Tonight as I lay cuddling Little N at bedtime I started to think about how much I have read, talked and heard about sleep since he was born. As a parent you constantly get asked how your baby sleeps, are they a good baby, do they sleep through the night.
Those of you that have read my birth story and beyond, will know that apart from maybe an hour together, we were separated for over 24 hours. N was in SBCU while I was on the floor above in transitional care. I then got to see him every 3 hours and seemingly in between, he slept. Once we finally came home, this 3 hourly routine soon lapsed as N decided on his own routine. He wanted to be fed more frequently, he wanted to be held and cuddled while he slept, and as he was suffering from reflux being held upright was much more comfortable for him. None of this was a problem for me, I wanted to hold him, I wanted him in my arms.
It seemed to be a problem for others though; when N was 2 weeks old my family were visiting and he fell asleep in my arms. I carried on chatting away while he snoozed peacefully, only to be interrupted by my nan asking me if I was going to put him down.
“Oh no,” I said, “he’ll wake if I try, besides, I love the cuddles.” I was happy and N was happy, so what was the problem?
“You’re making a rod for your back, you’ll never be able to put him down and he’ll end up being clingy,” said my nan.
A few days later my in-laws visited; N was crying so I was doing laps around the living room in an effort to settle him.
“In my day if they were fed, clean and dry, we just left them to cry,” said my mother-in-law. Seeds of doubt about my methods of comforting Baby N were starting to be planted in my mind.
Like a lot of mums these days, I was part of a Facebook group of mums that were all due in the same month as me. When our babies started to reach 8 weeks old, most of my group were talking about their bedtime routines. They would follow the same routine every night and put their babies to bed at 7pm sharp. As I was breastfeeding on demand, I couldn’t see how a strict routine like this would work but because everyone else was doing it I started to feel like I should be doing it too. Their babies were sleeping from 7pm-7am with few wake-ups, one baby was even sleeping all the way through. Shouldn’t my baby be doing that too?
For 7 days in a row I tried bathing N, feeding him, reading him a story and then putting him to bed at 7pm. The bath seemed to wake him up. He was never hungry afterwards. He cried while I read the stories and THEN he would want his milk. He would fall asleep in my arms, only to immediately wake up as I tried to transfer him to his moses basket. He would then cry and cry and cry until I picked him up. I would cuddle him back to sleep again, try to transfer him to his moses basket, only for him to wake crying. It was horrible and stressful, he wasn’t happy, I wasn’t happy. After a week, I gave up with the idea of a “bedtime routine”.
Instead, N would chill out in the living room with us until I was ready for bed and then we would go to bed together. He would sleep in his own bed for an hour or two before waking for a feed, but then didn’t want to go back to his own bed. After several nights of pulling my hair out, my fiancé said, “he wants you, let him sleep with you.” I brought him into bed with me and had the best night’s sleep ever. Over time N was happy to go to bed earlier, around 7pm, and I would snuggle in a few hours later. N was happy, I was happy.
When N got to about 9 months old, he started to crawl and I was worried that he might crawl off the bed. I’m also quite a restless sleeper and I realised that I was causing him to wake up. I decided to start putting him to sleep in his cot at the start of the night and bringing him into my bed if he later woke. The problem was that N was used to being cuddled and nursed to sleep, and I couldn’t do this through the bars, so I started getting into N’s cot with him.
For the first couple of months N would wake up after an hour or so and need resettling so I would get back into his cot and cuddle him back to sleep. Friends found this highly amusing and other mums thought I was bonkers. They were all putting their babies in their cots while they were still awake and then leaving the room, even if their babies were crying. Many had decided to do sleep-training, while I was the odd one out, only taking my baby to bed when he showed he was tired, and staying with him until he fell asleep.
A lot of people think I am crazy to go to all this effort, that I should put him to bed and let him go to sleep himself, even if it means he cries himself to sleep. “Let him self-soothe,” they say. I don’t see any of this as an effort though. We are both happy, content and stress-free. My son isn’t a robot, our babies are all different, there is no one-size-fits-all method to parenting so trying to do what everyone else was doing was just silly. I read up on the biology and physiology behind babies’ sleep and accepted that he needed me for this short while. Because it is such a short while. A fraction of his little life. A mere drop in the ocean.
And our bedtime routine now? It goes like this: Little N gets tired around 7pm. I say “do you want to go to bed?” and he walks out of the room, crawls up the stairs – with me following, don’t worry - and clings on to the side of his cot. I get into his cot with him, he has his milk and then we cuddle until he falls asleep. He sleeps until around 5am and then my little hot water bottle comes into my bed for cuddles and sleeps until 7am. He sleeps as much as my friends’ babies, but he has got there in his own time.
He is happy, I am happy. It isn’t so crazy after all.