Monday, February 24, 2014

sleep, part three

Aboriginal child asleep in a wooden dish, central Australia, ca. 1940s  

Disclaimer: I am writing about my baby's sleep, and there is no reason to suggest that what worked for us will work for you. All of this is my own opinion. I am not a doctor and I cannot give advice on safe sleeping. Also I am about to go on and on about something that is probably very boring for most people, so feel free to skip this. 

It's taken me a while to get back to this; six months, in fact. This is partly a lack of time but partly also feeling like a fraud. How could I write about sleep when Peanut's sleep constantly changed? Looking back, I realise that his sleep was constantly changing because he was constantly changing. And that is one of the Terrible Secrets that the books didn't prepare me for:
There is no such thing as fixing a baby's this baby's sleep. Developmental changes, life changes, illness, and teething are going to completely fuck up your best efforts. The trick is to get back on the horse and maintain good habits as best you can, and try to get back to where you were.
I say 'this baby's sleep' rather than 'a baby's sleep' because I have heard that there are magic babies who learn to sleep through the night and then do it forever. Good for their parents (may they rot in hell).

But nonetheless, in the periods when Peanut has been well and happy, he has slept well. It took an enormous amount of work, and after each slip back it takes a bit more work, but it was worth it.

So what did/do I do? As I wrote earlier, the 'no-cry' methods weren't working, and every time he started screaming I would get worried and pick him up and try to comfort him and get him to sleep. I didn't want to do cry-it-out (CIO) because I didn't think he was developmentally ready for it and I also think it wouldn't work well for his, let me say 'determined' personality (ie he would scream till he threw up, HE HAS DONE THIS BEFORE). I was getting desperate and called the Ngala help line (a wonderful resource if you live in Western Australia, and if not, their forums are very helpful too). They told me that he had outgrown the swing and needed room to roll around in his crib. Also, movement was not helping him the way it did as a newborn. I needed to put him down awake in his crib, unswaddled, so he could learn to fall asleep on his own.

I know, I said, but he screams.

Yes, they told me, this is a new way of falling asleep and he will protest and be unhappy at first. But if you can calm him doing as little as possible (patting him, singing) and then gradually do less as time goes on (soothing with voice only) he will learn.

No, he doesn't protest, I said. He SCREAMS.

And this is how I learned the second Terrible Secret that the books didn't let me in on:
When parenting guides talk about fussing, or protesting, or crying, what this may mean for your child is SCREAMING LIKE YOU HAVE JUST CHOPPED OFF HIS FAVOURITE LEG.
You see, I didn't realise that when they said, 'This is a new way of going to sleep and your baby may protest the change. This will usually not last more than half an hour on the first night' what they meant was 'This change will enrage your baby, who will sit bolt upright and scream with the fury of a thousand devils for two and a half hours.'

(If your baby is like mine, may I recommend a good pair of noise-blocking earplugs? These will not only save your hearing but also allow you to feel slightly distant from the situation, which may help prevent you from dissolving into a puddle of distress.)

So apparently the current thinking, based on the 'circle of security,' is that it's okay for a baby to cry and scream as long as you're there. Peanut knew I wasn't abandoning him and that he was safe. It was okay for him to express his outrage at the new situation; he would get used to it.

And pretty soon I was able to put him down, walk out and hear him fuss and cry for thirty seconds and go to sleep.

And soon after that I was able to walk out without him crying at all.

Of course, soon after that he started teething, and everything went to hell for a while, but it was less difficult to get him back on track. At the moment I'm weaning him off night feeds, which is just awful, and he is teething AGAIN (how many teeth do kids really need?! He was doing fine with six). But when he finally manages to sleep through the night, it will have been worth it.

For those of you who have found this searching desperately for 'baby sleep how please god end of rope', here is a step by step guide of what I've been doing.
1. Bedtime routine. You know this: dim lights, soft music, soft voices, everything the same each night. Don't make feeding the last part of the routine. Our routine is bath, lotion, pyjamas, goodnight kisses, feed, book, turn off lullaby music and turn on white noise, cuddle and sing, bed.

2. Put baby down sleepy but awake in bed. Baby immediately sits up and begins to scream; you walk out the door. (One of the best pieces of advice I was given by Ngala was to give the baby a chance to go to sleep on his own. Some babies just need to fuss for a bit before they go to sleep. Of course it's totally up to you and if the baby gets really upset you just do what you need to do. But before they told me this would put him down, he would start crying and I would pick him up. No good!)

3. Give baby a minute and see if he goes to sleep by himself. After a set amount of time or when the crying starts to Get Real (your choice), you can go back in. (Pop in the earplugs first.)

4. Sit down low. Don't stand over the crib like you're about to pick him up. I sit on the floor so I can see him through the bars. Try not to make eye contact as this is stimulating; it's a form of communication. I close my eyes.

5. Do the absolute minimum you need to do to soothe him. This might be patting his bottom or stroking his head; it might be making a shushing noise like white noise, or humming. Do this till he falls asleep.

6. The next night, do the same except try to do a little less. The goal is to get the baby to sleep with minimum intervention. So your interventions might look like this (totally just a sample, not a suggestion; you need to play this by ear):

First three nights: back patting, singing.
Next two nights: hand on back, singing.
Next three nights: hand gently patting the mattress, singing.
Next four nights: no contact, just singing.
Next three nights: just sitting there. You can even put a quilt down on the floor and just lay down.
And then the magic night when you are sitting there listening to the baby half-heartedly barking and then it stops and he goes to sleep and you drink ALL THE WINE.

Does this make sense? Do you have any questions? What has worked for you?

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