It’s been over a month so I feel I can legitimately write that this is the new (and hopefully permanent!) sleep routine.
19 months is when Arlo officially slept through the night for the first time. And I don’t mean a one-off accidental sleep through the night. We’d had a very small amount of those before. I mean that he started sleeping through regularly. Turned the corner. Cracked the sleep thing. From 7.30pm – 6am (or sometimes 7am if we are extra lucky).
Occasionally, he still wakes once, but it’s very rare and there is a clear pattern – when he’s skipped his nap or napped poorly – so we can usually predict when it’s going to happen.
Over the last year and a half lots of people repeated the same thing to me. “They learn when they are ready”. But I didn’t really believe that this happened without some persuasion on the parents’ part. At some point I would have to make changes, put in some work into teaching him certain bedtime rules, and perhaps he wouldn’t like it and there might be tears.
When people would say things like, “One day I just didn’t feed him/left him in the cot/lay him down and rubbed his back. I was expecting a fight on my hands but there were no tears and he soon got the message. I thought it would be much harder.” I’d think Yes, but your child is more easy-going / more independent / no longer breastfed. There is no chance this will ever happen with Arlo.
But then it did. And I didn’t need to do anything differently.
Our usual bedroom routine would be that I fed Arlo in his room and put him down in his cot asleep. Or if Sam was doing bedtime, he would give Arlo a bit of cow’s milk upstairs and then carry him around the room until he fell asleep. Any time we attempted to do things differently, it hadn’t worked – save for a few rare times when he would allow us to lie him down in the cot awake and rub his back until he fell asleep.
Then one day as he was having his bedtime feed, he asked to go in the cot. I lay him down and there was no protest. I started rubbing his back, but whereas before I knew he didn’t want me to leave the room, now I had the distinct feeling that I was in the way. My suspicions were confirmed when I left the room and no tears followed.
Since that night, bedtime has been the same ever since (except for one or two nights when he’s been a rascal, but that happens). I still haven’t got used to the silence once I leave the room. I still can’t quite believe that he’s happy to do things this way.
The sleeping through happened at exactly the same time he decided on this new bedtime routine. Clearly it is no coincidence. His increased bedtime independence means he doesn’t need me during the night any more. Exactly as they say in the sleep training books, we’ve found that self-settling is the key to sleeping through. The difference is that I waited until Arlo was ready to decide to do this himself. Who knows how it would have panned out if I had changed the rules on him, but my feeling is that he would only become more resistant if I had turned bedtime into a struggle. I am happy that I know he is truly happy to be left to go to sleep by himself and that it was completely his decision.
I’m also happy that I didn’t have to give up on our bedtime feeds in his room in order to get him sleeping independently, especially as feeds outside of his bedroom (or our bedroom in the mornings) have decreased more than Arlo would like.
My ‘desk’ is the sofa, or as Arlo probably thought of it, ‘The all-day milk bar’. Even at weekends when Sam was around to entertain Arlo, I’d be trying to get a bit of work done and Arlo would take me sitting on the sofa as his cue for a feed. He is too young to understand why I might say no on the sofa sometimes and yes at other times. So I’ve split things into zones – zones where breastfeeding happens, and zones where it never happens. This means bedtime is one of few times when it does happen, and I know Arlo waits all day for these moments.
Every night as I zip him into his sleeping bag, he quietly asks, “…Milk?” I am going to get milk now, Mama, arent I?? When I say yes, a big smile spreads across his face and sometimes a little giggle. It’s incredibly sweet. Some children have cuddly toys as their bedtime comfort, some have special blankets, some have breastfeeding. In the same way that it would feel wrong to deny a child their special bedtime teddy with no good reason, it feels wrong to stop the bedtime feeds with Arlo. It’s a shame that some people see this as in any way different.
(Getting off topic now, I really need to write a breastfeeding post soon).
After eighteen months, I really thought I had become used to getting up at least once per night. Mentally, I’d definitely adjusted (although I did perhaps experience moments of unwarranted anger towards people who would complain about feeling oh-so-tired after being woken for an hour or two by their usually well-slept child. THIS IS MY LIFE. EVERY DAY.) But my body and brain are most definitely thanking me for a regular 7 or 8 hours solid sleep per night.
Everything is sharper. Days are easier. I’ve woken up.