Monday, 19 September 2011

I Can't Find My Sleep - Part One

Little A, now 19 months, sleeps well and usually sleeps uninterruptedly for 11 hours. But it's been a long and very tiring road reaching this point. 15 months of accumulated sleep deprivation was at times exhausting and I lived in a netherworld of mental fug and unfinished sentences.  It's said that older mums are likely to feel more tired with the demands of a new baby; a no brainer really but it certainly rang true for me.  Lets face it I had far more energy in my twenties and early thirties than at 39.

Little A arrived by c-section or 'through the sun roof' and I've always wondered whether this contributed to her many nocturnal awakenings.  The first week of her life she slept quite well; four hour stretches then waking up for a feed and nappy change then sleep again.  I thought 'this is okay' and naively envisaged a return to life pre-baby.

BUT then in her second week she 'woke up' and refused to submit to sleep in the evenings.  She would finally fall asleep anywhere between 2 and 4 am after alot of pacing, rocking and feeding. Fortunately over the coming weeks Little A's body clock began to sync. Her bedtime shifted earlier and started to settle anywhere between 10 and 12 pm. Improvement.

Little A initially slept next to me in a co-sleeper cot that has now become a bench type chair which houses all her teddies. Even though Little A was in the co-sleeper she would somehow manage to wriggle her way over. I would always find her snuggled up to me on the bed when we awoke for a feed.  In the end I thought 'sod it' and had her in the bed with me. She obviously wanted the warmth and closeness of being next to mummy and slept better because of this. I also swaddled her in the early days but she grew out of this by the time she was a month old.

As I was breastfeeding the co-sleeping arrangement worked very well.  I never fully awoke when I fed Little A at night; it was a case of popping her on the breast and often drifting back to sleep while she was still feeding.  Even though Little A woke about 4 or 5 times during the night I still felt rather rested in the morning.

I wanted to wear Little A in a sling but recovery from the c-section prevented me from doing so until she was three weeks old.  So getting her to sleep during the day meant ALOT of rocking in my arms or in her bouncy chair.  As soon as I was fit and able Little A slept in a pouch sling for her day time naps. Needless to say Little A and I became a very familiar sight stomping around our local park.

By the time Little A was four months old she went to sleep around 8.30 pm but continued to wake alot throughout the night. One important thing I learnt was how a new born sleeps and this helped me to accept the frequent night wakings. Apparently babies have much shorter sleep cycles than adults and spend alot more time in light sleep.  They experience deeper sleep at the beginning of the night followed by alternating periods of light sleep and REM sleep until morning. Brief awakenings happen between light sleep and REM sleep. There are two main reasons for this;
  • Biological - A baby's sleep pattern assists development of the brain and body.
  • Survival  - So that she can awaken easily if she is hungry, wet or in pain etc.
If a baby fully awakens during those moments between light sleep and REM sleep this doesn't always mean she's hungry.  This is the trap I fell into.  Instead of waiting and allowing Little A the chance to fall back to sleep herself I would offer her the breast immediately. Anything for an easy life. But in the process I set up a powerful sleep association - Little A would always expect milk in order to go back to sleep.  I was going to have to undo this at some point but for now it could wait - I just wanted sleep.

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