Sleep Mistakes I Won't Make With a Second Child

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There are two issues that I felt majorly unprepared for as a parent; teething and sleep. You always hear jokes about sleep deprivation, especially as an expectant first-time mum, but I thought that this was overexaggerated and was a problem that would be very short-lived. How naïve I was! I assumed newborn babies just didn’t sleep at night but that this would resolve itself after about six months- at 19 months of age my son will still not ‘sleep through’. It isn’t always terrible, and he has had phases of sleeping for longer stretches at night, but we do not even reliably have 4 hours of sleep in a row most nights. I can count on one hand the number of times he has slept 8 hours in a row.

Saying I won’t make the same mistakes the second time around is a very simplistic statement, but it’s something I have been giving some thought now that we are considering a sibling for Cassius. I know that I don’t want to be in the same situation the second time around. There is obviously no guarantee any of the following would work, but I’m convinced if we implement these plans sooner, we can’t possibly end up with a baby that resists sleep as much as Cass does. Despite having learned to function on rather little sleep, this is what I will do differently next time:

Implement a solid night-time routine from the start: To some degree, this will be easier with a second child because we will have to fall in line with the existing routine we have for Cassius. We went with the flow a little bit too much and left it until Cassius was already sitting up unaided before we decided to have a proper dinner-bath-bed routine. Having read extensively on the subject, I think a bedtime routine is crucial. No screen time in the evening, warm and low lighting, white noise, a little massage after a bath and then into PJs. We only have ‘quiet play’ after dinner with stories and music rather than the usual loopy running around and climbing Cassius is fond of doing at home. If we don’t stick to this I definitely notice a difference in how long it takes him to nod off.

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I’m convinced ‘drowsy but awake’ is a myth, but it is one you will hear trotted out by lots of sleep guides, baby books and even some healthcare professionals. Cassius was either wide awake or asleep, never drowsy, and even putting him down sound asleep would cause him to wake up! With our next child, I think I will be less afraid to put the baby down; I will never advocate for cry-it-out but I think it might have been helpful for the baby to acclimatise to lying down. I never really persevered with trying to swaddle either and this is definitely something I will try next time. Cassius cried a lot in discomfort as an infant and we later found this was because of reflux, which explained why he hated being flat on his back.

I won’t resist or complain about contact napping next time, it is such a short time that they like to do this, and it is lovely to be able to have a bit of peace and quiet and a cuddle with a squishy baby. Yes, it is frustrating not being able to get anything done but I think I would have been way less stressed if I had just accepted that this is how naps were going to work. Now that I have mastered how to wrap an unstructured baby carrier, I will just strap up the baby and get on with my day to the fullest extent possible. I was scared of the carrier when Cassius was a newborn and I would have saved myself a lot of angst if I hadn’t resisted carrying him and wasted time trying to get him to love the pram. My advice is to get in touch with a local sling library for advice on carrier fitting.

Most importantly I will adjust my expectations. Now that I have a better understanding of biologically normal sleep for infants and toddlers- and I know that some children just will not sleep through the night until they are ready- I am much better prepared. I put so much pressure on myself and on Cassius to sleep and just felt more down and frustrated when it didn’t ‘work’. I could not, and will not, implement any traditional sleep training methods, but I will work harder to help the next child develop their falling-asleep skills that don’t rely on breastfeeding to sleep. I will also embrace safe co-sleeping earlier on. I was too terrified to do this when Cassius was really little and it just meant that I had very little sleep for months and months.

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