Sleep. It’s almost an obsession of parents and seemingly friends, relatives, your long distant cousin, your old schoolteacher, and random strangers in the street. Everyone asks two questions of new mum’s ‘is he/she good?’ (Don’t get me started on that one) and ‘does he/she sleep through?’.
Its precious, we’re all told we need more of it and I certainly feel like I do. At 18 months old my baby only started sleeping through more often than not. I’m aware that’s better than some; some still don’t sleep through till much older but to go through two years of broken sleep as I couldn’t sleep from about 4 months pregnant is pretty tough going. In my job there’s regularly sleep deprivation, enforced and coincidental but you normally get a break at some point, a chance to sleep all day and night. With a newborn that’s relentless and then when it doesn’t improve its tough, so very tough.
At a few weeks old I thought little lion was a great sleeper. Fastidious in waking her every three hours to feed if she hadn’t for the first couple of weeks, especially as she lost 10% of birth weight and never really caught up again, I was scared and nervous and worried if she didn’t feed. She’d drop straight back off to sleep and so would I.
Fast forward a few weeks and she’s still brilliant… when I get her into her Moses basket. She was notoriously difficult to put down until I read something in a sleep induced haze about falling backwards being startling for them and to slide her horizontally down my arm onto her side, then onto her back. It made sense, I hate those dreams where you feel as if you’ve fallen and wake up as you hit the ground. Who knows if babies feel like that? We worked out it was probably reflux too; she already was a very sicky baby so raised the cot, kept her upright after feeds for thirty minutes (hard) and occasionally bed shared as she seemed more comfortable. A couple of times I woke up with her next to me. I’d fallen asleep feeding her and she’d just fallen asleep too.
Three months was a problem. She would not sleep on her back anymore, I managed a little putting her on her side in the Moses basket but she’d wake straight away on her back. When I put her on her side and she flopped on her front I left her to see what would happen. It was early enough I was still awake; straight to sleep and stayed that way for an hour. I tried and tried in vain to get her to sleep on her back for a few weeks, she started to roll but I wasn’t happy enough still putting her on her front but it seemed to soothe her. I slept in the same room as her, moved her into her cot which was clear of everything but baby and I had the breathing sensor mat on. There’s a reason the advice is back to back, I’ll not dispute that but she had to sleep on her tummy. She wouldn’t sleep otherwise, really wouldn’t and we both needed to rest. My husband was away during the week so it was just baba, dog and I and I couldn’t function on the little sleep we were both getting. The four month sleep regression hit, a definite noticeable decline and waking every 40 minutes along with reflux from her now diagnosed Cows Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA) and sleep was a thing of the past.
Things got better, slightly, as we managed her allergies better. Weaning discovered new ones but eventually it settled to 2-3 wake ups a night. Being exclusively boobed overnight meant it was all me, a mostly perfect choice but I just wanted and needed uninterrupted sleep. A planned night of freedom and my dear husband, the best dad during the day was a bit disorientated at night and not too quick and providing milk and the crying woke me so I was up anyway.
Her first night sleeping through was Christmas Eve. There could not have been a more perfect night. That was by far the best Christmas present. I was rested, happy, amazed that she could actually do it. Of course it didn’t continue but there was hope there. We had tough nights after, both of us with teeth and accidental ingestion of milk and egg, but it started. There came a night every so often I’d be woken by my alarm and think ‘did she not wake up?’.
At 19 months now and this sleeping through thing is more common. Occasionally she’s up at night but who isn’t? I wake for a drink, a wee, because I have a nightmare or stomach ache so the expectation a baby should manage 12 hours consistently and is annoying if they wake is frankly alien to me. Yes I want sleep, of course I do but if my baby needs me I’m there.
I’m no longer asked as much how she’s sleeping. It seems that question is reserved for actual babies. The expectation is babies will sleep through early; a study by Swansea University in 2015 showed 78% of 6-12 month olds woke, with 61% of those having milk. It’s interesting reading- a small study sure and would be interesting on a larger scale. Formula or boob seems to make no difference, neither does food intake.
The good things about being up all night? Not my bank balance but my best eBaying came then. Amazon Prime membership meant I often got things very quickly. I caught up with friends, watched all of Grey’s Anatomy.