Saturday, February 16, 2008

Contented Mother... (6)

This is from Chapter 5 on sleep. It is a favourite with my readers. This is the beginning, before it all went pear-shaped, when we buckled under pressure and tried sleep training. And then I write about the whole co-sleeping experience. But for now enjoy the positive stuff...

Over the last two years Jemima’s sleeping has been one long journey up a very steep learning curve. It is in this aspect of motherhood that I have felt least confident in what I was doing and in what I was being told to do. This does mean that we pretty much tried everything and learnt a lot along the way, but it feels pretty messy when I look back on it all. Of course you could say that by the end of the first year all of this becomes pretty irrelevant – since then she has slept like all nearly all other toddlers I know – usually through the night, with a long nap after lunch. But as they say, it’s not the end result but the getting there that counts. Our sleep adventures show just how hard it can be to stick to your guns in the face of peer pressure, and how easily you can lose touch with your instincts. We cocked up several times but lived to tell the tale. It’s kind of a long story, but then again I don’t think I have ever heard parents talk about anything in as much detail as they do sleep. Who can blame us? If our kids aren’t getting any then nor are we! It’s a pretty important subject.

Lazy bones
Jemima’s first few weeks were a haze of long sleeps on the sofa or in the sling during the day, short naps on James’s chest in the evening and then she would come to bed with us at about 11pm. She would sometimes settle in the Moses basket to begin with, if she was already asleep. Then I would wake up to hear her stirring and bring her into bed for a feed.

Those night-time feeds at the beginning took about an hour, sometimes two. Sometimes I would put her back in her Moses basket but often we would just cuddle all night. I remember it was roughly sleep for three hours, feed for one and half, sleep for two, feed for one and a half and then she would wake at about 7am. I would feed her again and hold her or lie her on the bed next to me until she went back to sleep again and we would often stay that way until about 10 or 11 am. So although the nights were very broken I was getting lots of sleep and spending ten to 12 hours resting in bed each night.

As I have said a thousand times already, I recommend this to all new mothers. Even now, when we get the occasional disturbed night but have to get up and go in the morning because I am working or Jemima has play school, I look back to those days with longing. Spending the mornings in bed is a luxury that is also unlikely to be possible the second time round. Not only did this help me catch up on sleep, and help us to bond, it also taught Jemima to go back to sleep easily in my arms. Whether or not this is a result of those lazy mornings in bed I do not know, but, whatever time she goes to bed, Jemima never gets up before 7am, and it’s usually more like 8 – 8:30am. If she does wake at 7 she often sends herself back to sleep for an hour. This is great for weekend lie-ins and, I have since discovered, common behaviour for babies who sleep with their parents. She is also a very flexible sleeper, perhaps after having learnt to go back to sleep when I do, or perhaps she was just going to be this way anyway. If we have to get up at 7am one day it is not an issue - for her I mean. For me getting up in the morning at any time is an issue. However, if we have a big night and she stays up a bit later (she loves a party) she will sleep in until 10am which makes holidays much more restful.

To begin with I loved the whole night time experience and not being tired helped enormously. Sleepless nights are easier to cope with when you have a miracle new baby in your arms. I would watch her feed in the middle of the night, with James sleeping by my side, and experience emotions so intense they were almost unbearable. Childless folk will laugh at this but ask any new, breastfeeding mother and I bet nine out of ten of them would say the same thing. It’s those hormones again. Of course we are soon longing for a whole night’s undisturbed sleep and I pretty quickly stopped gazing at her and tried to sleep while she fed.

James had an easy time of it too. There were mornings when he actually dared ask: “Did she sleep through?!” If he didn’t have to get up and go to work, while I had a lie in with Jemima, I would have been seriously unimpressed with this question. On nights when she would not settle in her Moses basket from the start we took our midwife’s advice and just put her in the middle of us, on top of the duvet so that we would not roll on top of her or smother her with the covers. I slept so lightly when she was with us that the slightest movement James would make would alert me to how Jemima was. Once I woke up to see James rolling over and Jemima, because she was on top of the duvet, just rolled over with him into my arms. Sleeping lightly wasn’t too much of a problem for me because not having to get out of bed meant that I never woke up properly so would fall back asleep easily. The hormone Prolactin, released when breastfeeding, helps mothers to quickly fall back into very a restful sleep. I later discovered we were part-time co-sleepers, but at the time it was just what worked for all of us and we continued like this for several months.

Somewhere in Jemima’s second month I woke one night to hear her waking up in her basket. I reached out and laid my hand on her and the next thing I knew it was morning. I still do not know why I decided that night not to pick her up straight away. Perhaps it was sheer exhaustion. It just felt right at the time and when she did not cry I went straight back to sleep. This became a regular thing. She would wake in the night and I would hear her making noises and then she’d send herself back to sleep. I have no doubt that for Jemima, hearing, feeling and smelling us close by was enough for her to lull herself back to sleep. It was the beginning of our most restful period of parenthood until now. She was sleeping through! She would be awake most of the evening which suited us fine as she just lay there while we had dinner or got on with whatever it was we were doing. This also gave James more time with her. It also meant we could go out to dinner with her, something that becomes far harder when they get into their early bedtime routine and you have to worry about babysitters etc. Then she would go to sleep with us, at about 11pm and not wake until 10am. I was getting more sleep than before I had her.

At the end of this chapter...

Ten lessons learned about sleep
1. Enjoy the early months when all my baby does is sleep – wherever she happens to be.
2. Accept that babies are famous for sleeping badly! They have shorter and lighter sleep cycles than adults and it is normal for them to wake two or three times a night from birth to six months, once or twice from six months to one year; and may awaken once a night from one to two years.
3. Remember that they all sleep through eventually, whether at one two or three years old. The exhaustion will pass, even if for some later than others!
4. Babies want and need to sleep with their parents. We should all give it a try as emotionally-responsive adults willing to put our needs second to our babies. If it doesn’t work for us we should make every effort to make our baby feel calm and safe in their own bed, and always welcome in ours, if only for a cuddle in the morning.
5. Rubbing of eyes is not a sign of being ready to sleep but of over-tiredness. Try to anticipate the rubbing eyes stage.
6. Teething creates havoc with babies and sleep. Go with it, it passes.
7. Babies often start waking at night more often when they go through periods of developmental change such as walking or crawling, or when separation anxiety occurs, around eight to twelve months.
8. If my baby is sleeping badly at night it might mean they want more cuddles by day.
9. Most babies need lots of day-sleep. Usually, the more they sleep by day, the better they sleep at night.
10. Keep some kind of relaxing, nurturing routine leading up to bedtime, such as a soothing bath or massage, singing, or reading a book, to help prepare a baby for sleep. Young children who have their own bed will often go to sleep more willingly when parents lie down with them in their bed until they are very drowsy or until they go to sleep. Many parents have found that their children soon outgrow this need and happily go to sleep on their own.

2 comments:

Tone said...

“I loved reading this book and learnt so much from it that I now keep in mind when raising my children. I love the humour and the fact that, just when you think things are going so well, something hilarious and horrendous happens that makes you laugh out loud.” Tone Ulland, writer, and part-time mother of four children.

Kasia said...

“The tone of the book was warm and inviting. I felt like I was listening to a friend when I was reading it. I have thought about it since I read it, on a number of occasions. It relaxed me to think about your approach and I am sure our son benefited from that” Kasia Hatchell, 30, Dietician. Full-time mother for two years, husband is a now stay at home dad.