Welcome everyone! I hope all is well with you. As I’ve stated in previous posts, A.P Writing is a blog that focuses on crohns disease, writing, and being first time parents. I’ll be varying what I write accordingly; today’s post is dedicated to the struggles that parents can face when trying to get their child to sleep. Over the last 10 months I’ve learned so much as a father, but getting Ezra to sleep through the night is something we’re still working on. It’s always one of the first jokes thrown your way when you announce you’re expecting a baby: well you better get used to living with no sleep. You’ll probably just laugh the joke off when it comes, but believe me, that joke is so annoyingly true. Sleep is something that all new parents learn to live without during the first year of their baby’s existence. It’s not something to be embarrassed about; it’s just part of being a parent. Being honest about how little sleep you’re getting is important; most parents are experiencing the same things. So, with all of that in mind, I’ll be using my experience with Ezra over the last 10 months to discuss what did and didn’t work for us. Hopefully this post will help you to avoid some of the mistakes that we made along the way.
Routine is key
This might seem a little obvious, but it is so important. Getting your baby into a routine as early as you feel comfortable with will make sleep realistic in the long term. During the early new-born stage setting a routine can be difficult, but with perseverance it will come. As first time parents it is hard for me and Chantelle because we’re constantly learning on the job; there is no hard-set rule book that contains the answers to our catalogue of questions. We used to let Ezra nap whenever he liked during the day, afternoon and evening. Of course, looking back now we realize our mistake, but it wasn’t until someone pointed out that he was sleeping to late in the day that we understood why he couldn’t sleep through the night. At first you might feel like a bad parent, you ask yourself how did I not know that? However, how are we expected to know? Don’t put yourself down, just learn, adapt, and move on. Having a solid night-time routine isn’t always a precursor for sleep, but it’s a very good start. Ezra now has two naps a day; he has one in the morning and one before 3pm. If he sleeps after 3pm then he won’t settle for bed. At 5pm he has his dinner which is followed by a bath at 7pm and then bed. This process is what we’ve come to learn works well for Ezra and also for us.
Listen to the right advice
I feel this is perhaps one of the most important pieces of advice I can give. When you have a child there will be a hundred different people ready to give their advice for any issue you might have. The vast majority of people mean well, but the advice isn’t always helpful. Everyone has an opinion on why your baby won’t sleep; learning to take on board the advice that will help is not always easy. We tried everything with Ezra, listening to as much advice from as many different people as possible. That may have been from close friends, family, or things we’d read online, but we were still struggling to get Ezra to sleep. As parents you can begin to panic, especially when you know of other parents who are successfully getting their children to sleep. Eventually we contacted a specialist nurse from the baby centre to discuss what we were doing wrong. She immediately identified Ezra’s naps being to late in the day, the fact that he was having to many naps, and also told us to try settling him in his room more often that we were. I remained sceptical, but the next night Ezra slept for 5 hours straight from 7pm to 12pm. I couldn’t believe it; just like that, crash, bang, wallop, he was settling into a routine. We weren’t made to feel like bad parents after listening to the nurse’s advice; she was realistic. Now we’ve adapted her advice and turned it into a real routine for Ezra; his sleep still isn’t perfect, but it is much more manageable. So, if you’re really struggling and everyone else’s advice isn’t working, seek someone who has experience and whose job it is to identify where, if anywhere, you could adjust certain things. Don’t sit there wondering what you’re doing wrong because the truth is that you’re not doing anything wrong; you just might need to tweak a few things that’s all.
Nobody knows your child better than you
As parents, and especially new parents, it can be extremely difficult to listen to your gut instinct. We often lack the confidence that experience can bring, but nobody knows your baby better than you. This is why I feel it is important to listen to your own advice; listening to what you feel is right for your child can often lead to good results with sleep, also. If the advice being given to you doesn’t feel right, if you think it will have a negative effect, you don’t have to listen to it. Of course, don’t throw away good advice from reliable sources that you trust, but be realistic. We spend the most time with our children; we know which things could work and which won’t. Try not to let yourself feel pressured into trying something because it worked for someone else; you should be optimistic that it will work for you and your child before trying it.
Make their room feel like their room
We all like to have our own little home comforts, and it’s no different for your child. Making their room a space that they want to be in will allow them to feel comfortable. That space can then become somewhere that they associate with sleep; they won’t feel so restless being left in the room by themselves. We were advised to try and get Ezra to take all his naps in his room as well as his night-time sleep. This is something we tried and found successful to begin with, but Ezra now won’t nap for more than 20 minutes at a time in his room during the day. We don’t get disheartened though; the older he gets the less nap time he’s needing. This is something we’re learning to accept, but it just goes to prove not everything will work when trying to set a routine. We are listening to our own advice on the matter now that we’ve gained the experience: Ezra simply doesn’t need to nap for as long during the day.
Create a calming space
This is another piece of advice that might sound pretty obvious, but it is something that me and Chantelle didn’t take seriously to begin with. Ezra seemed to be able to fall asleep at any time of the day with as much noise as possible. We simply didn’t think that noise during the night-time would affect him, but it really did. The nurse explained how important it was that during the night he was surrounded by calm; so, we made changes and the results were pretty instantaneous. This advice happened to coincide with us moving Ezra into his own room, but still, I think that making his room as quiet and calm as possible really helped encourage him to sleep. We tried hard to minimise the outside noise reaching Ezra’s room, paying particular attention to things like how loud our TV was and how much general we noise we made once he was asleep. Some parents find that black out blinds are very useful; I must admit that this is something we haven’t tried before. They may be something we try in the future though. Another thing that we worked hard on was trying to regulate the temperature within Ezra’s room so he is comfortable while he sleeps; we aimed to get his room to a medium temperature of 22 degrees.
Falling into a deep sleep
This might be something that just works for me, but I find that Ezra needs time to fall into a deep sleep before being put into his cot. I rock him until he falls asleep and then wait for 30 minutes to make sure that he is really settled and comfortable. I do this in his room; it is important that he knows he’s in his room when he goes to sleep to prevent any panic should he unsettle during the night. By leaving him for that extra 30 minutes, I find that he is much easier to place in his cot and less likely to unsettle when being put down. The temptation is often to put our child straight down once they’re asleep. It’s been a long day and you’ve got things you want to do, and for some parents this might work, for others it might not. It is a technique that certainly works for me however.
Learn when enough is enough
Ezra is notorious for waking at 10pm: It is a lottery as to whether he goes back to sleep or wants to get up. I’ve had many nights where I contemplated my sanity whilst trying to settle Ezra once he’d woken. Over time, experience taught me that sometimes it’s better to cut your losses and get up with him. As much as I don’t want to, mentally and emotionally it can be incredibly frustrating continuing to try and getting nowhere fast. I’ve learned to get up and let Ezra play for a while; this allows him to burn off any excess energy, hopefully encouraging further sleep when he starts to tire once more. This method isn’t ideal, but it keeps me from becoming upset or frustrated, and when I’ve been dragged out of bed during the night, that’s important. I now work on the assumption that if I cannot settle Ezra within the hour, it’s probably best to get up with him.
Be prepared with night-time necessities
I’ve been caught out numerous times during the night and lost out on sleep because I’ve not been prepared. Now, what are the night-time necessities I hear some of you ask? The night-time necessities include nappies, wet wipes, bottle preparation and anything else you feel you or your child might need were they to wake during the night. The last thing you want to be doing when your child wakes up during the night is trying to find the wet wipes or making a bottle. By the time you’ve succeeded in doing those things, your child might have woken up fully and another long night will ensue. I like to make sure I have a pack of nappies and wet wipes set aside on Ezra’s bedside table that are purely to be used during the night. I know where they are and can get access to them easily. I have a similar routine with Ezra’s bottles as well; I sterilise two before bed and fill them with sterilised water. If Ezra were to unsettle during the night, all I have to do is add his milk powder and they’re good to go. This process saves time, and I find that the more efficient the process is, the easier Ezra is to get back to sleep.
Co-sleeping – Yes or No?
There seems to be some stigma surrounding co-sleeping. I’ve been told many times how letting your child co-sleep with you can significantly affect their sleep routine, especially when they get older. Transitioning them into their own room can become troublesome if they’re not used to sleeping in a room by themselves. All those points have some form of truth to them. I do believe that co-sleeping indefinitely could lead to problems with sleep in the future, but it is important to be realistic. As parents we need sleep as well. I’m not afraid to admit that with Ezra, both me and Chantelle have let him co-sleep because it was the only way we could get any sleep ourselves. We try to limit co-sleeping whenever possible now though, but occasionally Ezra will end up co-sleeping with us. It can become counterproductive to stay up all night trying to settle your child in their cot when you know that they’ll drop right off to sleep in your bed. The outlook I have towards co-sleeping now is that it’s a last resort, but I will let Ezra co-sleep if I’ve exhausted all options and cannot get him to settle in his room.
Another obvious piece of advice for you here, but again, it’s important. Trying to remain positive and not get frustrated with yourself, your partner, and your child is not always easy, especially during the night when you’re tired. We mustn’t get disheartened though. When Ezra has an unsettled night, which thankfully isn’t very often anymore, I tell myself that tomorrow will be better. Having that attitude allows me to remain calm and get through the night. If you tell yourself it’ll get easier, it often does get easier because we learn and get better at dealing with certain situations.
Letting your child know who is boss
At times your child will push your limits just because they can: Ezra is a master at this. It’s amazing how someone so small can be so good at winding you up, but sometimes being stern can be the answer. Me and Ezra have had many babbling conversations late at night where I try and convince him that going back to sleep is a good idea. It doesn’t always work, but on occasion, I do have some success. If Ezra wakes me up at stupid o’clock now, he knows that there will be no TV and no lights. This way I’m trying to teach him that it’s not playtime; sometimes being stern like this works and sometimes it doesn’t, but you won’t know unless you try.
Alternate roles with your partner
Deciding on which role suits you when it comes to the night-time with your child can make all the difference in the long term. Alternating and sharing these roles with your partner makes the whole routine more efficient, and often it can become less stressful when you know there is a plan in place. Chantelle used to do the entire night-time routine all by herself, and I used to get up and do the morning routine with Ezra while she caught up on any sleep she’d missed. For a time, this worked, but it can be a lot for one person to deal with. As Covid-19 swept across the world our roles merged; I am now around a lot more and able to get up with Ezra during the night. We always go to bed with a plan for who is going to be getting up should Ezra unsettle during the night. This helps to take the pressure away from the situation and avoid any arguments. We’ve had some of our biggest rows in the early hours of the morning because we were both exhausted and didn’t have a plan in place for who would be getting up. It’s natural to get frustrated in those types of situations; If there is a plan in place however, you can avoid them entirely. If one parent is tired because they’ve been up during the night, then you swap roles and allow them time to catch up on sleep. If this is something you’ve not done or haven’t considered, it might be worth having a conversation with your partner.
Turn their routine into your routine
Quite often, the only time we get to do the things we want to do during the day or night is when our child is asleep. So, turn their sleep time into your time. If you know they get tired at 7pm, make sure you plan to do the things important to you when that time comes. Ezra goes to sleep at 7pm most nights; I always work on my writing and read my book once he has gone to sleep. He’ll normally wake between 3am-5am and want a bottle and bum change, and when I get him back down to sleep again, I study for an hour. That is his routine and I need to work my time around it. Chantelle likes to use this time to catch up on any TV she’s missed and just generally unwind. We also spend the time together as a couple because although we’re together for most of the day, Ezra takes up nearly all of our focus. It can be hard to give the kind of attention to your partner that they deserve, so, utilise this time when you do have it and let your partner know how important they are. I like to plan what I’m going to do when Ezra goes to sleep which may sound a bit extreme, but if I don’t plan what I’ll be doing, the time often passes by and is wasted.
Reassure yourself with reliable equipment
When your child transitions from sleeping in your room to their own room, it can be just as worrying and hard on the parents as well. Both me and Chantelle were petrified because we weren’t able to simply roll over during the night and check on Ezra in his cot. This is why it’s important to use equipment that you can trust and allows you to sleep easy. The first thing we did when we moved Ezra into his own room was buy a video baby monitor. Initially we had looked at the ordinary baby monitors that only pick up sound, but having had an honest conversation, we both agreed that neither of us would be able to sleep if we couldn’t see what Ezra was up to as well as hear him. It took us quite a while to choose a cot we liked; we wanted him to be as comfy and settled as possible to encourage sleep. Ezra also has a stargazer in his room because the lights seem to settle him. Perhaps your child has a favourite teddy or blanket that they can’t sleep without, or maybe they prefer to settle in a sleep bag. Whatever works for them is important, but it’s almost more important that we’re relaxed as parents. If your child is asleep but you’re worried because you can’t see them, you’re not going to sleep properly are you? Investing in good, reliable equipment can take away all that stress and allow you to sleep when the opportunity presents itself.
Thanks for taking the time to read through my blog post everyone! I really hope some of my experiences can help you. Please feel free to give the post a like and follow me on Facebook and Instagram. I’ll see you all real soon.