I am writing this blog post to instil some hope into parents (especially breastfeeding mums) of babies/toddlers who are ‘bad’ sleepers, that you will eventually get some much needed rest!
As I have previously documented on my blog my 18 month old son has been what many would consider, a terrible sleeper. From four months of age he has woken up (at least) every two hours during the night to breastfeed and quite often even more frequently than that. Having conducted some research (desperate googling) into babies sleep patterns, especially those of breastfed babies, I soon realised that this is actually pretty ‘normal’. Even adults wake up briefly periodically during the night between sleep cycles. Some babies just need comfort, food or a little drink to settle themselves again and regular wake ups in the early months can even help prevent SIDS. This information did soften the blow somewhat, as did joining some breastfeeding support groups on Facebook…which I really recommend every breastfeeding mum to do, as the advice and support they provided has proved invaluable to us and our breastfeeding journey.
Sleep training wasn’t for us, we did briefly try it and it just wasn’t something I was comfortable with. I know that plenty of people have success with sleep training but it can actually put breastfeeding in jeopardy if done too early. Milk production is at its highest in the early hours of the morning and preventing your baby feeding back to sleep regularly over night, especially at an early age, could reduce your supply. Basically once breastfeeding is established your body adjusts how much milk it produces to how much your baby needs, hence why a baby will cluster feed when going through a growth spurt. Frequent feeds will make you produce more milk for them, to suit their increased needs, all very clever.
So we ruled out the sleep training and found ourselves co-sleeping (something we still do and I have grown to love) and just accepting that sleeping through the night was probably not going to happen for a long while. Fast forward 13 months (that’s right over a year!) and we have FINALLY got there. My toddler sleeps through the night…occasionally. Yeah we aren’t completely out of the woods yet. It doesn’t happen every night (currently writing this post at 2am) if there’s a new tooth making an appearance, illness or a leap there will still be plenty of wake ups. Also I am not taking this development for granted because Rafe has just hit 18 months and I’ve heard that the 18 month regression can be a bad one. But you know what I’ll take the occasional full nights sleep!
Our current ‘bedtime routine’ for Rafe is a story at 6:20pm bathtime around 6:30pm then I breastfeed him to sleep with white noise playing and the bedroom dark and he’s usually asleep between 7-8pm…depending on how stubborn he is feeling. On a good night he will then sleep until around 10pm when I go to bed. He feeds again and then sleeps through until around 6am (at the latest) when he’s ready to be up for the day…yeah we still have early starts! As fore mentioned this is a ‘good’ night and it doesn’t always go like this, in fact more often than not there are more wake ups. But I think that is the same for most babies and toddlers, they have good and bad nights…unless you are one of those lucky parents with a ‘unicorn baby’ who has slept through without assistance from two months!
I personally believe that a child sleeping through the night without sleep training is a developmental stage, and just like walking and talking all babies do it in their own time. There were things that I previously thought would make Rafes sleep better, and I tried a few different things to encourage it. Changing up naptime was one. We tried more naps (Rafe has one long nap, 2-3 hours during the day) shorter naps, no naps…none of this worked. We thought maybe when he started eating more solids this would help…nope. We thought when he started crawling (nope) then walking (nope). We tried an earlier bedtime, then a later bedtime, all to no avail. We even gave the famous ‘Sleepy Lotion’ (the lavender scented body lotion that is made by Lush which is supposed to promote sleep) a go. But alas for us that was just a beautiful smelling waste of money! I’m not saying that it’s not a good idea to give these different things a go…just don’t rest all your hopes on it if you do, because it can be very disappointing when stuff doesn’t work in the way you imagine!
So for all those exhausted mums out there who don’t want to sleep train but are struggling with sleep deprivation, there is hope. Yes it may take months (but it does go surprisingly quickly…even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time) but you will eventually get more than two hours of sleep in a row. Hang in there, have hope it does get better…then worse…then better again!