Shhh… ZZZ… The S Word…

Felix, five weeks old, has a cat nap in our bed in the morning.

It’s probably the most sensitive, most talked about topic amongst mums; sleep.  How many hours did you have last night?  Is he a sleeper?  Some mums are SO sleep deprived and exhausted. I can only imagine and respect how they truck through yet another day… In my mums group mums have done it all: changing routines, buying new curtains to block out all light, changing furniture around for a better feng suie, a different diet, a different bed, singing, walking, driving around Kings Park at night, crying it out, and finally calling in a Ngala sleeping expert for $600 who gives good advice but quite often still doesn’t ‘crack’ it.

So what’s next is usually the acceptance of the sleep deprived mum. One mum said to me the other day: ‘I just have a bad sleeper and I am going to sit it out, take every day as it comes and enjoy the random good nights in between’.  There are worse things indeed, like a sick baby or child.  And the whole sleep discussion does get literally tiresome for everyone… what is left to say if you have tried it all?

So let’s start off with me saying I am definitely under NO illusion to cure or crack anyone’s sleep problems.  But having scored the sleeping jackpot twice I feel I almost owe it to share my five cents worth of personal experience.  Maybe it can help one other mum out there?  Maybe it will annoy a whole lot of others?  I hope the first.
Starting off with the things that are ‘out of our control’ but impact on sleep:

  1. Random luck & genes: having a good sleeper is Random Pure Luck.  You hear about families who have a ‘bad sleeper’ and a ‘good sleeper’.  Genes play a role too; are you and/or your partner night owls, a big chance your kids will be wired the same.  The same with sleepyheads.
  2. Baby’s strength & energy: some babies tend to be a bit stronger in the sense they have more energy to drink larger quantities (without nodding off), have a fuller belly for longer and more quickly slot into a routine of 4/5/6 hours sleep/feed/play.
  3. Milk: one friend of a friend of a friend once described her breast milk as (I swear I was as put off as you are) “pure whipped cream” but I guess it summed up her situation quite well.  Her milk allowed her baby to pack on the pounds, while some breast milk (although just as healthy) is less condensed and requires more frequent feeding which ties back into point 2.
  4. Routine: I don’t have a real set routine, but I have always kept in mind that at six weeks the baby’s biological clock will start recognising day from night, so if there is a good time to start implementing ‘something’ it could be around that time.
  5. Day/night: daytime should be bright, sunny and noisy.  Night time dark and quiet.
  6. Leave them to it: with my first one I had some tummy complications after an emergency c-section.  The scar and pain stopped me from lifting and carrying our 4.3kg  heavyweight in the first few months of his life.  I would feed him, put him down again and only lift him if it was really necessary.  It resulted in him being quite content and used to ‘just laying’ in the different ‘beds’ we made for him around the house.  He was not expecting to be picked up and carried around all day or night.
  7. Cuddle & bond: ‘skin to skin’ and cuddle time is wonderful and very important – when the baby is awake and alert!  Having the baby attached to you all day long (to ‘reenact’ the womb or make them hear your heartbeat) is doing the opposite of creating a content baby (albeit temporarily); you are fueling the dependency on you… day and night)
  8. Self settle: it’s an annoying word, but it sums up the situation exactly.  Don’t feed, rock, walk, sing  or ‘help’ the baby in any way to fall asleep. Sometimes you have to – but when content put them down when they are still awake (after feed, burp, nappy and play time) and just “walk away”. (It’s hard because it’s so tempting to just cuddle all night in front of the TV when they are so tiny and cuddly!!)
  9. Crying: I am not a ‘cry it out’ kind of parent.  It pulls my heart strings too much. Crying is communication. Burp, cramps, hunger, over tired?  It’s usually one of these four.  If they keep crying constantly, I would investigate if there is something more serious going on.  Colic? Gas? Lactose intolerance? Allergy?  A baby should not have to cry all the time, if at all…  Also reacting to his cry makes the baby feel secure; you are there for him and responding when he needs you.
  10. Keep it cool mama: probably the hardest one of all.  One night, I think it was day ten after number two was born, I was so tired I forgot what I was doing, and baby Felix cried and cried and I panicked and lost my cool.  I fed and fed and rocked and fed, and then there was no milk left, and he spewed again, and woke again and I fed again. Bottom line, I was fueling the baby’s ‘un-settlement’ with my own anxiety. Resulting in both of us staying up all night, not having slept for longer than one hour… The next night I pretended to be ‘cool, calm and in control’ again and did the: OK, it’s 8pm, here we go.  I know what to do.  He is just a baby.  Feed, burp, nappy, swaddle and tuck in bed.  And off he went….  ZZZ for three hours and so did I, to repeat it again every 3/4 hours that night!
  11. Stages: different age stages, growth spurts etc. all influence sleep.  I remember Oscar having a six month ‘sleep regression’ after sleeping through the night since four months.  Our only rule here was ‘never pick him up’ but comfort him in his own cot. One hand on his chest and “shhh”ing, then just sitting there in the dark, next to his cot, on the floor, in silence. It took about a week, a couple of hours or so every night and then ‘it clicked’.
  12. Grow clock: when Oscar was 2.5 he got one and it works for us.  Oscar doesn’t call out until 7:15am – when the sun comes up.
  13. Your bed/my bed: both our kids have never slept in our bed at night, except for the occasional Sunday morning cuddle or cat nap in the day.  This makes it a ‘non discussion’ topic.

Good luck to all you mums!  And as another mum said to me: you have to celebrate the random good nights and take the bad ones on the chin.  It will pass eventually…