We have finally achieved what I call the “almost-holy grail of sleep” with Rory.
It’s taken over two and a half years, but we are now at the stage where we can tuck him into his bed and leave him to fall asleep on his own. (Gone are the very recent hour long sessions pacing the room with a heavy toddler until he fell asleep in our arms and could be sneakily placed into bed).
We are now at the stage where, more often than not, he will make it through the whole night with no wake ups. And at the very worst, it’s just one quick wake up. (Gone are the days of two hourly wake ups, which he did up until the summer when he was two).
We are now at the stage where I have back my own space in the bed, after over two years of co-sleeping.
These changes haven’t happened by magic. It’s been a slow, deliberate process of gently helping Rory to sleep better by himself, which started probably about a year ago with the cutting out of feeding to sleep at bedtime. (Hence the long winded workout sessions of pacing round the bedroom with him in our arms instead).
The next step was to night wean. We didn’t have too much work to do here, because he was already very good at self-settling once he’d finished his milk (every two hours, or every 1.5 if I was lucky), all there was to do was for him to get the message that there would be no milk at night from now on. For anyone interested in how we went about this, I wrote about the night weaning process in much greater detail here.
So, we now had a night-weaned toddler (and I was able to conceive again, another reason for changing our sleep and feeding habits when we did). He was weaned and sleeping longer stretches, but we still had a toddler who prefered our bed to his, and needed to put in a plan to encourage him to make the move to his own bed. This was where my last blog update on Rory’s sleep left off.
I deliberately planned most of the hard work with Rory’s sleep training before I got pregnant. Had it even been possible to get pregnant whilst he was still feeding at night so much, I think I would have found the task of night-weaning and moving him to his own bed a HUGE slog had I been battling with the first trimester at the same time.
The next thing I did was to get Rory more open to the idea of having his own bed. As someone who had spent very little time in a cot, it was time to change things up and put Rory on a more equal sleep-footing with Arlo (something that is VERY important when you are a little brother who wants everything exactly the same).
The cot went in the loft, and an exciting new bunk bed arrived. This sleep set-up and size was far more like what Rory had been used to during the last few years of sleeping in my bed. Not only that, but the open sides meant I could easily sit with Rory, and he could easily grab my hands for comfort and reassurance, which has always been one of his favourite habits.
Luckily for us, he adapted to this new bedtime arrangement with no protesting. For the next few months, I would sit by Rory’s side, hand in his, until he fell asleep. After he got used to this, Sam was also able to put him to bed this way too.
But he was still waking frequently, and wondering where the hand he had been holding had disappeared to.
I’ve found, with both of my children, that the key to sleeping through, or at least sleeping long stretches, has not been stopping breastfeeding, or teaching self-settling – it’s been at the point that they have been happy to fall asleep alone in their own room, and happy to resettle themselves upon re-waking, without waiting for a parent to come in. It’s been at the point that they are happy for us NOT to be there.
This is something that it is impossible for me to teach them. I encouraged it with all the previous steps I’d taken with Rory, but the end goal was up to him, something that would only happen when he was ready.
In the last two months, Rory has been happy for me to leave him at bedtime. And almost straight away began sleeping 7pm – 6am more often than not as a result. He’s not a robot, so of course there are still nights where he still wakes and that is entirely unpredictable, but he is MOSTLY sleeping through the night now. And that is revolutionary.
Choosing a different approach to sleeping with Rory, co-sleeping, I knew there would be different things to learn about helping him to sleep independently when the time came. A bit like baby sleep in general was the unknown with Arlo, co-sleeping was the unknown with Rory. When the time came that we were ready to move on from co-sleeping, how would we approach that? Were we unwittingly making it worse by encouraging such a reliance?
Arlo was in his own bed from birth and own room from six months, because we realised he liked his own space. (I tried co-sleeping with him but even in the newborn days he was always happier in his own bed).
Arlo was by far the more difficult to settle, switching off was a real problem for him and it would take a LONG time. Whereas Rory would settle very quickly, but still woke just as frequently, perhaps more so.
The interesting thing to me, is that although our approach with Arlo was very different to our co-sleeping approach with Rory, it took them both exactly the same amount of time to be happy falling asleep independently and regularly sleep through the night. Different babies, different approaches, but it was still two and a half years for both of them.
So, no, I’m not worried that co-sleeping creates a “rod for my own back” or creates more issues for us to deal with later down the line. The only thing I believe is that my children will sleep better when they are ready, and when I have the energy to encourage them.
Sam would prefer if the new baby didn’t co-sleep with us. He has spent far too many nights over the past few years clinging precariously to the edge of a small double, or being booted out altogether and relegated to the sofa or the floor in the boy’s room. He remembers the difficult times of the last few years, the times when it felt like we would never get Rory out of our bed. He also forgets that the only other option in a two bed house was to spend night upon night trudging into the boy’s room to deal with Rory’s wakings, thus disturbing Arlo – the only person in the house who had a chance at a decent night’s sleep as it was.
In the new house, the boys will still be sharing a room, so we will have the third room, the box room for the baby. This will no doubt be very helpful should we choose for the baby to sleep in his/her own room from a younger age than we did with Rory. We will have the option of helping the baby to sleep better from an earlier age if we want to. A little bit of grizzling won’t disturb the boys now that we will have an extra room – a “crying room” as I affectionately dubbed it when talking about my wishlist for a third baby.
But it’s my decision. And there is absolutely NO WAY I am embarking on the next few years of sleep deprivation without arming myself with the best defence possible – co-sleeping. Especially when a lot of the time it will be just me dealing with nights (and days) with three children, as Sam does a lot of work travel.
Neither Rory or Arlo slept very well till over two and a half years old. But it was so much less of a slog with the co-sleeping child. Plus, we will have a super king sized bed this time round – this will be a game changer, right??
Our co-sleeping set-up with Rory until he was a toddler. After that we moved the cot into his shared room with Arlo in a vain attempt to get him sleeping longer stretches in there, but the reality was we just ended up competing for space with a two year old in our double bed.
We don’t yet know what kind of sleeper the new baby will be. Will they prefer their own space or will they love co-sleeping? Will they be a settled sleeper or treat sleep as something that needs to be fought with all their might?
We didn’t have another option for Rory before he was sleeping well enough to share a room with his big brother, and I’ll admit that co-sleeping did become very tough at times because of this. It was fine in the early days, but there were moments past the one year mark, and specifically after eighteen months, where I’d get fed up of not having any alone time. I was with Rory all day, and then at night there was no respite – my boobs and my bed being taken over all night. There was no space or time of the day that was guaranteed as just mine.
Which is why I’m very glad to be having baby number three at a time when we will have more flexibility with our sleep options. We will have a co-sleeping set up, and also a room of his/her own for the baby. A mix of co-sleeping and own-space sleeping will be possible, perhaps even in the same night if this is easiest.
With two children who took rather a long time to reach a stage where they regularly slept what I would call ‘satisfying’ stretches through the night, I’ve learnt that the best approach to baby sleep is to do whatever makes things easier, whatever that may be.
I was going to include an update on breastfeeding, but in the end I had far too much to say about sleep as it is, so I decided to split them into two posts, even though breastfeeding is clearly linked to our sleep situation and I sort of see sleep and breastfeeding as the same subject in our case.
So, there will be a post to follow about Rory and breastfeeding, and how I’ve found my second experience of breastfeeding throughout a pregnancy.
In the meantime, all my breastfeeding posts can be found here, including my experience tandem feeding and feeding Arlo throughout my pregnancy with Rory.