Monday, 13 January 2014

sleeping: 8 things I know now about babies and sleep.

Ages ago I promised a post on sleep as part of my series on all things baby-related.  You haven't bugged me about it, for which I'm grateful, but it has been bugging me.

You see, when I promise to do a post I make a draft post, and then it sits there, bugging me, reminding me to get it written, so today I've finally cracked.

Why was I holding off?

Because my youngest is three, and she is only just starting to sleep in her own bed.  Who am I to advise you on sleep?  Well, I guess I've got loads of experience.  So here goes.

Eight things I know now about babies sleeping

1.  Some babies sleep all night in their own beds pretty much from the get go.  

These were not my babies, but apparently, some babies do.  It seems to happen more for bottle fed babies, and after saying that it's difficult to say anything else without it sounding like a value judgement.  I used to work in breastfeeding research and I know that 'breast is best' is not just a saying.  Breastfeeding your baby is the best thing you can do for your child, and for you too.  There are so many reasons why, that I shan't bother with going into them all here.  However, you'll probably get more time away from your baby if you bottle feed.  I don't know.  I've never done it.

2.  Babies make freaky noises and like to terrify their parents while sleeping.

Favourite pastimes seem to include going deathly pale, stopping breathing for short periods, making choking sounds, and just generally sounding very odd.  It's not easy to sleep with a baby.  Who knew that such small people could make so much noise?

3.  Babies like to sleep on the move.  

It reminds them of being in the womb, especially if they're strapped to you in a sling - a baby in a good sling is a very happy baby.  Apart from when they're not.  Failing a sling, babies like being pushed in buggies (preferably where they can see you), or taken for drives.  I used to take my youngest out for a lap of the field by my house every day after lunch, and leave her in the buggy to snooze after that.  Of course some babies refuse to stay asleep when you stop moving.  If you've got one of those I am very sorry.

4.  Babies like to sleep close to you.  

With my first child I spent many a sleepless night trying to get him to sleep in his cot.  I did everything the books tell you to do, and I ended up spending too much time with the health visitor, exhausted, and with a child with enduring sleep problems.  A baby is still working out that it's a separate person.  At night the child doesn't want a teddy - they want you.  

With my girls I did not bother attempting to make them sleep in a cot.  My top priority was sleep, so I co-slept (meaning I slept with the baby in bed with me), which worked fine for me, but was not so great for my poor husband.  

Co-sleeping is a great thing to do, but only if you're breastfeeding, you don't smoke, and you haven't taken any alcohol or drugs.  If you do smoke, the chemicals in your body will come out in your breath, reducing baby's ability to take in oxygen.  We like oxygen.  

You might notice that babies are particularly restive of an evening.  This often gets pathologised into colic, and sometimes it is, but most babies just want to snooze with their mummies right there.  Just get comfy, feed on demand, don't mind about being used as a dummy, it doesn't do any harm, and it is actually beneficial (it releases relaxing hormones, and also helps oral development).  Get a book, the remote, and the TV and make sure you're sitting comfortably.  Don't worry - you're not setting a prescedent.  The baby will grow out of this stage.

5.  A lot of 'sleep problems' are just natural stages.

This is actually true, I'm afraid.  You can do things about them, but really, they're just rain dances for the most part, because most problems with sleep are really just normal behaviour.  There's a good article about it here.  That said, there are some good things you can do to overcome some problems, and I'm going to outline some of them below.

6.  Not going to sleep

A lot of children get more and more hyper as they get tired.  They can seem anything but tired, and it's hard to convince them it's bedtime.  A bedtime routine is really useful for getting them in the headspace for sleeping.  Washing/bathing, brushing teeth, changing into PJs, then having a story, and we do a bedtime song/lullabye, before walking away.  

Success!  Three sleeping children.
If children have separation anxiety, which they will get from time to time, then it's good to prove you're still there by returning at intervals (we like to do increasing intervals), until they're confident enough to fall asleep.

For babies a lot of the books advise against breastfeeding to sleep, but actually, breastfeeding makes baby feel content, and dozy, and to wake them up after a feed so they can fall asleep by themselves is just daft.

For children who still nap, it can be hard to get to sleep at night if a nap was too late.  Once they've dropped down to one nap a day, they shouldn't really sleep after around 3pm if you're wanting bed at 7pm.  Of course, sometimes it cannot be helped.

6.  Night waking

There are lots of reasons why children wake at night.  To be honest, we all wake at night.  Babies wake around every 45 minutes, and adults cycles are longer - which is why babies are such hard work.  When we wake, we check all is well, and then go back to sleep again.  

For babies, they'll probably want to check that Mummy is there, and then will go back to sleep (having ascertained she won't go away).  For toddlers, if they've gone to sleep very tired then they may have unresolved big feelings which come out when they wake in the night.  This can lead to screaming fits where they seem inconsolable.  It's very stressful, but there really isn't a lot you can do.  If they'll tolerate being touched then do that.  If not, just be present.  You can try singing, but they just need to get over the feeling, then they can go back to sleep.

With my son, I tried too hard to soothe him back to sleep when he woke, and got into a situation wherein he would fully wake in the middle of the night, every night, and I'd spend two hours with him before he fell back to sleep.  We got help from our health visitor to break out of this bad habit.  It wasn't pretty.  What we did was basically Ferberising (leaving the child for increasing intervals, in between assuring them that you were there, but it's time for sleep).  It was hard work, but it wasn't as hard as continuing with too little sleep.  That boy now sleeps in the dark with his door shut.

7.  Naps are good

Not only do naps in the daytime allow parents a chance to get something done, but they also encourage good sleep at night.  To quote one of my health visitors: "The more they sleep, the more they sleep."  Forcing a child to drop a nap will not encourage better night time sleeping, but rather make them over tired.  They'll drop it eventually, some later than others.

Naps are good for tired parents too, and if you're sleep-deprived you should definitely try to sleep when the child sleeps.

8.  Parent's nights are shorter than other people's

As far as I'm concerned, 6.30am is a reasonable time to wake up.  I didn't have these parameters before I had an early rising son, but I do now.  And believe me, 6.30am is a whole lot better than 5am.  If your child wakes up really early, you can get clocks that can help them understand day and night.  We found these helpful for the boy and utterly useless for the girls.  We pushed my son a little later over several weeks, until we hit 6.30am.  We can't get it later than that just now, but we will.  There's going to come a point when we're prising him out of bed at midday.

As for our family, my son has recently started sleeping in the dark, proving to me that all sleep oddities are a phase.  My youngest is sometimes staying in her bed all night, but still often comes through to sleep with me, and so long as she doesn't kick me in the head, I don't mind.

For more information about babies sleeping check out this great page by Kellymom.

If you have children, how is their sleep now?  What have I forgotten?  Did you co-sleep?  Do you still?

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