A lovely reader emailed me recently and asked me about how I encourage Percy to go to sleep. The answer is simple: breastmilk - for as long as he wants it.
I know, it doesn't make going out to dinner or being away from the home all that easy. But these early years of mothering are best if I'm near. It's the way I've always done it and it's the way I'll always choose to do it. I've fed all my babies to sleep from the day they were born to the day that they weaned. And after that? There's an unsettled period for 3-4 days and then they succumb to the new rhythm of back rubs and stories and songs.
Percy has been my most unsettled sleeper and while it took a while to adjust to the middle-of-the-night screams and waking every two hours, I managed to move through that phase with a relatively level head. "This too shall pass" was mentally repeated come 3am and my days were slower and foggier than any I had experienced. I admit, there were some days when the exhaustion was overwhelming but generally I embraced the perspective that naturally comes with the third child; no use stressing about it, that will only make it worse.
But now? He sleeps quite well at night but still wakes two or three times for milk (sometimes more if he's waking with teething pain). He'll sleep in his cot during the evening and will come to bed with me at about 10pm so when he does feed I'm not always aware.
Night times are fine but day sleeps are probably my biggest challenge. Poet was never a great day-sleeper and Percy is following her lead. I realise that the noise of older siblings and getting in and out of the car for school drop-off and pick-up doesn't make for long, settled periods to establish a long sleep rhythm but still....a few hours would be nice! He went through the very typical 45minute nap phase and seems to have moved passed that but generally he'll only have two one-hour naps a day. My goal within the next few months is to gravitate towards one nap that sees him fall asleep late-morning and wake mid-afternoon (just in time for school pick-up). I'm aiming for the three-hour nap that Che took every day till he was three (he set my goals unrealistically high, that first child of mine).
I'm happy to answer any sleep-related questions you may have but first I encourage you to do what you have to do to get sleep - co-sleep (without shame - it's completely normal and natural), breastfeed for comfort, play songs (we love this one), rub a little lavender onto little feet, follow a strict routine if you feel it's best for you, ignore advice from well-meaning friends, embrace advice from well-meaning friends, ask your GP or maternal nurse for help, hire a sleep expert....whatever it takes.
But know this: the stress of not meeting your parenting expectations is often more exhausting than the sleep deprivation itself.