“Are you getting any sleep?” “Is he a good sleeper?” “Is he sleeping through yet?” “Does he nap well?”
Sleep, or lack thereof, is apparently a hot topic when it comes to parenting. Didn’t take long to figure that one out. It’s frequently talked about and debated, and features in most peoples first questions to new parents. When we first had Anakin nothing could have prepared me for the months of sleep deprivation I had ahead of me. I didn’t sleep well during most of my pregnancy, but at least I had time to stay in bed. Neither did I know that you had to teach a baby to sleep, or at least we had to teach this one to.
I didn’t know much about baby sleep cycles, cat napping or anything of the sorts in the beginning. Babies slept a lot, that was all I knew. And he did, at first. But he would sleep mostly in our arms and we were only too happy to hold him for as long as we could. If we were downstairs in our house it was out of the question to put him down anywhere we couldn’t see him, particularly upstairs. It took many weeks before I even managed to sleep with the lights off. It was a bad case of first time parent paranoia. I would sleep in my pj’s (because he just woke so often) and with my glasses on the mattress above my pillow to make it easy for me to see him whenever I woke up, if I ever had time to fall asleep. The bedside table was too far away, I guess. I did everything a new, paranoid, doting parent would, I checked his breathing regularly, I held him at every chance I had and I probably tortured myself needlessly. I was horrible at taking care of myself.
It got to a point where I dreaded nights so bad they made me cry. Steinar slept in another room for a bit to make sure he wasn’t completely beat for work and I would sit in my chair in the bedroom pretty much all night holding Anakin, nursing, rocking, crying, doing whatever I could to get the little man to sleep. And he would, but as soon as I put him down in his cot he would wake back up. For a while I averaged about 4 hours sleep per 24, broken up into small catnaps here and there and I was going bat crazy.
Anakin was a big catnapper. Unless we held him or let him sleep on us he would do a 20 minute sleep at most during daytime. And 20 minutes is just not enough for a tiny baby. I tried to educate myself as best I could on sleep and routines, and we ended up going to a settling session with the amazing Helen Stevens (Safe Sleep Space). But as much as I loved the session, the issue with Anakin wasn’t the settling during the day, it was his inability to fall asleep and to transition between sleep cycles. He’s never been much of a crier in general, and resettling someone for more sleep who is happy as larry to be awake is a tough nut to crack.
As for getting him to fall asleep it turned out we were just keeping him up far too long. I didn’t recognise his tired signs for a long time. By the time he yawned or started to cry he was way past his window of going down easily. Our household was a bit chaotic in the start and I think it was too easy to think he could manage more awake time than he could simply because there were people there who wanted to see him all the time.
Once things calmed down his sleep started changing. As opposed to taking forever to get to sleep at night (due to being overstimulated and overtired) he started to fall asleep faster and on his own. We stuck to our bedtime routine and put him down while still awake and it worked a charm. Naps were still a struggle, but I was able to help him transition between cycles if I was already in the room when he stirred and acted immediately. This involved good timing, a lot of crawling around out of sight, stroking his head and giving him a dummy, then waiting for him to go back to sleep before exiting the room. And on a good day he’d do one 1,5 hour nap and then 45 minute naps for the rest. Fair enough.
At around 4 months we moved Anakin to his own room. He started waking every time we went to bed and would wake 8-10 times overnight for a feed or his dummy, and I was getting to the end of my tether. Anakin loves his room and sleeps very well on his own. And for a couple of months we were in putting baby to bed heaven. He would have his bath, his bedtime feed, a cuddle and then we could simply wrap him, put him in his bed with his white noise cd on and leave. And he’d mostly stay asleep until my night shift started.
But that’s a whole other story.