Thursday, 11 June 2015

Babies and Encouraging Sleep

First things first, I am not a sleep expert. 

I actually have no idea what I am doing when it comes to babies and sleep, I've had to muddle through it as a first time parent, and then muddle through it again with a second, and much different baby. 

But, saying that, we did find certain routines, rhythms and scenarios worked for both of our children, in establishing some good sleep habits. Maybe it's that they are obviously both ours genetically, so it's not a surprise that the same things worked for them. 

Not only does your bedtime/sleep habits need to fit your baby, they also need to fit you. I am by no means suggesting that this is the answer to all your problems, and that I can get your baby to sleep through the night in two days.... that would be a ridiculous thing for me to say, having only had to ever get two babies to sleep. 

Plus the way we have done things may not work for you, and if it doesn't sit comfortably with you, for heavens sake don't do it. First of all, you won't stick with it if you don't believe it's right for you and your baby, and second, you never ever want to feel uncomfortable with the choices you make for your baby. 

My children are naturally different when it comes to sleep. S, my daughter, has always loved her sleep. She slept 12 hours at nine weeks old (I know, I had to pinch myself) and is relatively difficult to disrupt. When she was a baby she happily slept in a travel cot for 12 hours without batting an eyelid. 

Her sleep was only really affected by her developmental leaps when she was learning to crawl. She was awake several times a night between 4-5 months while she was learning to crawl (she crawled at 5.5 months, desperate to be on the move). After she crawled, though, she wasn't affected by any other developments, including walking and learning to speak. 

She was really set in her routines though, so she didn't cope well with the time zone changes when we went on holiday. Going back to the UK was torture when she was a baby, because she went to bed at 4pm regardless of whether we were out and about etc, and then got up at 4am.... everyday for ten days out of the two weeks we were there. 

L, my son, is much easier to disrupt. He had really bad reflux for the first nine months of his life, and that definitely hindered his progress for sleep. I think he first slept 12 hours through the night at six months old, and then promptly had a reflux flare and stopped sleeping full stop. 

He is also much more unsettled by developmental leaps. He becomes restless, fights his sleep, becomes impossible to transfer from chair to cot, cries a lot. Cannot be put in his cot unless he is asleep. 

You cannot transfer him from the car seat to his cot. Even at a year old, it still can't be done. I can cart S around with me, and just throw her in bed when I get home, but L has to be awake all the way to the door. 

So while the routines we have around sleep haven't been a magical cure for eternal 12 hour sleeps (oh, how I wish!), they have helped with returning both of our kids to a good routine and a good sleep pattern. 

1. Sleep in Their Own Room:

I know that this doesn't sit well with everyone, and it does increase the SIDS risk, but both of our children went into their own bedrooms when they were a  week old. Both of the were disturbed by Gary and I tossing and turning and coughing and sneezing. 

They also made an enormous amount of noise, mostly snorting like a pig! In short, none of us were very well rested. As we use movement monitors, so the alarm would go off if they stopped breathing, we felt secure enough to put them in their own rooms. 

I feel that this has been a real benefit for all of us, but for them in particular. They have so much room in their cots, which are enormous, and the mattress is so much more comfortable than the bassinet. L in particular was really long when he was born (100th centile) so he only fit in the bassinet for a week before he was snacking into the sides. 

When we moved them into their own cots and into their own rooms, they slept longer and deeper, and fed better when they woke. They are better rested and content in their own rooms. 

2. Staying in Your Own Room:

We have never co-slept. Mainly because it freaks me out. I feel like there's no always enough room in our king size bed for me and Gary, and the idea of adding another body to the mix just makes me hyperventilate. 

I also would never get any sleep. I would be so paranoid of rolling on top of them or suffocating them with a pillow that I'd never get any sleep. 

Plus I formula fed, so there was never any benefit to co-sleeping for me, because I had to get up and go get the milk anyway. I couldn't just feed lying down and go back to sleep. I really do see that those of you that breastfeed would find a lot of benefit in co-sleeping, but it's just not for us. 

I've spent many a night sitting on the love seat in S's room or L's room and wishing I could go back to sleep in my own bed, but I've never taken them with me. Both of my kids get all the cuddles they need if they are sick or having difficulty sleeping, and I don't leave either of them to cry it out, but they always go back into their own cots. 

Sometimes it can take hours to figure out the problem and sort it out, and then resettle for sleep. I still think it's worth it in the long run. Both of mine are more than happy to go into their cots and sleep there for 12 hours, even if they wake they can resettle. 

This does occasionally have it's downsides, like when we want to go on holiday and they have to share a room, because they aren't used to it, but it's worth it for us for the everyday. 

3. Routine: 

This is THE most important part I think. Both of mine are heavily into their routines, they like knowing what is coming next and it does really seem to help the transition for bedtime. Obviously we don't use the same routines on S at 2.5 that we did at six weeks old, but once the routine has shifted slightly to adapt to her as she grows, we then keep that routine consistent until it is time for another shift. 

L goes into his sleeping bag, into his room and has a bottle of milk before his nap and before his bedtime. On transfer I say to him "it's time to go in your cot"; "up we go, good boy" and "into your cot now" as I pick him up, walk to the cot, and place him in it. 

S goes into her room at bedtime, has a story, she gets into bed and she tells me she wants her stars on (fairy lights). We then tuck her in, kiss and say "I love you" and "I love you more" and then we talk about what we are going to do the next day. 

It sounds ridiculous writing it out, but it does seem to give a nice ebb and flow to bedtime, there is no shock or surprise, and it's easy to wind down for bed. 

4. Bedtime is Bedtime:

We are in the minority on this one too, but bedtime is time to go to bed. We don't take either of them out past their bedtime unless it's completely unavoidable (going on holiday, going to the hospital etc). 

I think S is finally getting to the age where I'm happy for her to stay up a little bit later on holliday, she can be pushed a little bit more (although not too far, we've been on the receiving end of an overtired tantrum once or twice), but that's something that happens once or twice a year. If we are at home, she is in bed and asleep by 7pm, as is L. 

We don't take them out for meals past their bedtimes, or to parties. If we are at a party, we leave. 

I'm sure this will be relaxed a little bit as L gets older, for when we have visitors, but to be honest, I think they are both glad to be getting to bed. When we have visitors at the moment, they find their wind down time before bed a little overstimulating and then bedtime tends to turns into a bigger battle, often with tears. 

Both of them struggle to function when they've had little sleep, and I know how difficult it is for me to function on no sleep, so I try to avoid letting them stay up late, or having L's nap disrupted, because it's not good for any of us. 

It can be disappointing, and often we feel like the party poopers because we are the only ones leaving a BBQ when all their baby and toddler friends are staying, but we still feel that it's the right thing for our family. We also, selfishly, like our downtime without fighting with S and L, so we enjoy that moment when they are safely tucked up for the night. 

So those are the things that we have found have helped our babies to settle for sleep, and to develop a good relationship with sleep. Neither of them dread going to bed, and both are happy to sleep in their beds all night, unless they are sick or teething or if L is undergoing a huge developmental leap. 

What have you done that you feel encouraged good sleep habits? I'd love to hear some more ideas, you can never have too many!