When Pickle was first born, I felt like it was the one question we got asked more than ANY other and right from the first week: does he sleep through the night yet? To begin with, I was incredulous that people were even asking. No, he’s a baby. He doesn’t sleep through the night yet, and of course he doesn’t. I repeated the information my breastfeeding support worker had given me: babies aren’t designed to sleep through the night, they need safety and breastfed babies night time feeding instincts intuitively aid milk supply. It’s a good thing that he’s waking up so often. The idea of babies sleeping through the night is only a relatively recent concept – the result of a generation of formula fed babies. It’s not historically what babies naturally do. We don’t have a bedtime routine. We’re just letting him lead us, taking our cues from him. He’ll feed when he’s hungry. And sleep when he’s tired. Whenever that may be.
To begin with, I told myself over and over that breastfeeding was my priority, and that came at the price of sleep. I can’t be sure how much milk Pickle is getting. I can’t see it. So, if he cries (whenever that is, day or night, but especially during those first few weeks when he lost so much of his initial baby weight), I offer him milk to see if he’s hungry. I can probably count on one hand the number of times in the last six months when he’s turned down the boob. Yes, I can add up the amount of time he’s spent feeding that day, but even that doesn’t give me a cast iron estimate. Sometimes he might feed for a long duration but not actually drink that much milk and sometimes he might only have a short feed but actually get a lot of milk. I can’t ever dismiss a cry because even though I may think he’s not hungry, I don’t have the luxury of knowing with certainty. I felt reassured by what I was told in breastfeeding group: you can’t overfeed a breastfed baby. It’s hard work for them to suckle so they’ll only do it if they really need to.
Once we’d started to settle into feeding, sleep wasn’t that bad really. After the first month, we had a good run of things where even though he would wake up several times during the night (I’d say around 5 times on average), he’d feed and be back to sleep pretty quickly. Thank goodness for our Snuzpod, it’s a god send to just be able to roll him over, feed, and then roll him back again. Even though I was getting consistently interrupted nights, at least I was probably still getting a fair amount of sleep once you added it all together. It didn’t seem so bad. I was coping pretty well with it. Pickle has never been much of an early-to-bed kind of baby, so he would stay up with us until around 9pm (sometimes later!) but then would happily stay in bed until 8am in the morning which I thought was pretty good. Those couple of hours of sleep each morning after LPD had gotten up for work was the time I looked forward to the most – my most prized sleep time! We’d naturally wake up both with smiles on our faces and start the day in a positive mood. Yes, I looked forward to the time when I’d have less wake-ups during the night, but it could have been worse. And I was hopeful each week that we’d make some ‘progress’.
But then I don’t know what happened… November came along and all of a sudden, sleeping suddenly became much harder. The night feeds got longer and longer until it felt like I was just spending the whole night nursing. I put it down to teething. Or the development leap he was going through. He seemed to be chomping and gnawing more which a) kind of hurt and b) made it impossible for me to rest during the feeds. I kept telling myself it was only temporary – next week would be better. But the month kept rolling by without any improvement. I was getting up in the mornings feeling more and more hard done by. More and more exhausted. Some days, I’d cope better than others. I’d reach for something sugary for breakfast and let adrenaline and caffeine power me through the day. I stopped checking the times when I was waking up in the night a long time ago because I find it easier if I don’t know, but one night I checked… between the hours of 1am and 6pm, I managed only 45 minutes of sleep. 45 minutes. How is that even possible?
In this last week, I definitely feel like my attitude towards sleep and what my ‘parenting priority’ is has now changed. Whereas until now I was happy to let breastfeeding be the main thing I tried to ‘get right’, I’m now shifting focus. Now we need to get sleep sorted.
We’re introducing more of a bedtime routine. We’re trying (ha ha) to stick to it. We’re not yet in the camp of letting him ‘cry-it-out’, and I don’t think we’ll ever be cry-it-out advocates, but we are trying to give him a bit of time to get himself off to sleep before swooping in. We’re sticking to a set bed time and even though he’s not yet actually gone to sleep at that time, I live in hope that we might get a bit closer to it every night. Routines aren’t made overnight – they take time to establish and I know that. I’m going to do my best to stick to this until Christmas. At the moment, I’m hopeful we can have it ‘sorted’ by then.
This is the new plan, our new and first bedtime routine:
7pm: Pickle gets a nappy change and put into his sleepsuit.
7.30pm: After some quiet play (nothing too stimulating or exciting), I take him upstairs to our bedroom with a lamp on to put him into his sleeping bag. I then softly read him a story book – our favourite at the moment is Rabbit’s Nap!
7.45pm: Turn the lamp off, feed him and once he’s finished, roll him into the Snuzpod.
Then the idea is that he’ll sleep. And then I can go downstairs and enjoy an actual evening of whatever I fancy (goodness, what’s that like? I’ve forgotten!). It’s not entirely worked out that way so far… He’s woken up pretty quickly each night and cried for us. And what do you do then!? As I said before, we’re not big cry-it-out people so whilst we have been going up to him, I’ve been trying to just soothe him by singing, patting or feeding. LPD has been far too soft, and keeps breaking the rules we set in place (and he thinks I’M the one that spoils Pickle!) but we’ll get there. I’ll report back soon. Wish us luck. I think we’re going to need it.