Babies and sleep… it’s what a new parent’s life seems to revolve around. Especially in the early days, a newborn is either feeding, sleeping or being comforted… to sleep.
Especially when you're a first time parent, it's all too easy to doubt yourself or become worried about your baby. Time is often spent wondering if they're sleeping enough – and if they're having good quality sleep at that. You’d think that being drop dead tired yourself, shouldn’t your baby be tired too?! Well, it pained me to learn that, ‘sleeping through,’ for a baby equates to an average of around 5 hours – they need to wake frequently to refill those tiny tummies. Its a basic, survival instinct. So, there’s nothing we can really do about it, aside from holding onto our babies and reassuring ourselves that it’s going to be okay. We’ll get through. Because we will.
My firstborn was a very wakeful baby. From the earliest of days, strangers would comment on the impressive set of lungs she had. She always wanted to be permanently attached, something which I both loved and loathed all in one. Perhaps it was no surprise that several years later, I found out that it was her own little personality, a part of who she was. At the age of 4, she was diagnosed with a condition called selective mutism, which is an anxiety based social phobia. This meant that she was excessively shy in social situations, and would literally freeze with anxiety. Words wouldn't come out, so she'd never speak or respond to others, because she just couldn't. It was like asking someone with a fear of heights to come and climb the Sydney Harbour bridge with you.
But while she was a wee one, my daughter was the epitome of the velcro baby. As most parents with selectively mute children will tell you, it's as if that anxiety was there from the earliest of days. You never know the underlying reasons of why your baby behaves or sleeps like he or she does – and how on earth could you be expected to predict something like that? But bringing it back to her first few months, I was a young mother running ragged with very little support physical or emotional support. It was SO hard.
Enter The Cabinet Maker
My then husband and I purchased a house not long before our daughter was born. We needed some alterations in the kitchen, so the cabinet maker was organised to come and get it done. Of course, as it always happens, he arrived at one of those very rare moments where I had actually been able to get my baby girl down to sleep. Surprisingly, she actually hadn’t woken up after being put down. This was well before I was enlightened about the fabulous Hugabub baby carriers – I tried a Baby Bjorn which killed my back, so it was chucked in the cupboard. I dismissed any ideas about babywearing until I had my second.
I was heartbroken when the cabinet maker arrived, because my baby was actually asleep (hallelujah!). Yet I knew some big noise was about to happen. I could have asked him to come back or wait, but that noise would result in getting our dishwasher installed. The dishwasher was going to be a huge help to me, after having to one-hand wash all the dishes. I attempted to wash the dishes anyway, but it was so hard with my velcro baby. I think the cabinet maker could tell I was a little nervous as I quickly blurted out, ‘Oh, the baby has just gone down to sleep, but you need to do what you need to do… so don’t worry if you wake her, we really need this done.” Sigh.
The cabinet maker had children in their teens. He looked at me and laughed with a kind, wise smile, and said, “Ha, kids. You spend half their lives trying to get them into bed, and half their lives trying to get them out! I don’t fight it any more.”
As desperately sleep deprived as I was, a [really big] penny dropped. I’m a big picture kind of person, and I knew that absolutely everything was temporary. Getting my head stuck in how books/other people/my mother’s group or even my own mother thought my baby should be sleeping and how often, suddenly did not matter. The weight just vanished, like that!
Yes, my daughter was a tricky sleeper, but why was I fighting it on the inside? Why did I care so much about what people thought about how my baby was sleeping? She slept when her unique little blueprint decided she wanted to sleep. I’d always attend to her and comfort her – at the sacrifice of lots of sleep! But I failed to recognise what a great mamma I was. At that point I made a conscious decision to keep reminding myself that I wouldn’t be doing this forever…. because before I would know it, she wouldn’t even want to hold my hand any more.
The emotional journey I had that day not only helped me to relax into my inner, patient mamma so much more, but it also helped me to see the light at the end of the tunnel. When you’re blinkered by sleep deprivation, it feels like it's never going to end and you'll be stuck there forever. That fleeting moment with the cabinetmaker also contributed towards what BellyBelly has become today.
YOU, yes, YOU are the expert in your own, unique little baby, who has his or her own quirks, preferences and needs. Everyone else's judgements and opinions are simply radio static. Tune out the noisy voices telling you what you should be doing or how your baby should be sleeping. You’ll find it some much easier and pleasant to tune into you and your baby, and what works best for both of you, making the whole process more enjoyable. You live with your baby, not them. If you want to cosleep, do it (but safely of course – safe cosleeping tips here). If you want your baby in a separate cot or bassinet, do that too! I was so tired of people telling me what I should and shouldn’t be doing that it was doing my head in. I was tired, confused and my confidence was plummeting. But then I decided not to fight off my instincts any more and go with the flow.
So, remember this next time your baby doesn’t want to nap: before you know it, you’ll be dragging them out of bed to get ready for school. Don’t fight the sleep battle, because it's a battle you’ll lose and it can be very costly emotionally. My daughter, who at the time of writing this is less than a year shy from becoming a teenager, has long evolved from her wakeful nights. While she’s still the night owl, she’ll happily read for hours in bed, feeding her brain. Not wanting to sleep has indeed become wanting to sleep in (some time ago actually) and if you dare wake her in the morning on the weekends, look out!