The Sleep Stakes
Why sleep training your baby may not be your best bet
When my son River was about 8 months old, I was constantly scouring the internet for sleep training advice; endlessly weighing up whether I could/should/would leave my baby to cry all night in his own room. It felt like every mum I came into contact with would utter the dreaded words “is he in his own room yet?” often with a smug, snarky tone to their voice as they waited impatiently to reveal to me that their baby sleeps peacefully through the night in their own room without a peep.
My son was hanging off my boob every chance he got and I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact I was now fully responsible for another human being who produced more poo than I should see in a lifetime. I was still slumming around the house in my maternity pants (wet more often than dry. Welcome to motherhood) and frantically cooking up baby purees between feeds, so tackling the mammoth task of sleep training overwhelmed me completely.
The guidelines most commonly given to mothers…
… and the advice I was given by my midwife, is to have your baby in the room with you for the first 6 months as this lowers the risk of SIDS. So 6 months and then…what? Kick them out straight away? Let them stay longer? Help them look for their own house?!
I had put pressure on myself to achieve so many things – from wanting a specific type of birth to conquering breastfeeding, so getting my baby to sleep through the night in his own room before he was 1 was a goal I felt so much pressure to achieve. Words like “You’ll make a rod for your own back!” And “you’ll never get him out if you have him in the bed with you!” were thrown at me constantly (mostly from my own mother.) I was obsessing over Rivers sleep routine all hours of the day and beating myself up when it wasn’t going to plan. I would refuse to bring him into the bed with me even when we were both so painfully tired at 4 am and he was screaming the house down because that would feel like I failed. And I couldn’t fail because then I would be a bad mum.
Crying it out
Me and my partner battled hard with letting him cry it out and all it did was make all three of us stressed, tired and argumentative. The constant tiredness made us fall out about the smallest of things and I did begin to wonder if I could possibly continue living with someone who accidentally put an empty milk carton back into the fridge… but thankfully we got through it.
It wasn’t until I stepped back and let River naturally fall into his own routine that he eventually began sleeping through on his own. But then, of course, there was teething and growth spurts, hot weather and lighter nights, holidays and staying out later than planned, illnesses and just simply wanting cuddles. There was always something to put a spanner in the works and throw all sense of routine out the window. But it didn’t matter because we just went with the flow and were much better off with that relaxed attitude and still continue to be.
River is approaching his second birthday and we’re still riding the back and forth of his sleep routine.
He will go through phases of happily sleeping alone in his room and then not. I’ve finally stopped feeling guilty for letting him sleep in our bed and I’ve let myself take more of an intuitive approach to parenting. It’s hard not to fall into the trap of trying to keep up with what all the other mums say they’re doing, especially as a first-time mum who is looking for any sort of guidance in the mad world of parenting.
Babies and toddlers are such tiny creations that go through so much growing and development in those first few years, I think it’s unrealistic of us to expect easy transitions into these things and we just need to love and guide them steadily. The one piece of advice I would take is to follow your instincts; to do what works for you and your family and let the guidelines stay guidelines, not laws set by the mum police. If they take to sleeping alone then great, but if not, just let it be a work in progress without pressure of deadlines. They won’t want to cuddle you and sleep in your bed forever, so soak it all in and let everyone get a good nights sleep, even if it means little feet in your face for most of it.