So I've been meaning to write about Theo's sleep for a while, as it's been quite a journey!
(warning this post is long!)
We've had so many ups and down, and I really feel for people such as Fritha who are going through such a similar situation as the one we've struggled through. The fact is, is that Theo has never been a good sleeper. He went through about a week of when he was about three months of only waking up once a night, but that was so short lived and the best it was up until now really. But I'll start at the beginning.
Anyway, since the beginning when Theo was born it was clear that he was a baby who didn't like to be put down, he felt most comfortable sleeping on us, next to us and with us. He did sleep in a moses basket, but since newborns don't really get what night and day are, he'd sleep in it in the day, but at night he would only ever want to sleep with us, and nurse. I got paranoid that we were doing the wrong thing, and we're getting into bad habits so we did try a little sleep training. I hated it, it stills makes me shudder now to think of him crying alone. So it's safe to say, we tried it for one night, and never ever again. From that point really I think we decided not really to listen to what other people thought was right, but to instead listen to our instincts and what Theo was telling us.
So I started researching co-sleeping, and got some great advice (thanks Janet!) and this helped me to realise that we weren't doing the wrong thing by letting him sleep with us, but doing what felt right for us, and worked for us all. So we gave up trying to make him sleep in a crib, and just had him in the bed with us. Of course we followed guidelines to safe co-sleeping, but from that point I feel we just relaxed into it.
For quite a while this worked really well for us, but it wasn't always easy. He still woke up every couple of hours or so, it's all a bit of a blur really, but he definitely wasn't 'sleeping through'. But because I was still breastfeeding him, and feeding him back to sleep, it was so easy just to roll over, let him feed and drift back to sleep.
We he napped in the day he did this on the bed, and I was still feeding him to sleep. There was a period of time when he was about 8 or so months where I couldn't leave him when for the entirety of his nap. It was nice to have a little rest myself, but I felt so useless and couldn't really get anything done. But when we moved house at around 10 months he started to get a bit better and I could eventually just feed him, wait until he was asleep then sneak off to have an hour to myself!
I'm not sure when (maybe 11 months?), but it started to get a little difficult. He was getting restless and waking up more often, and wasn't going back to sleep easily and would get disturbed by us more and more. Our sweet little situation was going a little bit sour! So we decided it was time something changed, we thought we would see how it would go moving him out of our bed onto his own little bed on the floor. We thought that perhaps he wouldn't be disturbed by us so much, and wake up every time one of us moved. I still got up to nurse him in the night, and he was still waking up quite a lot so that was hard, but having the extra space in the bed was like heaven!
This situation worked for a few months, but after a while the getting up every hour or so to feed him really started to take his toll on me. He was still coming back into the bed with us in the early hours of the morning, and I felt we were back to the early days of sleeping! But by this point I felt Theo was getting to the point where he could understand a lot more, and would be able to deal with change a little better, so we trialed putting him in his own room. We had a double sofa bed in the spare room, so for a time he was on there. I was still feeding him to sleep in the evening, and then whenever he woke up in the night. Most of the time I would try and get up again after he was asleep and go back into my own bed, but sometimes I just ended up falling asleep with him there!
We noticed a change almost immediately really, he started to sleep for longer stretches and would go down at night a lot easier. I think this happened because we waited until the right time to make this transition. We had exhausted all the options with keeping him in the bed and room for us, and I think this was the right time to make this step. Had we tried it when he was younger, or when he wasn't showing us that he needed a change, I don't think it would have worked. It did make me sad that he wasn't in the bed or same room as us, but that sadness wasn't anything compared to how good being able to sleep properly in my own bed felt! We could finally go to bed and not have to creep around trying to be silent as not to wake him, we could talk to each other as we went to sleep, and I could stretch out as much as I wanted (thank goodness we have a king sized bed!)
Co-sleeping really worked for us, and I'm glad we saw it through until it had run it's course, and I really believe in trusting in our instincts and doing things when we felt they were right, and not when other people told us we should be doing things. We did and do still have the occasional co-sleep, in the morning there is always a little stow away hogging all the room!
When we found the Theo sleeping in his own room was working we decided to make his room fully his room, and give him his own little bed. I know that for many people the transition into a 'big bed' is a major step, and I can see how it is, but seeing as Theo has never slept in a cot, and always in a bed with us there wasn't really any step to take. He learnt how to climb off and on the bed pretty early, and once he's in bed he doesn't get up and wander off. We put a stair gate on his room, just in case he did get up as we can't fit one at the top of our stairs, but it wasn't really needed.
Around the same time as changing his room around I made the step to stop feeding him at night. Even though he was sleeping for longer periods of time he was still waking up to be fed three or four times a night, and after 16 or so months of broken sleep and getting up in the night I finally realised enough was enough. He wasn't waking because he was hungry, he was waking like babies naturally do, but he just didn't know how to put himself to sleep again. I got some really good advice from Annie (thank goodness for the internet and friends!)
To stop feeding him at night I knew it would be tough for the first few days, but it was something that was necessary. I fed him to sleep in the evening like normal, but when he woke up in the night to want to feed I didn't offer it to him, but instead tried to soothe him by singing, cuddling and repeating phrases like 'time to sleep' to him. This was hard, he cried for an hour or so, but I didn't leave him. I stayed with him until he eventually gave up. I slept in the bed all night with him, and eventually he didn't cry as much. The next few nights I did the same thing, and we saw dramatic changes again in his sleeping. He definitely started to wake less, and he could go to sleep without me feeding him. This carried on for a while, until I went away for the first ever time. I knew that this would probably be the end of our breastfeeding, but it felt like the right time. Since that point Rob has been able to put Theo to sleep at night, and he started to sleep through the night. Other people can now put him to sleep too, which gives me such a sense of relief and freedom.
I was scared for nap times though, this was the biggest thing to get over for me, as it was completely down to me, and I felt like I had lost my magic power! For the first week or so after stopping breastfeeding I only took Theo out when he needed to nap, so that he could sleep in the buggy, but one day he was too tired, and had a little melt down before I had chance to get out, so I put him in bed, read him a story and sang to him and he fell asleep! I was so proud of myself! Since then he still has a mix, he'll sleep when we go out (and I try and arrange things like going to shops around his nap otherwise it's impossible to go when he's awake!) or we'll have a nap at home.
I'll leave you with one of my favourite photos of the boy asleep!
Ps just wanted to add that this is in no way saying what we did is the best way. It's just what worked for us. Every baby and family are different, and what works best for one might not work for another! I respect other people's methods, if that's what works best for them.