Become a mother, they said…
It will be fun, they said…
Well, it is fun, but let’s be honest, it’s also a lot of work. No matter what stage of life your DNA is in, you will ultimately be losing some sleep. Baby, toddlers, school aged, teens (oh, holy, teens!)…they all come with their own specific set of challenges.
Babies. Babies require the most consistent amount of attention at night, which may make you think that this is the most exhausting time in your life…but it isn’t. Babies need round the clock nourishment (which also means round the clock diapering!) and some just need reassurance at night. There are a lot of opinions out there about how to “train” babies to sleep. Reality? Babies do need nourishment at night. Especially breast fed babies, as their milk is already broken down, so digestion is quicker. Whether you bottle or breast feed your babies is irrelevant – their sleep patterns will most certainly interfere with yours. This stage is temporary, and you need to find your “happy medium”. As long as they are fed, diapered, and safely sleeping…whatever routine works best for your family is the correct one. I breast fed all of mine, and preferred a safe co-sleeper that attached to the side of my bed. When they were a little more predictable (6-9 months), I moved them to their crib, but slept in their room to make things easier. (until about a year)
Toddlers. Oh, toddlers. Nighttime isn’t the only time that sleep is a struggle! Toddlers think they don’t need naps, but ultimately most kids require a nap until they are 3 years old. Their brains need the down time, and their growing bodies need the rest. Even if it is a short rest, it is beneficial. Mine all napped well through their 4th years, some days longer than others, but we definitely had a better evening if they napped. If your toddler is throwing more fits, having trouble focusing during mealtimes or school, they may be sleep deprived. From ages 2-4 it is typical for many toddlers to have night terrors, or nightmares. Most research will tell you not to wake them when they are in the middle of a bad dream. Some wake up on their own. It is important that you remember, this phase is temporary. I think it feels more stressful than when they were babies, because you have had a few months/years of regular sleep and now your child is waking again, inconsistently. The best thing you can do during this time is remain calm, provide comfort, and be consistent. If you want to co-sleep to make this easier, than do that. If you are completely against having a tiny person added to your bed – then don’t ever give in to them! 2/4 of my crew had issues during this age, and what worked best for us was having a ready made pallet under my bed. They were allowed to come in to my room (after falling asleep in their own beds) and pull that out, and finish sleeping there. They were NOT allowed to wake anyone up, cause a fuss in the middle of the night, or climb in my bed. However, they could come in and use their pallet as frequently as they needed. This helped everyone feel as rested as possible during this phase.
School aged kids. This may be your best bet at getting caught up on sleep. Most school aged kids are past the night terrors, although some still struggle into the 1st grade. A small percentage of kids struggle with bed wetting during the early school years as well. Limiting night liquids, and getting them up to use the bathroom before you go to bed can help. Keep in mind, if you need to get your child up during the night it is important to keep the lights dim, the noise to a minimum and return them to bed as quickly as possible.
Teens. Ugh. Teens. I feel like this is the hardest stage. You can’t go to sleep until they are all home, and they are attempting to have a social life (that is more exciting than yours!) Homework is overwhelming, and often keeps them up late, or stresses them out which interferes with sleep. Setting limits on phones/screens can be helpful. Not letting them have devices in their rooms, and maintaining a bed time routine can help as well. As babies we established the bath/book/bed routine, and kept that routine going even in high school. It isn’t just for structure, and to reduce chaos in the evenings, it also gives a signal to your body that it is time for sleeping.
No matter what you experience during these stages, you do you. Only you can decide what works best for your family. Each child responds differently, so what works for one may not work for the next. What one family believes is appropriate – may sound completely insane to you! As long as your child is safe, loved and supported, you are doing your job. Just remember that when you become a mother, you are in for at least 18 years of sleepless nights. Grab some fabulous eye cream, become a coffee mug collector and understand that it is all worth it!