My mum has often reminded me that sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. I’m not sure how true this is, or who uses it and for whom, but I can well believe that it is, most definitely, one of least loveable things about having a child.
When Theo was born, I remember ‘getting ready for bed’ that night in the hospital. I’d had a wash and put my pyjamas on, he’d had a feed and so I popped him in the crib next to my bed. It was time for sleep, I thought. But really it wasn’t. Teeny tiny Theo had other ideas and understandably, didn’t want to be laid on his own in the vast space of the cot he was in. After numerous attempts of sssshing him, rocking him and trying to pop him back down, I soon realised that there was no way he was going to just sleep on his own. Why would he? This was a whole new world for him now, no longer cocooned in what he was used to. Curled up on my chest, he then slept soundly as I propped myself up and dozed lightly for the night. The fact that I’d barely slept by this point and had been through a long labour didn’t bother me at all; I was thriving off the adrenaline of just having had a baby, even though I was beyond exhausted. All I wanted to do was cuddle him and stare at him anyway, but I remember feeling a huge sense of shock about just how different life would be as of now. This mini little person was already ruling the roost and I was happy to dote on his every request. Nothing could have prepared me for that overwhelming feeling of how our lives were now so, so different. Or, how sleep would now be no more.
A few nights in, the novelty of staying up most of the night for cuddles began to wear off. When my milk came in, I remember feeling so sore and engorged that I just sat there and cried in the middle of the night – I had no idea what I was doing, my boobs felt like they were going to explode and feeding was so painful. Plus, I hadn’t slept in days. But, we powered through and feeding, thankfully, became so natural. We soon got ourselves into a nice routine where I would get a head start with sleep early evening and Andy would wake me for the next feed. Theo soon found his way and would sleep for 2-3 hours at a time, and it felt like we were slowly making progress. Then came the four month sleep regression which hit us like a sledgehammer. That’s when Theo decided he would barely sleep an hour at a time and it would take hours to settle him in between – so much so, there would often be foot imprints in the carpet where I’d stood for so long swaying with him. Each night was a battle which inevitably ended up with me feeding him to sleep and he would end up in our bed – two habits which I know aren’t exactly advised. But sleep is sleep, and I was desperate. Despite Andy’s efforts to help, or me expressing or switching to formula so he could do some of the night feeds, my sentiment was that I had the boobs, feeding was fine and so I would just crack on. Plus, he was up and out the door doing long days at work, so I really was okay with being the one up in the night.
However, knowing that we couldn’t carry on like this, when Theo turned six months we decided to sleep train. I’d heard wonderful first-hand experiences from friends and so we went for it. I know it’s not for everyone, and I understand why, but for us, it worked like magic. Despite the fact that the sound of his cries still haunt me, and that it took every ounce of will power from us both to stick to what the book said (we used the Ferber method), by night three, Theo slept through. To this day, and he’s now three and a half, he’s only woken in the night a handful of times. As tough as it was, from a young age he learned the skill of falling asleep on his own and then getting himself back off if he did wake. I remember I was in awe of how this little baby would coo and smile wide awake as we said goodnight to him and left his room, and upon checking on him five minutes later, he would be sound asleep. It was wonderful. Strange though, I didn’t realise just how much I would miss those night feeds; so many times I would feel lonely feeding him in the middle of the night, but when he no longer needed me, I suddenly missed that quiet bonding time. It’s something I vowed not to wish away if we ever had another one, which three years later, we did.
Wilf was born in the height of lockdown. We had no family to call upon, Theo was home from pre school and Andy was working from home. Life was far from normal, despite now having a newborn, so our mantra very much became that we needed to do whatever we needed to do to get by. To add to life’s challenges, Wilf then developed colic and then silent reflux. From two weeks old, he hated going on his back, which meant that sleep became near impossible. During the day he would live in my sling as he was contented being upright and it also meant I was hands-free and could run around after Theo. But at night, he would wake so soon after I laid him down, that in the end, I just sat up, propped up with pillows, and let him sleep on my chest. We had tried tilting the mattress and we even bought a next to me crib, but neither worked. Again, Andy would let me have a head start with sleep and he would stay awake with Wilf on him until around midnight, using the time to catch up on work and send emails. Then for the rest of the night, I’d doze and Wilf would sleep soundly on me, generally waking twice to feed and going straight back off. I knew that allowing him to sleep on me wasn’t ideal or even safe, but I felt like I had no choice. It was hard, but felt strangely easier than the hours I’d spent rocking Theo when he was little. We kept on telling ourselves that we just needed to get to six months and then we could sleep train!
Then a miracle happened. One Sunday morning, when Wilf was around ten weeks old, I was upstairs doing my online yoga class. The house was strangely quiet, and when I came down, there were three smiley and happy boys. Andy had decided to pop Wilf in his crib on his tummy, to which he loved and slept soundly for a whole 45 minutes. Up until now, this was unheard of – he hadn’t slept on his own since he was days old. I couldn’t believe it. That day, his naps were on his tummy and not in the sling, and so we decided we would try this at night too. I’d read lots about it and had worried myself silly, fully understanding the risks and how it wasn’t advised. However, this wasn’t a choice between front or back. This was a choice between front on his own, or front on me. It’s safe to say I barely slept that night, checking on him countless times next to me, but little Wilf suddenly decided he could sleep on his own. He would go down around 8pm, waking roughly every 4-5 hours, so only twice in the night, but sleeping on his own. What was even more amazing, was that I could feed and wind him then have him back down all within half an hour. At just over three months, he then mostly woke just the once, and that was generally between 4-5am before then going back off after a little fed, but even went straight through from 8pm – 6.30am on occasions too. Of course, now that I was getting some sleep, I felt like a new person.
But I know too well now that babies like to keep you on your toes, and just when you think you’ve got some sort of routine sussed, they like to throw a curve ball. We’re now in the thick of the wonderful four month sleep regression where Wilf quite likes to wake every 2-3 hours again, often cooing and smiling or blowing raspberries in the middle of the night. Having been tempted for weeks with some great runs of sleep, I must say that I am now finding the broken nights extremely hard again. But, we’re just riding it out and I’m keeping everything crossed that this won’t last too long. This time though, I can honestly say that I don’t mind (and that I even quite enjoy) those night feeds… more so when there’s only one of them, rather than every few hours. It’s our quiet little moment together – something which I don’t feel like I get a lot of second time around.
Having a second baby, I’ve gone with the flow so much more. With Theo, I wrote down every feed and nap and tried to replicate it, often feeling frazzled about trying to force a routine. With Wilf, he’s just slotted in and without any pressure has found his own little rhythm. And it works. I’ve often worried about ‘creating a rod’, as they say. Theo, up until he was nearly two, for some reason would not nap in his cot, but only his pushchair. Strange as it was, it worked for us, meaning I wasn’t tied to being home for naps. Then from one day to the next, he decided he did in fact enjoy sleeping in his cot during the day. Because of this, with Wilf, we decided very much to just go with the flow – what works one day might not necessarily the next. So far, I feel like me being more chilled has certainly helped him. That and Ewan the Dream Sheep!
These babies all have minds of their own and who knows why or when they’ll change them. But whether it’s sleeping on a chest, napping in a pushchair, living in a sling or only sleeping with white noise, it’s all about doing whatever works.