Sleep Thief: Committing the ultimate baby sin

Sleep Thief: Committing the ultimate baby sin

I have a confession to make.  I broke one of the biggest baby rules there is.

I hid the truth from my health visitor. I told no one. Until now.

It was 4am when I did it for the first time.

I was exhausted. My baby would not sleep, so I could not sleep. The only time she would close her eyes and give in to slumber was when she was laying ON ME or her father.  But the moment I put her down in the cot next to my bed she would wake up and scream. No cry, no gurgle, just straight to a bloodcurdling scream.  Then I would be back at square one.  I would have to begin the whole lengthy process of getting her back to sleep again – only to fail, as always, at the last hurdle.

This had been going on for more than a month now and I was getting desperate.

I had tried everything the health visitor and books had suggested.  I had put one of my dirty tops into her cot and even squirted her sheet with breast milk. I had tried dummies, an extra blanket, no blankets, white noise, a bottle, cuddly toys, sleeping bags and swaddling. But still she would wake up as soon as I put her down.

That night, as I lay with a sleeping baby on my chest, various tips I’d been given ran through my tired mind.

‘Have you tried her on her tummy?’ friends and family over the age of forty asked me.  ‘My three all slept on their front and they are just fine.’

Could that be it?  Maybe she wasn’t comfortable on her back?

‘Never put them down to sleep on their tummy,’ the health visitor advised when I suggested this theory. ‘It is not safe.’

I had a full bladder and a dead arm. I needed to put her down and for her to stay down.

I put her back in the cot. She screamed. I was back to square one and now really needed a wee.  Then began the nightly internal debate…

Why would she not sleep in her cot? Maybe she had a bad back? Would it be so bad to try her on her tummy?  I slept on my tummy as a baby and didn’t come to any harm.

No, it is too dangerous.

Then I just did it.  I committed the ultimate parenting sin.

I put her down on her front. And, this time, as I moved away from the cot, she STAYED asleep.

This was a first. I watch her sleep soundly in her cot, for the first time ever.

Damn it.  A part of me had been hoping it wouldn’t work. That she would wake up anyway, taking this rule-defying option off the table.

Of course, I wasn’t going to leave her like this. I just wanted to see if it actually made any difference.  I wanted to lay her on her back again but she looked so peaceful. I decided to leave her for five more minutes – just to let her have a little sleep. I watched her the whole time.

Ten minutes later she was still asleep. I continued to watch her, listening to her breathing.

‘I must be a bad mother,’ I told myself. I had read the books, heard the advice, yet here I was, possibly putting my baby at risk.

I decided I would definitely have to move her.  Just as soon as I had been for a wee.  Then I would put her back in the recommended, safe sleeping position.

Or… I could just watch her sleep for a bit. Surely, it is ok if you are watching them?

I sat staring at her for about forty-five minutes. Then she woke up.

From then on, I spent many a night debating about whether or not to put her on her tummy, putting her down on her tummy, watching her sleep on her tummy, then feeling guilty about it – so although the baby was a little less tired, I was just as exhausted as ever.  She soon learnt to turn herself over anyway, then her choice of sleeping position was out of my hands.

As it turned out, putting my baby to sleep on her front was NOT the key to getting her to go to sleep and stay asleep.  She would still wake up anything from every half hour to an hour every night but it did sometimes give me a small window of opportunity to go to the toilet, clean my teeth or Google stuff about getting babies to stay asleep…

Emily-Jane Clark

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