baby

Paralympian Jessica Smith has finally discovered the trick to getting her baby to sleep.

When it comes to infant sleep I was repeatedly told that self-soothing was the only answer. I have lost count of the number of people, a lot who don’t even have children, who told me to follow methods where I left my baby to cry for various intervals. But for me, the idea that ignoring my baby’s needs in the hope it would actually teach her an important lesson for life, just didn’t feel right. I could never do it.

That being said, my journey to accept my daughter’s sleep patterns hasn’t been easy. For the first seven months of her life I really struggled. I wasn’t getting any more than three to four hours of unbroken sleep at a time. I was exhausted and emotionally fragile.

That was until I decided to co-sleep. However it wasn’t really a conscious decision, it just happened out of sheer exhaustion. I was breastfeeding my daughter in our bed, and we both fell asleep. It was the BEST sleep I’d had since giving birth!

co-sleeping newborn
"Co-sleeping is a choice that each family makes for themselves, but I can honestly say that it has been the best decision for my family." Image via Instagram.

Prior to this I had always fed her, then rocked her, or placed her in her bassinet, only to be woken by her cries almost immediately after. She just wanted me to hold her. She wanted closeness and who could blame her. She had been safe and secure inside me for more than nine months, and now I was expecting her to be OK on her own, in what was a dark and cold place in comparison.

I could never let her cry unnecessarily, so I held her, I rocked her, I cuddled her – and yes, at times, it was utterly exhausting and I cried, a lot. I couldn’t think straight, and some of the thoughts that entered my head at 2am, 3am, and then 4am, made me so sad. I was starting to hate motherhood, thinking that I just simply couldn’t do it, and admitting that breaks my heart. I love everything about my beautiful girl, but not getting sleep and being expected to function all day and night was soul destroying.

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I wish I had known more about co-sleeping earlier because it literally changed everything about my motherhood experience. But I’d been scared to co-sleep because of all the scaremongering information that I’d been fed about how dangerous it was. Of course there are safe and unsafe ways to sleep with a baby, but what I had failed to do, was listen to my own motherly instinct. What works for one mother doesn’t necessarily work for another, and deep down I was still trying to conform to some ridiculous idea about what infant sleep should look like.

So rather than listen to society, I started to do what felt natural and right, I fell asleep beside my baby. Six hours later we both woke. Six hours! In that moment I knew that all we needed as mother and daughter, was each other. This was the comfort that we had both been longing for, it wasn’t just her who felt safe and protected, but it was me too, and as a result we both slept.

Ever since then we have been co-sleeping. Now I’m not saying that every night has been a dream, but I know I’m much more rested and far more present during the day because my own sleep has improved dramatically, as has my daughters. Of course she still wakes if she’s cold, or teething or isn’t feeling well. All of these are normal reasons to wake, goodness I’d been wakeful too if I was going through all of that.

There are so many mothers who feel embarrassed to say that they co-sleep because of the ridiculous societal pressure that exists.

Any mother will tell you, that the most difficult thing about having a new baby is adjusting to the sleep deprivation. So why then are we constantly shaming parents for choosing to do what works for them so that they actually get sleep?

"I was starting to hate motherhood, thinking that I just simply couldn’t do it."
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Somewhere along the line society’s messaging aimed at new parents has been skewed. We all know that each and every baby and toddler is different, so we need to be understanding and accepting that how we respond to his or her individual needs will also be different.

Co-sleeping is a choice that each family makes for themselves, but I can honestly say that it has been the best decision for my family. Over the past 21 months it has brought us even closer together. Of course, it won’t be forever and it breaks my heart to think of the day when my little girl finally makes the decision to sleep on her own, which I know will be very soon.

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I’m now pregnant with my second child, and yes, it’s getting quite cosy in our bed, and I’m getting more and more uncomfortable as I grow. But I know that my daughter will soon transition into her own bed, we have been slowly doing this over the past few months. Ensuring that she feels comfortable and safe with her new environment, because I know that forcing her will only delay things further.

As her mother I must respect her, her needs and her development. And if it means that our soon to be a family of four will share a bed from time to time, then so be it, especially if it means we all get sleep.

While this method worked for Jessica, it should not be taken as advice. Please consult a health care professional for guidance on safe sleeping practises for your infant.

More information on co-sleeping is available on the Red Nose website.

What do you wish you knew earlier as a mother?

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