Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sleep, One Year On

This post is for the Sleep Deprivation Carnival at Sleep is for the Weak so pop over there next week for lots more sleep deprived posts.

Six months ago, when I started this blog, I wrote a piece about how we began co-sleeping to cope wth our daughter's inability to sleep on her own. It went as follows:
Like most parents we had intended to sleep our baby in a moses basket and then move her into a cot when she was older. She was born at home, in a planned home birth, in the early hours of the morning. About an hour after she was born she breastfed and she was then put down, asleep, in her moses basket where she slept soundly until 9am or so, when she fed again. She did a lot of sleeping in her first few hours but by the evening of her first day of life she had already figured out that the moses basket was bad news. My memories of the days after the birth are hazy, but I recall that the first night we struggled to get her to stay asleep in her basket for more than a few minutes until about 4am when Cave Father got her to sleep on his chest, and kept her there for the rest of the night. The following night saw a similar performance. At this point you might well be thinking that the baby simply had her nights and days mixed up. But on the third night, after a couple of hours of messing about with the moses basket, I gave up, took her into our bed, lay down and nursed us both to sleep. And the remarkable thing was that she then slept the rest of the night, waking briefly to feed but never crying or fussing. The baby who could not sleep for more than a few minutes in a moses basket could sleep soundly for two hours nestled next to her mother with open access to the breast.

To a mother primed to expect nights broken by the cries of an infant, the peace and serenity of co-sleeping was a revelation. When people asked how she was sleeping, I honestly had to answer, "Really well. She never cries at night." But even while my baby was showing me how she wanted to be mothered, I was feeling guilty for parenting in the "wrong" way and I continued to struggle to sleep her in a moses basket. Needless to say, my stone age baby was having none of it and made sure that she took her rightful, natural place beside me every night.

My self-doubt arose from a clash between what books and "childcare experts" were telling me, and what my baby and my instincts guided me to do. Six months on, having read more deeply into the subject, I am so grateful that I have co-slept with my baby since the very beginning and I consider it a gift to both of us.
My daughter is now over a year old and still finds it difficult to sleep for more than three hours in a row. But that's OK, I can cope with it. I have bad weeks when teething is troubling her and she only sleeps from 10pm to 7am in two hour stints, and I have good weeks when she goes to bed at 9pm, sleeps until 7.30am, and manages a five hour stretch in the middle. In the middle of a bad patch it can feel like I am always tired, but equally I can feel energetic and capable when things are going well. The wheel always turns so that on the worst of days, I know there will be some better sleep coming along in a week or so.

Co-sleeping is still keeping us sane and on the nights when we do manage to transfer her, asleep, to her cot (as rare as that is), we even get to spend some hours alone in our huge bed. But after co-sleeping for a year, it honestly feels like the most natural thing in the world. I do not begrudge my daughter her place in our bed and I know that such a spirited, independent little girl will have no hesitation in telling us exactly when she has had enough of sleeping next to her parents.

Bedtime battles, sleep training and baby whispering are not for us - just night-time cuddles and a very loud, very heavy baby-shaped alarm clock.


Lisa - edenwild said...

What a nice post. I was sleep deprived in the early months only because we had breastfeeding problems and couldn't do it at night, but when we finally figured that out, it got easier, and then when he was four and a half months old I finally brought him into our bed (instead of next to it in a bassinet). That's when I really started getting good sleep. And I think it helps to go to bed near the same time as the baby (putting a baby down at six and then not going to bed until 10 means hours of lost sleep time!)

cartside said...

We also co-slept a lot - while we got 3 hour stints even in the moses basket (from very late at night though-our sleep problems were more daytime than nighttime), it was the only thing that helped us through the long teething nights and it's just so much easier to cope with broken nights when a day of work beckons if you nurse half asleep in the bed. It really kept me sane. Cubling now (at 2 1/2) only occasionally transfers to our bed (because she sleeps through mostly) and Saturday night was very special because we spent it in a tent. While I couldn't sleep, it was the loveliest thing to have her cuddle into us, to see how she still craves the closeness to her parents at night.

Earthenwitch said...

We still co-sleep on and off; generally, the tiny daughter sleeps better in a cot, and has done since she got to be about eight months, but there are times when only our bed will do, and I still relish them.

As for sleeping through, well, that's not really here quite yet. But I am constantly reminded by how quickly this time passes, so I try to focus on that, rather than on the sleep deprivation...