When I found out that I was pregnant with my son, I vowed that I would not make the same mistakes that I made with my daughter, when it came to his bedtime routine. Putting together his cot, swinging crib & moses basket, cooing over the beautifully perfect bedding that would keep him warm and safe through the night, I was quietly confident that I could stick to my plan.
With my daughter, I was resound in the fact that I would keep bedtime structured, not feed in the night & not pick her up all the time, at the slightest of whimpers. Perhaps it was my steely determination which made it almost inevitable that I would cave in, at some point. Try as I might to ignore her faint cries, I was weak to my maternal instincts and just had to go in for ‘the cuddle’. And, as they say, ‘when you start, you can’t stop’. This was unfortunately true. I did indeed create a rod for my own back, as it took nearly two years to get my daughter to 1, stay in her bed, and 2, sleep through the night.
I can still remember the night when it finally happened. I had settled Letoya into her bed, read her a book and gave her a bedtime cuddle. Upon parting, Letoya ran out of her bed screaming, begging her dad & I not to go. Now, don’t get me wrong, this did tug on my heartstrings, but after two years with next to no sleep, this was a sure thing. It was going to happen one way or another. We continued to tell her to go to bed, or we would have to close her door. As you can probably predict, this didn’t happen.
Fast-forward approximately two hours of crying, negotiating, and toy-launching, Letoya finally gave in, and we had 7 glorious hours of sleep. I awoke that morning feeling like a functioning human being again!
When Ethan arrived, we promised ourselves that this would not happen in the same way, for his and our sake. As much as we tried, things did not happen as we had wanted. But, whilst we got off to a rocky start, we overcame a lot of challenges to get to where we are now, by figuring out what worked for us.
- Setting Up A Good Routine
When babies are young, they sleep through much of the day. Coming up to the three month mark, this decreases significantly, allowing a better routine to be established. We made sure that Ethan had a bath, a good feed and cuddle, and was laid down to rest with a warm goodnight kiss and left the room. Of course, there were whimpers and cries, but unless we thought that there was something genuinely wrong or that he was in serious distress, we let him settle.
2. Encouraging A Comfort Blanket/Object.
Ethan has a blanket that he absolutely loves. God forbid bedtime comes around and it is not within arms reach. I can still remember picking it out at six month’s pregnant. Every night at bedtime we lay his blanket over his pillow and he nuzzles and cuddles it to sleep. As soon as he associated his blanket with sleep time, things were so much easier.
I have to admit, I am a complete softie when it comes to babies and crying. Well, anything or anyone crying. To say that it was a struggle to do the self-soothe method, is a huge understatement, but after months of tip-toeing out of Ethan’s room, whilst balancing on one toe to avoid the creaky floorboard, we were exhausted. I would never let him become overly distressed, but babies need to learn to self- soothe. Even as adults, we awake in the night and go back to sleep without even realising. This is a learned skill. I realise that self-soothing is a much debated topic, but for us, after months of having little to no sleep, we decided to try it, believing that five minutes of crying would be far less stressful for Ethan than a whole night, waking constantly.
When I get home from work I cannot wait to cuddle and play with my little ones. From the minute I drive up the driveway I can see them rushing to the window to greet me. We get a little playtime before dinner, followed by a bath and a book. I make sure, as much as is possible, that I keep the last hour before bed as calm and relaxing. Bath time is a time for gentle play. After this Ethan chooses a couple of books he would like reading and we have a cuddle and a read. By the time we have finished I can see him rubbing his eyes, ready to snooze.
There is no doubt, that every day is different when you have a young family. From after school clubs, to play dates and homework to housework, keeping a two hour window at the same time every day isn’t easy. However, I cannot stress how important this has been in our attempts to have a happy baby and a good night’s sleep. We make sure that Ethan sleeps for a good amount of time around midday (not too late in the day). This ensures that he has a good 6 hours before he goes to bed. Setting up routine encourages good and repeated behaviours, which are crucial when you are balancing sleep, work and family.
I would like to say to all mothers and fathers, there is no one size fits all with bedtime, or any aspect of parenting. I have lost count of the number of times that we felt absolutely desperate for something to work for us. We had so many sleepless nights, but it is important to know that you are not alone. It is not just you, or your baby. We are all in this together. It does take time, and it will get better. Stick with it and do what feels right to you. When you find out what that is, you will sleep like a baby!
Please share your tips and any words of encouragement for any parents going through bedtime struggles,
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