On Baby Sleep

I have hinted before (or maybe outright stated – I can’t remember) that sleep is a little bit challenging in the Engineer house.  Today it is very challenging.  The Engineer’s Baby is in the middle of a huge development, and she is struggling to sleep.  She has decided that 30 minutes is quite long enough to sleep (even though she’s clearly still exhausted after 30 minutes).  She has also decided that a good way to wind down is by arching back and screaming full volume.

We have had these days before.  I know that it will pass.  But when in the middle of it, it really doesn’t feel like it.  It feels more like I am doing everything wrong and have ruined her ability to sleep for ever.  It feels like I am doomed to rock and carry her until she drops day naps (by which point she will probably be way too heavy).  It feels like I am missing something and not understanding my baby.

I don’t quite know why sleep pulls so strongly on new parents.  It could be the number of times you are asked “How does she sleep?”.  It could be the fact that sleep deprivation makes you low level insane (possibly not just low level, actually).  It could be the prevalence of sleep advice out there.  It is probably a combination of all of those things. Whatever the reason, the result is that many new parents feel like the true measure of their success or otherwise is how many hours and how easily the baby sleeps.

(The other measures that seem to get the same response are feeding and weight gain, and possibly physical milestones – we have never had an issue with any of those though, so sleep is where all my guilt falls)

1-2014-11-26 16.08.00

The thing is, though, that a baby is so much more than her sleep habits and a parent is so much more than his/her ability to shape those habits.  In fact, if you were to ask me what I most wanted my daughter to be, a good sleeper would almost certainly not make the cut. Kind, resilient, loving, motivated, curious, independent.  These are things I want for my daughter.  I want her to be her, and to not be worried if she doesn’t fit the box.  And I also think that I have to model that.  I have to be me, and not be worried if I don’t fit the box. And “me” is a baby-carrying, co-sleeping, non-sleep-training mother who believes that sleep will come with time.

It’s really hard to remember sometimes, but this parenting choice actually didn’t happen entirely by accident.  She doesn’t sleep on me because it’s the only place she will sleep (although that’s true).  She sleeps on me because I think it is natural and healthy for her to be held close as much as possible.  She sleeps on me because it (usually) works, and maximises her sleep with a minimum of effort.  She sleeps on me because this way we almost always get four naps per day, and without it I have no idea what kind of mess her sleep would be.

In the face of endless advice about self-settling and putting babies down drowsy-but-awake, it can be quite difficult to stick to my guns and to realise that we’re doing okay.  But the thing is, if those things work they are great.  If they don’t, they are not so great.  And on the very worst days, they are downright stress-inducing.

So today I am reminding myself that The Engineer’s Baby is big and happy and gorgeous and curious. She is getting enough sleep, and I am getting nearly enough most nights. She is fairly portable, since we are her bed.  She loves people, and gives the most amazing smiles and laughs.  And all of these things are more important to me than her being easy to put down for a nap.

With this reminder, I am pledging to stick to my guns and remember why we have chosen to parent the way we have.  I am also pledging to stress a little less about her sleep, to go with the flow a little more, and to remind myself regularly that this too shall pass.  Because I know deep down that we are doing fine, and that I will look back on this time fondly. But some days I certainly need a reminder (or several) of that!


5 thoughts on “On Baby Sleep

  1. Mia says:

    Great attitude, you are so right. Before we had baby 1 we read “contented baby” and spoke to parents who had great success with it. So in our eagerness/confidence to get it right, we printed out an A3 schedule and stuck it on the fridge, ready for his arrival. He arrived, but it seemed he hadn’t gotten the memo that he was supposed to read the book as well and showed no interest in our impressive print out 😉 instead I had three first months of him only willing to sleep on me, so I spent 3-4 months trapped on the sofa! I thought I would go insane! No wonder they use sleep deprivation as a form of torture in interrogations! I also didn’t have a warm meal for 4 months because he would be hungry as soon as I sat down to eat. I thought it would never end, then I discovered that he would sleep if I put him on his front, eureka! A few nights of sleep and I thought it was all better – then he started teething! A week or two of hell, then good again for a little time, and then insomnia again! We tried everything, including controlled crying, urged on by friends who had been successful, for us it was disaster. But as he got older, it got kinda better, reliable nap times, reliable sleeping by himself, with the usual fluctuations. It wasn’t until he was two that he reliably slept through the night – then we had baby two! We are now on baby three, and I’ve just had a night of him sleeping with me because he wouldn’t settle in the cot. I’m not loving it, getting up constantly and not getting deep sleep – but by now I know I have little choice in the matter and I know eventually it will get better. Whenever I despair I just remember that it’s very few 30 year olds that will refuse to sleep unless I tuck his hand under my chin or let him pull my lips, and while holding him standing up (I am not allowed to sit down!) and singing “twinkle twinkle ” for the billionth time (by baby 3 nursery rhymes have kinda lost their novelty). When he is finally asleep I then have to carefully lower him down, pat his back 3 times and place a teddy on his back! I’m not going to lie, having Lorie to help does make nap times much easier, even if they mostly only last 30 min, but it means I can leave him at home if he’s finally sleeping and I have to go out, and I can continue to play with one of his brothers even if he wakes and not have to interrupt a game , but the nights are all mine – oh he rejects Lorie and Bastian entirely with screaming and arched back till I finish such luxuries as brushing my teeth! Right, he’s asleep, time for 1/2 sleep before Hugo wakes. You’re doing great just hang in there!


    • jenn says:

      Thanks! Sometimes it’s just good to know others don’t find it easy either. I have these visions of babies who yawn, you pop them in a crib, shh a few times, walk out, and that’s it for a couple of hours. Completely unrealistic!


  2. Jo Brunskill says:

    I know this is ages after you wrote the post, but with a newborn again this is totally striking a chord with me. Zoë is actually a relatively good sleeper for her two months (at night anyway), but I am currently suffering from the incredible guilt relating to Zoë’s lack of weight gain. She has lost about 60g in the last two weeks, which is a huge no-no. And I feel like the cause of the weight loss is my fault too – she has a tongue tie (which I have probably passed down to her, since I also have this genetic abnormality!)

    And you’re right, people totally make you feel like weight, milestones, sleep etc are the only important parts of parenting. Anyway, we are having to get the tongue and lip ties layered this weekend, and hoping that Zoë can learn to use her tongue like a normal person (unlike her mother – now I know why I get so many jaw-related tension headaches and choke when I’m drinking!)


    • jenn says:

      Oh man, that must be difficult! I am so positive that every parent (well definitely every mother!) has that one thing (or more) that they struggle with, and that they feel like defines them in some way. But the good thing is, once you get past it (which you will, and which I’m sure you know from the first two times), it does come back into perspective.

      You’re a wonderful mum, and your three gorgeous kids are testament to that. Fingers crossed for success with the tongue and lip tie revision!


      • Mia says:

        Been in your situation, don’t worry the snip is very simple. When I had my eldest, I found breast feeding very painful and constant! When he started weaning we were glad we’d done the first aid course as he kept choking! It wasn’t until I had my second and he was diagnosed with tongue tie early in, that we also had William checked and it turned out he had been tongue tied all along! Snipping an infant is very quick and simple, a two year old required him getting a general anastetic (I know that’s spelt wrong! Baby brain!) we were really worried, but at the same time were told how safe it was and the risk of him developing speech problems later. In the end, we went in at 8am and by 12pm we were having ice cream on the beach! Luckily my third was not tongue tied. Interesting you say its genetic, none of us are… But a friend of mine told me that in “old day” mid wives just quickly ran a sharp nail under the tongue at birth! so maybe we were but it was just fixed automatically. Furthermore two of my friends struggled for weeks with feeding their babies, hooked up to breast pump machines and house bound and stressing about weight gain etc when after weeks the health visitors finally discovered the babies were tongue tied. I think info is lacking for new parents on checking for tongue tie in babies. Good luck and I’m sure everything will be smooth sailing from here on


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