I’m so glad to be home from the hospital with Baby. It’s great to see Big Brother and Husband. And it’s so nice to see how happy Big Brother is to see us both. But I’m so tired. It’s the beds in hospital, they’re dreadfully uncomfortable. I can’t wait for a good night’s sleep in my own bed.
Baby demands to be fed every three hours. Around the clock. A non-parent friend told me that doesn’t seem to bad. “At least you can sleep for 3 hours between feeds,” she said. Ha! It’s not three hours between feeds, it’s three hours from start to start. Sometimes it takes over an hour for feeding, burping, and changing. And then there’s the time to settle him back to sleep. I’m lucky if I have one hour between Baby going to sleep, and the time he wakes up for his next feed. It wasn’t so bad with Big Brother, because at least I could nap during the day when he was sleeping (one hour at a time). But now I have to play with Big Brother during the day. I’m exhausted.
This is the third day in a row with fewer than two hours sleep. Every time Baby cries, I feel like there’s a drill boring into my brain. Big Brother wants to go outside and play. I tell him to sit down and watch TV. Then I feel like a terrible parent. I start to cry. I get myself under control and try phoning Husband at work, but he doesn’t answer the phone. I cry again. I just want to sleep. I sneak into my bedroom and lie down. Baby wakes up and starts crying. I think I’m going to die.
I take the boys out to visit a friend, and have trouble finding a car space. In the process of parking, I put the car into Reverse instead of Drive. I crash into a parked car. I want to cry. I really do. But the boys are there, and Big Brother is distraught because I scared him, and Baby is crying because he’s suddenly decided that he’s hungry, and so I suck up my tears and tell the boys that everything’s okay. I’m so tired. Visiting my friend is suddenly way too hard. Can we just go home, please? I need to sleep.
Until you’re a parent, you don’t really understand what it means to physically crave sleep. I used to suffer from insomnia. Now I’m too tired to have trouble sleeping. Both my boys sleep 10 – 12 hours overnight, but I rarely get more than 6 hours sleep. I can’t imagine how I would cope if the boys didn’t start sleeping through the night by 7 and 10 weeks respectively.
When I mentioned this in an earlier post, I had quite a few people ask me how. How do you get babies to sleep through the night when they’re so young? I also had a lot of people tell me that I’m lucky, because their 1 or 2 year old still doesn’t sleep through the night. Quite frankly, that thought terrifies me. I salute you for being capable of working a computer (or speaking in intelligent sentences) after so many near-sleepless months.
After being asked multiple times, I promised that I would share my strategies. ** General Disclaimer ** I don’t claim to be an expert in anything other than my own experiences, and I can’t guarantee that any of this will work for you. Possibly, we’re just lucky enough to have babies with the good-sleep gene.
There are really two strategies that we used from the day I came home from hospital with our babies, and that we continue to use to this day. (1) Routine, and (2) Difference.
Read any book, column, blog, or diary on parenting and you’ll find this word thrown around about a million times. That’s because it’s important. And it’s just as important for babies as it is for toddlers and children.
(1) Set up a no-excuse bedtime routine, right from day one.
- It doesn’t matter what your routine is, as long as you stick to it. You can play the Imperial March as you put baby to bed if you want to. Big Brother would have a bath, a “play”, then dinner and bed. Baby has dinner, then a bath, then into bed. Take the time to work out a routine that works for both you and baby, and then stick to it.
- Once the routine is working, you can make allowances for one night here and there (eg. if you’re not at home). But don’t do it often, or you don’t have a routine anymore. You just have a suggestion.
- The routine can change. In fact, it has to change as baby gets older. When that happens, decide on the change you’re going to make, implement it, and then stick to the new routine.
(2) Let baby fall asleep in his cot/cradle/whatever.
- If you’re going to rock or sing baby to sleep, put him in bed before he goes to sleep. Let him learn that he can go to sleep all by himself. Otherwise, you’ll still be putting him to sleep when he’s 2 and 3 years old.
- I’d rock Baby until he was nearly asleep, then put him in his cot. That woke him up a bit, so I’d keep my hand on his chest and sing to him until he was nearly asleep again. Then I’d leave the room while he went to sleep. Sometimes he’d wake up again, so I’d go back in and put my hand on his chest and sing until he calmed down. But I’d always leave the room before he went to sleep. The end result: By the time he was 3 months old, I could put him in his cot and walk away, and he’d go to sleep without complaint.
(3) Night time is sleep time. Make sure that’s absolutely clear.
- When you get up during the night to feed baby, don’t play with him. No peek-a-boo, no smiles and cooing, no finger games. Feed, change, and put him back to bed.
- Limit the amount of light (little to none), and definitely limit the amount of talking. Don’t withhold affection, but don’t be overly cuddly, either. Stick to what has to happen, and get him back into bed as quickly as possible.
- This means that baby isn’t getting any special one-on-one time in the middle of the night, so there’s no reason for him to wake up when he’s not hungry. This helps him cut out night feeds quicker, because it’s more fun being fed during the day. (As a note, I’ve never withheld night feeds. I’ve just found that my boys stopped wanting them by the time they were 7 and 10 weeks. But they did want to eat a LOT during the day.)
- This also works on toddlers. Big Brother went through a stage of coming into our room in the middle of the night when he was 2 years old. We just got up and walked him back to his room without unnecessary talking, playing, or affection. The stage lasted less than 2 weeks.
(4) Make a big fuss in the morning. Let baby know that it’s great that he’s awake. Sing a good morning song, pick him up and give him heaps of cuddles. Make it clear that this is the right time to be awake by offering LOTS of attention, affection, and one-on-one time with his food.
I’ve never read anything about this in a parenting book, but I’m sure it’s out there somewhere. We came up with it because it made sense to us. Basically, if you want your baby to understand that it’s okay to sleep during the day, but night-time is always for sleeping, you need to emphasise the difference between night and day.
Having a bedtime routine is a big help for that, so make sure you only follow your routine for night sleeps. The other strategy we use is to make sure that baby’s bed is only for night-time sleeping. Whether it’s a bassinet, cot, cradle or wicker basket, the place that baby sleeps at night is his night sleeping place, so don’t use it during the day. Instead, let him nap in his bouncer, on a sheepskin rug, or in a basket in the living area. That way, when you put him into his cot, he knows that it’s sleep time, not nap time.
Not only does this work wonders to separate night and day sleeping, it’s also a great way to help baby learn to sleep in noisy environments. Our boys can sleep through just about anything. The next door neighbours had a party loud enough that the walls of our house were literally shaking, and they both slept through it. Baby was only 11 weeks old at the time.
Baby slept for 10 hours last night and I slept for 8. In a row. I couldn’t be happier if I won a million dollars.
(I used ‘he’ throughout this post because I have two boys. I’m pretty sure the strategies work for girls as well. )
Agree? Disagree? Want to try some of this stuff? Think it’s a load of manure? Have your own methods? Share, share, share!