It’s one of those subjects that we all talk about isn’t it? Babies, toddlers and sleep.
It was sleep week on Channel Mum last week which inspired me to write about my experiences with sleep (or lack of) as a mummy of two very different sleepers.
I find I always get asked the following question from strangers, friends, family… ‘Is your baby a good sleeper?’ Everyone is obsessed with babies and whether they sleep through the night aren’t they. With Amelie those five words made me want to throw myself on the floor in a sleep deprived state and say ‘no she doesn’t sleep ever, HELP’!
They say the worst form of torture is sleep deprivation and I think us Mummy’s can definitely relate, especially when you have a non sleeping baby/child. I had that deprivation for around 18 months and it was really tough but however tough it gets you do find a way to survive, I was just a little less ‘Sarah’ than I used to be.
I have so far had two very different experiences with my girls, I’m definitely not an expert in this subject but I think I learnt some very hard lessons with Amelie which I’ll share below…
Amelie vs. Evie
They are totally, totally different babies when it comes to sleep. I find it amazing that they’re both mine and that they can be so different.
I have vague, hazy memories of the early days with Amelie. We tried everything to get her to sleep; from pacing up and down our then flat, trying to swing her, putting her in a bouncer, rocking her over our shoulders, white noise, Ewan the dream sheep, ANYTHING to get her to sleep. It didn’t work.
The two things that would get her to sleep would be the boob or a walk in the pram and because of this I got myself stuck in a horrible cycle with her. I’d either walk 10 miles a day (as when I stopped the pram she’d wake up) or I’d feed her and let her sleep on me. At the time people, mostly my Mum, would say I was getting into bad habits with her and deep down I knew I was but when you’re desperate, so desperate for sleep you do anything to survive.
Evie couldn’t be more different. After my experience with Amelie I knew I couldn’t do what I did last time around again, firstly for my sanity but secondly I would have two to consider so I couldn’t always have a sleeping baby on me or drag Amelie out for 10 mile walks! I hate to write it down as frankly I’m petrified things will change, but for now Evie sleeps fairly well, I can put her down in her sleepyhead at night half asleep and she’ll generally look at me and fall back to sleep. Now at 4 months if there is nothing bothering her she now generally sleep through, she also sleeps in the pram stationary which takes a lot of pressure off when you also need to look after a toddler.
What I’ve done differently…
Easy to say isn’t it, but I think you just do or you have to relax second time around (as in you can’t run to them immediately all the time as you might be mid way through a toddler nappy change etc). I think I know Evie’s cries so I can usually tell if it’s a tired or hunger cry and the experience of being a second time Mummy takes away some of the panic I sometimes had when Amelie cried. Now I stop and think – is she dry, does she need a feed and eliminate what could be wrong to try and ease whatever is that’s bothering her.
In hindsight I probably over stimulated Amelie. Evie really can’t be awake even now at 4 months for longer than two hours, anything more than that and she’s an over tired mess. Babies are clever little monkeys and even when they’re overtired they’ll carry on, I didn’t realise this with Amelie and kept giving her more toys until she inevitably broke down. With Evie I note the time she last woke up and plan her next sleep out about two hours after her wake up. Of course they’ll be times we can’t do that but at least I’m more aware.
As a first time mummy any noise Amelie made at night I rushed to her and either picked her up or settled her with some kind of soothing. Of course she got used to that so anytime she then woke in the night she wanted me. With Evie I try to ignore little noises that I know are her stirring or trying to get comfortable. I’m not saying I’ll leave either of them when they’re really upset or something is wrong but I’ve definitely seen the difference in how I’ve responded between the two here.
Feeding to sleep
There is something really lovely about giving your baby a feed and then them falling asleep in your arms, I treasured those baby cuddles and there is nothing nicer but I’m sure Amelie used to wake because she had wind and that was down to me feeding her to sleep. I have been stricter this time about waking Evie up and making sure she doesn’t have wind before we put her down.
Changing Amelie’s bad habits
Amelie didn’t sleep well for about 18 months and the final straw for us was both my exhaustion and her not being able to settle for naps at the childminders – which was both bad for her and for the other children there. Our childminder suggested we try CIO and at first I was totally against this but after trying softer methods it got to the point where we had to do something.
I hate listening to my girls cry, I can’t think of anything worse, but with some reading and some help from our childminder we decided that when Amelie wasn’t ill and wasn’t teething we’d try Jo Frosts sleep training which suggests you have a bedtime routine and then say something like ‘night night darling bed time now’ and consistently use that whenever your little one is going to bed and you leave the room.
Of course we had tears when we left as she was so used to having someone to help her get to sleep, so we went back in short intervals, settled her, said the words and then went back out – we increased the time length each time. As she was 18 months old at the time I could tell she was angry rather than in pain and I had a video monitor to check she was ok. I won’t lie, it was tough, I cried, I drank a bottle of wine but after an hour and 40 minutes she was asleep. Night two was similar but with less tears (and less wine) and night three was much easier.
I remember our childminder saying that the greatest gift you can give a child is teaching them how to fall asleep and I agree, she is a MUCH happier child now we can put her down and she can settle herself probably because she’s not totally exhausted.
We of course have set backs after illnesses or we have nights where she comes into our bed but generally she’ll sleep well and it’s better for everyone in the family.
I know CIO isn’t for everyone but we tried everything and I’m really glad we went through the pain of cracking it before Evie came along.
Nature or nurture
So there it is. One absolute nightmare sleeper and one, touch wood, good so far. There is a lot of discussion around whether sleep habits are nature or nurture and I do think in the beginning its nature. I am pretty certain Amelie had some kind of reflux or bad wind which therefore disrupted her sleep and was the reason we had to have such elaborate routines to get her to sleep. Evie burps well and then settles, so I don’t think she has trapped wind and I am pretty sure that’s the difference. I do however think from experience that in the later months there is an element of nurture and babies and toddlers can get into bad habits.
Every family is different and wants to do things differently but for us we couldn’t go on as we were so we changed things, it was a painful process but the outcome was a much happier family.
What are your experiences of sleep, do you believe there is an element of nature and nurture at play at different times?