Sunday, April 15, 2012

On Sleep (and how we try to get some of it)

I really love sleep.  Not as much as my husband does, but I love it just the same.  Uninterrupted sleep has been one of the hardest things to relinquish in parenting, for both us.  But relinquish we have.

Our sleep journey since having Safran has been … colourful.  Sometimes sleepless?  Yes.  I want to write a post about how we have never left our son (20 months) to cry alone and he sleeps from 7-7 without a peep.  That would be wonderful.  And untrue. 

I will instead be honest with you few people who read my blog … sleep, for one of my children, is a struggle.  And we are the parents, so it's our struggle too.  So why would you read something from a parent whose child has not learned to sleep well yet as they are nearing two years old?  Firstly, I understand what it's like to be sleep deprived.  I feel you.  You are not alone, and if more of us were honest about our children's sleep then I think we would all have more realistic expectations as new parents.

Secondly, my husband and I both are firm believers that parenting is about the means, not the end.  We will not get our child to sleep through the night at all costs.  We learn and teach so much in the journey, no matter how many more months it takes than we'd like it to.  We still are in the middle of it, but we have learned a lot about gentle sleep techniques that I'd love to share.  And a lot about grace.

But first, to make myself feel better, let me tell you about my other child, Jubilee, who for the past 3 months (that's her whole life) has never slept less than 6 hours in a row at night and consistently sleeps from about 9:30pm to 5:30 or 6am.  She LOVES to sleep.  She slept six hours the first night that she was in the world and I thought that was too crazy to even mention to people, sure she wouldn't do it again.  But she does, just about every night.  And that is grace to us.  I worried during my pregnancy that I would spend all night nursing my two children, but I'm not.  Right now Safran does nurse in the night, sometimes every 2-3 hours.  We did night-wean him during my pregnancy but pretty quickly realized that he still needed me and Jubilee did not (although she sleeps very close to us in a bassinet).  I wrote earlier that there is no such thing as hypothetical grace and I believe that even more now. 

I do nothing differently with Jubilee except occasionally lay her down when she is sleepy but still awake.  I still nurse her, rock her, wear her and walk her to sleep 75% of the time.  If it was possible to lay Safran down awake I would have done so, but he was one of those babies who needed to be fully asleep for 20 minutes before I even considered laying him down, and he still might wake up within five minutes or so.  Ugh.  He therefore spent most of his naps in the early months on me in some way or another.  Lots of quality time, for sure. 

Why does Jubilee sleep so well, in my opinion?

1. She is young.  She is not teething and is oblivious (mostly) to how fun the world is.  She is exclusively breastfed so isn't dealing with food sensitivities from solid foods.  I am fully prepared that she may start to wake in the night some day.  Last week she did wake once a few nights in a row to nurse but it may have been a growth spurt and adjustment to daylight savings time and she is back to normal now.

2. She had a much more peaceful entry into the world than Safran.  He spent the first 36 hours of his life literally on ice, comfort sucking a pacifier, unable to sleep much or be held.  Jubilee went straight to my warm chest and was nursing within a few minutes.  She's hardly been away from me since.  I suspect this is the biggest difference in their sleeping abilities.
an hour or so after Saf's birth
an hour or so after Jubilee's birth

3. I read recently that when you've been breastfeeding for over a year your milk becomes fattier.  I'm also tandem nursing so have a very abundant milk supply.  I feed Jubilee on all day and she seems to get enough to settle her for the night - maybe it's better quality milk than Safran was getting? 

4. Personality/Genetics.  Safran is high-touch, strong-willed and wonderfully intense about most things.  My husband sleeps with ear plugs and still wakes up numerous times a night.   

Jubilee does not sleep better because I stretch out the time between feeds or make her self-settle or cry herself to sleep; she doesn't spend long periods of time by herself - in fact I probably carry her around or hold her on my lap even more than Saf just to make sure she's safe from his affections!

I believe in giving babies what they need and some just require more from us than others.  Having such different sleepers helps me realise that I am not a great parent because Jubilee sleeps well, nor am I a bad parent because right now Saf is waking every 2-3 hours at 20 months old.  Rather than forcing them to meet our expectations, we have to rise to the parenting challenge and give them what they need.  Some days (and nights) are harder than others.

I've been waiting to write about sleep until we have it all figured out, until we are on the other side of night wakings and fatigue and sometimes plain old frustration.  But a friend recently challenged me to be honest, that maybe I could encourage other parents who are committed to gentle parenting and just need to hear someone who understands that its hard, but we are still committed to be there for our children in the night.

So here it is.  I actually am feeling pretty passionate about this topic, so hopefully there will be a few more posts of this genre to come.  But since it's 9:41pm and the rest of my family is sleeping I will join them.  Goodnight.


  1. Ok, so I just wrote the longest comment in the history of blogging and then decided I should email it instead.... so have copied it over to a fb message. :) I'll just say here that I think it's great that you're posting about this! I've read a few articles that have referenced studies about moms "lying" about how well their babies sleep through the night. I guess somewhere along the way we've internalized our babies' sleep as a reflection on our parenting. How sad! I think you are absolutely right that a good sleeper doesn't equal a good parent (or vise-versa). Moms NEED to hear that. It's easy enough to feel like we're failing at something without taking on unrealistic expectations too!! Keep posting Becca! x

    1. oh adriel - I'm really sorry about how little sleep you are getting these days - and with two little guys to care for all day long. ugh. i know it's really, really hard. it will get better, right? but still it's really hard. i'm actually excited to write about the different things we put in place while gently night weaning safran (who is now un-night weaned - haha … but still there are great techniques!!) and just how we have coped …. Before we took him off of dairy he was awake multiple nights a week for 2-3 hours in the night. Like 1-4am, not even wanting to get up and play, wanting to sleep and being unable … so we are getting better even though he is still waking a lot.

      I guess a couple quick thoughts …

      1. when does ryan go to work? we do a lot of tag team sleeping around here. chris tries to get a good night's sleep in the night (even if that means going to another room) so that he can get up early with Saf (around 6) and I go back to sleep for a couple of hours. Sometimes (like right now) he'll get me up and then go back to sleep himself. He usually has to be at work at 9, so that's a luxury we have. We would prefer mornings together (and when the night is good we get that) but more often than not one of us sleeping.

      2. sometimes it helps to really give in to bedsharing (at least for a time) - like make it comfortable (if a bedrail is needed, or we have a single bed next to our queen so saf has his own space and we aren't getting kicked all night) and seriously the biggest thing? DON'T LOOK AT THE CLOCK. this is really a key to bedsharing … when i don't look at the clock i sometimes don't really notice what happened in the night … I usually only look if I think it's getting close to morning or there have been heaps of wake ups and I am debating giving something for teething.

      you're definitely not alone though. and you are an AMAZING mama regardless of how your children sleep. I really believe parenting is about our means and that we can't look to our children's behaviour to see if we are doing 'well'. But that doesn't mean we couldn't use a bit more sleep!! thanks for your encouragement on the topic … I will keep writing, if only to tell you stories about Saf that will make Judah look like a great sleeper. ;)

    2. haha, i know that judah isn't the worst sleeper ever. after posting this he only woke up once last night. imagine!!! the bliss! they are so unpredictable.

      to respond, yes, ryan gets up with levi (and judah, if he's awake too) in the mornings. that usually gives me an extra hour. i'm so grateful! also, i do bed-share a lot with judah already. i've pulled up his cot to my side of the bed to actually act as a bedrail so that i can "relax" more when he's in bed with us. (before i was often sleeping with him cradled in my arm = not the best/soundest sleep for me!) so having the cot/rail helps for sure. and i totally agree with clock-watching. i resolved very early on with judah not to, unless i was in a phase of trying to figure out his patterns or something. but other than that, i purposefully don't look! that helps me to not get mad!!

  2. becca, i am so grateful to have you as a friend. this wisdom makes me glad to be FOLLOWING you into motherhood (not that i'm pregnant or anything!, i'm just saying...hopefully i'll be following). i love reading and thinking and learning and sharing. thank you!!! (lisa eidsrig)

  3. I know this post is a bit older, but . . . THANKS! I found it very encouraging! My 15-month old has slept through the night maybe 5 times in her life. I'm generally quite OK with that -- we bedshare, and putting her back to sleep is usually a matter of rolling over and pulling up my shirt. I just SOMETIMES worry that I've done something wrong, and that if I ever have a second, I won't ever get any sleep. Maybe we'll get a better sleeper the second time around, too. :) I'm encouraged by your perspective -- that it's important to provide children with what they need, and that these needs vary from child to child. I also appreciate your honesty. Thanks again!

    1. yay! glad you were encouraged! a few of my friends with poor sleepers the first time around have found baby #2 settles right in. And a few of my friends with amazingly gifted sleepers had second babies who are wakeful. Jubilee wakes regularly now but she is still a much better sleeper than her big brother. We rely pretty heavily on Grace most days and tag-team sleep-ins, especially on the weekends!! :)