Sleep – and lack of it

Parents of newborns are boring. All they talk about is sleep: when the baby sleeps, for how long, how often, how little sleep they are getting, who they would kill to get some sleep. I remember a friend warning me before I had our son that me and my husband would inevitably get into bitter arguments over who had had the least sleep. She wasn’t wrong.

When people meet our baby, they will often ask: “Is she good?” Bizarrely, that turns out to mean: “does she sleep at night?” – as if this were a behaviour the baby had much control over. Well, our baby is pretty good, but she likes to surprise us. First, she surprised us by sleeping through for three nights in a row when she was only six weeks old. Then she surprised us by waking up in the night again after that, and sleeping through again every third or fourth night, just to keep us on our toes. After settling into a nice sleeping-through pattern around Christmas, she has most recently surprised us by waking up every two hours or so from her last feed at 11pm. This is not a popular trend, as I am sure you can imagine.

In situations like this, when you are sleep deprived and a little bit desperate, and also foolishly trying to stay off the cake and chocolate, you start to look for magic solutions. I see parents searching for answers everywhere I go: on baby forums, in toddler groups, in the Netherlands, in the UK – why is my baby doing this and more importantly, how do I make it stop?

Gina Ford enthusiasts debate the wisdom of pushing the morning nap (MN, on the forums) later in order to combat early morning waking (EMW). Gina herself warns you not to feed your baby when she wakes up in the night if she has previously not needed milk at that time – you will just be making a rod for your own back as she will start waking up at that time expecting milk. Her dire warnings echo through my head as I breastfeed my daughter at 2.30AM to get her back off to sleep quickly.

Then there are those in the opposite camp who prefer to combat the waking by sharing their bed with the baby (co-sleeping, this is called), so that the baby can feed on demand in the night while you drift in and out of sleep yourself. Personally, I prefer to keep the bed for grown ups, plus my baby seems to like sleeping in a darkened room on her own. This of course also causes fear and guilt, as the more evangelical proponents of this method will tell you that it is unnatural and even cruel for little babies to be separated from their mother in this way.

What really scares me – possibly because it goes against my own fervently held opinions – is when parents decide to start weaning their babies early to make them sleep through the night, say at 12 weeks old. How far will we go to get some sleep? Surely this is compromising their baby’s health? Their tiny stomachs are just not ready for solid food at that age. When I hear these kind of stories my blood boils and I want to shake people. Then again, advice on weaning has varied widely over the ages and even over the past few years. Before there was formula, mothers unable to breastfeed their children would make pastes a little like baby rice now and feed them to infants barely a few days old – and still the human race has survived. There may well be people reading this who feel very strongly about either Gina Ford or co-sleeping who are quite ready to give me a good shake based on the previous few paragraphs and tell me that I myself am compromising my baby’s health. In fact, you may already be on the case, finding me links to articles online that will prove conclusively that I am Wrong.

When the Toddler was a baby, I spent hours reading parenting books trying to work out what I was doing wrong and how I could make him sleep through again when he stopped being “good”. With our daughter, I plan to just ride it out and do whatever seems best at the time. As it is unethical and entirely impractical to do scientific research into which baby-care method is most effective, we all just find our way through the conflicting opinions and do what seems to suit us and our babies best, and as long as they are happy and growing well, we can pat ourselves on the back and say Good Job Well Done.

 

I’m not messing about on the early weaning though. Stop it. Wait till they’re about six months, sitting up and can bring food to their mouths themselves.

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