When you become a new parent, your conversations will generally revolve around three things:
- nappies – of which there are plenty,
- feeding – there is always too much or too little and
- sleep – which you can basically give up on. What’s that? You are a new parent and you are sleeping?! Don’t tell anyone that, they’ll only hate you.
There’s a good reason why parents only hang out with other parents 99% of the time. “Oh, I didn’t do much this weekend.” My child-free friend said nonchalantly, “It was pretty boring. I slept through most of it.” Are you kidding me?! What once constituted a dull weekend is now the stuff of my dreams, if I had the chance to dream that is. The thing you just did when you weren’t doing anything interesting suddenly becomes a rare and prized commodity.
Want to know what new parents argue about the most? I can almost promise you it’ll be over who is the most tired (and for the record, it is always Mum who is most tired).
People often cite the first year of parenthood as the most challenging, and from personal experience, I would have to agree – I think sleep deprivation plays a large role in that. It’s a well-known method of torture for good reason. It can break the resolve and sanity of most.
While many will agree on how difficult life is on little sleep, how you encourage your baby to sleep is as equally divisive as the “breast is best” vs “fed is best” debate. Gentle parenting methods generally advocate co-sleeping while traditionalists tend to promote ‘cry it out’. Both methods appear to have their own advantages and disadvantages. Co-sleeping is common practice, but comes with horror stories of babies suffocating under pillows or sleeping parents. Equally, there have been studies which claim that the stress babies experience ‘crying it out’ is detrimental to their health and wellbeing.
However, you only have to look around you to see plenty of families safely and responsibly practising co-sleeping with great results. Likewise, many of my parents’ generation who were often left to cry it out don’t appear to have any big emotional or attachment issues, so I’m of the opinion that if you exercise some common sense and listen to yourself and your child, you will find a method which suits you all.
Of course, aside from these ‘sleeping methods’ there are the products that claim to help babies sleep. Have you bought an overpriced battery guzzling ‘sleep aid’ that goes by the name of Ewan? Or the seahorse that sounds like he’s suffering from musical indigestion? Do you blast your Hoover around the house at nap time or have you saved yourself the effort and bought a white noise app? Chamomile-infused baths? Lavender oil massages? Lullabies? Swaddles and sleep sacks? Swings, slings or rockers? Pacifiers or comforters? A sleep book or a consultation with a ‘Sleep Expert’?
Sleep solutions are big business. We’re desperate for a break, and don’t they know it! An exhausted parent could literally spend hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds trying out all the different products and methods available, as frustratingly, what works for one child and one family, won’t necessarily work for another. Instead, do what suits you and your little one, while remembering that they will, one day, outgrow these habits.
There is one tip which can help all children, the word I hear most often repeated is “consistency”. Sarah Norris, maternity nurse and author of “The Baby Detective” shared the following with me:
“If I was to pick one tip to help parents with sleep problems, it would be to create your own sleep time routine with its own light, noise and activity levels e.g. dark, quiet and calm, with a set of words used to settle child (with a baby you can also use swaddles, pacifiers, comforters and white noise, with a reassuring head stroke or bottom pat). These become the child’s sleep signals and the more you use them, the stronger they become, so always use exactly the same routine every time you put your child or baby down to sleep and they will very quickly learn what is expected of them. Consistency is the key to sleep settling… Make it easy for your child to understand what it is you want them to do and don’t confuse them by changing the routine.”
As well as the experts, who better to ask than other mums? Katrine Borge is uber qualified as a mum of four boys (three of whom are triplets). She shared her pragmatic approach “As long as they sleep and I sleep, I don’t care where!”
Annaliz Ferro Silva who settles her daughter in her bed before moving her to her own bed shared “No adults sleep with their parents, do they? In the meantime, I enjoy the cuddling at the end of every day and it is actually the highlight of my day.”
Conversely, Shailah Lopez shared “My two are eleven months old. They love cuddles and even falling asleep in my arms but prefer to sleep in the cot where they can stretch out.”
Tanira Rodriguez echoed the sentiments of all the mothers I spoke to when she said “I think mums should do whatever is easiest for them and works best with their child, the happier the baby is, the better they will sleep.”
So there you have it, there is no simple solution. You will remove a lot of the stress if you take the route that is the easiest for you and your child, and only you can know what that is.
I slept trained my first, I have co-slept with my second. Both had their own merits and disadvantages. Whatever you choose to do, be consistent. Seek the support you need in the meantime. Find chances for naps, early bed times, lie ins, and hold onto that thought – one day they’ll be grizzly teenagers you’ll be kicking them out of bed.
Until then, there’s always coffee.