There is so much to say about sleep! So I will need to break this into multiple posts. Otherwise I will be even shorter on sleep.
I cannot remember the last time I had a really good nights sleep. What is a good sleep? For me, it’s a period of approximately 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, with nothing on my mind. Though I’m not sure when this may next be occurring! Many have told me “you’ll never sleep the same again”. Though I still live in hope. During my pregnancy the most frequently given advice was “get as much sleep as you can before she arrives”. I tried my hardest to follow said advice. However, having a gigantic tummy, a bladder that seemed to have shrunk to the size of a pea and a baby with a full head of hair providing me with terrible heartburn led to some bad nights’ sleep.
Then, like a whirlwind, Amelia arrived. She doesn’t sleep like a log, and for the first few weeks behaved like the princess and the pea with respect to where she would sleep. As a result, for most of the last five months I have rarely had more than 4 hours continuous sleep. The sleep I do get is very light with frequent waking to check she is ok. I am very fortunate to have a husband that really helps out where he can, and two sisters who took turns to come and stay during the first weeks. Whilst here they were helping with more than their fair share of night feeds. In addition, we had plenty of grandparents willing to come and provide cuddles whilst we napped. I was really lucky to have such good support. I am breastfeeding Amelia and this does add to the pressure as even if I had expressed milk I needed to make sure I was feeding or expressing regularly. This was to ensure I maintained a good supply, and so that my breasts didn’t feel like they were ready to explode (which would be the case if someone had kindly undertaken a nightfeed or two)!
In preparation for her arrival we got all the right equipment for sleepy times – moses basket, swaddles and Ewan the dreamsheep (who had nothing but rave reviews). Fast-forward to night two with Amelia. Trying to get her to settle we decided it was time to introduce her to Ewan. Daddy spent the early hours of the morning (around 3am) frantically searching for AAA batteries to bring Ewan to life. We were not as prepared as we thought and their first meeting had to wait for the grandparents to bring us batteries the next day. We spent many hours over the first few nights sleeping (uncomfortably) on the sofa, in her nursing chair or on the lounge floor. Once Ewan was alive and kicking he did, and continues to, provide some assistance.
We couldn’t convince her that the moses basket was a good place to sleep. At times she would agree to sleep in the bassinet top of her pram (bought with the benefit that the bassinet could by used as a travel cot, we had no idea just how useful it would be). Most of the time she was only happy to sleep on us or snuggled up in our armpit. We went against all advice for safe sleeping most of the time (unless my health visitor is reading this, in which case we followed all advice) – she was sleeping in the bed with us (she was never more comfortable than sleeping on our mattress), we were falling asleep on the sofa with her on our chest and we were putting her down on her side (she hated being on her back). We knew it was not ideal – I was ashamed to admit it and found myself being very defensive and having to justify myself when we did tell people. We were staying up late and not retiring to the bedroom with her until past midnight.
Then one friday, when she was about one month old, my weekly copy of the British Medical Journal landed on the doormat. By chance it had an article about cot-death and included statistics showing increased risk with having baby in bed with you, and sleeping on the sofa with baby. Combined with tiredness we realised it was time we established some routine and safer sleeping practices.
One of the first things was to work out how to convince her to sleep in the moses basket. We couldn’t. So we resorted to fooling her. If Daddy gave her a night feed he would lie her on the mattress for the moses basket whilst feeding and we would rock her to sleep on it. Thus when we put her back down she did not realise she was not in our bed or our arms! We were also recommended the Sleepsense guide by a colleague of Daddy. We read it and the most interesting part was learning about baby sleep patterns. It was really helpful to appreciate that a baby’s sleep cycle lasts 40 minutes and that babies up to 3 months (thereabouts) need to nap after 90-120 minutes of being awake. Armed with this knowledge we were able to manage Amelia much better. We were able to recognise irritability associated with tiredness and anticipate it. We developed a bedtime routine which ended with aiming to have her asleep by 8pm upstairs. It was tough for the first week and we were up and down the stairs like yo-yo’s trying to settle her to sleep. We would rock her and pat her bottom, and try to put her down drowsy but not asleep. We didn’t let her cry, as you’re not supposed to do this at such a young age. But she gradually took less time and less intervention to settle to sleep. The harder part was the daytime napping. I was frequently going against the advice and feeding her to sleep. I would then be stranded for long periods lay on the sofa with a sleeping baby on my chest. If I moved she stirred. If I put her down she cried. It was difficult for guests – they had come to visit and have cuddles with her, and I was being militant about it being time for her to have a sleep. But it was worthwhile persisting because we rarely have a grumpy baby as we anticipate her tiredness. Plus we are getting time to be adults in the evening.
Anyway, sleep tight for now and I will talk sleep again soon!