Category Archives: co-sleeping


I had Mabel’s parent-teacher conference yesterday. I was pretty sure there wouldn’t be much of import to say, but thought I’d better go along anyway just to make sure they didn’t need to tell me she was a sociopath in training or anything. (They didn’t.)

Her teachers opened procedings by assuring me that on the mornings when I pry her off me and leave her wailing in the classroom, the yells have stopped before I’m down the corridor and I’m not to worry at all. Which was nice.

I countered by explaining that those are the mornings when she hasn’t had much sleep. I explained how bad a sleeper she is (though of course I’ve noted this on those days too when handing her over) and how she’s often wide awake for an hour or so in the night, and how I have to go to her and try to help her get back to sleep.

Which left the field open wide for them to tell me what I should do about that. Silly me for mentioning it. They advised not going. I chuckled. (Maybe it was more of a snort.) Or at least a Supernanny-style putting-back-to-bed with no cuddles, over and over, until it sticks, they said.

I nodded and smiled and didn’t say “Well, I’d prefer to go to my child when she wakes and calls for me, because she might actually need me. She might be sick, or have had a nightmare, and I don’t want her to think that she’s all alone and banned from my company just because it’s dark outside.” I only thought of that afterwards.

“No cuddles,” repeated her teacher. Of course, I hadn’t mentioned the booboos component of the putting back to sleep. No need to confuse matters. Oh, fine, okay, so I’m a little embarrassed and don’t want to tell her teachers we’re still nursing at night. If they think I’m a soft touch to be cuddling with her every night, can you imagine what they’d say when I mentioned that she still partakes of the nectar too? Besides, it’s none of their business. But I was conscious of being a bad extended-lactivist.

I nodded and smiled some more, and we talked about Mabel’s “academic” progress (she can cut with scissors!) and social progress (needs encouragement to clean up; needs to work on peaceful conflict resolution, yada yada, four-year-old-cakes), and I took my leave.

It was only later on last night that I realised that Ms S’s references to “cuddles” were code for booboo. Because of course, she’s talked to Mabel about this, and Mabel has no self-censoring device, and Ms S. is no idiot, and hadn’t she just told me that you can have a good, sensible conversation with Mabel? (Not like me, then.)

She should have winked and cocked her head a lot more obviously if she wanted me to understand that she meant “No more booboo.” I’m sleep deprived, so I’m a bit slow on the uptake.

Nocturnal emotions (sorry)

I have that slightly dizzy feeling that no amount of coffee can remove. My eyes ache a tiny bit and there’s a noise, or a pressure, or something, just behind my ears. I’m going to go right ahead and blame Mabel.

Ironically, she didn’t have a bad night. The problem is that she didn’t have it – the okay night – in her own bed, she had it in mine. When B and I were still downstairs last night, having caught up on both How I Met Your Mother and Doctor Who, and I was starting to think I should go to bed – around 10.15, then – we heard a little thump thump thump and thought, ‘Oh-ho! What goings on are these?’ I went upstairs and found Mabel prone on our bed, wailing and telling me that she was never going to sleep in her own bed again.

I suppose I could have put up a fight, but much the easiest thing seemed to be to go with the flow at that point. I started telling her Cinderella, and by the second sentence she was out for the count. (It’s basically an automatic response now. And probably the only fairy tale I know.) So that was all well and good but now there was a three-year-old taking up a lot of space in our bed.

B decided to take Mabel’s bed for the night. I suppose that made sense, but I still think he got off lightly. I got ready for bed and assessed my options. She was right in the middle, but I decided there was slightly more room on my usual side, so that’s where I got in, with Mabel’s back to me. She wiggled backwards to get closer. After five minutes, I got out and walked around to the other side of the bed and lay down there instead. She moved towards me. I left her head where it was and pushed the rest of her body away from me, diagonally across the bed. Her head nudged closer to me.  She was on top of the covers and I was trying to be underneath them. And so it continued for at least half the night.

At some later point I realised that she was actually sleeping on the other side like a normal human in a queen-size bed, but by then the damage was done. I’ll take back her father any day. I won’t even complain about the snoring.

Don’t even read this out loud in your head

I’m really tempting all kinds of fate even just writing this down, so I’ll have to say it in code, but Abelmay is eepingslay etterbay. I’m sorry if your pig Latin isn’t up to snuff, but that’s as far as I’m prepared to go. I said it out loud for real – in a whisper – to a friend the other day, and that very night the child woke up four times.

To recap, briefly, for anyone who’s new: Mabel will be four in November, and she has been sleeping like a four-month-old for her entire life. By which I mean that she would wake every two or three hours to be nursed back to sleep. So if she went to bed at 8 she’d wake at 10, 12, 2 or 3, and 5 or so, and finally get up around 7. If she skipped her nap and went to bed at 7, she’d wake at 9, and so on. Every now and then, just so I didn’t think I could even do something between 8 and 10, she’d wake up after just one hour. So, rather than lose my sanity completely, I was mostly sleeping in Mabel’s bed from 2am onwards every night.

It was okay, but it was getting old. She was getting old, and something had to change. Finally, this February, I got to the point where I was ready to try again, and so for the first waking we sent in Daddy. She didn’t like it much the first time, (think heaving, gulping, sobs) and I stepped in, but after a few nights she started to accept him and fall asleep with just a story.

In March I started trying to do that with her pre-3am wakings as well. She was still waking up, but often would go back to sleep with just a story from either me or her father. By 3am I would be too exhausted to hold out any longer, and she’d get what she wanted.

Last month, after babysittergate, I decided it was time to stand firm. She’d shown me she was able to put herself back to sleep, so I could finally deny her without guilt. The first night, she was awake for three hours in the middle of the night, trying to figure out how to do it. But in the next few nights things improved. Nowadays, she often wakes once, some time between 11 and 1, and that’s it until daylight. Daylight is when I have decreed she can have boobie, but not before.

So we finally really are nursing just twice in 24 hours: once at bedtime and once in the morning. And in between, Mabel mostly sleeps, in her own bed, and I sleep in mine. It’s taken a long time to get here – longer than I’d ever have let you tell me I’d wait, really – but it’s a good place to be.

Now I have to go and sacrifice some rubber chickens to the pig-Latin gods so that Fate doesn’t read what I just said.

Midnight Mabel

The time has come. I’m night-weaning the baby.

Yes. The three-and-a-half-year-old baby.

See, I feel sheepish and ridiculous admitting that. Admitting that I have been getting up multiple times a night and breastfeeding a perfectly large and able preschooler for so bloody long now, just because she wanted to more than I wanted to not.

And then I feel bad for feeling bad, because there’s a whole phalanx of crunchy moms out there who do this, and who perhaps (but probably not, because crunchy moms worth their salt are all about not judging) would even think that if she still wants it, I should still do it.

But it’s time. Tuesday night with the babysitter showed me that it’s just habit that leads her to demand me and the boobs around 3am every night. (We are at the point that she can often, if not usually, make do with just a story, sometimes even from Daddy, at the midnight waking, if she wakes then. Which she mostly still does.) She can put herself back to sleep, if she cares to try. But when she knows I’m around, her thought process goes like this:

Oh, I’m awake. 

Instead of

Oh, I’m awake.
Better roll over and go back to sleep.

It’s time to change that, and there’s only one way to do it. I’ve tried waiting it out, but that’s obviously not working. So first I send B in (who sleeps deeply and is getting up early every day to go for a run because he’s training seriously for this fall’s marathon; which is one reason why I was reluctant to do this), and then when she kicks him out I go in and reiterate that there will be no boobie.

And then there are demands for cold water from the fridge, and a hot waffle from the toaster with nothing on it, and more cold water because the first cold water isn’t cold enough any more, and a Mabel story*, and the Cinderella story, and another story, and to have the library books read to her, and to get her pillow pet from downstairs where she left it; and some of these demands are acceded to and some are roundly denied because it’s the middle of the damn night and that’s when people sleep.

And eventually, so far, she has turned on her light and turned over in a big grump, and finally gone back to sleep beside me, or even without me. But it takes a long, long time. Last night she woke at 2.15 and finally fell asleep some time before 5am. That’s a big chunk of night to be wide awake for. I think she’s part raccoon.

We have guests coming next week, so I really hope she’s got used to it a bit by then, because the walls in this house are paper thin, so that I can literally hear a child yawn in their bed while I repose in my own, and I don’t think I would feel like a very good hostess if my guests were treated to the upset-Mabel show for three hours in the middle of the night.

* Mabel doesn’t know her name is sometimes Mabel, of course, because Mabel is not really her name. But when telling her midnight stories about a little girl who has adventures, I often find that the little girl’s name is Mabel.


I came home from a meeting at ten past nine last night and – surprise! – not! – Mabel was still awake. Wide awake, downstairs, with Daddy. She had drawn me a picture of a machine that would say I love you. Or churn out teddy bears. Or something. I picked her up and she snuggled happily into my arms, head on my shoulder, clearly more than ready for bed.

“Say night night to Daddy.”
“Say I love you to Daddy.”
“I love you.”

Daddy wasn’t too offended. Because we all know it’s not really me she loves.

“Do you know why I love you?”
“I can hazard a guess, yes.”
“Because of your booboos!”

If Daddy had the booboos, he’d be the one in favour, no mistake about it.

Last night she only (yes, insert eyeroll here) woke three times, and for two of those she went back to sleep without nursing. Instead, whoever goes to her – it’s me, unless she wakes when B is still up, in which case he gives it a go and sometimes it works for him – tells her a story. When it’s 2am my stories are not very interesting and tend to tail off after a few sentences. I have a sort of a formula at this point. It goes something like this:

Once upon a time, there was a little girl called [Mabel/Violet/Bonnie/whatever name is in favour with her just now, or some totally random name that pops into my head, maybe Ermingarde or Apple]

and she had [no friends at all/a puppy/a pet alligator/a dragon called Billy/you get the picture]

and every afternoon, [girl] and [pet/friend/all by herself] used to walk [down by the river/into the deep dark forest/along the beach] [throwing stones into the water/talking about their day/discussing quadratic equations] until it was time to go home for dinner.

One day while they were [doing whatever], they came upon [an amazing thing] and they said [blah blah by now I’m mostly asleep and I start … speaking more slowly… and realising that I just had a very short dream there instead of continuing… and maybe I can get out of bed now…   …    ….     ]

And if I’m very lucky, then I get to go back to my own bed for another couple of hours till I’m called on for the next installment and I have to take up where I left off.

If I’m not lucky, she’s far more awake than I, and she announces, “That’s the end of the story” and claims the booboos for her own. I’m too sleepy to stop her.

Tiny increments of betterment

Is it time for an update on the sleep situation? I suppose it is.

Let’s start with the good news. Mabel is definitely toilet trained. Pull-ups are strictly for night time, not even for naps. (I put a waterproof crib mattress pad under her at naptime just in case, but mostly she doesn’t need it.) My diaper-totin’ days are over. I am in no way tempting fate by saying this.

Okay, okay, that’s not sleep.

Last time I took you down this fascinating road of good intentions, I was trying to night-wean the three-year-old; something many people do when their babies are six months old, or maybe twelve, or perhaps two years. But I’m a slow starter, and I dislike confrontation.

The first few days went startlingly well: Mabel would go back to sleep without nursing at her first wake (10pm or so) and skip her second wake (midnight-ish) entirely. By the time the formerly third wake happened (3am) I was so impressed, and she so frantic, that I would happily give her what she wanted, and we’d all go back to sleep.

But then she started not eating dinner. Which made her wake up hungry in the middle of the night. Which was not conducive to staying asleep or being content with an inane story about Dora and some butterflies instead of the much-desired boobie.

(She has started to say “boobie” instead of “mumeet”. I am not happy about this development. When I’m on the phone to my mother and Mabel starts to shout “Give me your boobies!”, there’s little I can do to dissemble about what’s going on.)

So we had some frustrating evenings while B was away, and we’re just getting back into the swing of things now, remembering to send him in when she wakes the first time, even though she’s not yet back to ever going back to sleep without me. But still, some times, more often than not – almost always, I’d say optimistically – she will go back to sleep without nursing at the first wake. The night before last she went back to sleep the first two wakes without nursing. Even. But she’s still waking – that is, enough to start calling for me and escalate if ignored – as much as ever.

Still. I’ll take what I can get, for now. It’s a start.

Dora’s Long Night

You’ve got fourteen minutes. Go!

Oh, wait. I‘ve got fourteen minutes. If it takes you fourteen minutes to read this, well, I suppose I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you had to take some time out in the middle to make dinner or advise a presidential candidate or paint your toenails or something.

I know you’re clamouring to find out how it went last night. Did I fall at the first fence? Did Mabel submit to the will of her father? Did terror reign?

Actually, I’ll tempt fate right now by saying it went pretty well. Better than I could have imagined, though not magically well or anything. There was a moment when she’d slept a microsecond longer than usual after going to bed, when I thought maybe she’d decided it wouldn’t be worth waking up at all, and she’d just sleep through to 8am instead – but then she realised that if she did that, I’d be up every hour checking her pulse and holding a mirror and a tiny flashlight in front of her nose to see if she was breathing, so she decided to spare me that. Thoughtful child.

So Mabel went to sleep, as is fairly usual for a day she has napped, at 8.30 last night. I nursed her to sleep, though there were also two batches of stories and one ritual-sending-away-of-Daddy before she was actually out. She slept until 10.30, maybe even 10.45, and woke, as usual. B went in to her. We’ve been doing this for a while now with the first waking, so it wasn’t a surprise, and sometimes she falls back asleep while waiting for me to come after he’s persuaded her to lie back down, because that’s all he’s good for as far as she’s concerned. (She doesn’t know about the paying-bills part yet.) But last night, probably because we’d talked about how the mumeet would be not forthcoming during the night, she wasn’t falling back asleep. B passed the metaphorical baton to me and I squared my shoulders against the coming onslaught as I entered her room, who knew when or in what condition to ever leave again.

But! Miracle! She asked for mumeet, was told there would be none, and after some fairly rudimentary protests, lay down and said I should tell her a story instead. I got two-thirds of the way through Goldilocks, adding some long pauses for dramatic effect, and lo! she was mostly asleep again. I had to wait quite a while before she was asleep enough for me to actually leave, but it was much, much easier than I had been expecting.

The same thing happened at 1am or whenever it was she woke next. I didn’t bother sending B in, because (a) he was fast asleep, and (b) what was the point? If she knows I’m in the house, she’s going to want me to be the one with her, even if I deny her what she wants most. She has to hear it from the source, I suppose. This time, again we had the formal protest, but half of The Three Billy Goats Gruff was enough to get her back to sleep. (I don’t actually know what the biggest billy goat said to the troll, or what the troll said to him, because I didn’t get to that page of the book when I read it to her at school yesterday, so it was good that she fell asleep before my ignorance was exposed.)

The third time – and to be honest I can’t even remember if I went back to my own bed before this one or just stayed where I was – she was more insistent, more upset, and louder. She was still awake after two long and involved Dora and Diego stories (and I have to say that even half asleep in the middle of the night, I can compose a more logical and interesting Dora story than the ones we’ve had from the library), so I made an executive decision to call it a night and give her what she wanted. “Five seconds,” I said, but that never works with her the way it used to with her brother, so it was a very long five seconds on one side, and an actual five seconds on the other, and she went back to sleep.

The next time she woke it was probably 7.30, I could see daylight at the side of the curtain, and I let her have her way with abandon.

Tonight, we’ll see what happens. I was proud of us both – but mostly of Mabel, to be fair – for getting as far as we got last night, and I don’t regret giving in when I did. If I don’t nurse her between bedtime and 3am, that’s still a huge step forward from where we were, and we’ll get to where we’re going in the end.

Batten down the hatches

Pull up a chair. Have some cheese. I’ve got the whine.

I can tell already this is going be one of those posts that gets the “Best intentions” tag. That one goes on plans I make and tell you about so that you can all point and laugh two weeks later when things go horribly, predictably awry. Or the next day, even. But if you never even try, you definitely won’t get anywhere, I suppose.

Two nights ago was a bad night for Mabel. I happened to look at the clock at the relevant times and discovered that I left my own bed to go to her at 12.00, 2.00 and 4.00. I came back to my own bed at 1.00 and 3.00. And I wouldn’t like you to think we were all sleeping soundly from 4am until reluctant waking up at 8.00. No, she was probably latched on again from 5.00 to 6.00 or so, before getting up and leaving me in blessed, blessed peace, around 7.00.

To be honest, that was pretty standard except that usually I don’t stay awake enough at 3am to do anything as active as bothering to get myself up and trot down the hall to my own bed. But sometimes she’s hogging the whole (twin) mattress and the call of the cool sheets on my side of the big (queen) bed is a siren song. I know I’m lucky to be able to be able to go back to sleep – usually – pretty quickly every time – this situation couldn’t possibly have persisted if that wasn’t the case.

Last night, then, there was something in the air, or the water. Maybe there was a full moon. Maybe it was because of the equinox. More likely it was the incipient thunder, but a lot of people on my Facebook feed this morning seemed to be complaining about how badly their kids had slept. Dash, my great sleeper, woke twice with a bad dream. The first time, I had just come back from Mabel and was able to lie down with him for a few minutes until he dropped off again. The second time, I had to call in reinforcements because I was already dealing with Mabel again, so I’m not sure how long that took. (There was a third time, but apparently I dreamed that one. I could have sworn I heard him call out, heard him get out of bed and come down the hall, and I was already flapping a hand at him to warn him not to wake his precariously asleep sister when I opened my eyes and found he wasn’t actually standing beside me at all.)

Mabel, having gone to bed early at 7pm after no nap, had woken as usual at 9.45 and gone back to sleep easily enough. Then she woke around midnight and – well, it all gets fuzzy, but at some point much later it felt like she’d been latched on all night and it crossed my mind that perhaps she was hungry. “Are you hungry, Mabel?” I asked. She nodded. “Mummy, I’m huuuungry!” You could have told me two hours ago and saved us all that not-sleeping, you know? I went downstairs and got her a waffle. At least it was only 3.15 and not 5am as I’d feared. She gobbled up a frozen waffle in the dark, whispering something about Goldilocks and the three bears to her doll as it went, and of course then she was wide awake, wanting water and stories and Daddy and to go downstairs and play there…

I got her to lie down and have some more mumeet and she was out in pretty short order. So we all went to sleep … until the thunder rolled in around 5am and the rain around 6 and though the kids were asleep, I heard it all so I don’t think I was, entirely.

Coming back from school this morning, I told Mabel that mumeet at night was going to have to stop. That I would gladly let her have some before bed, and again when she wakes up in the morning, and that someone will go in and lie down with her to help her get back to sleep, but the all-night buffet is closing down. I asked her if she’d rather Daddy went into her or I did, when she woke in the night but wasn’t getting mumeet, and she opted for Daddy. I think this is because she expects Daddy to read her stories at 4am, and she’ll get a bit of a shock when all he wants to do is turn over and go back to sleep.

I was surprised that she agreed, and I know she’ll be eating her words tonight when I try to enforce it, but it had to happen some time, and we’ll see how it goes. Maybe two bad nights in a row have worn me down enough to help me stay strong in the face of full-force Hurricane Mabel. Maybe our success with cutting out daytime nursing will convince both of us that I can say no and she can learn to live with it. But it’s going to be hard, and there will be tears, and I just hope we don’t wake the neighbours.

Rules for co-sleeping*

*if you are under six and want me to continue sleeping with you, at least some of the time; rules for Daddy are somewhat different.**

  1. Do not kick off the covers. I am cold. I need that duvet. Especially, do not lie on half the duvet and kick off the rest, so there’s nothing at all left for me.  
  2. Do not stick your foot down my pyjama bottoms.
  3. Do not have sharp, pointy toenails.
  4. Do not demand a waffle at 3am.
  5. Do not barf. Ever.
  6. Do not touch the other nipple. At all.
  7. Do not hog the bed so that the smaller person takes up 80% of the space, leaving me to wake up perched on one shoulder, wedged against the wall, with my head on your unicorn pillow pet.

Thank you,
the Management

**Actually, come to think of it, rules for Daddy are mostly the same, except perhaps for number six. Ahem.


Last night went something like this.

7.30 or so: Mabel’s bedtime. And Monkey’s, but he’s not involved in this particular saga.
8.30 or so: Mabel’s sleep time. To be honest, I don’t really remember.
9.30: Mabel’s first wake-up. I got her back to sleep, put on my pyjamas, brushed my teeth, and went back to the movie we were watching.
10.15: Mabel’s second wake-up. After getting her back to sleep, I gave up on seeing the last 20 minutes of the movie and just went to bed.
12.00: Mabel’s next wake-up. To be honest, I’m making up the times now, because I don’t retain it all from one night to the next, lest I go stark raving mad. But this is more or less how it goes.
3.00: Mabel’s next wake-up. At this point I’m in her bed, so it doesn’t bother me much.
Then the fun part happened.
4.40: Mabel sits up and announces that her teeth hurt and she needs medicine. She makes for the door. I reluctantly look at the clock, calculate that just maybe her teeth really do hurt that much, lever myself off the bed, and give her a dose of Motrin. We go back to bed.
4.50: Mabel sits up and says she has a wee. Which has to be done on the toilet even though she’s wearing a pullup. Of course it does. Because it’s the middle of the night. We go to the bathroom. She wees. We go back to bed.
5.00: Mabel sits up again and says she has a poo. I seriously doubt it, but it’s late and I’m powerless. If I have to be up at 3am, I’m perfectly alert, but between 4 and 6 is pretty much the lowest ebb of the soul. I sit on the floor in front of her as she sits chirpily doing nothing at all on the toilet, and feel a little like crying.
5.10: We finally go back to bed. Mabel asks: “Are only grown-ups awake now?” I say, “Nobody’s awake now, Mabel.” This time the Motrin has kicked in and after a little while she’s able to sleep.
7.00: Mabel’s awake for the day. She happily gets out of bed and wanders downstairs to find Daddy. I roll over and embrace unconsciousness for another blessed hour, just happy that I have a husband with flexible working hours.