motherhood

Baby sleep: The struggle

It’s been one hell of a journey; one that my 17-month-old and I have been struggling with since day one!

Some upfront facts:

  • I have been exclusively nursing Aaira since she was born
  • Aaira has been ‘feeding to sleep’ since she was born
  • After 12 months, I felt like I could no longer continue nursing to sleep
  • At 17 months, Aaira now falls asleep herself without nursing

PLACE OF SLEEP

For the night

Up until 6 months (before she started rolling over)

Aaira would sleep for the night (with multiple wakings btw) in her Chico Next2Me crib. I was also traveling a lot at the time (to my parents), so she also got used to sleeping in her Moses basket next to us, too.

I had major anxiety around co-sleeping at the time, as she was so tiny. I started feeling comfortable bringing her into my bed when she was around 7/8 months. She would be okay sleeping in her crib most of the night too, though.

I think getting Aaira used to the Next2Me crib/Moses basket in the early days helped her get familiar with that kind of setup. Saying that… every baby is different. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try to get them used to something, it’s just doesn’t work. And that’s okay. There is nothing wrong with co-sleeping if you’re comfortable with it; sometimes it’s the only way to get some sleep in! 

After 6 months

Aaira would start her night in the larger (IKEA crib – as Next2me was no longer safe with her rolling over), but various times throughout the night, I would bring her into my bed and feed her back to sleep -sometimes, she would stay next to me, other times, I would remember to pop her back in the crib.

Day-time naps

Up until 6 months

For daytime naps, Aaira was sleeping downstairs, either on the sofa or in her Moses basket.

After 6 months

I started taking her upstairs to her crib to nap. She was becoming more aware of her surroundings, so I needed to help her understand that there is a specific place for sleeping. Sometimes she’d only nap on my bed, or in her crib; but it was in the same room.

Now, Aaira sleeps 100% of the night in her crib (next to my bed) and 100% of naps in her crib. But that only started happening at around 13/14 months (I’ll share what worked for us later on).

SLEEP TIMINGS

Day-time naps

Before 6 months:

Aaira’s daytime naps would last anywhere between 10 mins-30 mins and she would nap multiple times in the day. It varied though, I couldn’t ever predict when she would fall asleep, so would go by her cues. I stopped putting pressure on myself to have a strict routine at this stage as it just wasn’t working, no matter how hard I tried – this acceptance made the early months a lot more bearable.

Between 6 months – 12 months:

It was still difficult for me to guess how long or how often she would sleep during the day OR if she would at all. Even if I tried to be consistent, sometimes, it just wouldn’t work and she would sleep as and when she felt like it. It was hard to do anything or plan my day, but it got slightly better towards 9/10 months (see below for what helped).

From 14 months to now, Aaira will go down to nap anywhere between 1pm-2pm, and her nap will last between 1.5 hours-3 hours. I found taking her out after breakfast and letting her enjoy some fresh air has really helped stimulate her and tire her out. She comes home, has lunch, and knocks out properly.

For the night

Aaira’s night sleep timings have NEVER been the ‘traditional’ 7pm to 6am… or anything remotely similar (lol). Over her first year, her sleep timings shifted A LOT. The one thing that has remained consistent though: my baby is a late sleeper and late riser. I had so much trouble trying to predict when she’d sleep, and though I tried to be consistent (even with the late timings), some days, Aaira didn’t cooperate; until now.

In the first 4/5 months of life, she would eventually knock out for the night between 12am-2am and then wake up for the day at 1pm (with multiple wakings in between). At one point she did sleep 6 hours straight, but that lasted for a month or two before she started rolling over. Yes, it was a little… maybe very… tiring. BUT IT PASSED… eventually.

Even past the 6 months stage: No matter how hard I tried, Aaira still wouldn’t sleep before 10pm. It was still quite unpredictable, too – some nights falling asleep at 10:30pm, others at 12am.

There were many many nights I spent TRYING MY BEST to feed Aaira to sleep at 7pm.. 8pm.. 9pm. Sometime’s I’d spend even 3 hours trying to get her to sleep at a specific time; until I eventually accepted that my baby just doesn’t want to sleep before 10pm. I was exhausting myself mentally and physically for no reason.

So, instead of fighting against it, I worked with it and did the below to help make the timings manageable and more consistent for us both.

What helped (starting at around 6-8 months):

  • To understand wake windows for Aaira’s age so to manage her daytime nap(s) and ensure that by the time it was bedtime (9/10pm), she was actually tired
  • To create a consistent sleeping spot (for day and night)
  • To wake us both up for the day at a somewhat consistent time (latest 10am). However, if I knew I needed extra sleep, I didn’t beat my self up for it
  • To try and make day time naps at a somewhat consistent time (1-2pm)
  • Aim for consistency rather than complete routine change
  • As Aaira hit 12 months, I tried to take her out for walks to tire her out (it was hard to get out though, but the days I did… she would nap like a log!)
  • Accepting that some days Aaira would do as she pleased and it would throw everything off
  • Understanding that the key for me was to try again tomorrow and not give up if things didn’t work the day before – at some point, it stuck
  • Understanding that all babies are different and just because something worked or didn’t work for someone else, doesn’t mean it would or wouldn’t for me

Now, at 17 months:

  • I start the sleep routine* from 8pm and will lay her down in the crib around 9pm – she falls asleep anywhere between 9:30-10pm
  • We wake up for the day anywhere between 9:30-10:30am (with max 2 wakings on a good night – she’s teething late at the moment so it has been A LOT MORE!)
  • Has one nap in the day which can start between 1pm-2pm and last from 1.5 hours to 3 hours

*Sleep routine starts with a quick bath, comfy PJs, then we pray together as a family and I give her a snack before bed (which consists of yogurt and whole grant toast).

FEEDING TO SLEEP

Shortly after her first birthday, I found that the whole feeding to sleep thing got a lot, physically.

Aaira has always been a fast drinker; she’d finish drinking within 5-10 minutes and anything after that was mainly for comfort. I was able to manage it, but after her first birthday… the nursing for an hour (sometimes more) to sleep, got a lot.

I made the decision to help her sleep, without nursing.

Note: Aaira was already familiar with her crib (as mentioned above), she spent 50% night in my bed and 50% in her crib.

The first time I tried to help Aaira sleep without feeding to sleep (13/14 months)

Aaira had refused all her naps during the day that day (no idea why!). So, I had decided to put her down at 9pm for the first time in a long time, with hopes that she would be very tired.

This is what I did:

  • I nursed her until I knew she was done drinking
  • I hugged her, kissed her and then put her down in the bed with her blanket and bunny (help her build a sleeping link to these comfies)
  • I stayed with her, sang to her and pat her

Did it work? No. She cried and cried. No matter how much I hugged her, pat her, sang to her, she wanted me. Eventually, after 2.5 hours, I picked her up and decided to nurse her to sleep – but she didn’t want to sleep. So, I let her play downstairs again, until she was showing signs of sleepiness – around 11pm. I nursed her to sleep that night.

After some reflection, I realised that I was taking two things away from Aaira at the same time – one: the feed and two: the closeness to me. She didn’t know how to fall asleep without either of those, so I needed to help her. Plus, I had tried to put her to sleep earlier than usual so maybe that didn’t help either… *sigh* – it’s okay, we learn.

This is what I did next – for one week:

  • I would nurse until she was done drinking (she would usually be drifiting off)
  • I hugged and kissed her and laid her down in my bed beside me
  • I allowed her to nestle next to me, but mostly my pilow and also laid her fluffy blanket over her
  • I tapped and sang to her
  • Aaira cried, a lot. She was very tired and could barely keep her eyes open, but she wasn’t happy that I had taken away the feed
  • I continued comforting her, ensuring she knew I was there
  • Eventually, after almost 1.5 hours, she fell asleep
  • If possible, I would transfer her to her crib (while asleep) – I did this 80% of the time
  • If she woke up in the night (which she did around 1/2 times) I would bring her into my bed and nurse her. But, if she wasn’t drinking anything and was only doing it for comfort, I’d take her off and start to tap her and sing her back to sleep (next to me, the pillow and her blankie)
  • She would cry, and some times it would take her another 1.5 hours to fall back to sleep, but she would eventually.

I did this for a week, with the idea to help her break the association of actually nursing to sleep. Which it did.

I would say after 3/4 days of doing this, Aaira would fall asleep herself without nursing. Eventually, she fell asleep much quicker too – sometimes even within 10 minutes and without crying. She would merely roll around and get comfy (next to the pillow, not always me) and then fall asleep.

Once I could see she was able to sleep without nursing, I started doing this:

  • I would nurse until she was done drinking
  • I hugged, kissed her and laid her down in her crib
  • In her crib she had: my pillows she had grown used to nestling next to in my bed, her fluffy blanket and bunny
  • I laid her on the pillow, placed the blanket on her and gave her bunny (by 13/14 months she understood the word ‘bunny’ and would hug it)
  • I would sing the same song and start tapping her and once I could see she was drifiting off, I’d sit back on my bed and continue to sing

I did this for a week.

  • Some days she would cry and want me, so I’d reassure her by kissing her and continue to sing (never taking her out)
  • Other days she would play with her bunny happily – I would even stop singing and just sit back and watch her until she’d fall asleep
  • It took her anywhere between 10 minutes to 45 minutes to fall asleep – most of the time, it would be without crying. However, if I tried leaving the room she would get really upset, so I didn’t try that at the time (I have now started leaving the room after a few months of doing the above, will share that process in another post once I have a better idea on how well it is working for us).

And that’s what worked for us!

Now:

  • Aaira nurses for 5/10 minutes before bed
  • Falls asleep in her cot within 10 – 45 minutes
  • A lot of the time she does cry initially, but it doesn’t last long (few minutes)
  • I have a water bottle on standby in case – if there were times she was crying for longer than 5 minutes, I’d give her a sip. Sometimes, that is all she wanted and would then lay down herself and knock out in minutes. Now, she doesn’t really care about the water and refuses it. It’s all trial and error
  • I make sure she has a snack before bed

When I started writing this post, Aaira was waking up max twice in the night. But then, she started waking up every hour for a whole 10 days. NOT FUN. I also noticed that she was getting more upset than usual when put in her crib and going to sleep. I was in pieces trying to figure out why! as it had been going so smooth. I then realised that OBVIOUSLY, A LOT of her top teeth are pushing through. She’s teething a little later than usual, so understandably it’s disrupting things, including sleep – so just a note, that it’s always best to be mentally prepared that these little humans are going through a plethora of changes and things shift.

We have finally come out of the hourly night wakings, with a really surprising change – SUDDENLY, Aaira is now sleeping a whole undisturbed 7-9 hour chunks (9:30/10pm-5/7am) – the longest she has ever slept in one go at night.

We had 10 days of her waking every hour, crying and screaming (she had also developed a cold so that didn’t help), but I stuck to the routine/method mentioned. I also nursed her in the night a few of those wakings as I understood she was in pain, but would then put her back in her crib – mainly because she no longer wanted to sleep in my bed and KO’d the moment I put her back in her space. Then literally, out of the blue, one day… she decided to sleep a whole chunk of the night. I’m not getting too comfy though LOL… as I know her teeth are still pushing through, so anything can change, eh?

I hope something above has been useful, or in some way reassured you that this sleeping journey is not an easy one and that you are not alone. Some lucky mums do have it easy, but the majority are trying to figure it out and take each night, each nap as it comes. Do whatever sits right with you, you know your human best.

When things felt really dark, I found being honest with my other half and just hearing him acknowledge the struggle HELPED SO MUCH. Speaking to other mums like my sister in laws and friends also helped a lot. That and also reminding myself that one day, my little baby is eventually going to sleep all by herself. She’s not going to be a teenager and still needing me to pat her to sleep… and though this phase is hard, I do feel a tinge of sadness at the thought of her not needing me like that anymore.

Though, some nights are long… they will pass.

You got this ❤

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out on Instagram @aanbul. I am always happy to listen, you are not alone.

I’m no expert, but I am with you there on this hard, but precious, journey! ❤

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