Sunday, March 21, 2010
Is there anything more beautiful than a sleeping baby?
One of the most repeated (and annoying!) pieces of advice I received when I was pregnant was, "Make sure to sleep now, because you won't later!" Yes, annoying, for two reasons: 1) When you have a watermelon, or even a large peach, pressing on your bladder 24 hours a day, it is hard to do ANYTHING without visiting the bathroom every two hours. 2) It's not like sleeping a lot when you are pregnant would help with sleep deprivation after the baby arrives, anyway. Therefore, I made myself promise to never give this piece of advice to any other pregnant woman.
Although annoying, now that I have been a mother for 7 months, I do realize the heart behind this piece of advice. First time pregnant women (and I sure do know a lot of you...is this the 2010 baby boom or what?), hear me now. Sleep deprivation is unlike anything else you've ever dealt with. You will not believe how incredibly hard it is to be sweet and patient when you are living day after day on little sleep. You will realize the absolute importance of UNINTERRUPTED sleep. You will realize how selfish this body of yours really is, and how it craves sleep.
Ok, there's the bad news. But I'm an eternal optimist, so here's the good news. Your baby might be a good sleeper from the get-go. I know quite a few moms that swear their babies were. And although it's very hard for me to imagine, some say their babies slept through the night before they were even one month old. My seven month old angel has just started sleeping through the night. But more on that later.
More good news...you can actually do things to help your baby sleep through the night. After reading virtually every book on the subject, and trying almost all of the "fail-proof" methods, I'd like to weigh in on the subject for anyone who cares. Contrary to what Johnson & Johnson want you to think, getting a baby to sleep is a lot more of a job than just giving them a blissful bubbly bath in their calming line of products. Here are some things I learned:
1) Get on a routine during the day. The eat/play/sleep routine did WONDERS for us. Not in the sleeping through the night dilemma, but in general. A friend of mine who has her master's degree in education and I were talking yesterday about babies loving patterns. Babies really do pay attention to small details, things that we as adults would miss. Babies also crave routine. I read a couple of books, On Becoming Babywise and The Baby Whisperer, that promote this idea and decided to try it. Although not everything in both of the books worked for us, nor do I agree with everything in either book. However, the importance of routine proved itself to me. After instituting a routine, Ariella was just a much happier baby. She knew what to expect. She knew that when she woke up from a nap, Mommy would feed her and then she would get to play (even if playing just means laying on the floor looking around a things when you are just a newborn).
2) Getting to sleep is a journey. Think of every naptime and bedtime as a journey. In the beginning, you will have to help your baby a lot. In every "play" period, I built in a little "quiet time" where Ariella and I would go in her room and just lay down on the twin guest bed in her room and we would read a story or I would sing to her. It seemed to really signal to her that "after this, we are going to sleep." If she was wired from being overtired, I would nurse her a little to calm her down (the books above advise you not to do this). Then I would put her in her crib and just sit in a chair beside her crib and she would look around while she sucked on her pacifier until her eyelids got too heavy. It took some time, but now she is much better at going to sleep independently. If she is truly tired now, I can put her in her crib, give her the pacifier and she rolls onto her side away from me - which I interpret to mean, "Ok, Mom, I got this. I'm ready to sleep now."
3) Use a pacifier appropriately...or don't. At the very beginning, Ariella wouldn't take the pacifier. I don't think she knew what to do with it since it was so different from what she was used to sucking on for her food. But that meant that for her suckling time, she wanted me. All the time. So we began consistently giving it to her at bedtime, and within a few days she loved it. However, we only gave it to her at naptime or bedtime. And it is really a great invention, seriously. However, I did not want one of those two year olds walking around with one. So the rule is, you have to be in the crib for it. Sometimes she finds one while she is playing and she doesn't even want one during "play" time. She just takes it out and shakes it. So it worked for us that way. If you aren't comfortable with them at all, then don't do it. If you are breastfeeding, don't worry about the nipple confusion thing. We didn't have a problem with that at all. We gave her bottles of breastmilk when she was a week old and she never had a problem with latching. The pacifier didn't confuse her either. I think once they learn, then it's like riding a bike, they don't forget.
4) The big CIO. This is where the books mentioned above differ greatly. CIO (crying it out) is perhaps one of the most controversial points of new parenthood. I was hesitant at first, but found that a little crying before naps and bedtime is normal. Once we got using the pacifier a lot though, the crying before bed virtually ended. However, our particular problem was not GETTING to sleep, it was STAYING asleep. Up until a couple of weeks ago, Ariella's pattern was like this:
Go to bed (I tried several different bedtimes between 6 pm and 10 pm....8 pm works the best for us).
Sleep 4 or 5 hours.
Sleep 2 hours.
Sleep 2 hours.
Sleep 1 or 2 hours.
The problem with the earlier bedtimes for us was that once she had slept her 4 or 5 hours, I was literally just going to bed and she was ready to wake up every 2 hours. It was ok for a while, but after 6 months of this, it was madness. I just could not take it anymore. I knew she didn't like it either. She was dreadfully upset when she woke at night. I knew it was waking my husband up too, and we were both worse for the wear. Our family needed some sleep. So one night when she woke at 1 am (her "sticky point"), I didn't go to her. I just turned our fan up really loud in our room. Occasionally I would look at the monitor and then look at the clock to make sure it hadn't been too long. I think she fell asleep after 45 minutes that first night. And then miracle of miracles, she didn't wake up 2 hours later. She slept until 6 am, when I nursed her. The next night I did the same thing, and she did the same thing. The third night she slept all the way until 4 am. Now I feed her at 4 am and she goes back to sleep until 8 am. Soon we will work on getting that 4 am feeding out, but for now it's fine with all 3 of us. So that's how cry it out worked for us. I will say that I don't recommend doing it to newborn babies or even under 3 months. They really do need at least one feeding at night up until then anyway. After all of my research, I recommend waiting until 6 months. The 4 - 6 month stage is a big "growing and learning" stage and they can be very fussy. It can make doing CIO at that time very hard on all parties involved. I'm glad that we did it when we did.
Here we are seven months after our world completely changed. Nothing will ever be the same. I've been sleep-deprived and blissfully in love with my daughter for seven months. And now, I am well-rested and happy and even more in love with my husband and daughter than ever before. So here's my best piece of advice for a new mom, and it applies to everything across the board...IT DOES GET BETTER!!! But don't live the first few months waiting for it to get better...enjoy the ride. There are little moments of true joy in all of the sleep-deprived, sore-nippled, smelly-diapered newborn days that make it all worth it.