28 January 2011

sleep (un)school


At the park with a bunch of friends the other day, holding babies, kissing sore knees, handing out snacks, we got to talking about sleep. The common theme was just how different the sleeping patterns were between our children. As individual as each child. Then later, I was chatting to my Mum about my own current sleep situation and reflecting on the differences over the last seven years of owlet raising...

Big owlet slept for four hours, then fed, then played, then slept again - just like the book said. At night she slept in a cot down the hallway. Like the book said. She figured out bedtime early on. We taught her when to sleep, in the gentlest way we knew how. She cried sometimes, but dropped off to sleep fairly easily after a little while. She has always put herself to sleep fairly easily... But sometimes it isn't easy for her. Sometimes I think the way we parented her, the way we followed that book, may have led to some of her quirks. It certainly ensured that she stopped breastfeeding at 12 months on the dot. Just like the book said. I'm fairly sure she still sucks her thumb and has a two-suh because it was there when we weren't. I wish I'd known. I wish I'd followed my heart, met her needs, listened to her.

Little owlet was my greatest teacher in all things sleep related. She hated it. Still does. She woke up on the wrong side of the bed every time. Annoyed that we had somehow tricked her into sleeping. She'd scream for hours every afternoon, wake whenever I put her down, or whenever I moved. Or breathed. People would ask me if she was a "good sleeper" and I'd answer "yup". Well when she was asleep she was very good at it... When asked "how does she sleep?" I'd usually answer "with her eyes closed..." Her lack of sleep didn't make her a dud baby, but certainly a challenging one. For four years I didn't sleep for more than two hours in a row. My body ached from having her sleep on my back during the day. My nipples hurt from having her nurse all night long. When she was nine months old, I finally gave up on the cot caper and brought her to my bed. It was one of the best parenting decisions I've made. I finally listened to her. Met her needs, which were, like any baby, to be held, comforted, nourished and nurtured. She didn't sleep much more than before, but she was more content and I dozed between wakings, only waking momentarily. This week I can happily report that she has started to put herself to sleep, although she still likes a little help if it's available... who doesn't? She is less certain of her place in the world, but she has never doubted our love for her and I am so glad that we listened to her and held her when she needed us.

Tiny owlet is a different kettle of fish altogether. She doesn't sleep much during the day, although I am managing to put her down for 30 minute snippets here and there, but she does sleep most of the night. Although I'm not completely sure of that because I'm fairly certain that there is the odd feed here and there, but I'm not really awake, so hard to tell. I'm completely shocked. Expecting the worst, I had braced myself for another four sleepless years AT LEAST. But it seems that SO FAR the sleep gods are smiling on me. Of course it could all change next week, but for now it seems that tiny owlet's sleep pattern is akin to my own and for that I am grateful. She is, for the most part, a very content and happy baby. All her needs are met. She has little reason to cry and I am so glad to give her that comfort.

What I find amusing as I move through circles of people discussing babies and sleep is how different they are, but how we expect them to all be the same. We expect them to be that baby in the book. We expect them to be "good" sleepers and when they are not, we try to fix them. We expect tiny babies to fit around adult hours, with regular feeds and sleep for so many hours at night that surely one little feed before bed could not sustain them... We set expectations on them and ourselves that deny their needs. We spend nights, or sometimes weeks, in sleep schools hoping that they'll learn how to sleep the "right" way. Really, they know how to sleep, they just don't like working with a timetable.

Babies are born unschoolers and we just have to give them the freedom to figure things out in their own time. They do get there in the end. As for mothers suffering sleepless nights and long days while their babes cry and need to be held and nurtured? Well I think we could all be a bit easier on ourselves. Talk about how our children sleep, but not label them "good" or "bad". Nurture each other. Hold the baby and then pop the baby into bed next to mum when it's time for sleep. Cook a meal. Offer a shoulder rub. Or a cuppa. Then hold the baby while mum drinks it. Right to the very last warm drop.

I read this article today and it reflects some of my thinking on the whole cry it out thing... worth a read.

Crying for Comfort - Aletha Solter


  1. I don't have anything to add, because you said it all so well. (Why would anyone expect babies to be born into adult habits?) We've adjusted our sleep habits so many times based on our kids' changing needs. My 2 yo still doesn't sleep great. But we're doing out best to meet their needs, and we're ok with that, even if no one else is!

  2. You are a beautiful Mother.
    Listening to our children with open hearts and minds helps them develop strong and sercure attachment readying them in the future to form healthy adult relationships. A great gift for this Earth.

  3. Of course you know I agree :) I am far more comfortable with our choices surrounding sleep then I was when Evey was a baby, I dont give a crap what people think now lol! I loved reading this and I think many families are becoming more openminded about thier 'options', well I like to think so anyway, or maybe its just the circles I move in ;)

  4. I enjoyed reading this post. Yes, the differences in the sleeping needs of our own children can be great! I agree - we just need to do what feels right in our heart, and forget what the books say :)


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