Sleep is the Holy Grail
By Ellie Crompton, founder of The Mumday Times (themumdaytimes.com @eleonore_crompton) - mum of three, Style Editor.
If your baby won’t sleep don’t blame yourself. It’s not you it’s them and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Just ask Ellie Crompton who has had three non sleepers and lived to tell the tale.
There are some babies in this world that sleep. They like to sleep. They sometimes have to be woken in the morning and when they rub their little eyes with their chubby little fists and let out blissful yawns their mummies just pop them in their cots and off they drift to the land of nod. I know these babies exist because I’ve met them and witnessed this phenomenon with my own bloodshot, sandpaper eyes. In fact, my sweet little nephew who is three months younger than my son has been known to sleep for 13 and a half hours on a regular basis. Note the extra half hour there that my brother and his wife threw in smiling sheepishly as they said it, unable to mask their twinkly eyed pride. These people have no idea! And no, we are not related anymore.
Sadly, I have managed to breed three babies who hated sleep and fought it with every fibre of their being. All my children have had to be duped into sleeping by being driven around in cars or vibrated into oblivion in their bouncers or placed under the extractor fan on the hob. Little wonder I’ve had to leave a minimum of four years between each pregnancy. My first child would only sleep on my body and would wake on contact with any form of mattress or sofa – even if it had been pre-warmed with a hot water bottle or smeared with sweat from my armpits (anyone smell desperation?). After suffering terrible back pain from months of breastfeeding her to sleep with my boob dangling into the cot (Honey I’m home! Oh.) we eventually managed to get her to sleep through the night by giving her our bedroom and moving into the open plan living room of our one-bedroom flat. This was at around twelve months. Not too bad in hindsight. Child number two was slightly better at bed time but would fly into terrible inconsolable rages when she was over tired and would scream for hours fighting sleep in her buggy if we were out. She never napped in the day. Child number three who I had been assured would be an absolute dream of a baby as a consequence of his third billing has been the worst. This boy only ever napped in a sling and has only just started sleeping through after 19 months! I realise that the common denominator here is me and I hold my hands up. I am not a tough nut. I can’t bear to hear my babies cry and I will do whatever I can to soothe them. But I would also like to say that I think a lot of it is down to their intrinsic personalities. I think there are a lot of parents out there who would shred their Gina Ford books if their babies went ballistic the second they were put in a cot and then remained at fever pitch until you picked them up. Basically, what I am trying to say is that if you have a baby who doesn’t like sleep don’t beat yourself up about it. Don’t add guilt to your load as well as insane fatigue. You haven’t failed at some basic parenting test. There are some babies who are naturally good sleepers and others who find it really hard to self soothe and are downright determined little blighters. They’re not unable to self soothe because they’re insecure or in a stressful environment (a mother of a sleep loving baby recently confided in me that she is the most stressed and shouty as she has ever been) they just know what they want and what they want is to be with you.
All this is very well, but you need sleep. The only thing I can say is that it will come eventually. This might seem like the longest and most excruciating chapter in history but it will end. My kids are all great sleepers now and the older two now even sleep in at weekends! In the mean time, do lie-in swaps with your partner so that you each get to sleep in for one morning of the weekend – maybe you need two mornings! Sleep when your baby sleeps - you will feel so much better for an hour or two snatched here or there. Go and stay at your mum’s or a close friend’s to get away for a night or at least to get some help. Keep up the routine - story, bath, bed will create markers for sleep and will pay off eventually. Baby massage does make babies snoozy if they’re in the right frame of mind (i.e. not over tired) and a lovely pillow mist creates a relaxing environment even if it’s just to soothe your own frayed nerves. And yes, you can start sleep training but in my experience (and I realise I don’t have a huge amount in the grand scheme of things) it doesn’t really work if they are stubborn maniacs or unless they are ready.
This month we finally cracked it with baby number three by swapping roles at bedtime. My husband got home early from work for a few weeks and I did dinner, bath and story and then handed baby over to dad to put to bed. There were tears but after two days crying down (max fifteen minutes) he quickly got into the routine of settling down within minutes and then with no crying at all, which still doesn’t feel real. I had tried to do this myself several times previously but the crying always went on for nearly an hour and he would carry on waking three or four times a night. When my husband put him to bed he stopped waking through the night almost immediately. FYI my husband also tried this a few months earlier but it just didn’t work. This time, thank the heavens, my stubborn maniac was ready.
Footnote: You might be interested to know that my nephew has recently had a blip in his routine and his mum and dad are frantic with lack of sleep. We are no longer estranged.
You know you’re tired when…
1. You try to remove the make-up smudges from underneath your eyes with a baby wipe only to realise that they are permanent shadows.
2. You finally manage to wrestle your thrashing electric eel baby onto a nappy only to realise it’s upside down and you have start the whole procedure again.
3. In spite of changing hundreds of them, you cannot for the life of you remember which way round the poppers go on the gusset of a vest.
4. You forget to screw the bottle lid on properly and your baby is soaked with milk prompting an entire middle of the night outfit change.
5. You cannot stop talking about sleep and how to get it. You bore yourself senseless at any social event by asking every mother you meet for advice. You swear you won’t bring up the topic of sleep with the next person you speak to but…
6. You’re playing princesses with your kids and forget that you’re wearing a full Katy Price/ bishop’s hat style tiara which you then unwittingly wear to the supermarket. (this could just be general forgetfulness)
7. You’re on the bus rocking your screaming baby in the buggy, desperately trying to soothe him and somewhere in the back of your mind you’re aware that someone is repeatedly and very annoyingly ringing the bell. The driver stops the bus, gets out of his cabin and asks you to stop banging the bell with your buggy. Cue death stares from whole bus.