I’ve been pondering how I came to be so obsessed with sleep. A large part of it is because I have witnessed how happy Arlo is when he has had a good night’s sleep and full naps. However, if I have been doing my job well – doing what it takes to get him to sleep with minimal fuss – then these requirements are met as well as they can be. I should be satisfied that I know my son and what comforts him, and that he trusts me to help him sleep if he needs it. Right?
But yet I can’t help the constant niggling thoughts that I should be doing more to help him ‘self settle’, and that I must have gone wrong somewhere for him to have become such a poor sleeper. If I am honest with myself, I feel like it is my fault. That’s why I’m obsessed with sleep.
Why do I feel like it’s my fault? Because I didn’t make an effort in the early days to get him into a sleep routine. Because I didn’t think it might not be a good idea to feed him to sleep. I didn’t have to think about these things when he was a newborn, because he was asleep ALL the time. For 4 weeks he barely opened his eyes, fed every 3 hours like clockwork and then fell asleep on the boob immediately afterwards. His sleeping place was the moses basket in the living room, where he would stay until I went to bed. Then we’d carry him up to the bedroom and he’d sleep at the side of the bed in the moses basket.
I remember when he was two weeks old, my grandma asked what time was his bedtime. In the moment, I thought, ‘Silly grandma, he’s two weeks old, he doesn’t have a bedtime, plus he’s asleep all the time anyway so what would be the point?’ A few weeks later when he ‘woke up’ and became a challenge to settle, that question would come back to haunt me. Should I have set a bedtime from the start? Should he have been upstairs alone in the dark instead of in the living room with me and Sam? Would he better understand how to sleep if I had done these things??
Other comments made when he was a newborn stuck in my mind. Meant probably as encouraging words, a relative said, ‘All four of mine were sleeping through the night by six weeks’. Six weeks came and went and again, I wondered what I had done wrong if so many babies were sleeping through at this stage. And to clarify, I don’t mean sleeping through as in the new terminology of more than five consecutive hours, when I mention sleeping through here, I mean from bedtime to morning time. As an inexperienced new mum, I had no idea what to expect of my baby in terms of sleep and so I paid far too much attention to these comments.
I have a group of mum friends, our babies born within two weeks of each other. None of whom would ever ask if Arlo is sleeping through the night yet. Because to them it’s a stupid question with an obvious answer. All of our babies have gone through good and bad sleep phases. None have dropped all night feeds. Most wake at least twice a night at six months old.
So why do older generations like to ask and comment on sleep habits? After six months of Arlo, I can’t possibly believe that their babies slept as well as they claim. Have they just forgotten what it’s like now that they are safely out of the small children/no sleep zone?
For the record, the comment about babies sleeping through the night at 6 weeks was made by a man, and in hindsight I am certain that he must have just missed his wife getting up to deal with night time wake ups because I do not for the life of me see how his statement could be true.
When I stay at my mums with Arlo, every morning without fail, she will ask how he slept. I know she asks because she cares and she knows how hard the sleepless nights can be. But this question forces me to categorise his sleep into ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and causes the beast of niggling worries to rear its head again.
Then there are these type of comments: ‘What was wrong with him last night? Why do you think he slept so badly? Do you think he’s teething?’
My answer is usually a muttered, ‘I dunno’. But what i’m thinking is, ‘Badly? This is normal for Arlo. Oh my god. Is my baby an awful sleeper? I thought this was standard! Do other babies not do this??’
People really should be banned from commenting on babies sleep habits unless it’s to offer some sort of negative comparison that gives a sense of comradery, ie ‘None of mine slept through as babies’. If you don’t have anything bad to say, then don’t say anything at all. No sleep deprived parent wants to hear about your super-baby.
I am trying my hardest to concentrate on the fact that my job as Arlo’s mum is to keep him happy and maintain his trust in me. I know exactly how he likes to sleep. I am his comfort and his carer, and if I start telling him how he ‘should’ be sleeping before he is ready then I push him away from my safety and lose his trust in me. I’ve learnt this through trying methods of sleep training, such as Pick up Put Down, leaving him to cry for five minutes to see if he settles himself, etc. All of which have worsened the situation, confusing and working up my poor baby until he is hysterical. I hope that one day, because Arlo has full trust in me, he will work out that sleep is good for him.