The Big Sleep Post, part 1.

February 26, 2017

I haven’t wanted to write another post about sleep. It’s a loaded topic and I wasn’t sure I could convey my feelings accurately. I also didn’t want to be another voice in the sea of advice that is given to parents, as loving and caring as most advice is. Sleep, or lack thereof, is an overwhelmingly popular topic of conversation in the baby world. First-time parents expect to be tired when their newborn arrives, but nothing can prepare you for how the sleep deprivation will truly feel (well, besides getting a puppy, perhaps). And when you’re deep in the sleepless days, it’s difficult to trust that you will ever sleep solidly again, even when you are reassured of the fact. Sleep is a big deal. It is crucial to keeping everyone happy and healthy, and it’s a tricky one because babies’ sleeping habits change all the time, as they go through developmental leaps and grow teeth and get sick… and each family contains multiple individuals with different personalities and schedules, attempting to co-exist in harmony. What worked for one family, therefore, may not work for another. And though we may acknowledge these differences, when we are tired and hormonal, we don’t always respond the way we should when receiving advice (even if the advice is respectful and legitimately helpful, and even if we asked/begged for it), which is to take the ideas that resonate with you and tune out the rest. It is very easy to compare your baby and feel like you’re doing something wrong. Joan was never a baby to happily drift off to sleep on her own, Ben and I were always keenly assisting her, and very few of the tricks people suggested worked for us, which made me feel worse. This is why I have been hesitant to share more of our sleep story, as I don’t want anyone to compare their baby or question their gut, because that’s your guide, not me. You can learn very useful tips from gentle parenting books, like those written by Pinky McKay (clearly I’m a fan of gentle methods, here), such as learning how to swaddle and rock your baby, and encouraging a night-time routine. But you need to implement these strategies alongside the knowledge that your baby is unique and they may not take to these suggestions in the manner, time-frame or consistency that other babies do.

When Joan was around seven weeks old, I attended a New Parent Group session that was run by my local council. The topic was sleep – what was good and healthy sleep behaviour, and what not to do. As I stood in the circle, rocking and feeding my baby to sleep, I learnt that you shouldn’t rock or feed your baby to sleep. I understand where this thinking comes from, I do. It is GREAT if you can put babies down happily in their bassinet/cot when they’re drowsy yet still awake, so they learn to fall asleep on their own and don’t wake up going, “Hang on, where am I? Where’s my mum, I was just snuggling her!?!”, but that was never, ever going to happen for us without Joan screaming, and my instinct was to not put her through that distress, so we didn’t. Much advice given to new parents aims to help them survive those early, gruelling days and acknowledges the fact that many mothers won’t be staying home with their babies as long as previous generations (the going back to work thing is another loaded topic, and I won’t get into that now. I’ll simply say, wouldn’t it be great if we were all able to choose whether we wanted to go back to work or stay at home with our children, and for that choice to be properly supported by society and each other?) These days, many families have two working parents because they want to and/or they have to, and a baby who sleeps independently will be supportive of this. However, it was absolutely the wrong advice for Joan and I, and I left the session feeling ashamed and conflicted. I was vulnerable and lacked the wisdom that comes with time, when you see that eventually it all works out and none of the things you did in the early days spoiled your baby.

As Joan has grown, I’ve become more protective of her privacy. I post few shots of her face and I pause before sharing too much of what she says and does, even though I want to scream it loud and proud, because she’s so darn amazing. I adore seeing other families on Instagram, and if my gut told me to keep sharing lots of photographs of her cute little face I would, but it’s not. She’s not a baby anymore, she’s a little girl, and I’m feeling the pull to protect. Me? I’ll keep writing and sharing because it makes me happy, but her? That’s Joan’s call now. Despite all of this, Ben and I are very happy to flow freely on the topic of sleep and gentle parenting methods. The sleep stuff, especially newborn sleep, is less about personality anyway, and more about basic, primal needs. I think the main reason I started sharing my thoughts on the matter is simply because it was a big part of my life, as I wore Joan in a sling/carrier for practically all her naps until she was 14 months old. And it turns out that by sharing our reality, Joan and I have helped normalise the fact that some babies require a lot of assistance and patience when it comes to sleep. I think bubba will be chuffed to learn the number of mothers who have been in contact with me to say, thanks. I know I’m chuffed, because goodness me, I was not prepared for this. I thought babies just slept in a cot when they were tired. Right? Isn’t that what babies do? I know that some bubbas do actually sleep this way, however I now also know that some need a little more help, and some need a lot more help, and that is totally normal. And so I share, because I remember how it felt to see pictures of babies sleeping blissfully in cots and feel like a failure. I share to help shine light at the end of the tunnel, because as lovely as baby-wearing and non-stop sleep snuggling is, you don’t want to have to do it forever, nor do you want to waste those precious moments worrying that you’re doing something wrong. I share so that others will feel reassured that by responding to your child’s needs, you are not creating bad habits, you’re actually helping them thrive.

This post is a long one. Too long, probably. And while I did edit it down, in the end I decided to stop cutting the content. As I said, sleep is a big deal, and to share only part of our story is misleading. So, this will be a two parter. To those with babies who happily sleep independently, don’t worry about reading this post, read something else. And to those with wakeful babies who are requiring a lot of patience, please don’t hope for bundles of helpful tips. I’m not an expert, I have only one experience and you and I (and our babies) will be different. But I’m sharing our story all the same, in the hope that it feels like a giant hug of recognition and reassurance to those who may need it.

 

THE BEGINNING

The evening Joan was born, I was too energised to sleep. My waters broke at midday, and seven hours later she was earth side. The hospital bassinet was ready to go, but my instinct was to keep my newborn babe on my chest. That night, in between kissing her head every few seconds, I thought on her name. Ben and I adored both “Joan” and “Juniper”, though he was leaning more towards Juniper and I preferred Joan. “You’ll know when you see her!”, people said, and indeed, we both knew…he knew Juniper and I knew Joan. We decided to sleep on it, but after reflecting all night on her strong and sure entrance, I knew with even more certainty that she was Joan. Ben agreed with me in the morning (his decision possibly greatly influenced by the “I just gave birth” card I had shamelessly pulled), and that is how “we” decided on her name. But I have completely digressed, let’s get back to the sleep stuff. Ben had fallen straight to sleep after sandwiches and juice in our room at 9pm. He was exhausted, you know? Labour is tough on men, with all the physical exertion they have to do (sorry, I can’t not make that joke, I just can’t. I tried to edit it out, but, no….can’t). Anyway, I eventually woke my wonderful husband (who was actually straight-up amazing during the labour), so he could hold our tiny baby and I could snooze for an hour until she wanted milk. And so began our journey with baby Joan + sleep. During the day, to keep bubba from crying, I wore Joan in a sling/baby carrier or simply held her while she napped. And at night, we took turns holding her – one of us would sleep while Joan snoozed on the other person’s chest, and then we’d swap. My memory of that time is hazy, but I think we did this for the first 2-3 weeks, as Ben had taken that time off work and Joan continued to refuse the bassinet. We didn’t mind, Ben has always been super into following Joan’s cues, like the legend he is, and we adored the snuggles. Eventually, after a few weeks, we recognised that we couldn’t go on tag-team sleeping forever and figured out a way to successfully swaddle her, which was a little trickier as she was in a hip brace, but worked a treat in managing that newborn startle reflex. Even though Joan didn’t like the process of being swaddled, it allowed us to put her in the bassinet and get a decent block of sleep at the start of the night. After waking for milk, we could sometimes get her to go down for a second block, but invariably one of us would end up holding her for a couple of hours during the night while she slept, and then we’d swap. It was as though Joan would tolerate the bassinet for the beginning of the evening, but after that she’d had enough. And again, we didn’t mind. The three of us were slowly starting to sleep for longer blocks, often getting two 2 hour blocks or even a golden 3 or 4 hour stretch at the beginning of the night, and that was ok. I could get by on that amount of sleep and anything else was a bonus. We went to bed super early (like, SUPER early) and I resigned myself to a 3am wakeup call by pretending I was a morning tv show host. And when Joan was a little older (and bigger), we’d bring her into bed with us (safely) and snooze until morning. I also had Ben’s support. I wasn’t in this alone. While I struggle to fall back to sleep after being woken, Ben sleeps with ease, and so he would wake up to burp Joan, then place a wind-free bubba back in the bassinet, so I could go back to sleep straight after breastfeeding. He did this practically every feed while on paternity leave, and then on the weekends after that. He would even do this some days when working from home, to ensure I got as much rest as possible. I am so lucky to have Ben and his support, he made the early days easier by never hesitating to do the evening shift if I needed help. Like, never. I should bake him a cake…

You can read more about the newborn days (and her hip dysplasia) in this post, though after re-reading just now, it’s clear to me that I while I was happy to follow Joan’s cues, I was still thinking that she should sleep in the bassinet, which, as you’ll see below, turned out to be a fruitless endeavour and total waste of time for us.

sleeping joan on my chest

Sleeping newborn babe.

 

To help encourage long and easy night sleeping, we developed an evening routine. The salt lamps went on, which gave the room a gentle glow and made us feel cozy and warm; Joan and I would have a bath (once the brace came off and we could bathe her, that is) and I would massage her little body while we got into pyjamas; I would then feed bubba and she would invariably drift off to sleep on the boob (I recall timing the feeds aiming for as long as possible in the hope that she’d fill her tummy up and not wake for a good few hours. I recall timing it down to the minute and caring a lot about that, which I will file under: things I won’t care about with my next baby). After she was fed, Ben would burp bubba and then keep her upright for a long time to ensure all her wind was out. Joan was a windy baby, for a few reasons. Eventually, with time and a more mature digestive system, we didn’t have to keep her upright for so long. And eventually, bubba could feed lying down in bed next to me and fall straight to sleep, which made everything SO MUCH EASIER. But back to the early few months… After Joan had snuggled on our chests for some time (maybe half an hour to an hour? It’s hard to recall), Ben would say “I think she’s ready”, and we would place her into the bassinet, before falling into bed ourselves.

AND THEN IT CHANGED

Somewhere around the fourth month of Joan’s life, she started refusing the bassinet completely. I assume it was due to big developmental leaps (read this article), but regardless, it was a major turning point for us. Up until then, I would track how much sleep I was getting as a way of convincing myself that “It really is ok, I got 5 hours in total over night: 2 hours at the start, then 45 minutes, and then 2 hours more, then a final fifteen minutes…I don’t feel too bad!?!?!”. And I would reflect on Joan’s sleep from the previous night in the hope of noticing a pattern, something I could hold onto to know that we were making progress and she was learning how to sleep through the night. Because that’s what I thought babies were supposed to do. After all, it’s the question that everyone asks, “Is your baby sleeping through the night, yet?” YET?! Ha. Spoiler alert: no, she isn’t. The unpredictability of our nights was really hard for me to get used to. The fact that some nights Joan would sleep for 6 hours straight, then wake and feed and go down easily for another 3 hours, while other nights she’d wake every 1-2 hours – that is ROUGH. How on earth can you be a productive human during the day on broken sleep like that? And to go back to work and use my brain in a “professional” way?!?! Seriously, WTF? And so, as a way of regaining some control, I counted hours and tracked it in my head. At 3.5months old, Joan was indeed beginning to sleep in a fairly predictable manner. I recall saying to Ben, “I think Joan will end up sleeping in a 5hour block from 9pm, then wake around 2am for a feed, then sleep for 3 more hours. Yeah, I think that’s what will happen from now on. We can handle that!” And then it all changed. Joan began waking very frequently throughout the night and would absolutely not go down into the bassinet. We would do our usual routine, only for bubba to wake after 10-20 minutes. So we would do the routine again, spending another 30-60 minutes feeding, burping and rocking her, then placing her down (with shirts that smelt like me and white noise playing – we did all the tricks, I assure you). 10 minutes and a few mouthfuls of our cold dinner later, Joan would wake and begin to cry with increasing intensity. This went on for far too many nights. Oh, to think of the time we spent trying to get her to sleep in her bassinet (and, for a brief period, the cot). Eventually I realised how ridiculous our endeavour was, after a brief period of leaning over the cot as Ben stabilised me from the side, while I hovered my breast into bubba’s mouth in the hope that she would fall back to sleep with a little breastmilk (a dummy would have helped, but she never took one). Yeah, I think it was around that time that we stopped fighting what Joan clearly wanted, which was to be snuggled next to me with close access to milk, and brought her into bed with us from the beginning of the night. I resisted because I had in my mind that she “should” be in the bassinet for the first portion of her sleep. Aside from the fact that it would be nice to relax and eat dinner with my husband as our baby slept soundly in another room (ha! That has only started to happen now), I was worried that putting her into our bed from the start of the night would be going backwards and creating bad habits. Now I have nothing but compassion for my past self and for any other parents in similar circumstances with similar worries. Because on reflection, the very best thing we did, for all three of us, was to surrender to what Joan needed. And what she needed was for me to stop worrying about habits, stop comparing her to other babies and start trusting my gut, because when I honoured my mother’s intuition and acted from that knowing and primal place, our family was happier. And we all slept better, too.

From that point on, things just got easier. Co-sleeping was a game changer for us. We splurged on a King-sized bed, because we had a feeling we’d be co-sleeping for some time, and we embraced everything that went along with it, from the occasional middle-of-the-night slap to the face/kick in the guts, to the super early nights. When Joan was in bed, I was there, too. Even after feeding her to sleep, I remained by her side, as she was a wakeful mover and I didn’t want her to roll of the bed (and bed rails did nothing to stop her eager sleep-standing game). I suppose we should have just put our mattress on the floor, but we stubbornly refused, after having recently purchased our first real bed frame. And I was cool with the early nights. I would read or watch shows on my computer, and eat snacks in bed. It was nice. Though not what we had pictured, surrendering felt good and we were content. Our “date night dinners” were not by candle light in the dining room, they were in bed with bowls of pasta or takeaway pizza and a movie playing on the computer (on mute with subtitles) while Joan slept between us. To those who don’t co-sleep, I can totally appreciate how nuts this sounds. Even though my mum co-slept with me when I was a bub, Ben and I never planned on doing this with our family (side note: my mum is kind of the greatest person in the world). I wasn’t against it, I just didn’t think we would need to, because it never crossed my mind that my baby wouldn’t want to sleep in his/her cot. But now, I can’t imagine doing it differently. We absolutely love having our babe in our bed. Some people worry about a lack of intimate time for co-sleeping parents (I know, as I have received quite a few questions on this matter), but this was never an issue for us. Firstly, I didn’t even want to think about sex for a good few months – I know many people get the “all clear” at their 6 week check up, but I was like, “Are you serious? Nooooooooo, thank you. We are closed right now.” And secondly, we’ve never been the type of people who restrict “us time” to the bedroom. I’ll leave it at that. Ben and I knew it wouldn’t always be this way and whatever we were sacrificing now was, in our minds, FAR better than battling to get Joan to sleep independently. I would only occasionally question whether Joan’s dependence on me for sleep was a bad thing. Like when Ben travelled for work and couldn’t be on “Joan watch” when I needed to get up and use the toilet (even when I was gone for under a minute, Bubba, with her super spidey senses, would move to the edge of the bed looking for me)…so I would pee in a potty by my bed. And then sometimes I would feel embarrassed when we had friends over, and it was undeniably time for Joan to go to bed, because that meant it was time for me to go to bed also. Even if it was 7pm. I felt self conscious that I wasn’t able to simply place her down and successfully walk away to re-join the conversation over dishes. Yeah, that and the whole ‘peeing in my bedroom’ thing made me question whether I was nuts, but most of the time I tuned out my “shoulds” and any internal, critical chatter and focussed on what was best for us, day to day. And though it took me about a month of co-sleeping to feel completely comfortable and rest deeply, having Joan sleep in our bed was truly the best thing. It was convenient and lovely, and felt so, so right. I was able to embrace the unpredictable nature of our nights and no longer watched the clock or counted hours. When Joan was going through developmental leaps and waking frequently, she wouldn’t cry (unless she was cutting a tooth), she would simply rouse and search for me, either with her arm or for a quick comfort feed, and we would both fall asleep practically instantly. As someone who struggles to fall back to sleep once they’ve been woken, this felt incredible. Ben was better rested, too, as he would rarely wake at all during the night. As I said above, we can often project our own experiences onto others without respecting that what worked for us may not work for another family. And I have to remind myself of this when I get to thinking that co-sleeping will fix everything for people with wakeful babies, just as it did for us. I guess what I truly hope to do, is encourage those of you who are wanting to co-sleep, but are scared of creating bad habits. I want to reassure you that your baby won’t be in your bed forever. They won’t. And if your baby has super spidey senses and are used to you being there, one day you will be able to walk away and leave them sleeping alone, and you will be able to have a hot meal, a bath and pee in an actual toilet. I promise you. And so, if your intuition tells you to co-sleep, snuggle away (safely, of course). Embrace the fact that you can comfort them without having to get out of bed, while keeping up a stellar milk supply if you’re breastfeeding. Savour those baby cuddles and their dependence on you. It is special and fleeting.

By surrendering to what Joan wanted regarding sleep, Ben and I also gave into ALL of the sleep associations that they warn you against – feeding, rocking, snuggling… the more the merrier! We were cool with anything that helped Joan tune out her busy mind and fall asleep peacefully, ensuring she developed positive sleep associations. No more trying to build independent habits, because we found that they just went out the window when she was leaping and teething and needed us. And so, Joan napped in the baby carrier for practically all of 2015 and most of 2016, and I only just put away my breastfeeding pillow, which I wore when feeding/rocking/singing her to sleep every night until she was 15 months. Feeding and rocking to sleep worked for us and we didn’t feel the need to change it. Again, I get why independent sleepers are desirable, you have more time to work, be productive around the house or to simply rest. And I am fully aware that some people need their babies to be independent earlier than others. We had time, so we gave Joan time. I was her comfort. Bubba would occasionally nap with Ben using the baby carrier, or, if the stars aligned, in the car, however when it came to sleep, she was mostly attached to me. In this day and age, assisting your baby to fall asleep is something that tends to be feared and discouraged, not respected or celebrated. But the truth is, some babies need this. And there are wonderful benefits to being your baby’s sleep association. You can wear them in a carrier/sling and they’ll snooze wherever you are – at the shops, at a café, on a hike…and travel is not a big deal, because as long as you are in a bed together, they don’t care where they are. That’s some good stuff, right there. But you can’t rock your kid to sleep forever, and so when I felt it was time, we began some gentle transitions.

carrier nap

One of our last “full time” carrier naps

TRANSITIONING FROM BABY-WEARING TO BED NAPS

I had a gut feeling that Joan would be ready for change when she was around 14 months old. Somehow I sensed that after baby-wearing for practically all our naps, she would accept lying down. I can’t tell you how I knew other than a gut feeling, and I know that isn’t very helpful, but I have no other way of describing it. Each baby is different when it comes to sleeping independently – some need a lot of help, while others need just a gentle nudge and the right conditions. Some babies get there on their own time without much assistance at all (which is awesome and what I wished for Joan), and some bubbas (or toddlers!) want to be rocked or fed to sleep for much longer than a mother is willing or able to do so. In those cases, gentle transitions ala Pinky McKay can totally work, and this is what we did. Though I want to note that what worked for us at 14 months would absolutely, positively, not have worked sooner (well, not without a load of tears). I had read this great article when Joan was around 5 months old, and had begun to bring in additional sleep associations, things like music, as Pinky suggests. On different occasions over the months I tested the waters to see if Joan would take to this, but it wasn’t going to happen without some degree of distress from bubba, and so I kept putting it off until one day, when Joan was 14 months old, my gut told me to try again. It comes down to that mumma instinct. As a parent, you know when you’re doing something that feels wrong to your core, and you know when things are flowing in the right direction, even if they’re hard…so I guess you’ve got to trust that knowledge.

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Books before nap.

Our first transition went as follows: instead of baby-wearing Joan, I fed her lying down (on a single mattress on the floor by our big bed). I made sure she was tired but not overtired, and remained calm and gentle and committed to having her sleep on the bed. Second to Joan seeming ready for change was the fact that I was fully ready and committed to being consistent. Once bubba got the memo that we were napping on the bed and not rolling around playing, she drifted off to sleep while feeding. This was a big deal for us. After that one time, napping on the bed became our new normal. For the first 2 or 3 weeks, I stayed by her side while she slept (remember how I said she always sensed I was gone and would wake?) and read books or scrolled through instagram. I knew that gentle transitions can take weeks, so I made sure to not rush this independent sleeping thing and relished my forced down-time. I made sure our days were free so we could focus on the sleep change without the pressure of making appointments or getting work done. A successful, gentle transition was my new number one job. In the beginning, bubba would wake during her nap and go back on the boob, but little by little she got used to this new routine and would sleep more solidly for 40 minutes – 1.5 hours, which was her usual nap length (Joan has never been a baby to sleep for 2-3 hours during the day). And then, one day, a few weeks after we started transitioning, Joan and I were sitting on her bed reading books before her nap and I had a feeling that she would accept going to sleep without breastfeeding. Joan was 15 months at this point, and because I was hoping to stop feeding-on-demand (more on that below), I gave it a go. I knew that if she became distressed or crawled at me for milk, I would give it to her, but she didn’t. Joan and I lay down and I sang to her, patting her back. When she sat up and tried to crawl around, I would pick her up and place her back down again, dodging a swipe at my face every now and then while she giggled/cackled maniacally, in an attempt to keep playing. Throughout my looooong serenade I remained calm and confident and soothing, and eventually (and I mean eventually – it took over an hour on the first day), she gave in and went to sleep. I was amazed. AMAZED. This would absolutely, positively never have happened before. There would have been so many tears and sucking on my arm, neck, face, whatever she could get, until I comforted her and helped her fall asleep with our usual tricks. But Joan was older and it was different. She very secure in the fact that I was there and not leaving her, she only had positive sleep associations, and she was now used to lying down on a bed for naps, all of which surely helped, but also she was just ready to tackle the transition. We both were. From that point, I decided to keep up this no-milk-before-nap habit. On a few occasions she did reach for my milk, but I told her that we were “not having milk now” and she accepted it. Don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t like, “Oh, haha, silly me, I forgot, that’s totally cool!”, she absolutely would have had milk if I gave it to her, but I had made the decision that for my hormones and to nudge her towards more independence regarding sleep, I had to be consistent with the milk thing. I am very thankful that it was a much easier, smoother transition than I had anticipated. Joan only became seriously upset on one occasion, which broke my heart, however I knew it was because it was late afternoon (during the awkward transition to one nap a day) and she was overtired. It was just a mess, and so I picked her up and held her and changed my game plan to just keep her happy until bedtime. The wonderful thing about gentle transitions when babies are older is that you can talk them through it. Joan knew that at this point we only had milk in the morning and at night. We spoke about it, and she knew that in place of mumma’s milk she got lots of extra delicious things like raspberries and dates and smoothies. Her increase in comprehension is quite astounding and it was important for me to ensure sure she knew what was happening, rather than suddenly removing breastmilk with no discussion. The first time Joan fell asleep in the bed without milk, I made a big fuss about it, and after her nap, we ate her favourite snack of raspberries on the porch. Bubba came to know that after her naps she’d have something special. I can appreciate why people worry that habits will be harder to change as babies get older, but in my experience the transition worked so smoothly because she was older.

BIG BREASTEEDING LOVE

Can I just note here that I totally love breastfeeding. From the beginning we fed on demand, day and night, and I adored it. Breastfeeding was easy for us, besides the initial learning period (which was only normal new/tricky, nothing unusually hard), and it gave us an amazing bond – which of course is not to say our bond is greater than those who don’t breastfeed, it’s just something we felt. Breastfeeding has been great for Joan nutritionally speaking, especially when one of us is sick (those antibodies are magical!), and it is SO convenient – a perfect food is ready to serve, any time you need it, without preparation or clean up. Also, whenever bubba was upset, whether at home or in public, a quick feed would instantly settle her. It’s the ultimate comfort food and heals all wounds. And so I didn’t want to stop breastfeeding, but late last year I recognised that I needed to start intentionally spacing feedings to give my body a break. I knew that I personally couldn’t keep feeding as often as I was and expect a hormonal shift, and that is one of the main reasons why we transitioned away from feeding to sleep. I am not saying others should do this, in fact I’m a huge fan of extended breastfeeding and hope to keep breastfeeding until bubba was at least 2 years old. And I’m not saying that anyone else waiting for their cycle to return should do what I did, because most people won’t have to stop breastfeeding for this to happen. I think I’m just sensitive, and as I already had issues with my cycle (i.e. not having one after coming off the pill – I’m talking years, here, despite no obvious cause), I decided to stop, in the hope of giving Joan a sibling sooner rather than later. I had to wrestle with guilt over that, whether I was being impatient in wanted to fall pregnant this year (if I have to take Clomid like last time, they don’t recommend you take it while breastfeeding), but when I stopped and tuned out the noise, I knew precisely what my gut was telling me to do.

We started with intentionally spacing feeds during the day, with the goal of completely weaning a few months down the track. In doing this, I made sure to have lots of other things Joan enjoyed on hand (like dates and raspberries), and offered her one of these alternatives along with a big cuddle when she was seeking comfort and connection. Thankfully bubba was happy with these substitutions, and only gave me chest massages or attempt to expose my breasts in public if she was overtired, so I made sure to be super in tune with her needs, in an attempt to avoid these situations in the first place.

NAP TRANSITION, DONE!

Alright, where were we? Ah, yes, Joan was now napping in the bed and not in the carrier, and she was now being sung/cuddled to sleep and not fed. I was still, however, needing to remain near her, otherwise she would sense I was not close and would wake. As I said before, I initially remained by her side for the entire nap. Then, after a couple of weeks, as Joan got used to this new routine, I was able to move away without waking her. Bubba would, however, invariably rouse at the 30minute mark and cry for me, and would wake if I tried to move away again, so I would cuddle her for the rest of the nap. After a couple more weeks, I could get away with putting only my hand on her chest when she roused, and that was enough. And a couple of weeks after that, Joan started to do it all by herself. Well, not everything, I still cuddle and sing her to sleep (which takes anywhere from 1-20 minutes, based on how tired or buzzed she is), but she is an independent sleeper for the rest of her nap. After she falls asleep, I can get up, walk around, work, cook, step on a creaking floorboard, whatever the heck I want, for 1-1.5 hours. Bubba may rouse and open her eyes during her nap, but 90% of the time she will go back to sleep herself. I can also now transfer Joan from the car or pram to the bed if she has fallen asleep, which would never, ever have worked before. It’s unreal, and I remain completely shocked that this is my baby we are talking about.

sleeping babe

So, that is what we did with day naps, now what about overnight? Well, I’m going to pause it here, because we are only halfway through this story and it’s already a very long post. I’ll be back tomorrow.

 

Heidi xo

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25 Comments

  • Reply Claire February 26, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    Being ready for change, being consistent and baby steps towards a better sleeping situation totally resonate and are what we did in an entirely different way! I have told every new mum I’ve met don’t worry about ‘bad habits’ -whatever works, there’s nothing that can’t be undone. Thanks for sharing Heidi x

    • Reply Heidi February 27, 2017 at 12:27 pm

      Thank you, Claire! Wise and valuable advice you’ve given x

  • Reply Fiona February 26, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    Heidi I can’t tell you what this post means to me right now. I’ve been following your story for awhile and this post has come at the right time. It made me cry. I live in Melb and my Bub is 12 months now and I’ve been following you since you were pregnant. I feel like so much of what you’ve gone through has mirrored my own. And it gave me strength to know someone else was going through it.

    We ended up bedsharing at around the same time and although my Bub doesn’t like sleeping in the carrier anymore, he still needs me to hold him and comfort feeds for most of his naps. I’ve just gone back to work two days though and am being heaped with guilt from all sides because I never taught him to sleep “independently”. They say it as if it were a choice. But I couldn’t see a way it would happen without enormous tears. And now he’s in childcare and struggling to adjust and my mummy guilt is enormous. I was told by so many people that I’ve made it harder for him but I still believe it is better that he feed and sleep in my arms for most of the time, than cry himself to “self settle” all of the time. I really feel sad about having to return to work now. And like you, really feel like he won’t be ready for a few more months now. Until then I just hope he can settle in to childcare for those two days when I can’t be there for him.

    Thank you for your post and please keep speaking out. There is so much pressure to sleep train and it has to stop. It’s not the only way. Xx

    • Reply Heidi February 27, 2017 at 12:31 pm

      Oh Fiona! What a beautiful comment. Thank you. I’m so pleased this post has helped. It breaks my heart you’re having some guilt at the moment. You will both adjust! What a beautiful foundation you’ve built for your son. I’ve had friends in similar situations, and their babies totally figured out how to go to sleep with other carers. Continue to follow your intuition. You know precisely what is best for your son and he is blessed to have your love x

  • Reply Cate February 26, 2017 at 9:09 pm

    Lovely post! Evelyn was always a good sleeper overnight, but for the first year of her life she took her long day sleep in the car, with me parked under a tree with the engine and aircon running, ideally with a coffee and a book. Whatever works!

    • Reply Heidi February 27, 2017 at 12:32 pm

      Amen to that!! Thanks, lovely x

  • Reply Piper February 26, 2017 at 10:55 pm

    Aaah! I am reading this in bed with 10 week old Hugo on my chest (typing one handed… so please excuse any typos) and it’s currently 7.30pm. I don’t feed to sleep, because Hugo just doesn’t do it, and he falls asleep easily on us, but he doesn’t stay asleep if he’s put down. We battled with getting him to stay asleep the bassinet for the first 4 weeks, with about a 50% success rate, which only decreased from then on. Most of his day sleeps are in the sling on me or a carrier on dad or nanna, or on someone’s chest while they watch TV, very occasionally we can get 30 minutes in the bassinet during the day, but that is rare. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in my mothers group who has a baby that doesn’t sleep in a bassinet, but I haven’t asked, because I don’t want to know. We haven’t upgraded to a king bed yet – I am still a little hopeful that he’ll go back to the bassinet or cot, but if not, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing.

    • Reply Heidi February 27, 2017 at 12:35 pm

      So nice to hear from you, Piper! Little Hugo!! How sweet. You’re right where we were! And yes, you have no idea how it will go! You can only offer the bassinet with encouraging conditions and see if it happens. A good lesson in surrendering. Much love to you all x

  • Reply The Big Sleep Post, part 2. – Apples Under My Bed February 27, 2017 at 8:00 am

    […] you haven’t read part 1 of this post, I insist you go back and start at the […]

  • Reply Jen February 27, 2017 at 10:12 am

    It’s funny how you think it will be and how it actually ends up can be polar opposites! We had a similar experience, our little girl slept on us for months and day naps in my arms on the breastfeeding pillow (which I still use too and she’s nearly 11months) she’s much more independent now but still I’m in bed with her every night! Those spider senses are quite incredible! All the incredible moments we’ve had with her I wouldn’t change it for the world! But it’s nice to know other people out there get it and are listening, thanks so much for sharing and being so honest and vulnerable with such a loaded topic! 🙂

    • Reply Heidi February 27, 2017 at 12:36 pm

      You’re so welcome, Jen! It’s really lovely to connect with others in similar situations who get it x

  • Reply Jing February 27, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
    My experience has been very similar. The first time I heard ‘drowsy but awake’ I cackled like a maniac partly because I was so tired but I also genuinely thought it was a joke. But then I met other babies who seem to ‘get’ the whole sleep thing and so the self doubt would start.
    Your honesty gives me much needed encouragement and hope now that bubs is 1 and I can see small improvements in her sleep.
    Do what works until it doesn’t work and they all get there eventually, right?
    xx

    • Reply Heidi March 19, 2017 at 2:24 pm

      YES! That is absolutely right, Jing. Much love to you! x

  • Reply Bianca February 27, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    Reading your post gave me goosebumps, Heidi… your experience with Joan is quite similar to the experiences I have had with both of my little ones. Second time round I have just followed my baby. At 18m we are gradually and gently night weaning and I feel so many mixed emotions as we are not planning on having any more babies. While it has been hard at times, I have loved comforting and snuggling my babes. We certainly don’t get these early days / years back and I can honestly say that I don’t regret comforting my babes and cosleeping one. single. bit. You are an exceptional mother, Joan is one blessed baby. Thank you for sharing, x

    • Reply Heidi March 19, 2017 at 2:24 pm

      How kind of you, Bianca. Thank you for your beautiful comment x

  • Reply Meredith February 27, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    The peeing in a potty part is hilarious!!
    I’m in a very similar situation with my 16 month old- I never would have thought of that!!
    Well done you guys – it’s great to hear of people doing similar things and not just all of the ‘shoulds’

    • Reply Heidi March 19, 2017 at 2:24 pm

      Hehehe thanks, Meredith! 🙂 x

  • Reply Sneha February 27, 2017 at 9:52 pm

    There is so so much in your post that I agree with and have gone through myself. I spent the first 4 months of my daughter’s life with her sleeping on my chest because that was the only way she would stay asleep. She too was (and quite unfortunately still is! Wakes up many times at night needing to fart) a very gassy baby. She’s never been able to fall asleep on her own, no matter how tired she is. I’ve always breastfed her to sleep, have had to stay next to her while sleeping for fear of her falling off the bed or just waking up distressed in my absence – all very similar to your experience. She is now 17 months and for the last few weeks is taking a lot longer to fall asleep- most days, she’ll be on the boob for an hour before she finally dozes off!! It has reached a point where I am absolutely losing my patience. I am so keen to use a different way to put her to sleep but I don’t think she is ready yet. I am so sure there will be a ton of tears if I attempt it now. I am so hoping for a change very very soon- fingers crossed! Maybe I should try feeding her to sleep while lying down- that never occured to me. Couldn’t hurt giving it a shot as a starting point.

    • Reply Heidi March 19, 2017 at 2:26 pm

      Hi Sneha. Oh it is so draining when they need you so much, isn’t it? So beautiful and so exhausting. Things will change soon. I hope the feeding while lying down thing worked. Whatever you do, though, look after yourself and know that when you do transition things, no matter how it seems to go, babies adapt so well with gentle, loving encouragement once you’ve built that strong foundation of trust x

  • Reply thirty February 27, 2017 at 11:23 pm

    You’ve brought years of held in tears flowing out of me. I could of written this, it would not have been nearly as articulate or beautiful, but everything you talked about from the self-consciousness around others when they see you sleeping with babe, to the guilt of weaning before you’re truly ready to prepare for a sibling. My daughter napped in her ergo until she was 16 months old (and I was 30 weeks pregnant). Every time I tried to have her nap independently it ended in tears and distress and we were both horribly upset. It didn’t feel right and eventually I would strap her in the carrier and hate myself as I felt her sobs to sleep, and vow I would never do that again. We got there gently in the end when I could ‘feel’ she was ready.
    Fast forward to my son who needs a lot of help sleeping also. He’s napping on my chest as I type (8 months) and I am so thankful for his warm breath and sweet purrs against my chest. I hate that I feel like I have to defend myself to friends that question this or feel they have the right to comment (the worst are the ones that don’t even have kids).
    What I’m getting at is I want to thank you SO much for this reminder to listen to myself and my own family, to appreciate the time I get to snuggle with my babes (as you are right, it will be fleeting), and tune out the advice /comments /opinions of others. Leaving a baby to become so upset doesn’t feel right, so why are we pressured to ignore such a primal instinct to calm our babies? Mothering is not a 9 to 5. Thank you again.

    • Reply Heidi March 19, 2017 at 2:28 pm

      Oh, how sweet! Thank you! 30 weeks pregnant and ergo napping a 16 month old – you are straight-up amazing. Thanks for the love x

  • Reply Jen February 28, 2017 at 12:05 am

    Thank you for your compassion in writing this, Heidi. I think whatever approach you take with sleep, there is always judgement and it’s just so hard to feel like you are doing your best. Thank you for acknowledging that what worked for you may not work for everyone despite the urge to say “do this, it works!” (I have a 2.5year old who has never wanted to co-sleep, even when sick – made / makes for long nights sitting in chairs by the bed, ouch). As well as work demands, mental health is such a big factor for mums too. Sometimes in the sleepless haze of what feels like forever, mums can be drowning – sometimes paternal sleep has to be priority. Everyone is doing the best they can to show up for their kid. Thank you for allowing space for that while presenting your approach.
    But mostly, I love that you paint a picture of connection, love and contentedness between you and Ben, in the midst of the sleepless nights. This is a real gift.

    • Reply Heidi March 19, 2017 at 2:30 pm

      With all that we are expected to do in this day and age, Jen, you are SO right. Paternal sleep is so important. And co-sleeping won’t work for everyone. It’s not an easy thing, this sleep stuff, hey? Thank you for your kind words x

  • Reply Tess March 4, 2017 at 4:04 am

    It’s currently 4am and I’m up cuddling our babe back to sleep post feeding. This was the perfect post to read. Thank-you Heidi, Ben and Joan for sharing your story. It fills me with confidence that I do instinctively know what is best for my babe and I’ll keep following her lead for as long as she needs. For now, strong coffee and knowledge that we are not alone will get me through these early days. X

    • Reply Heidi March 19, 2017 at 2:30 pm

      Thank you, Tess. You’re definitely not alone x

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