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ParentsApril 17, 2018

The secret to coping without sleep when you have babies


Mum of two Emily Holdaway doesn’t sleep much, but she says she is thriving. Here’s her secret.

It’s been two and a half years since our first child was born. Two and a half years since I’ve had a full night sleep.

If you had told me this before motherhood I would have laughed at you. Or looked at you in horror. Or invested heavily in Moccona shares (why do I continue to drink it when it tastes so bad?).

What I wouldn’t have expected, if I knew that two and a half years down the track I would be waking multiple times a night, was how great I would feel.

I think we come into parenthood with unrealistic expectations of what the first year will look like – especially regarding sleep. Or lack of. During pregnancy everyone jokes about how tired you will be, but you never quite believe them. And then, once your baby is born, everyone changes focus to their sleep. Is your baby sleeping? Is your baby not sleeping? How much sleep does your baby sleep?

And you think – hold on a minute, you just spent months telling me I’m going to be tired, and now you’re expecting my child to be sleeping all night long? That makes no sense. But you’re too tired to think about it any further, so you shrug, and scull your lukewarm coffee.

All the jokes, and all the memes, and all the assumptions are about non-sleeping babies, and yeah some are funny at the time, but they miss 50% of the equation.

No one is focusing on you.

No one asks how you are sleeping; they just assume it’s shit.

But sleep is not just about the baby. It’s about the parents too. And it’s not an all or nothing. And it’s not a battle with a winner and a loser.

What if instead of focusing on how our baby is sleeping at night (which is a total luck of the gene-pool draw) we worked out how to make nights more restful for us parents – while still balancing our babies’ need for contact and responsiveness through the night.

That has been my family’s focus anyway. We knew very early on in our parenting journey that we didn’t clock out at 7pm. That regardless of what fancy package it was sold as, sleep training was not for us, and our baby’s need for us during the night was something we were going to answer, each and every time. And eventually we realised that by switching our focus from getting our children to sleep ‘better’ to instead getting better sleep ourselves, we could balance their need for responsiveness and our need for rest.

Right now, with a two and a half year old toddler and a six month old baby, every night is a blur. Feeding, bum patting, negotiating with a toddler who doesn’t want to let go, swearing as the baby wakes again, and yoyo-ing between the bed and the mattress and the bed and the mattress depending who is calling for me.

My partner helps where he can, but his boobs are redundant so right now it’s mainly on me.

I should be an exhausted wreck. But I’m not.

Why not?


I understand that my children waking at night is biologically normal. Frustrating as fuck at times, yes, but not something I can change. Time will do that eventually.


I do not go to bed hoping for uninterrupted sleep. I go to bed fully prepared for multiple wake-ups. There’s less disappointment this way.


I know I am going to wake up so there’s no need to keep track. I don’t count how many times I wake. I don’t time the stretch of sleep between wake-ups. I don’t gauge how many hours left before I get up. That shit drives you up the wall. Put the clock away, delete the timing apps. Turn off the Fitbit. Just go with the flow like Primo #notsponsored


Our bed is not the marital bed (not that we’re married anyway, or engaged, I just like rings on that finger cause they’re hōhā on the other hand), it is the ‘family bed’. This way I don’t have to get up and go to another room, or sit in a chair, or do much more than roll over and pop out a boob, or roll off down to the toddler and pop out a boob. We don’t need a bed, we can get freaky on the couch.


Some nights are going to be choice. Some nights are going to be horrid. Some nights I am going to lose my cool and feel defeated and cry. And I’m going to be okay with that. Shit nights happen. Good nights happen too.


It is not forever. Never again will they need me as intensely as they do now.


Oh and showering every morning. Every. Morning. I do not feel human until I shower. And to make sure I do shower, and not just focus on how tired I am while lazing about the house in pajamas, I don’t wear any.

So yeah, there you have it. The solution to sleep, or lack thereof.


And no pajamas.

Emily Holdaway is the mum behind the popular Kiwi blog Raising Ziggy. Writer, gardener, mother of two and drinker of mediocre coffee, when she’s not blogging, or mumming, you can find her hiding in the toilet trying to read a book in peace.


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