Sunday, 13 April 2014

Baby Bed Time: Instinct Or Textbook?

Right, I can do this.  Baby is drowsy.  Put her down in cot.  Pat her gently until her eyes begin to close.  Make a few shushing sounds.  Step away from cot.  Tiptoe out with self-satisfied smile.


And breathe.  Repeat above cycle for the fifteenth time.

Here we go again.  Sleep training.  Despite vowing to be more relaxed second time round, a little echo from one of my old parenting books has made its way into my head and told me I should be 'teaching baby to self-settle'. So I've been giving it a shot.  And it's the most tedious, disheartening thing.

Not only is this process time consuming and hardly a laugh a minute for my darling baby girl, I've got a pretty appalling success rate with it.  In fact, the one time it's worked for me all week, just as I was smugly stepping away from the cot and preparing to do a little victory dance, my adorable four year old and his equally charming two year old cousin bounded into the room to proudly show me how much mud they had managed to cover themselves in whilst I'd been barricaded up in the bedroom.

And so here I am, back aching, now-wide-awake baby squirming and I'm wondering for the umpteenth time whether this sleep training business is really for me.  I have loads of friends who swear by all sorts of self-settling bedtime techniques.  They are all incredible parents with gorgeous children but I can't help wondering how they kept their sanity whilst honing their routine.  Maybe it's just me.

It's not that I haven't tried.  First time round, before Mister Four made his hasty arrival into the world I read up on pretty much every baby book going.  I subscribed to the 'knowledge is power' school of thought.  I could have told you the fine details of baby sleep cycles at every age and stage.  I had a cosy relationship with all the protagonists and their varying theories.

And now I hang my head in shame as I recall just how easy I thought it all was.  I am mortified to admit that when I heard people complain about their babies' sleep habits a (rather large) part of me couldn't help wondering what they were going on about.  Getting babies to sleep was a simple process - they clearly hadn't done their reading.

Oh wow.  I really knew nothing.

Because now I'm all too aware that it's about so much more.  And I can't help thinking that it's also about so much less - perhaps pared back parenting really is the best way for me.  Because when I try to follow 'the rules' I just seem to end up laden with stress and guilt for all the things that don't happen the way the experts said they should.

And so I go back again to the most powerful piece of mothering advice ever given to me, said, of course, by every woman's parenting guru, Mum.  She raised four children of her own, and is a key player in every one of her ten grandchildren's lives.  And it was she who said in her calm, unassuming way  'Do you think that the authors of those books know your baby as well as you do?  Your baby is the guidebook.  Your instinct will follow.'

And I remember what those words did for me the first time round.  I wiped my streaky mascara away and actually laughed in the face of all the guilt I'd been harbouring.  My mountain of parenting tomes moved from my bedside table to a storage box.  I thought back to all the amazing mamas I've seen in various countries around the world: The Ugandan mum, singing with joy as she carried her sleeping baby on her back en route to gather water.  The UK mum braving the school run with twin babies napping in their matching carseats and a preschooler between them.  The Malay mum carrying her baby on a day's shopping without a pram or carrier in sight.  The Aussie mum laying her little one in a travel cot in the bush on a camping trip.  The Japanese supermum, riding the Tokyo subway with a toddler on her back and a baby in the pram.

And you know what?  We've all got it right.  All over the world, in all sorts of ways, parents are loving their babies just the way they do.  And some of them have mastered pretty sleep schedules and perfect self-settling.  And some have no routine whatsoever.  And it really doesn't matter, does it?  Because second time round I've learnt that a happy baby is the product of happy parenting.

So now I'm feeling all zen and thinking of heading to bed myself.  There's just one more thing to do: pop the baby who's fallen asleep in my arms into her cot...  No doubt I'll be seeing her again in a few hours, but I think I've made my peace with that now.


  1. You're so right Anna. And it might be the hormones but your second and third last paragraph left me a bit weepy. My parenting books went in the bin a while ago by the way.
    Rom x

  2. Aw Rom, sorry for bringing forth tears! Don't you just love PG hormones?! You're going to be an amazing mummy...all over again! Xx


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