By Naomi Saunders
Naomi is a school teacher from Cornwall, and Mum to 2 beautiful girls. Following a difficult experience feeding her second baby Naomi has become an advocate of Combination Feeding and works with MAM to raise awareness of parents right to choose their own path when it comes to feeding.
There is no video, no book, no person – nothing that can prepare you for the prolonged periods of chaotic broken sleep that you are set to experience in early parenthood. Whilst there is no denying that night feeds are a beautiful part of bonding with your baby, coping with disturbed sleep is mentally challenging and it is natural to feel overwhelmed by exhaustion in the face of your little one’s ever changing sleep pattern. And not forgetting the biggest teaser of all – when you are blessed with a full night’s sleep for two, three sometimes four days in a row. Just long enough for you to start to believe that you’re home-free. You may have even started boasting about your new sleep schedule to your friends and family – when you are brought crashing back down to earth as you are reminded that was simply a taster of how a whole night sleep feels and they are in fact, not yet ready to ditch the night feeds.
Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t
Sleep training is like every other part of parenthood – controversial and confusing, damned if you do damned if you don’t. It is often far easier to fall into ‘bad habits’ rather than the ‘good’ and the advice given to you by one expert will usually be quickly contradicted by another. ‘Keep the room warm, but not too warm, don’t sleep train, do sleep train’, and more often than not if you find a solution which buys you even an extra hour of sleep you very quickly find out that for one reason or another it’s “mumtroversial” and on the “must not do” list! The magnitude of information can be overwhelming. But the answer to sleep will never be shaped in a one size fits all and buying an overpriced sleeping programme (scam artists who take advantage of exhausted first-time parents) is not the answer.
It took me two children to realise any routine I followed was quickly interrupted – teething, colds, coughs, bad dreams, hot weather, cold weather, more teething, missed dinners, late dinners, early dinners- nothing I tried lasted long because life got in the way. Being at home for bath, dinner and bed by 6:30pm wasn’t always possible, strict 2-hour naps after lunch were quickly disrupted by falling asleep straight after breakfast and who was I kidding – even on those days when I wrote everything down and followed the plan did that ensure she’d sleep? – NO!
The very best piece of advice I was given was to ‘learn to read my baby’, and that really is what it’s all about – you and YOUR baby! So that’s what I did, I listened to my baby and took the rough with the smooth. On the bad days I drank extra coffee and told myself this stage wouldn’t last forever, just like the good nights didn’t always last. Sleep changes, for better or worse it changes. There is a strong possibility the sleep routine you are in now, you won’t be in next week.
Give Yourself A Break
My daughters are now 2 and 7, I won’t lie I still have the occasional projectile vomit over my bed in the night, and I still wake up with one or more under my duvet on stormy nights (plus a dog), but life has settled down. I didn’t stick with any radical routine, I just went for 80% consistency, the other 20% were evening beach runs and late afternoon naps – because quite frankly my mental health needed an hour even if it was after 3pm. Now the most challenging times are over and Mother Nature is already working her magic with a thick fog descending over my memory of the trickier times.
So To Routine Or Not To Routine?
The answer unsurprisingly is not a clear black or white. Like so many parenting topics it is filled with a swarm of information without a straight right or wrong. My advice – routine when it’s possible, and when it’s not don’t panic! Your children won’t still be climbing into bed with you when they are at university just because you turned the light on during a nappy change.
Contrary to what anyone tells you – babies are not supposed to sleep through, they are meant to feed at night. After 9 months listening to their mother’s heart beat from the inside, throwing them straight into a military style routine is bound to make them feel a little fretful. Instead of being drawn into what your great granny did decades ago (because the accuracy of their recollection is questionable to say the least), trust that little parenting voice inside you, because you know what your baby needs and until the odds are in your favour, make your latte a large one!