I wrote these paragraphs over a year ago.
My baby is a little over three months old (14weeks for those of you who count that way) and he is sleeping with me still. It started at about 7 weeks because he got a head cold and was congested and could get no rest lying flat. We propped up his cot but nothing worked. The only way he could rest peacefully was lying on my chest while I slept sitting up surrounded by pillows in a terrible attempt at merging comfort with safety so I could get some sleep. And this habit has continued, although we are now both lying in the bed, instead of him on my chest. The habit has continued mostly because baby wakes and begins to scream if we try lie him down flat in his cot. But since I’m breastfeeding, co-sleeping is ideal. He will sleep solidly for anything from 8 to 11 hours, not waking fully to feed because his nuzzling wakes me before it wakes him.
But what bothers me is when people ask how he sleeps and I say great, but with me, the answer invariably forms a version of ‘oh that’s a bad habit. Can’t be doing that.’ Why is it a bad habit? He is less than 6 months old, and 6 months is the prime time to begin any sleep training. Anything before that is just your baby adjusting to the outside world. My inside was his entire world for 9 months. The least I can do is continue to be his entire world for a few months on the outside too.
Please don’t tell a mother that the choice she’s making is a bad choice, or a bad habit. Every mother is different, every baby is different, and while there are definitely safe choices, I believe there are no wrong choices. I am well aware of the effect that bringing my baby into my bed can have on him, on me, and on my relationship with my partner. But right now, my priority is him. He needs sleep, and where he settles best is with me, so I’m going to continue to let him.
Re-reading these a year later, I still feel the same. If I’m being honest – and that’s sort of the point of this site – he occasionally still sleeps with us. Not often, usually if he’s having a bad night and needs comfort. He has gotten his first, second and third tooth in quick succession over the last two weeks and he is in so much pain. I can see it in his face, in his actions, hear it in his cry. So if he wakes at 1am upset and sore, and if no amount of cuddling or boobs or Calpol will sooth him, then I bring him into my bed. He will feed for a couple of minutes and invariably he will fall back to sleep and settle better because he is with us. But most nights he stays in his cot.
Yes he still wakes regularly, but the length of time between wakings is gradually getting longer and longer. When he was tiny, he would wake almost every two hours, sometimes more. Now, we’re stretching to 4 or 5 hours. I know to someone who gets a solid nights sleep with no interruptions that seems insane, but for us its amazing. I never wanted to use any form of cry it out method. I wanted him to know we are there for him, we will come when he calls, if he needs us we are going to be there. I wanted him to learn that no matter what, Mum and Dad are your safe space, And I do believe that begins at the very beginning.
If you google ‘Baby Sleep’ or ‘Sleep Training’ or ‘Oh Dear God Its 4am Why Won’t My Baby Sleep??!!??!!’ you will find dozens upon dozens upon dozens of people sharing stories, and the same amount again selling something. Gadgets, tips, tricks. Sleep methods, gentle methods, cry it out methods. There are even people out there who will come to your house for a ‘Sleep Consultation’. I kid you not.
There are as many options for sleep as there are names to choose from. And I won’t lie, I gave in. I signed up to a sleep program one night, after trawling through pages of reviews, reading up on the company and finally deciding, at stupid o’clock one night, that yep this sounds like us. They sound like our kind of people and I can get on board with how they do things. I paid for the right age package for my guy (how you train a child apparently is determined by their age – who knew?) and within about three days I had discarded it again. Forty euro down the drain.
I am not a strict person. I know this about myself. I can’t stop myself eating that extra biscuit, why did I think I could stick to a plan that involves hearing my son crying in his room while I stand outside? Instead we kept on as we had been, changing and growing gradually depending on his needs. Turns out, when he is ready to change the routine, he finds a way to let us know. I am still feeding him to sleep at night, a practice I love as being out at work all day it gives us a chance to connect. Up until recently, he would fall asleep on the boob, suck a while longer and then pop off and kind of stretch or starfish out on my lap, letting me know he was done. So, as he slept, I would place him in the cot, he would roll over, get comfy and happily sleep.
Lately, our routine is the same, but he doesn’t always fall asleep. Sometimes he stops feeding, reaches out to the cot to show me he’s ready. So I lie him down, he gets comfy and falls asleep in a matter of minutes. He knows himself when he is ready, and if he’s not he certainly has ways of letting me know.
We are doing what works for us. Every kid is different, every parent is different, every night can be different. Once we accepted that and stopped trying to fit him into a box or a one size fits all routine I think we actually found our rhythm. I have tried to stop feeling the need to explain our sleep patterns to others. The feeling of guilt or that you’re a bad parent because he doesn’t fit the mould – it does go away. Once I stopped listening to the well meaning advice and stopped reading the sleep columns, and started listening to my kid, our nights definitely got easier. There are still really difficult nights, and there are still days I nap when he does. But there are also nights when he sleeps really well, and days when I feel refreshed and almost human again. Parenting is a long game, there are no quick fixes or shortcuts. And I’m in it for the long game.