Why I Hated Being Told ‘Sleep When Your Baby Sleeps’

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Like most babies, my son was not sleeping well at night. I was becoming increasingly irritable and bad-tempered. But not because of sleep deprivation. Because of being constantly told, ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’. I became adept at smiling and nodding while wanting to scream the three big reasons why this was impossible for me.

1. My baby would only nap in two situations. The first was in the pram while it was being pushed. It takes me around half an hour to get to sleep at night, lying down in a comfy bed in a dark, quiet room. I’m going to really struggle to do it while pushing a pram along the pavement next to an A road. Even if it were possible, there are some giant safety concerns.

The second way my son would nap was on me. I suppose I could’ve tried to drop off while holding my baby on the sofa but it was never particularly relaxing knowing I might drop him. I tried wearing him in a sling but the dead weight on my chest was off-putting. I tried several times to very, very carefully put him down in the bedside cot once he fell asleep. So carefully that I believe my movements were almost imperceptible to the human eye. But as soon as he lay flat his eyes would jerk open. He was the reverse of those plastic dolls with eyes that close when you lie them down. They should make those dolls more realistic.

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2. I had other stuff to do. I don’t mean things like laundry or cleaning. You should’ve seen the state of my house. I mean things like cleaning my teeth, washing and eating. Now that I’ve got a toddler I wonder why I didn’t have time for these basic things. Newborns sleep so much of the daytime. But I think it’s because I was either pushing the pram or trapped underneath him.

3. I am really bad at napping. It’s not just the waking up feeling groggy and confused. It’s the getting to sleep in a short window of time. I know a barrister who takes two 15 minute naps under his desk during his working day. I just don’t understand how it’s possible to go to sleep without my usual routine of: close eyes, try to sleep, mind wanders wildly to all the awful things I’ve done in my life, put a podcast on for distraction, become too absorbed in podcast, try an audiobook, become irritated with the voices on the audiobook, get up to go to the toilet, try another podcast, finally drift off. How could I possibly fit this twice into my working day?

All those that can take daytime naps – I admire you. You are my sleep heroes. But for the sake of everyone else, let’s stop saying ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’. Because, like they hadn’t thought of that already. Probably ALL they can think about is sleep. Instead try, ‘Are you able to sleep when the baby sleeps?’ Or better still, ‘You poor thing, you must be so exhausted. But you don’t even slightly look it. You’re glowing! Here’s some chocolate.’ That’s far, far better.

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