Mum of two, Jen, shares her amazing story
At the time when my first daughter was born, I actually didn’t know you needed to ‘help’ a baby get to sleep. It sounds absolutely ridiculous to say it now, but I really was unaware that babies couldn’t get to sleep themselves. After all, if you’re tired, you fall asleep – it’s simple right? Of course it didn’t take long for me to realise that this is not the case when you are a new born baby. It was a harsh realisation and one that would shape my life for many years to come.
I am a mum to two lovely girls. I would say that wouldn’t I! They are 9 and 7 now so I’d like to think that we’ve come through the sleep difficulties of the early years, but like anything with children, these childhood challenges never really go away. They simply change and develop with the child.
The early days
When my eldest daughter, Miss E came home from hospital 9 ½ years ago we were already advocates of the Baby Whisperer. Her methods are probably outdated now but at the time we were keen to establish a sleep routine as soon as we could. Miss E slept in a Moses basket in our bedroom at night, but in the evening we put the basket in the lounge and tried to encourage her to sleep. We were so naïve back then, yet had great faith in what we were doing and a huge amount of hope! She was tiny, but fed regularly and soon established a routine. I know not everyone will like to know that by 10 weeks old she was sleeping from her 11pm Dream Feed through to her 7am Morning Feed. It wasn’t every night of course, there were blips when she had a growth spurt but we’d pretty much cracked it at that point. And at that point we moved her into her own room. It worked well for us and for her.
The sleep deprivation had got to me though. I remember when Miss E was around 8 weeks old, sitting in a park with a friend, becoming very tearful. I wanted to go back to work. Being at home all day, every day with a new born was tougher than I’d imagined and I wanted my old life back. I’m convinced it was the lack of sleep, combined with the shock of my new life, which made me crave some normality. At the time, anything would have felt better than the world I was in. But, and this is key to remember, it passed.
“The sleep deprivation had got to me”
A different story
Fast forward 3 years and Miss R came along. Her home birth was calm and wonderful and we slept in our own bed the day she was born. Bliss. However, I think that was the last time I slept for months! Miss R was the polar opposite of Miss E when it came to sleeping and we were in for a rough ride.
Suffering with colic and just a general reluctance to sleep, Miss R was a challenge to say the least. I would rock her, I would cuddle her, and I would drive her around and walk the buggy until my legs were aching. But little seemed to help. I found I wasn’t coping very well at all.
Three months in and I was diagnosed with anxiety and was well on my way to post-natal depression. I took Prozac, tried to accept offers of help and lowered my expectations. Life should have been perfect with two healthy children, a lovely home and a great life, but instead things felt like they were falling apart. The way I coped was to talk to others. I found people that I could relate to, the ones who spoke about the reality of having two very young children, who told it as it was and didn’t sugar coat anything. I needed people to be real.
“The way I coped was to talk to others”
I also found an amazing Health Visitor who enrolled me on a Mothers Group where we could talk and be honest. It was supported by health professionals and dealt with a lot of the issues we face as new mums. With support I started to alter my preconceptions of what life should be like. It didn’t matter if the washing up wasn’t done, if the girls weren’t perfectly dressed and groomed, if I hadn’t vacuumed, as long as we got through the day in one piece with smiles and love, we’d done it. And gradually the days improved. Miss R still didn’t sleep brilliantly but I had adapted my expectations and we all started to relax a little.
Further down the line
I think we all believe once we’re through those early days and months, maybe years, the sleep issues will disappear. I have to say, they do in the majority but there will always be little niggles that appear from time to time. There are the nightmares for example. As their world starts to broaden, their imagination can run riot at times, and this tends to show itself predominantly in nightmares. Miss R gets what we think are growing pains and has horrid leg pain deep in the middle of the night. Soothing her, administering Calpol and gently calming her back to sleep all takes time and seems to hit harder when you are used to a full night’s sleep.
Miss E has had a lot of problems with sleep as a school aged child. Mostly this centres on her inability to actually fall asleep. She has a very active brain, is very bright and really finds it hard to switch off. It took a few years but we eventually found she needed some melatonin to help her. Melatonin is the natural hormone we all produce to help us fall asleep. Miss E just doesn’t produce enough so takes extra in medicine form just before bed. It was a miracle. After years of being awake until 10pm, she was suddenly asleep at 7.30pm and she was a changed child as you can imagine. And we were changed parents.
It’s so hard watching your children, at whatever age, trying to get to sleep and not succeeding. As a parent we need to be able to fix this and make it right, so the relief we felt when Miss E finally got to sleep was huge. Finally we could relax. Well for a while at least!
Do your children suffer from nightmares? What sleep tips did you find worked for you? Leave your thoughts on the comments section!