Sleep, imperfect sleep. Part 2

Another sleep-related post! Parents of babies and young children spend a lot of their waking hours worrying about and discussing their offspring’s sleeping habits. In “Sleep, imperfect sleep. Part 1” I introduced the Great Porridge Plan designed to encourage Little Piglet to sleep for more hours during the night without needing a feed. Unfortunately, he has spent recent nights feeding from me for a large part of the night, and has refused all solids during the day (who needs solids when there’s milk on offer ALL night?!).

We were fortunate in that Little Piglet slept incredibly well for the first few months, regularly sleeping through the night or waking once, at most. We credited his super sleeping to the faithful swaddle blanket. Little Piglet was just a couple of days old when I discovered the art of swaddling and it was immediately effective, soothing him and and allowing him to sleep for hours. The purpose of swaddling is to prevent the newborn’s startle reflex from awakening them. Swaddling was so effective that we swaddled Little Piglet until he turned 10 months. But little piglet is not so little anymore, and swaddling effectively is almost impossible. For various reasons, his sleep has become very erratic in recent months. He has recently reached a number of developmental milestones, including crawling and cruising, and I suspect he is teething too.

Despite initial concerns about co-sleeping, for us it has been a blessing. Usually Little Piglet spends the first part of the night in his own cot, and on waking transfers into bed with me. This arrangement worked very well when he was sleeping with us for the first 6 months. However we found that we often woke him when we stirred during the night, so we moved him into a neighbouring room with a spare bed for me. Thankfully during our antenatal NCT classes we were taught the fundamentals of safe co-sleeping and in the majority of countries around the world it is standard practice.  I quickly mastered feeding on my side, and regularly drifted off during those sleepy night-feeding sessions. Initially I felt very guilty about this and worried about creating “bad habits” but in time I considered it a very practical and beautiful arrangement.

When Little Piglet was waking 1-2 times per night these arrangements worked extremely well, providing the whole family with adequate rest. But recently, he has been waking up to hourly. At a La Leche League meeting I was reassured that this is entirely normal and healthy behaviour. Nonetheless, I felt like like every day was becoming more and more of a struggle. Because his suck has become so strong, now I rarely fall asleep whilst he feeds and once he has fallen asleep, his snoring can keep me awake! Therefore I needed a plan. Little Piglet will not settle at night with my husband, so for now it is in my hands. We align ourselves with gentle parenting techniques so a cry-it-out approach was not for us. Elizabeth Pantley’s “No-cry sleep solution” has some helpful suggestions as does Dr Jay Gordon (although he suggests that his techniques are used for babies >1 year). Both emphasise the importance of the baby learning to fall asleep without the need to suck on the mother’s breast, but ensuring that they are always comforted by a parent during this process.

Ideally I would like to night-wean little piglet and I hope that by encouraging him to fall asleep without sucking we will achieve this. Eventually I would like my husband to be able to settle him too. But it is a gradual process. At times I feel very demoralised. For example, last week we spent the afternoon with Jake the super sleeper. Jake sleep 13 hours at night! But his parents have worked hard to achieve this, and until recently we have been fairly content with our arrangement. We hope that over the coming months we can gently encourage Little Piglet to sleep better.