by Alissa Pemberton
Midwife, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant & Gentle Sleep Coach www.suffolkbreastfeeding.com
I'll put my hand up now and say that as a mum, I love routine. I like predictability, and for the most part I have put a lot of effort into supporting my daughter towards great quality sleep, primarily in her own bed. Co-sleeping was never a plan for us, and I knew from early on that as a family, it suited us better to all be in our own beds. So for 99% of the time this is what we do. But as a mum, I also know that there is a time to stick to a sleep strategy, there's a time to be rigid with a routine, and then there's the time to understand that our kiddos need us and being rigid isn't going to make us (or them) feel safe, comfortable and happy. This has been a regular part of our life over the last few weeks - experiencing yet another of the sleep hiccups that come during the early years. At first it'll be sleep transitions (you might also hear these called sleep regressions) around 4 months and 8/9 months, sometimes again at 18 months. Then there'll be teething, crawling, walking and talking. Holidays, new babies, parent's returning to work. There's always something going on in our life or there's that temporarily disrupts sleep. There's the key word - temporary - they almost always are! It never feels like it when you're in the midst of it, but they all pass eventually. We've found most of these hiccups were not too bad to sail through, and supporting good sleep skills from a young age has definitely helped with this, but sometimes you'll find yourself on a night (or two or three) where all the rules go out the window. For us, this started three weeks ago. What kicked it off, I'll never quite know. My suspicion is a combination of over tiredness for Miss 3 (adjusting to the return to nursery, plus three days in a row without a nap), plus rapid learning/development and understanding, and seeming more acutely aware of the emotions of herself and others. I think that little brain has been working really hard. The end result? Nightmares. Within 1-2 hours of going to bed we'd hear the talking, then the whimpering, then the crying would begin. We'd find a little girl in her bed, shaking out of fear. What these nightmares were about we've never quite been able to get a straight answer on, but on long, overwhelming tiring days, without a nap, they re-appear. We've put some great strategies into place to deal with the inevitable fear of going to bed which followed including using a nightlight, a great little bedtime story called 'Tell me something happy before I go to sleep' and a "Bad dream spray" (Water and lavender essential oil). But there are some nights where this little girl just doesn't want to be back in bed alone, and so I found myself last night carrying her into my bed, nestled in the crook of my arm and falling asleep beside her. If we were to believe many of the books/blogs/guides/social media accounts out there about sleep training they'd say we're creating a bad habit. Do this too many nights in a row and we'll never get her back into her own bed. My answer to this is simple - is responding to our child's needs a bad habit? Is comforting them when they're scared a bad habit? Am I making a rod for my own back by teaching my child that when she's afraid I'll always be there to hold her, snuggle in and stroke her face while I tell her she's safe now? There is so much that can be done to optimise sleep and support independent sleep - yes it's completely possible. But there are also times when our little ones just need us. It's that simple. Sometimes their needs are more complex than that of a book, or developmental milestone or a chart telling us when and for how long they should sleep. Sometimes, as with everything, we make exceptions, because in our gut as a parent it feels like the right thing to do. Don't ever feel fearful that responding to your child's needs is creating a bad habit you'll never break. Don't ever feel afraid that keeping your child close will create a needy, dependant adult (in fact research suggests just the opposite!) - how many adults do you know who have never learnt to sleep in their own bed? It's only a problem, if it's a problem for you. If it's not - just trust your gut and enjoy that moment...cause even as a mama who loves her own space and having my bed to myself - I really enjoyed those warm, squishy, snuggly cuddles and I would do it again in a heartbeat!