Friday – this week I am grateful for …


Sleep is for the weak

This post is about sleep. I need sleep. I need about eight hours solid. I prefer ten but I haven’t achieved that since my early twenties. I have been short on sleep for a really long time. It shows. This week we have made significance progress towards getting back to eight hours of sleep a night for me. This Friday I am grateful that Benedict is finally ‘sleeping through’ the night. This means I can get into bed and then not get out of it until the morning. The proper morning; not 3am or 4am or 5am but more like 7am.

Sleep is now more precious than gold. Sleep is the commodity of our age. All the baby books are directed toward getting babies to sleep through the night as quickly as possible. It’s an obsession. We talk about it. We think about. We research techniques. We tell ourselves it will be better, things will improve when the baby sleeps through the night.

I read an article by Robin Barker, author of Baby Love, about how this obsession had stopped her from working with parents. In 2004 she was interviewed by The Age. She recounted how she was ‘driven from’ her profession of 20 years. ‘I am amazed at how sleep has taken over the baby-care agenda. The whole child’s future seems to hinge on what parents do about the child’s sleep.’ She describes how she would spend half her working day describing how to deal with sleep. She received criticism for not including strict routines in her book. She advocates controlled crying. It’s not more complex than that. If you want to stop getting up to your baby in the night, that’s what she suggests – after six months.

I took this advice seriously. I was meeting the needs of my demand breast-fed baby by getting up twice a night between midnight and 6am. I was letting him lead. I was being a good mother.  Benedict was fine, happy and healthy. I was dead on my feet. I was becoming a husk of myself. I would barely function some days. It had to stop.

When Benedict was six months we tried the control crying method outlined in Baby Love. We tried for two weeks. He cried one of the nights for one hour and forty-five minutes. Without stopping. He is a baby with a will of iron. We tried to drop the 4am feed. He didn’t wake at midnight. We kept up the midnight feed, he started waking again at midnight and 4am. It was, in short, a long, difficult, tense disaster. Every time we entered his room he would get more upset. We gave up. We were very very tired. I worked out I had had only one nights’ unbroken sleep in about eighteen months – or from about the six-week mark of pregnancy.

At my wit’s end, I was prepared to try anything. Save Our Sleep came into view. I had initially dismissed it. Too rigid, too much like ‘Contented Little Baby’, not for me. My best mama friend urged me to try. She lent me the book. She used her own child as an example – the boys were born on consecutive days. I brought the book home. I stretched out the afternoon, I gave Benedict his dinner at 5pm. I waited til 6pm to give him a bath and then a bottle. At 7pm I put him to bed.

When he woke at 4am, Robert gave him a bottle. Then in the morning we were following the routine. It worked for us. The only issue we needed to solve was him calling to me at night when he woke between 2 and 4am. He was a good sleeper, he self-settled, we had good bedtime rituals – we were halfway there already. But I had reinforced the idea that I would come to him if he called in the early morning. It was a habit not necessity. He wasn’t hungry, he wasn’t uncomfortable; he just knew that if he cried, one of us would come and then he’d feel better.

The first night, he cried for an hour. Protest crying. How could you do this too me? Can’t you hear me? I’m here! And then a bit of crying that said – you bastards how could you? We ignored it. I wrote notes to remind myself in the morning what had happened.

After one night Benedict dropped the protest cry at 4am. The next night he slept longer and then by the fourth day he slept til almost 7am. He was ready at 10 months and now he sleeps through the night.

Of course, sleeping through still involves night murmuring and noisily changing position, in the transition between sleep cycles. It does also mean, no parental assistance with these transitions; no bottles, no patting, just being left alone to go back to sleep.

It isn’t magic. It’s not a miracle cure. It is sensible advice. Save Our Sleep worked for us. I am grateful for that. We made some mistakes. We should have followed the routines earlier. We should have been less ambiguous. More consistent. We weren’t. In the end we solved our problem. It took some doing.

Interestingly, every woman I spoke to with older children who had more than one said to me, ‘I demand fed the first one, the second one, I didn’t’. I heard this when Benedict was 6 weeks and I dismissed it. I should have listened more.

Now I need to re-train myself to sleep through the night. I’ve been waking up every night in the past ten days even though Benedict hasn’t; because I have been waking up every night since May 2009. It will, I hope, stop soon, and our house will be an oasis of calm between 10pm and 7am.