My Child Won’t Sleep
Posted: Saturday June 9 2018
By: Abbie Coleman
My child won't sleep - I’ve long held the view that professional women are often hardest hit by some of the challenges that motherhood throws up – none more so than when their little one just doesn’t seem to have read the sleep memo.
My Child Won’t Sleep
Preparing for our new role
I understand because I have been there. When I fell pregnant with my son, I was in a well-established legal career. I was used to making decisions and giving advice that affected people’s liberty. It was a lot of responsibility but it didn’t faze me, I knew that a combination of good instincts, diligent research and hard work made me good at what I did. I assumed motherhood would be the same to some extent, although never having spent much time around babies, I did question how much instinct I would have for my new role. I compensated with extra research! Having read what felt like 3,000 parenting books, even making notes and colour-coding, I felt pretty prepared for what lay ahead.
The uncomfortable reality
Eleven months into my parenting journey, when my son was still waking twice a night and managing only two 40-minutes each day, he was clearly exhausted and I felt I was letting him down. I’d read pretty much everything the internet has to offer on child sleep yet despite the most thorough research I could manage in my sleep-deprived state, I was failing. It was an unfamiliar feeling and whilst I hadn’t expected to be a natural earth-mother, I did spend a lot of time thinking, “I am a competent person, why is this so hard?” Like many professional parents, we were part of an NCT group where sleep was always a hot topic of conversation – the fact that several of the other babies were sleeping better than my son made me doubt my parenting skills.
Nature versus nurture
There is an increasing body of research showing that the pregnancy and birth journey fundamentally affects a child’s early years. Stress in utero can have far-reaching implications. The obvious question here is “how much stress is too much?” and realistically we don’t know the answer. Yet with an increasing prevalence of mothers-to-be carrying the responsibility of being in a high-performance career and often a comparable or higher wage-earner, the potential for a pregnancy being stressful is very real. This is relevant as some interesting research has linked higher than average maternal stress levels during pregnancy with the likelihood of a baby suffering with colic – and it is safe to say that colicky babies typically do not sleep well!
Add into this that professional women frequently delay starting a family until well into their thirties. According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the increasing age of mothers is one of the main drivers of the UK’s rising rate of complex pregnancies and caesarean births. Whilst caesareans are not performed lightly and can be literally life-saving, there are measurable impacts from this mode of delivery that are now known to affect sleep – for example altered gut microbiome and, in the case of planned sections, babies being born at a younger gestational age.