Becoming my own sleep consultant.

I was bed sharing for most of the night with my 9 month old son. He started waking up every 45 minutes, crawling around the bed. This went on for weeks.

My levels of sleep deprivation started to feel unsafe. My baby almost fell off the bed once or twice as, through exhaustion, I was too fast asleep to notice he was moving. I couldn’t drive, as it didn’t feel safe. I was dropping things and breaking things, and one day his buggy tipped over and I couldn’t catch it in time.

I understood that it is normal for babies to wake to feed, and to wake a lot at certain stages in their development, but I needed more sleep myself.  This might sound self centered, but at that time my levels of tiredness felt dangerous.  I decided that something had to change.

I had several friends around the same time who were paying for sleep consultants. One of them charged about £200. She explained all the different ‘methods’, and advised which would suit your baby’s personality the best.

I didn’t have that money to spare, and I didn’t want to pay someone who would never know my baby as well as I did, so I decided to become my own sleep consultant. I read up on as many methods as I could find, and designed my own sleep strategy. It helped me to cope, thinking that I had some kind of plan to manage the situation. (Looking back, this was probably an unnecessary illusion, but with my first child I was still under the impression that baby sleep is something we can control, rather than just cope, give them love, and wait it out.)

So, my strategy was to move my baby back to his own cot after he woke up at night, and to keep a sleep diary of when he woke up, how long he fed for each time, and the time he went back to sleep.  He breastfeeds, so I would nurse him back to sleep in a chair (rather than the usual lying down dozing in bed), and then lay him back down in his cot.

There were some nights where I was holding him in that chair, or rubbing his back, for hours at a time in the middle of the night.  I even remember several nights when I lay down on the floor next to his cot, so I was right there if he woke up again quickly instead of falling back into a deeper sleep. Despite all these hours spent awake through the night, I stuck with my plan. I wanted to get more sleep for myself, but I also wanted to make sure he didn’t cry and that he knew I was there if he needed me.

I also started using lavender oil as a sleep aid (a few drops on a tissue near the bed), and I drank chamomile tea instead of coffee.  I also give my son chamomile tea to drink in the evening with his dinner.

He soon started sleeping longer stretches and not waking up every 45 minutes. After that, the pattern was disrupted, and I could bring him back into my bed to nurse if I needed to.

At the time of writing this, my son was 14 months. He was waking up once, or sometimes twice, unless ill or teething.  I nursed him back to sleep, and was back in bed myself within 15 minutes. I felt I could cope with that.

Later on, I moved him back to my own bed and we bed shared on two single beds pushed together. He had his own toddler duvet, and I had mine. I found it much easier not to have to get up out of bed in the night, and he soon started sleeping all night. I realised that bedsharing was my preferred night time setup, so much so that when I had a second baby, we bedshared from day one. She’s a much better sleeper! (So far, anyway…)

It is difficult to say, looking back, whether the changes in my son’s sleep patterns were due to anything I did, or whether his patterns would have changed anyway.  In any case, feeling that I had a gentle ‘plan’ helped me to cope, and coincidentally or not, I started getting more sleep at the same time.

 – Jane