Sleep deprivation is something that is impossible to really comprehend until you have experienced it.
In my case, the relentless sleepless nights led to me becoming overly emotional and irrational. I felt that my inability to get my baby to sleep was some sort of inadequacy on my part. I thought that, surely, I was the only mum in the world who called their husband at work everyday, crying because I couldn’t get the baby to have a nap.
If only I could rewind 12 months, I would give myself a giant hug and reassure myself that every new mum feels this way!
In the first 12 short months of my sons life, our family practiced every major sleep method and philosophy in the book. This places me in a unique position to give you some insight into the numerous baby sleep strategies available to you.
So here are the 6 stages of our sleepless baby, including what worked, what didn’t and what I wish I knew from the start!
Stage 1: In My Arms, My love
When we first brought our beautiful baby home, we had grand ideas about putting him to sleep “drowsy but awake’.
Surprise, surprise, turns out my newborn baby had no intention of conforming to these misguided sleep plans. He wouldn’t sleep anywhere but in my arms and it was exhausting! At the time I didn’t realise that this was completely natural for a newborn baby (hello fourth trimester!).
So I did what every new mother does. I panicked and googled it! I read every book I could get my hands on. I received advice from the GP, the local child health nurse and every Tom, Dick and Harry who wanted to throw their two cents in.
After collating all this information, not only did I have a sleepless baby, but I had also been instilled with the fear that if I implemented the wrong sleep strategy, I would be inflicting my baby with lifelong psychological scars!
Overtired and anxious, I felt that we had to make a decision.
Stage 2: Feed him to sleep
We decided to follow the advice of the Child Health Nurse. She told me to breastfeed him until he was asleep, swaddle him (still fast asleep), and pop him in his bassinet (still fast asleep). From here he was supposed to sleep soundly for at least a few hours at a time. I was told that if he woke up while I was trying to swaddle him or put him down, to pop him back on the boob and start the process again.
Equipped with my new plan, I was eager to put my learnings into practice.
I breastfed until he was asleep, then oh so gingerly laid him down and BAM! Awake! Every. Single. Time.
I persevered. I breastfed and swaddled, breastfed and swaddled, breastfed and swaddled. Eventually, I admitted defeat and did what I had been told by the GP was a cardinal parenting sin…. I bought my baby into bed with me.
Stage 3: Co-sleeping
Awash with mum guilt, I cuddled up in bed with my baby, and together we co-slept. The operative word here is SLEPT. And it was glorious.
Co-sleeping felt natural and wonderful. For the rest of my life I will cherish the memory of my baby sleeping soundly, snuggled up next to me. I can close my eyes now and still feel his warm little body pressed against mine.
We followed the safety guidelines for bed sharing and I felt confident that it was a safe sleep environment for my baby.
Co-sleeping worked wonderfully for our family for a couple of months. But sadly, this arrangement was brought to an abrupt end.
Stage 4: Transition to Cot
At 3 months corrected age (it’s a preemie thing), Arthur was diagnosed with ‘failure to thrive’ and was admitted to hospital. Our co-sleeping days were over.
We commenced a strict regime of 3 hourly feeds, which consisted of breastfeeding, then bottle-feed top ups, followed by expressing. The pediatrician wanted us to start putting Arthur to sleep in a bassinet or cot. She was concerned that he was snacking on the breast whilst co-sleeping and not having a full feed.
This new routine was necessary to help Arthur put on weight but it was utterly exhausting. By the time I had breastfed him, gave him a bottle, expressed and finally settled him to sleep in his cot, it was time to wake him up and start the routine again. We were lucky if we got an hour stretch of sleep at any given time.
Exhausted, Arthur, my husband and I carried on with the regime and were rewarded with slow and steady weight gain. Over time we were able to draw out the time between feeds. We all eventually adjusted to the routine and Arthur began to drop off to sleep with a full tummy. We were able to lay him in his cot, still fast asleep and all get a few hours of blissful sleep.
Stage 5: Sleep Training
At seven months corrected age, for no apparent reason, Arthur stopped falling asleep after his feed. Instead, he cried. For hours.
Falling asleep on the breast or with a bottle was the only way he knew how to sleep. And with that suddenly not working, we were lost. We spent hours, night and day, rocking, bouncing, patting and pacing. We tried everything we could think of but nothing would work. He just would not go to sleep!
Out of sheer desperation, we requested a referral to our local baby sleep centre (The Ellen Barron Centre, Brisbane). I had always been adamant that we would never do sleep training and I was filled with fears that they would force me to leave my baby to hysterically cry himself to sleep.
Thankfully, my fears were unfounded. The sleep centre staff were knowledgeable, kind and supportive. We learnt responsive settling techniques and were taught how to give Arthur the opportunity to settle himself. There were tears involved, I am not going to lie. But we were encouraged to respond to Arthur as often as we felt was needed.
Stage 6: Goodnight, Sleep Tight
Currently, at bedtime or naptime, we read Arthur a story, give him a kiss and put him in his cot. He usually gives me a sleepy smile before he rolls over and goes to sleep. Occasionally he might grizzle or chat to himself for a few minutes before nodding off. Of course there are exceptions (like when he is teething or unwell) but, in general, Arthur is happy to go to sleep.
To what do I attribute our current successful sleep routine? Perhaps sleep training taught him the confidence to settle himself. Perhaps co-sleeping instilled in him a sense of comfort and security. Perhaps nothing we did had any effect and he has just reached the developmental age in which he is able to sleep unaided. I will probably never know the answer.
What I have learnt from practicing multiple sleep methods is the importance of letting go of preconceived ideas and keeping an open mind. Co-sleeping, sleep training, feeding to sleep…turns out that there is no one right or wrong sleep method.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you may also like to read ‘CAN WE PLEASE STOP SAYING ‘ALL THAT MATTERS IS THAT YOU HAVE A HEALTHY BABY’
If you are looking for more information, tips and advice on baby sleep, you may also like the following links
- Co-Sleeping – http://www.pinkymckay.com/5-co-sleeping-myths-busted/
- Sleep Training https://www.childrens.health.qld.gov.au/chq/our-services/community-health-services/ellen-barron-family-centre/responsive-settling/
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