Preparing for Baby
Before I had my first baby, we did the big John Lewis Nursery shop, which by the way is an amazing service offered to new parents and I highly recommend it. During the big shop we brought a Moses basket and cot in eager anticipation of our new arrival. I remember when choosing the mattress for the cot, we had a choice between three and obviously went for the most expensive one, as this would guarantee our child would sleep through the night. Back then sleepyheads and other such devices did not really exist but I am sure if they did I would have brought that too.
In my head, I knew that newborns mix up night and day and need feeding every few hours, so I anticipated for sleepless nights when he was first born, but as a first time Mum I also thought that these would end as he got older.
Baby Number One
He started of sleeping in his Moses Baskets, and as predicted would wake every few hours for feeding, burping and nappy changes, but we would all have long lie-ins in the morning and lots of squishy newborn smelly cuddles so life was not so bad. I had a great support network around me, which meant lots of visitors and parties in those first few weeks but I did not have to cook, clean up etc. After around 2 weeks, my husband went back to work, but the visitors continued. It was at this point that I had to step up. As lovely as it was that so many people wanted to see our little baby, the problem would be he would be asleep in the evening whilst people came over to see him and then just as they would leave, he would wake up and we would not get any sleep or rest until the early hours of the morning. I just felt that as a family we were having no down time, or a normal routine. So I put in place a 7pm curfew, as many visitors could come before then, but after 7pm was our time. This meant he got into a 'routine' quite early on, low lights, baths, massage, milk, bed etc.
This all worked pretty well, and at around 3 months old he was doing those amazing 5/6 hour stretches at night, sometimes even longer. His first 10/12 hour sleep coincided with my brothers wedding weeks, which was great for us, as we felt refreshed and ready to party for the many functions.
At around 4 months, everything changed and he went back to waking and feeding every few hours like a newborn. Nothing we tried helped and eventually as he outgrew his Moses Basket and we wished to maximise our sleep, we ended up co-sleeping. His beautiful cot, complete with mobile and safari animals that I was convinced he would love to sleep in, ended up being a wonderful second storage wardrobe for all those too small or too big outfits.
This is how we slept for around 10 months, at which point we turned his cot into a cotbed and putting him to sleep would involve around an hour of patting, then trying to escape the room before he realised. Being in a cot bed, meant that at some point in the night he would always wonder back into our room and jump into the middle. Something a lot of parents can relate with. In the end we moved his mattress into our room on the floor and he would sleep the whole night through. He has since moved into a normal double bed in his room, but still co-sleep with his Papa. More because we only have two beds at the moment, but he will fall asleep absolutely fine by himself and as I write this on a sat morning, is still fast asleep at nearly 9am. Those nights of constant waking, trying to get him to settle and as a toddler trying to get him to sleep, seem so long ago now.
Baby Number Two
Second- time around, we were staying at my parents house when our youngest was born, so the Moses basket got set back up (rather quickly as she made a fast and early entrance into the world); in my old bedroom. As a newborn, she was great, she would wake on cue every 3-4 hours, feed and fall back asleep again. Even when we moved back home at around 8 weeks, she would sleep through the night, sometimes so deeply she would wake up with a dry nappy and I was actually getting more sleep than when we had just had a toddler to look after. As she was exclusively breastfed, my last baby and because I was more confident as a mother; when the time came for her to move out of her basket and into the cot, I did not bother. She just came straight into our bed, where she would feed and we would both fall back asleep. Apart from a handful of nights, which were normally due to illness or a big growth spurt etc, on the whole she has been a great sleeper, never really causing a fuss. We also never had the whole pressure of trying to get her settle in her own cot or in her own room. In terms of bedtime routine, being the second child she has just slotted into her big brothers routine from birth for bathtime and bedtime. She is now nearly two years old, no longer feeding to sleep, and very much enjoys being a princess and sleeping through the night on her king sized bed in the master bedroom.
So what did I do different between these two babies, what is the secret of getting them to sleep through, what is that golden secret we all long for on those nights of hourly wake ups??
The SecretIn my opinion (obviously an expert after 2 children), every new parent needs to do whatever works for them to get the maximum amount of sleep. We did not sleep train either of them, as it was not for us. But I know so many parents and children, who love the routine and for everyone's sanity need to stick to it, so sleep training works a treat.
We have very busy social lives, love travelling with our children and just feel life should carry on after you have them, hence it would not be fair for me to put a routine into place when at the moment they spend so much of their week taking life as it comes. This has its advantages and disadvantages.
The biggest plus point for us, is their ability to sleep literally anywhere and through any noise levels, they have both slept through parties, done flights they have no idea about and enjoyed many naps around the globe. It also means we do not really have any issues when it comes to getting them to sleep in new surroundings or with big time difference.
The disadvantage however is they will ask us to put them to sleep, but as parents this is a lovely time to bond with them. The youngest loves to talk and talk and talk when it comes to bedtime, I then have to tell her its now bedtime and she will scoot over to her side of the bed and fall asleep. With my oldest, if I am putting them both to bed alone, he will happily get tucked into his own bed after a story and fall asleep himself. If he knows his Papa is around though he will ask him to sleep next to him, which I know that Papa loves to do as it means a 20 minute power nap for him everyday.
Sunday to Wednesday are our 'On' days as a family,. In terms of routine for both, since they were a few weeks old, had dinner, a bath, massage, milk, a book and then lights out. But Thursday - Sat, they may not be at home for bedtime, or we maybe out and they will fall asleep at dinner. I found with the warmer weather recently and much more of the day spent outdoors, they both fall asleep within minutes. Also although we are not regimented with nap timings or durations, I do believe that sleep aids sleep, so ensure they still have one even sometimes for my oldest on busy weekends.
With both, we have co-slept. With my second it was conscious decision that I was very secure and confident in making and also in telling people. With my first however I always felt that we were doing something wrong, there is a huge pressure to get your baby to self soothe, sleep through the night and in their own cot.
Every night they do not do these, you feel like a failure.
But why do they have to fall asleep all alone, as grown ups would we rather get into a cold bed alone, or share our bed with someone else, talk about our day and fall asleep feeling warm and loved. As adults, do we sometimes wake up in the night and find it hard to fall back asleep. In the end, my eldest slept the best when he was in the same room as us and that meant we got the most amount of sleep, so guess what that's what we did. Why are parents made to feel bad, feel as if they are spoiling their children or causing them long term damage.
My oldest went to bed last night and told me he loves sleeping by himself in his own room, he can now fall asleep alone and wakes up when he is ready too (at the weekends anyway), this meant second time around I was confident enough to make the decision from the being but without the gift of experience or time I would have never know this.
One of the most common questions you get asked with a new baby, is are they breastfeeding, are they good sleepers, are they sleeping in their own cot? All of the answers to which make no difference to anyone except you and your baby.
The majority of babies and toddlers I know will start off the night in their own beds and rooms but 80% of the time before the sun rises the next day they have found a way to scoot close back to their parents.
The Lullaby Trust provides some great safety standards to have in place if you do choose to co-sleep, and it is a shame that there is not more practical advise available for new parents who do choose this method, rather than making them believe there is no alternative.
The NHS website also has guidelines on what to avoid to prevent SIDS, as a first time and second time mum I did not feel comfortable co-sleeping when both of mine were very young, but I was happy having them close by in the moses basket instead.
ReflectionsMy oldest took a lot longer, probably until he was around 2 and half years or three years old to begin to fall asleep easily and sleep through the night. With my youngest she feel into this routine a lot quicker, she was fed to sleep until she was around 18 months old, and then when she moved over to a bottle would never fall asleep on it, but after a few cuddles and pats does fall asleep. The same with naps too, at weekends these are often car and pushchair naps, but if we are at home she will often fight going up for a nap as playing is just far more important. And after a quick cry will fall asleep, normally for 2-3 hour long naps.
Generally I think we are quite relaxed with our approach to parenting, and in turn to bedtime and naps. When they need to be in bed on time they will be, but on the days that we can afford to wake up later then we do chill with them. I think the vibe you give off does play a big part, and often on the days I need to head out in the evening and want to get her to bed quicker she will sense this urgency and obviously do everything apart from go to sleep. So staying calm with them does help, obviously it is hard to do when they wake up 3 or 4 times a night.
As babies, they both had the same routines, slept in the same basket and bed, drank the same milk through the night but yet were such different sleepers, as parents we did nothing different apart from being more relaxed and confident second time around - was this the key?
Well to be 100% sure I would have to have a third to test it and my expert opinion, which we are not planning on doing. So I guess it comes down to the age old argument of nature vs nurture, girls vs boys, first born vs second born?
I therefore have no secret pill, or solution, but all I do know is that they now both sleep pretty well and we have our evenings back to ourselves, something as a new parent I never thought would happen, so their is an end in sight no mater what your babies are like as sleepers when they are young. Parents know their own children best therefore should feel confident in making the best choice for them and their children to wake happy and refreshed in the morning, even if this goes against social norms.
To all the sleep derived parents that have taken the time to read this far, I wish you all a wonderful nights rest tonight, and to always remember that in less than 15 years time, instead of them waking you at 2am, these will be the same babies that you will be shouting at to wake up at 2pm in the summer holidays.