Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Sleep traps and getting in a pickle

I hear of quite a few stories of mums and dads doing (what I consider to be) extraordinary things with their children's sleep. When I say extraordinary I suppose I mean extraordinarily inconvenient things and I wonder how it all started.

Let's look at some examples;
  • a friend of mine has twins and her daughter will only have her afternoon nap lying on her mum's lap. This means that for two hours every afternoon mum is pinned to the sofa, unable to move. Crazy!
  • a colleague of my husband's has a 14 month old who goes to bed at 9:30pm in his parents' bed. Every night (even I go to bed earlier than this). And is still night-feeding. What?!
  • another friend has a 2 year old who has never had a nap or slept a night anywhere other than his own cot. This means the whole family is permanently tied to their house. Insane!
I've got a theory about getting into traps like this; firstly you do it because it's easier than the pain of trying to change the behaviour, secondly you do it for your benefit rather than the child's. The parents who are still feeding at night although the child doesn't need it are doing so because it gets the child back to sleep in the middle of the night (crucial if you are at work the next day) and because it feels nice to be snuggled up with your child having a feed. The lay-napping happens because it means the child has a sleep and the mum gets a nice 2 hour cuddle. Only having your child sleep at home means you get a reliable break every day and you never have to deal with a crying child at night in someone else's house.

You could ask; where's the harm? Well, I think your job as a parent is to enable your child to grow up. I don't think babies should be rushed into developing early (don't get me started on early weaning or buying shoes for children who can't yet walk!), but I do think that you need to get them to be independent little beings as soon as they are capable. Of course you also need to make your life as easy as possible, but for me this meant having the twins asleep upstairs for a couple of hours during the day (essential lunch, TV, facebook and housework time) and every night by 7pm (essential dinner, TV, husband and wife time).

Of course my twins aren't perfect little angels who just slept when I wanted them to sleep (I had friends whose twins did this. We're not friends anymore..) - I worked at it and trained them. If you want them to have a lunchtime nap upstairs in their cots then you have to put them there, close the door, walk away and try to ignore the screaming. The next day you'll have to do the same. And the next day, and the next until they get the idea and you can pop them in their cots and not hear a peep for a glorious 2 hours. The same is true for bedtime; put them down (in their own cot, not your bed) and walk away. It's amazing how many mums I've spoken to about bedtime who don't do this. They cuddle and chat away, fiddle with bedding, wind up the mobile, even sit on the floor watching them, waiting for the baby to fall asleep. It's no wonder they're wide awake!

I also took the training approach to weaning my babies off night-feeding. Of all the elements that make having twins tough, night-feeding was the worst. Being woken at 2am, stumbling around trying to get a feed ready, getting comfortable enough to feed without getting too comfortable so that you fall asleep, forcing as much milk as possible into a sleepy baby so that they're not screaming again half an hour later - the whole thing is hideous. And then repeat. Luckily the times I had to feed both babies at night were few and far between as me and my husband always got up together and fed one baby each.

I knew they didn't need feeding during the night anymore when they weren't that fussed about their breakfast feed (6:45am). That meant they were still full from the 2am one and might be waking out of habit rather than necessity. When we decided to wean the boy twin off the night feed we moved the girl twin into a travel cot in our room (she was small and still needed feeding so hubby dealt with her) and I slept on an airbed in the room next door to the nursery. Well, I say slept. In reality getting him to sleep through without a feed mean that for 3 or 4 nights I must have got up 30-40 times to settle him back to sleep. Painful, yes, but infinitely worth it when at 6 months we were able to put both babies in their cots at 7pm and not hear or see them again until 6:30am.

Sleep is a funny one and I was totally obsessed with it (mine and the twins') for the first 6 months. All I ask is that if by chance you get one of the angel babies who sleeps 13 hours from day one, please keep this information to yourself.

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