If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that it’s no secret that I was blessed with a little babe that pretty much hated sleep from the very beginning. And when I say beginning, I mean like day one. I’ll always remember the second night in hospital with Eva where I begged a midwife to take Eva and try to get her to sleep. So she did. But came back an hour later with a still screaming baby and explained that all the midwives had given it a go, but this baby was not going to sleep and I’d just have to sit up and hold her all night.
Now, before I go on… a little disclaimer, I did not sleep train my daughter so she would sleep through the night from a young age. That was never my goal or intention. I do really believe that when babies are tiny they need you, multiple times a night. To be fed, cuddled and changed. They’ve been inside you for 9 months and you are all they know. I always thought I’d be a co-sleeping parent. I have a pretty hippy view on a lot of things. I love natural remedies, I practiced calm birth and had Eva drug free and I breastfed her for two years. It makes sense that I’d be a co-sleeping mama. But my girl had other ideas. Eva did not sleep through until 10 months old and I was always happy to get up to her a few times a night until this time.
Over first two years of her life we have basically tried EVERYTHING to assist her in going to sleep from sleep consultants, essential oils, cuddles, feeding to sleep, not feeding to sleep, sound machines, creams, teas, diets, night lamps, books and the list goes on.. You get my drift, we’ve tried ALL of the things! Some of this totally helped, some didn’t. When you get a proper sleep-fighting baby, sometimes a bit of lavender oil, a baby massage and a calming story just isn’t going to cut it, despite what your friends say, who funnily enough, have babies that sleep.
I feel like there are three categories of babies when it comes to sleep. Those that just come out sleepy and pretty much love sleep 24/7. These are the ones that sleep through from 12 weeks old. I like to call them unicorn babies. Then there’s the ones that just need a little bit of help, like some gentle self settling techniques and they’re good to go. And lastly there is the awesome category of sleep fighting babies. These are the ones that no matter what you do, they just know they do not want to go to sleep at all costs, and will do anything to avoid it… even if that means falling asleep standing up after 3 hours of protesting.
But over the last two years, we’ve gone from having a babe that fought sleep by screaming for 1 -3 hour every single night, to one that most of the time, now goes to sleep without too much fuss.
So, from one tired mama to another, my top ten tips for you.
THEY WILL EVENTUALLY SLEEP… I PROMISE
I know, I know, right now, it seems like I’m totally lying on this one. But the sleep-fighting will not last for ever. I promise. Eva turning two was when things changed for us. I have no idea why… we literally didn’t change a thing. It’s like she turned two and all of a sudden decided sleep was actually not the enemy (hallelujah!). We can now put her down at night and she will usually go to sleep without too much of a fuss. Of course once we’ve read about 15 books and have sung the “twinkle twinkle, baa baa black sleep” melody six times. Prior to this we would usually be in for 1-3 hours of sleep-fighting and screaming. Every single night. And also, they are only tiny for so long. So if you have a baby that loves being cuddles to sleep (I wish, Eva always HATED it!) enjoy those cuddles whilst you can.
SLEEP CONSULTANTS ARE AMAZING… BUT DO YOUR RESEARCH
We hired the help of a fabulous sleep consultant, Karen from Nurture Parenting, when Eva was 12 weeks old. Everything we knew to get Eva to sleep had stopped working and we were at a loss as what to do. She wouldn’t be rocked or fed or cuddled to sleep and would just scream most of the night. Our nights involved her screaming from 6pm to midnight where I would furiously try and shove my boob into her mouth as she would back arch and try to get away from it… It’s all I knew, I just thought I’d nurse her and she’d go to sleep. Just so happened that she was different to a lot of babies and didn’t want that. From midnight to about 5am I would sleep with her sitting up on me and she’d wake every hour. At 12 weeks I hit a wall and couldn’t do it anymore, so enlisted help. I really trusted the consultant we used as she is a midwife, child and family nurse, registered baby sleep consultant and has a degree in psychology. There is a lot of baby sleep programs out there now which you can grab off the internet super fast. Whilst I think this is great for most, it is definitely not for the parents with hardcore sleep-fighting kids. For that, you need first hand, in the moment, one on one advice from an experienced expert. The other problem with these programs is I feel like if you follow all the guidelines and your little one still doesn’t sleep, you feel like a total failure.
LETTING THEM CRY DOES NOT MAKE YOU A BAD MOTHER
I’ll openly put it out there that one of the things that did work for us was controlled crying. Did I hate it? Yes, I cried outside her door a lot of the time. But for us, it was literally one of the only things that worked. You’ll get the friends/mums who will make the really helpful comments to you like “Oh I could never let my baby cry herself to sleep”… well let me tell you a little secret. They probably have never actually been in the position where NOTHING else works. I’ve had friends say it to me who’s kids have slept through from 4 months old or who’ll happily sleep next to them each night. Do they not think that if we had one of those kids who you could just give a cuddle to and they’d nod off, that we’d much prefer that? I’ve definitely been judged by other mums, friends and family by our hardcore approach. But you know what? I know that we’ve tried everything else and it doesn’t work. I know that I’ve stood in there for hours trying to rock and cuddle her and she would be pushing and hitting me away. I always try to look at it like this… babies have no other way of communicating, so they cry. In saying that, I would absolutely ALWAYS attend to Eva and try and pick her up for a cuddle when the crying reached a point that I knew she was distressed. When it wasn’t just her stubborn sleep fighting whinge cry, but an actual “I am really upset” cry.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF
All parenting is hard, in one way or another, but having a baby who HATES sleep, is really fucking hard. Those who have a baby/toddler that is a good sleeper do honestly have it just that bit easier. They get time to themselves to rest, get stuff done and just sit and drink a glass of wine each night. So next time your well intentioned friend tells you that her little ones don’t watch much television and you get the guilts, just remember that it may have something to do with the fact that she’s blessed with babes that sleep 7pm-8am every day. She gets the gift of time. Time for herself and time to get all the stuff done. It’s just different.
DON’T COMPARE…JUST DON’T!
This is a hard one. And one I’m totally guilty of, so I get that it’s so hard not to compare. Some babies/kids are just good sleepers. They’re born that way and parents that get these amazing sleepers are just never going to understand what it’s like having a shit sleeper, no matter how much you try to explain it. Maybe your baby/toddler is a totally great eater and the sleepy one is fussy as all hell. There will always be that other mum in the group who will happily tell you all about how her baby has slept through from 10 weeks old. And don’t worry, it’s totally normal to kinda hate that mum a teeny bit.
Different things work for different babies. Some kids are just SHIT sleepers.
IT’S NOT YOU… IT’S THEM
Honestly, sometimes you can do ALL OF THE THINGS… and it literally makes zero difference. Sometimes, it’s honestly not you, it’s them. It’s not about what you are or are not doing. It’s just about them and the way they’re wired. It’s so easy to blame yourself… don’t. If only they all came wired to sleep, huh?
WHAT HAS WORKED FOR US
So after all of this, what are my key things that have worked for us?
- Routine – Eva is and has always been a routine kinda kid. I am a creature of habit too, so it makes sense for us both. I find having a routine she always knew what was coming next. It also makes it WAY easier if you know roughly what time they’ll sleep to work out what you’re doing each day and meet up with friends.
- Love to Dream Swaddle Up suits are the best. No need to fuss around with trying to wrap bub like a burrito. Our sleep consultant recommends these too as bubs can reach their little hands in the fabric to suck on and self settle.
- A pitch black room for both nighttime and day naps. This signals to Eva that it’s sleep time. As soon as she’s awake, the blinds are up and the room is filled with sunlight. We use gro blinds to make sure her room is extra dark for sleeping.
- Sleep cues – since we did the sleep training with Eva at 12 weeks, she’s always had the same routine/sleep cues. We dim the lights in her room, she has a bath/shower and then straight into her room to get into her PJ’s. She then has a few books read, I sing 3-4 songs, pop her in her bed and say goodnight. If she just has a whinge or grumble to herself I’d always try and leave her for 10 mins or so to self settle. Obviously if it’s really upset crying I go in straight away.
- Glow Dreaming sleep aid – I love that this can be used as a night light, so when Eva reads books in her bed before she goes to sleep she can see. It also has white noise and a humidifier.
- Self settling – this is a biiiiig one I think. We taught Eva to self settle (go to sleep herself) when she was 12 weeks old. The theory behind it kind of is however they go to sleep is how they expect to go back to sleep if they wake in the night. So if a babe can go to sleep by themselves just cuddling a toy, then when they stir in the night they just go back to sleep themselves.
- Toddler Clock – just recently Eva started waking again at a ridiculous time, like 4.30am/5am. We grabbed a training clock from Kmart for $25 and it made a huge difference. We talked to her about when she wakes and the light is still blue and the moon is out you need to go back to sleep and that when the clock was yellow with the sun, it was time to wake. It took about 3 days and she went back to her 6am more reasonable wake ups.
These are just are few things that I have found have helped. I am not an expert or a sleep consultant, just one tired mama who has pretty much tried every single thing out there. I really hope some of this can help my fellow sleep deprived mamas. xx