The Problem With Sleeping Through

Now I want to make this very clear before I write on. Babies are not designed to sleep through the night.  Babies wake for various reasons including hunger and the want/need for comfort. Parents are often given poor information on the subject and this can lead to uninformed decisions about managing a babies sleep, often based on un-evidenced advice such as giving a breastfed baby formula before bed and attempting sleep training techniques from a very young age.  What would be much more helpful would be more widely shared information on the normality of baby sleep patterns.  A recent study by Swansea University suggests that 78% of babies age 6-12 months don’t sleep through, surely then, waking in the night should be classed as ‘normal sleep habits’ rather than problematic!  Again, it seems to be a Western-societal issue and is possibly linked to the culture of unpaid leave, having to return to work and having limited support, as the care of the baby is managed only by its parents rather than in a community as a whole.

However, sleep is very important to a baby’s development. Research from the University of Sheffield found that the notion of ‘sleeping like a baby’ is extremely important in declarative memory consolidation – such as retaining facts, events and knowledge.  Most babies need a lot of sleep to develop and grow.  Additionally, a good sleep for a mother is likely to greatly reduce the likelihood of the mother getting PND, not to mention the general sense of being able to manage with basic daily tasks (read more in this blog).

I strongly believe that some babies do have problematic sleep though, this could be classed as frequent waking, not being put down to sleep and really any sleep pattern that is having negative impact on the parents. When a baby is over 6 months (when they have a grasp of object permanence), then it is perfectly acceptable for parents to address their child’s sleep if they so wish.

Here are a few techniques that can improve sleep for babies/parents:-

Co-sleeping – when practised safely and sensibly co-sleeping can benefit both the mother and the baby. Particularly if an infant is keen to feed throughout the night as the Mother can lie next to the baby and get some much needed shut eye.

Pick Up/Put Down –  A method used by The Baby Whisperer (description of technique here). Seen as a middle-ground strategy where baby isn’t dependent on the parent as a ‘prop’ to sleep, nor are they ‘abandoned’.  It’s a technique that requires a lot of patience.

Controlled Crying – this technique is increasingly seen as controversial and has much conflicting advice around it. The NHS give this guidance and some of the articles against Controlled Crying are addressed neatly in this article. It generally sees good results but also requires some patience at the beginning.

I think it’s important to note that no longitudinal studies exist around any of these techniques. Therefore theories that children may develop negative sleep association due to one technique or another are just that, theories! There is no clear evidence to suggest that co-sleeping and feeding your baby through the night has a long-term impact on your child’s ability to self settle. There is also no good evidence to suggest that the Controlled Crying method alone would be traumatic to your child or lead to negative associations with bedtime.

What this boils down to is what feels right for you as a parent and how your baby responds to your choices. I have known people try everything and anything before trying Controlled Crying and then feel guilty to confess it worked for them. They should not be made to feel guilty for allowing their child and themselves some much-needed sleep. I am also aware that parents often feel like they are shamed into thinking they shouldn’t feed their child during the night, a completely ridiculous concept if parent and child are happy to do this. Unfortunately it’s just another area that people feel that it’s acceptable to comment and judge parents in all camps.

Do what is right for you. Don’t feel ashamed to try sleep techniques. It’s all just a game of trial and error anyway.

Going out? The buggers know!!

Due to not living close to family my husband I have had limited ‘us time’ since the arrival of our bundle of joy, well that and general exhaustion! I’m not usually one for going out loads, I enjoy the comforts of my own home, make up free and wearing pyjamas comfortable clothes day in and day out, but as our beasty approached 7 months I felt the desire to actually leave the house, just the two of us, sans baby.

The perfect opportunity arose with an invitation to a wedding reception.  It was in my husband’s home town so we had willing Grandparents to babysit too.  Sorted.  A new dress was purchased for the occasion and we packed absolutely everything to ensure things went smoothly, cuddly bunny, dummy, blankets, bottles, black out blind. It was a simple plan, I would do hair and make up late afternoon (much time was required for this due to lack of practice) we do the usual bedtime routine and get the munchkin into bed by 7pm leaving enough time to put our clothes on and go. Brilliant. Easy.

Except it wasn’t.  Our bambina decided that arrival to the in-laws was the most perfect time to get sick! Not just a little bit snotty sick, oh no, this was fever, nose snot so thick it could be mistaken for treacle, complete loss of ability to sleep, nursing strike, proper full-blown poorly sick. Therefore before we even started our evening out I was sleep deprived, covered in baby gloop and now anxious about going. No amount of make-up was going to hide the deep bags under my eyes although I discovered snot can work to your advantage when trying to style hair, who knew?! Needless to say, our evening out that night was brief and for me at least, sober. Boo!

It’s OK I thought, she’s got that out the way now, time to try again, so I planned a date night with the bestie in Bristol.  This time the Husband could stay at home and make sure that a settled night was had by all.  Once again though, my little monkey decided the previous night was the best time to pull an all-nighter! Bleary eyed I made it out, I had a lovely time but by 11pm I was ready for my bed with a belly full of fine Italian food and wine. Yummers. I patted myself on the back for being sensible about not getting too drunk.  The child however (who had in fact slept peacefully for her Father while I was out) clearly felt that I deserved a late one, just like the old days, and decided to wake for a lengthy period in the early hours.

I took to Facebook for a good old whinge (like you do), only to discover that my friend’s child had done a very similar thing.  She was due to go out for a nice evening with her husband, but before they left her son had fallen and created a rather fetching hole in his head. Dinner was off the cards.  It seems that I am not alone in having my well-earned evenings out sabotaged by my mini-me!  They seem intent to either prevent you going out at all or at least pull off some kind of outrageous stunt that ensures you feel utterly horrid and guilty the whole time you’re out.  I have learned that this is a well acknowledged (yet to be named) phenomenon amongst parents alike.

How about ‘Sababytage’? That could work… “Oh man I was going to join you for drinks last night but I was sababytaged, sorry”.



 Any plan spoiled for any reason by your own juvenile offspring

The question is how do the buggers know we are going out and why are they so determined to sababytage any chance of fun we may have?!  I do NOT have the answer to this, but if you do please let me know, or better still, tell me how I can leave the house for a night out undecteted by the beasty…I need some Gin!!

The Parenting Experiment

Before I entered the world of parenthood I was blissfully unaware of the stark truths that lay behind the parenting door.  I believed (as parents want you to) that parents know what they are doing.  Perhaps they have a strong passion or inclination toward a particular form of parenting, but generally (I believed) natural instinct kicks in and we follow those to produce a happy well-rounded little person.  So confident was I about this, that when my Husband asked me when I was 5 months pregnant “after we have the baby, what’s the plan?”, I laughed in his face.  What a ridiculous question I thought!  Isn’t it obvious?!  We simply raise said baby…  Yes, that is the plan.

What I’ve learned thus far (almost 8 months in), is that ‘plans’ and ‘children’ do not mix.  The reality of this hit me first during labour.  In the weeks leading up to my daughter’s birth I was advised to create a ‘birthing plan’.  I carefully took my time over this, trying not to be too specific so that I wouldn’t be shocked when those ‘plans’ didn’t quite happen.  Well, I may as well have used that plan to mop up my waters, it would have been more useful.  The only person that looked at that plan was my Husband for about 30 seconds before it became apparent that this ‘plan’ wasn’t ever going to materialise.  Goodbye low lighting, goodbye classical music, hello about 20 odd people up my bloody chuff!  I’m only glad I didn’t laminate the thing, so it could mock my pre-birth naivety.

Upon bringing my little bundle of tiny fresh baby home I realised that I didn’t have a bloody clue what I was doing.  So focussed was I on pushing her out that I hadn’t really considered ‘what next’.  The natural instinct wasn’t quite at its strongest following labour, childbirth and a whole 11 hours post birth of wide awake and feeding baby.  What became really apparent to me and my Husband at this point was that we were basically making it up as we went along.  How often should she feed? Does she need a bath? Is she supposed to be able to lift her head like that?!  Why the hell is she pooping black stuff???  We didn’t know, we were too tired to read about it, and all knowledge we had previously had slipped away in a sleep deprived oblivion.  And so it began, the parenting experiment!

An Experiment in Action
An Experiment in Action

The experimentation is an ongoing joy, and covers pretty much all babying areas:-

  • Crying – Yeah, babies do this a lot!  All you can do is try out various different things in the hope that one of them stops said baby from crying.  Clean nappy, check. Not too hot/cold, check. Full up, check.  Being cuddled, check.  That’s the basic checks done, let me tell you this, sometimes those things can all be accounted for and your baby will still cry.  Sorry.
  • Sleep – Things that may guide your baby to sleep may include some,all or none of the following; feeding, rocking, pacing, singing, putting them down, picking them up, going out in the car/sling/pushchair, allowing naps, preventing naps, music, white noise, silence.  Through much desperate experimentation we discovered Lady Gaga (see previous post), and after she hit 4 months we learned that she actually would nap, but only if we put her down.  Phew.
  • Feeding – Do you breastfeed?  Can you breastfeed?  Can baby?  Is formula the best way for you? Or combination feeding?  Would a formula feed make your baby sleep longer at night (for us not a chance in hell)?  Would a dream feed bring you a more peaceful night? How much, how often, who best to do it…?  More recently we’ve had the joys of weaning too, though this is more openly a big experiment it has still caused stress in other ways and prompted previous rants!

The more I talk to other parents about this the more I realise that it is all just one big experiment.  None of us know what the frig we’re doing!  NO ONE EVER HAS!  Parental knowledge is a ruse, an illusion, a hoax!  Sure you can read a book, seek advice, but even the application of these to your own child, in your own setting is one massive experiment, and all too often a failed one.  That’s why there are so many books out there and so much unsolicited advice!

So here I am, still at the beginning of my parenting journey and the experiments have only just began.  I have decided to just embrace this venture, perhaps if I ever have another I will have some kind of clue what the hell is happening (unlikely).  I shall willingly accept that just giving something a go to ‘see what happens’ is OK, it’s more than OK, it’s what we’re all bloody doing anyway.