few months, he’s been skipping with the umbilical cord, playing footsie with your ribs, listening to the whoosh and beat of the blood rushing around your body and snuggling down for a nap against your placenta. That was his ‘routine’ and ‘they’ say that routine is key.
So why, on God’s green earth, would you expect that little, tiny person to go solo as soon as he pops out? You give birth to your little bundle and suddenly it’s ‘ok baby, you’re a grown up now, you don’t need your mummy to help you sleep, off you go to crib-land.’ And guess what? Baby doesn’t like that. Baby will cry. Baby will scream. Baby will settle happily and instantly the second you pick him up and cuddle him close. So you try again. And he cries. The second his derrière touches that crib sheet (which you helpfully lined with broken glass, porcupine needles and scorpions, just to make it extra comfy. What do you mean ‘no’? You must have done to encourage such a reaction from your mini-dictator?) he cries.
Frustrating isn’t it? It’s not that hard to solve though. Babies like to be cuddled.
That’s it. That’s the key to sleep. Babies like to be cuddled.
I’m not coming at this from a scientific point of view, I’m coming at this from an ‘I’m really lazy and I like sleep’ point of view. It makes sense when you’re awake enough to really think about it. Someone who has spent his entire life (so far) being held close, living in a space barely bigger than himself; warm, cosy, is comforted constantly. Surely this is a nice way to be? Imagine being tucked up in a nice warm sleeping bag; your own little cocoon of comfort.
Now imagine someone takes it away from you and leaves you alone in a dark room all by yourself with nothing and no one to comfort you. There might be a little stuffed elephant clutching a scrap of silky material. He’s masquerading as a ‘comforter’ but his eyes are beady and that material he holds is too slippery. There might be a night light of some description which is meant to cast a comforting glow but does little more than create unearthly shadows and that white noise app, or Ewan the
Nightmare Inducer Dream Sheep isn’t replicating mummy’s heart beat, it’s making a beating sound with none of the warmth that goes with it. Like someone telling you the smell of chocolate will satisfy you just as much as tucking into a massive bar of Dairy Milk. It won’t.
I’m not offering you a quick fix solution, I’m not telling you that there is a magic trick to make babies sleep for hours on end, what I’m telling you is that what you are experiencing is normal. Babies aren’t supposed to sleep through the night, it’s a survival instinct. It’s their way of making sure they stay alive. They only have tiny tummies that fill and empty very rapidly so yes, they do need feeding often. They need to feel safe and secure and loved so yes, they wake for cuddles. They don’t like to feel wet or unclean so yep, they wake for a nappy change. They have all of these needs during the day AND at night. It’s kind of a 24/7 deal you sign up to when you decide to have a baby.
When Little Monkey was a baby I had all kinds of advice offered to me on how to solve the problem of him sleeping. Funnily enough I hadn’t realised he had a problem but he must do if so many people thought that ten hours straight wasn’t good enough. He went to bed at 7 after cuddles and a story and milk and he was snuggled to sleep. This was Problem Number One. He then slept until 5am when he would wake up for the day. This was Problem Number Two. He was tired and ready for his nap at about 9am. This was Problem Number Three.
What?! When did my baby develop all these problems? What had we done wrong? ‘They’ said that cuddling him to sleep was wrong. ‘He will never learn to self settle, you’ll be cuddling to sleep forever.’ I’ll be honest, I didn’t and still don’t think that it was a bad thing. It was my favourite time of the day; those nights when he had his milk and lay sleepily in my arms, looking up at me with his big blue eyes, drifting off to sleep. It was the one time of day when he didn’t want to chatter, he didn’t want to play, he was just content to be in my arms. He fell asleep safe and secure and didn’t stir when placed in his cot. But no, this was a bad thing. Babies should go to sleep on their own, they need to be independent and the way to do it was to let him cry. As a first time mum I had very little confidence in my own abilities and thoughts on how babies should be raised, what did I know? So began the Super Nanny Nights (I refer you to my earlier point of people with no children of their own having the most opinions on how they should be raised-this woman has made a living out of telling people how to raise kids when she’s no bloody idea what it’s like to raise one herself.) I put him in his cot after his milk, a gave him a kiss and a cuddle and lay him down and then left the room. And he cried. And I went back in. ‘Don’t speak to him, just lie him back down and leave.’ So I did. And he cried. And I cried and then I scooped him up and we cuddled to sleep. The next night we tried again. And the same thing happened. Night three I was up and down those stairs like a Yoyo until I thought ‘Sod this.’ An hour of up down up down up down or twenty minutes of cuddling? It felt wrong, it went against all my instincts so we cuddled. And guess what? Now that Little Monkey is three he doesn’t want cuddles to sleep anymore. I couldn’t tell you when it progressed from cuddles to just a kiss and a hug and him dozing off with his teddies but he’s happy.
Problem Number Two turned out to be just phase. We tried putting him to bed later but that was an holy disaster and eventually he just started sleeping a bit later.
Problem Number Three was apparently an inconvenience. How on earth was I expected to ‘get anything done’ when he was asleep by 9am? How could we go anywhere when he was ready for his nap? Well, babies have this amazing ability to sleep wherever they like. Especially in places like prams or slings or car seats. So he did.
Now that Little Panda is here this sleeping thing is a ‘problem’ again. (for everyone else, I might add, not me.) Firstly he doesn’t go to bed at 7pm. Shock horror. No he doesn’t, because that’s not his bed time. He decides his bed time when his tummy is full enough. If he’s not full he won’t sleep, a bit like me on Christmas Day. If I haven’t eaten my own body weight in Toblerone, turkey and After Eights there’s no chance of a Christmas nap.
Our second problem is bed-sharing. All the advice and safe sleeping guidelines say that babies should share a room with their mothers for the first six months. This helps them to stay alive. Yes, it really does. Babies have trouble remembering to breathe; when they get into a nice, deep sleep they sometimes forget to do it but the bond which was created when they were living Uterus Land doesn’t end when the umbilical cord is cut and it enables them to regulate their breathing with mum’s. Mum will also tuck blankets in, take them off, stroke baby’s face; all these little things which help to promote bonding and stop babies from slipping away in their sleep. The NHS doesn’t actively promote bed-sharing because of the risks (formula feeding, mothers and fathers who drink, smoke or take medication and the risks of over heating) but done safely it saves lives. And it’s the ultimate lazy girls’ way to get some sleep.
Little Panda is very happy to sleep in his crib for a couple of hours (among the broken glass and scorpions) but once his tummy starts to rumble he wants milkies. Unfortunately this often coincides with the time of night when I want sleepies. So we compromise. I will obligingly whip a boob out for him to help himself and I will carry on sleeping. But something magical happens in this time. Rather than sleeping like a starfish with a hangover, I transform into a prawn; curling myself around his little shape with one arm over his head – keeping him from wriggling towards my pillows – and the other over him to stop him rolling. And here we stay. He rolls into me when he wants milk and rolls away when he’s done and we sleep ever so peacefully all night.
Yes, you read that right. We. Sleep. All. Night.
We stir occasionally to adjust our position but that’s it. Come 8am we’re awake; refreshed and ready to face the world. We even nap like that when I’m lucky enough and the gods are on my side for both kids to be tired at the same time.
This is not a problem for me. Other people consider it a problem (When does it stop? When will he go into his own bed? How will you get him out? You’ll be sleeping with him until he leaves home! And other such rubbish.) and to them I say simply this:
Mind your own business.
It’s not a problem for me so why the hell are you trying to make it your problem? Do YOU sleep alone? No? Sleep with someone else, do you? LIKE it, do you? ENJOY having someone to cuddle? Funny that, so does Little Panda.
Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone should start bed-sharing immediately but what I am saying is this: if you don’t think your little cub has a sleep problem, stop listening to people who tell you otherwise. If you’re getting lots of sleep, or even if you’re not, and you’re HAPPY with your arrangement, tell ‘they’ to buzz off and bother someone else. My style of parenting raises eyebrows from some people (my brother does refer to me as a hippy quite often) but my general rule of thumb is that if Super Nanny thinks it’s a good idea, I’m doing the exact opposite. Naughty step? No thank you, not for me. Controlled crying? Torture by any other name. Children are not the mini-dictators she would have us believe, they don’t have the capacity to plot and plan to manipulate their parents from day one, they need love and cuddles and warmth and food and to be clean. It’s not a lot to ask.
So if breastfeeding, bed-sharing and gentle parenting makes me a hippy; then tie-dye me up and get me to WoodStock.
Peace and love.
for info on safe bed-sharing click here.
for a blog from another, equally as hippy-ish as me, read A Guide To Getting Life Wrong