Last week I had my first official ‘Mothers’ Group’, organised by my local CaFHS office. I must admit, I was unsure at first whether there would be any point going to this group. I’ve been catching up with mothers with similar aged babies to Lottie since she was a few weeks old through friends I met doing aqua aerobics while I was pregnant. I also have a few close friends and two sisters who have babies and so I felt my bases were covered when it came to mother-advice-forums. However, I must admit I was pleasantly surprised to find I very much enjoyed my first official Mothers’ Group. There were ten mums from the local area, with twelve babies (yes, two sets of twins!), and all the babies were aged between 4 and 7 months. The structure was quite informal, and we had plenty of time to chat amongst ourselves. At the same time, the structure was also useful because the convenor of the group gave us the flexibility to choose which topics we wanted to discuss and unlike our informal get together with friends, we stick to those topics rather than gossip instead. For week two we all chose to discuss sleep and settling. On the topic of sleep and settling, I’m not really sure how Mothers’ Group is meant to work with sleep and settling so that would be the one problem I have with Mothers’ Group.
Mothers’ Group starts at 1:30 and ends at 3:30pm-ish. Before I was a mum, I would see this as a very convenient time to meet with a group of women with babies. There would be time to do some things in the morning, then I could have lunch beforehand and be home in plenty of time to organise dinner. The old me would probably expect to organise my day so my baby arrived at Mothers’ Group well rested and fed, ready to be happy-awake throughout the session and not crying for a feed or whinging for a sleep. But as I have had to come to terms with, this 1:30 – 3:30pm appointment is not so easy after all. It’s not that there would be a better two hour window in the day to take Lottie to Mothers’ Group. It’s just that, thanks to the way I have decided to manage Lottie’s ‘eat, play, sleep’ routine, there is absolutely no easy way to ensure all the ducks line up to make Mothers’ Group an easily achievable outing.
There are a few reasons why, which all have to do with sleep and settling. The first is that the length of Lottie’s day sleeps are completely unpredictable. And the speed at which she goes to sleep is also varied. Day sleeps in the cot are anywhere from 45 minutes long to 3 hours. I have no idea why. Sometimes Lottie whinges for a couple of minutes before going out like a light, but other times she chats to herself for half an hour before going to sleep, pushing out the entire ‘nap time’ to longer than expected. And then other times she is completely silent while she is going to sleep and I assume she’s asleep when she’s not, undoing my keeping-track-of-her-day-sleeps routine and not knowing how long she has in fact been asleep, unless I’m watching her cot-cam like a hawk which of course I am not because when she is asleep I’m busily doing things that need doing.
The outcome of all this unpredictability around day sleeps is that in order to get Lottie to Mothers’ Group on time (or anywhere on time), I may need to cut short a nap which is something I really hate to do (she gets very grumpy when woken). Or she wakes earlier enough that she is due to go back to sleep as soon as I arrive. Or worse, she could go to sleep in the car on the 10 minute drive there, then wake when I arrive (because she won’t stay asleep through the transfer out of the car anymore) and then she’s had a ridiculously short nap which leaves her whingy-tired until the next proper sleep. In fact by some miracle, Lottie didn’t start screaming at Mothers’ Group even though by the time it finishes she had been awake almost three hours, and just lay on the mat in front of me doing a great impression of almost going to sleep but not quite getting there. As I looked around at other babies happily sleeping on their rugs, including one pair of twins, and other babies contentedly being put down in their (static) prams and sleeping without a peep, I will admit I did get day-time-sleep-envy. From all the sleep training I’ve been doing and the spotting of tired signs, going through the sleep cues and successfully getting 3 or 4 reasonable length sleeps throughout the day, there is one thing Lottie cannot do: she can’t fall asleep when we are out and about without help. She can sleep in the car, she can sleep in a moving pram, she can sleep in the carrier (not for long) and she is an absolute pro at sleeping in her cot, or her portacot. But the only way to get her to sleep out of the house when I am not in a position to whip out the portacot, or if I can’t help her with motion because I’m sitting at a café, visiting a friend, at a birthday party, at Mothers’ Group, or even on the beach as I experienced recently, is to put her to sleep on my boob. This usually results in a 15 minute-max nap on the boob which is usually enough to take the edge off the overtiredness until I can get her home for a proper sleep. And thank goodness that the boob still does work as a last resort when I need it. But the outcome of all of this is that amongst the day sleeps, it’s very hard to do anything which a) needs to be done at a specific time, or b) involves me staying put for an hour or more without having to give in to boob-to-sleep which is far from ideal. Since Lottie only stays awake happily from an hour to two hours max, and since she has to be fed as soon as she wakes up so that eats into her awake time before we go out, whenever I go somewhere I am constantly wondering how on earth I am going to get her to sleep.
I wonder if the sleep and settling session at Mothers’ Group will give me any useful tips to help solve this problem? Or if, more likely, I’m just going to have to live with this reality, which I have chosen by managing sleeps the way I do. Of course if I learn anything useful, I will share it here.