Sleep. That ever elusive goal. That thing you used to do before you had kids. Remember it? For a long time I didn't.
Those who have followed my motherhood journey for a while may know that recently we've struggled. At 22 months old, my daughter was still waking 6 or 7 times a night on average, and it was starting to take a toll on me both physically and emotionally.
But in the last few weeks, all has changed. More often than not she is sleeping through the night and I can finally remember what sleep is. I'm finally getting it for myself.
Since talking about this on Instagram, I have had dozens of people message me asking the question... 'How?'. It wasn't a quick fix, it wasn't one thing we did. It was a process, a slow process, and a combination of factors, but for us it worked. I can' say what will work for you and your child, but if you're looking for inspiration or just some hope that things can and WILL eventually get better, here is a summary of our journey. Please take what resonates with you and leave what doesn't.
We started this transition by changing her association with her bedroom. We've mostly co-slept, and Ezra has never liked her cot. In fact, the only times she ever slept in there was when I climbed in with her (and you can imagine how comfortable that was). So we didn't push it. We decided to create a space that she'd love spending time in.
We got rid of her cot and bought a 'big girl bed' off Gumtree. We made a big deal out of it, and naturally she was proud and excited. We set up a cosy reading nook and made sure there was more space for her to play. It wasn't long before it was her favourite room in the house (and mine!)
The next goal was to get her sleeping there. The benefit of having a "big girl bed" was that I could lie in there with her to get her to sleep. My tactic was to army-roll out of there when I thought she was in a deep enough sleep. I found the biggest challenge was getting her back in her bed after the third, fourth, fifth, bazillionth wake-up. Usually I would be too exhausted and just let her stay in my bed. Once I 100% committed to making her sleep in her bed, I HAD to stick to it. And it was tough, really tough. But what I found was that when she DID sleep in her bed, she would usually sleep for longer periods of time.
This was a big one, and an area where we had to do a bit of trial and error to find what worked for us. They key, of course, was consistency and also communication. Here a few things that work for us:
Sleeping Suit: Being Summertime in Queensland, we didn't use a sleeping suit. I always assumed she would be too hot. But she would always kick off sheets or blankets so when I did eventually get a sleep suit, I found this made a different to how long she was staying asleep. It also helped build part of our sleep routine, she knew that when she put on this suit it was going to be time for bed soon.
Storytime: We always have story time before bed. It's a nice was to spend quiet time together, and get her lying down on her bed (or our bed) and relaxed. We communicate really clearly with her how many books are left, and that once the last book is read that it is time for sleep.
Bed time: You know what I really found? I was trying to push a bed time that just wasn't working for us. I don't know if it was because I was tired, or because I thought it was the most 'appropriate' sleep time for a one year old, but for months I persisted with trying to make her sleep at 7pm. It was painful, and exhausting, and incredibly unsuccessful. Eventually I looked at what was happening every night in our house and thought 'fuck, it', let's try something else. I noticed that by about 8pm she was tired, she was cooperative. SO we changed her bed time to 8pm, and it has been SO much easier ever since. A few people have commented to me 'that is late for a one year old'. I don't care. It works for us.
Essential Oils: This is a non-negotiable in our home. Essential oils have changed our home and our lives in so many ways, but now I am FINALLY adding sleep to that list. I persisted for ages with blends that didn't seem to be working for Ezra, and eventually tried something outside the box. Most people are aware that lavender has sedative properties, and is well known to support sleep and relaxation. However there are some people who lavender can have the opposite effect on, and I am now so aware that Ezra is one of them. So I swapped out lavender and created her own unique sleepy-time blend (which I will post about soon!). Every single night, we have a bath, put on her sleeping suit, put her oils in her diffuser, and go have storytime. She knows what the diffuser means, she is involved in the process, and we have that last part of our night to let the oils calm and relax her. Interestingly, essential oils interact with the limbic part of our brains, which is responsible for our moods, emotions and memory. What I am additionally doing by creating the exact same smell at every bedtime, is creating a memory-association or mental cue for sleep. Amazing, right!? Want to learn more about essential oils for sleep? Click here
Orange Lighting + White Noise: The essential oils diffuser we use in Ezra's room is also a night light and white noise machine. The white noise is a non-negotiable in our routine, and I have recently learnt the incredible benefits of using certain lighting in sleep spaces. Red, orange and pink lighting is the best for sleep (salt lamps are great for this), while bright white and blue light can actually contribute to insomnia (this is the light given off by TV, phones and electronics FYI!) as they can inhibit our natural production of melatonin (the hormone that helps us to sleep).
Communication: Our little ones are smart, and they understand you, whether they can communicate back in words or not. Something that we do every day with Ezra is communicate with her, clearly. Explaining things that are going to happen in advance so she can prepare for them (such as bed time), explaining to her why things are happening, letting her adjust to things and be part of the process. Instead of all of sudden announcing it is bedtime and not giving her a chance to accept it, we talk about bedtime before it happens. "Ezra, we are going to go read your books and then afterwards it will be time for sleep." "Ezra, after two more books it is going to be sleep time, okay?" This communication was also a big part of changing her routine. "Ezra, when you wake up tonight you will need to go back to sleep in your bed." I can't imagine how frustrating life can be for a toddler, constantly being told what to do and being unable to express themselves the way they want to. I am mindful every day and every night of her feelings, especially when it comes to big changes so I always try to work with her.
Naps: The fact of the matter is, when she doesn't sleep well during the day, she sleep worse during the night. Trying to be more consistent and PERSISTENT when it comes to the day naps has made a huge impact.
If any of the above was going to work, I needed to do one big thing. I needed to night wean. Up until three or so week ago, Ezra was breastfed to sleep. Every single sleep. There was no other way. What this eventually meant was that she needed my boob to stay asleep, and that's where the problems began.
I love breastfeeding, but things had to change. I had tried different tactics such as dropping one feed at a time, and found that I just couldn't push through. So I made the decision to just do it, cold turkey. Well, cold-ISH turkey. There was a process.
We started by reducing the amount of day feeds. Anyone who has spent time with me in the last twelve months would know I would let her feed as much as she wanted (which was basically all the time). It was a comfort thing, never much of a hunger thing and I knew this. I started letting her have three proper feeds a day, and the rest of the time when she tried to latch on for a 'snack', I would offer her food, or water instead. There were a few little tantrums but all and all, this part went okay. It also helped to get her eating a bit more.
Then in the lead up to what I now call 'The Big Wean', we talked about it. At this point, all the other things I mentioned above were in place, and her sleep had improved to the point that wake ups were averaging about 2 or 3 a night with the occasional sleep-through, but I knew we could do better still. For a week or so when we would lie in bed at night I would explain to her that soon there wouldn't be milk at night time. She was not in agreeance, but she understood. Then one night when she had a big dinner, her belly was full and she was tired for a big day of play, I simply said no.
I cuddled her in her bed, and it was really tough, she cried, and screamed and tried to get to me any way she could. But we got through it. And each night got easier. My husband is finally able to put her to sleep, which he loves. And he is finally able to get up to her when she wakes, which I love. And so here we are, pretty damn pleased with where things are at.