In the hazy days (and nights) of our son's arrival, sleep seemed to become the most important thing, almost an obsession. It's not surprising though really is it? There I was, happy with my regular seven hours of blissful sleep, then boom - a tiny human being arrives with no instruction manual expecting me to be able to keep him alive on only two hours sleep. It is hard. But then it became the ultimate challenge. I knew that once I'd conquered him sleeping longer at night everything else would feel just that little bit easier.
So how would we reach that goal? As every single book and person kept telling us, every baby is different, so I figured it would be with a lot of trial and error, of which there was, but here's what worked for us:
Upon the arrival of our offspring, the world as we knew it changed in pretty much every aspect. Including sleep. To begin with, every time our little man woke in the night I found myself counting how many hours or minutes I'd been asleep. Then it dawned on me: this is potentially how it's going to be for quite some time. Counting how many hours I was missing will only lead to further frustration. So I stopped. Don't get me wrong, he still woke up just as many times and I was still just as exhausted, but the acceptance of change somehow made it feel a bit easier.
Despite it feeling relentless some nights I accepted this is a temporary stage in his life, it will not be like this forever.
Also, I accepted help from others. This is very important in the early weeks. Honestly, I'm normally the sort of person who 'soldiers on' but I took help from anyone who offered, whether that's giving me a few hours to sleep, bringing food or cleaning - it made such a difference.
We started to establish a bedtime routine for our son very early on. 'Quiet time' for around half an hour before bed and we either dimmed the lights or pulled the blinds down. It was then book, bath, bed. Of course, this made absolutely no difference for the first several months, but now I really do believe installing that routine helps him to wind down and prepare for bed.
Every parent will tell you a different story on how they get their newborn to sleep. For us, there was lots of swaying and singing to begin with. I'm a huge softy and certainly couldn't stomach controlled crying (I tried it once and ended up crying more than him). Consequently this meant for the first six or so months of his life either hubby or I held him till he fell asleep and then we put him in his Moses basket or cot. Yes, we did it every time he woke up. Yes, it was time consuming, but guess what, I would do it all again. I loved that he felt happy and secure enough to fall asleep on us. I also knew it wouldn't be forever. At around six months he started to play and fidget when we were trying to soothe him. We saw this as the natural transition to start putting him in the cot and learn to self settle, which he quickly did.
The Right Equipment:
There is a multi-million pound industry out there, preying on sleep deprived parents, offering a plethora of products, promising the solution to your baby's sleep problem.
Admittedly in the beginning we did buy into those empty promises and had some gizmos we naively thought would help. It soon became apparent that Ewen the sheep, despite his soothing noises was actually a bit of a pain because we had to keep pushing the buttons every twenty minutes. Instead we now play white noise through an app and have done ever since we gave up on the sheep. As well as helping him sleep, we've found it drowns out any noises from the neighbours, so that has been a huge help.
We tried a rotating night light. The first time we used it, not only did it give me motion sickness, it kept little man awake for four hours. Notably the longest he had ever been awake up to that point. Huge mistake! (I now use it as a sensory toy for him instead.) We quickly reverted back to an orange night light, saving us having to put the light on every time he woke up. Now he sleeps through the night, we've transitioned him to a dark room with a blackout blind.
Then there is his bed. They say you should always spend as much as you can on decent shoes and a decent mattress because if you are not in one, you are in the other. Looking back now at the mattress in his Moses basket it's no wonder he woke up as often as he did. It was thin and useless. We have recently acquired a Dunlopillo mattress for his cot and I have to be honest, I'm tempted to turf him out and sleep in there myself. It feels so comfy. Made of pure latex it's all natural, breathable materials for him to sleep on and it also helps him regulate his temperature. Unlike his previous mattress it doesn't squeak or make a sound, which is great considering how much he moves around in his sleep.
We have a basic thermometer in his room to help us decide how many layers to put him in or what tog sleeping bag.
We also have an Angel Care Baby Movement monitor. He grew out of his Moses Basket when he was twelve weeks old and I was worried about him being in his cot at such a young age. The monitor reassures me he is ok, so you could argue it helps me with my sleep rather than his.
Following Safer Sleep Advice:
Whatever practise we tried or product we bought, we always ensured it followed the safer sleep guidelines from The Lullaby Trust or our Health visitor. (It maddens me that there are a lot of products that are actually unsafe for sleeping babies - I could write a blog on that alone.)
Despite all of the above, I think little man missed the memo on how this should all help him sleep longer. It took quite some time for him to settle into his new routine, but with perseverance we slowly saw changes in his circadian rhythm and we achieved what felt like the final frontier.
Until the next challenge . . .