It started with a nap. A very long, long nap.

A couple of days into the endless doze, I called the midwife hotline to share my concern about how much my new-born baby was sleeping. She just laughed, gently, and told me to enjoy it while it lasted. I wish I’d listened… but I was on high alert, scrutinising everything my baby boy did “just in case”. Me, enjoy it? Please! I had a world of new experiences to obsess over.
Then, one day, he woke up. He woke up, he saw the world, and he decided that sleep was for the weak. It’s been a battle to get him down ever since.

It was a bit of a shock. I didn’t realise that sleeping wasn’t necessarily something that came naturally to babies after a certain point. I’d heard ALL the stories of exhausted mums, sure, but I guess I always thought that was because the babies were up to feed all the time. They were waking up for a legitimate baby reason, one necessary for survival. Not that they weren’t going down in the first place. Or that they were confused and disoriented and not sure how to sleep. So, I was on the back foot and suddenly my baby was permanently awake and feeding like a maniac. It was completely and totally overwhelming.

In hindsight, I think that what I self-diagnosed as cluster feeding was, in fact, a hugely over-stimulated baby trying to put himself to sleep, but failing, because I wasn’t reading the cues and helping him in the way he needed to be helped.

I didn’t realise that schedules and sleep environments mattered that much to a new-born. Perhaps I should have known, but I didn’t. When I finally did figure out what was going on, I was so disappointed in myself for not helping him to sleep from the outset that I didn’t trust my instincts anymore. So, naturally, I found a few books by sleep experts to trust instead. I devoured them and then I followed the advice, minute by minute, and assumed that when I blindly adhered to the guidance and suggested schedules that my baby getting distressed was just par for the course.

I recall one unpleasant holiday, my son’s first, when, while my husband’s family all had a jolly time downstairs, I paced up and down in the attic bedroom like some sort of sleep-deprived Jane Eyre, ‘The Complete Guide to Sleep’ or some such tome tucked under my arm and a screeching, exhausted baby fighting against my stressed out and (frankly) freaked out not-so-soothing embrace.

Yes, the experts are experts in their field, and the information they share is invaluable. However, the books (by their very nature) are a bit more general than a one-to-one consultation. Everything you read is not going to be right for your child – every baby is different. I wish I’d remembered to remember that then. I wish I’d educated myself more on the potential pitfalls of sleep before he was born so that when the napping stopped, I could have been better prepared. And, less inclined to follow the expert’s advice slavishly without considering my own baby’s individual personality.

baby sleeping
baby sleeping

I wish I’d known that following the advice blindly without being responsive to my baby would not be good for us. I wish I’d known how hard getting him to sleep could be and that, sometimes, no matter how much I try, he won’t sleep. In fact, I’m often just making the situation worse.

Case in point, if I read the line ‘put them down while drowsy but still awake’ one more time… [screams at the sky and shakes her fist]. I’ve lost HOURS of my life to that dance. Days in fact. For me, that helpful advice was nonsense. Unhelpful. For others, it would work perfectly, and for others still, nap time and schedules would never need to be something of concern, because their blissful little sleepers figured it out for themselves.

I’ve learnt to relax a bit more now. The napping is still a bit hit and miss, but the night-time sleeps are getting better (for now). I think the thing that’s changed, is I’ve learnt to relax a bit and enjoy the sleep journey for all its twists and turns. I don’t know much about anyone else’s babies, but for mine, when he is stressed out and can’t sleep, the soothing bedtime routine, which we’ve followed since he was two months old, doesn’t help. Nor does the advice to gently shush him until he drifts to sleep. What helps my baby is a cuddle, from me, while I do some deep breathing to calm and centre myself. I relax, and I feel him relax.

Yes, I’m aware of the pitfalls of incorrect sleep associations. But some nights he goes to sleep in his bed unaided, some nights he feeds to sleep, and some nights he needs to be rocked. That’s what works for us, and I wish I’d known, before he was born, how different each sleep journey can be. Finally, I wish I knew how quickly those night-time cuddles would come to an end. Now, when he sleeps so soundly, without needing my help, I wish I’d treasured those moments of him and I alone at night. Treasured the cuddles and his soft breath on my neck as he dozed off. Because those moments don’t come back, and that’s something the sleep experts forget to tell you.