OPINION

Mum's the word | A simple slumber can become a desperately sought experience

A baby that sleeps well is something that every parent wants, but what we want and what we get can be very different. Photo: Shutterstock.
A baby that sleeps well is something that every parent wants, but what we want and what we get can be very different. Photo: Shutterstock.

A tired baby is never enjoyable. A tired parent is even worse. Unfortunately the two often go hand in hand.

If a baby is not sleeping well - especially during the night - there is usually a parent, and some times two parents, wide awake trying all they can to resolve the problem. It can be the start of a vicious cycle of exhaustion.

I'm no expert on what causes poor sleep with an infant - the causes may be many and varied. However, I do have experience with that sense of parental exhaustion and the search for a solution - for both parent and infant.

A baby that sleeps well is something that every parent wants, but what we want and what we get can be very different. I was not so fortunate with my first child who struggled with colic and reflux, which I believe may have been part of the problem. Meanwhile, I was a new mum convinced I was doing something wrong.

I firmly believe that a newborn can sense the anxiety of their parent, and for a while there I think my newborn was picking up the message that I had little idea what I was doing ... and he would have been correct.

I was working overtime to seek solutions. There was the suggestion that my milk flow was too fast, and in turn was causing colic and subsequent reflux, so I began reclined position breastfeeding to slow the flow. There was also the thought that I wasn't spending enough time burping him after a feed. As such I spent more time rubbing his back and feeling elation every time he burbed or popped (we like to say 'did a cracker'). Neither provided a long-time solution.

I consulted my doctor, and I sought out natural options. I was keen for solutions that would settle my baby's stomach and help with a better sleep pattern for us both.

I even tried control crying. I gave it a good trial with wonderful support from my husband who kept me strong. It didn't work. This method left me distraught as well as tired. In the end I think the greatest challenge to either of us getting some well-earned rest was that we were both overtired.

What I say next is certain to prompt criticism from some "experts", but all I can say is we were both better off for this solution, which occurred quite by chance.

It was about 9pm one night and bub was again fighting sleep. I had done all the checks - Nappy? Burb? Hungry? I resorted to feeding him while propped up in the centre of my bed. My husband headed to another room to give me more space in the bed and because he knew he had an early start for work the next day. He needed a good night sleep and he didn't want to wake me when he got up the next morning.

As my baby fell asleep while breastfeeding, so did I. (In the past I had always battled to stay awake so as to burb and put bub in the cot when he had finished his feed). However, as we had both fallen asleep there was no burb at the end of that feed, and there was no relocation to the cot. The bottom line - there was absolutely no disruption of his much-needed slumber.

But there was a solid sleep. In fact a sleep through the night for both of us. It was just what was needed. We both woke to a bright new day happy and well rested. He was even happy to kick away in his cot while I showered, ate breakfast and prepared for the day ahead. It was a good day for both of us.

My little one still had reflux and was windy, but he wasn't tired. In fact I even managed to get him down for a reasonable-length sleep later in the day.

I followed the same approach when it was time for bed that night. My husband, once again slept in the spare room - and again we all had a peaceful night's sleep. It became a bit of a cycle until we got past that overtired cycle.

Of course, back then I told very few people that my baby had been sleeping next to me after feeding in my bed. This was considered by the "experts" and some other parents as the wrong thing to do. Some would highlight safety issues such as rolling on the baby, others would identify creating habits that would be hard to break.

What I can say is that the exhaustion was no good for either of us and sleep was a habit I wanted to develop. Although he loved to snuggle in bed with us from time to time as he grew, he also happily settled into his own bed.

  • A mother-of-three grown kids, ACM editor Mumma Jak is familiar with the challenges of parenthood to help raise well-rounded humans.