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Rookie Review: Motherhood, 5.5 months

Remember sleep? Ha! Me neither. But ever since Poppy came into my life, I’ve become o b s e s s e d with sleep. At first, my own sleep, as I was constantly on the lookout for a window when I might be able to catch some of those zzzs. And then once she grew out of her sleepy newborn phase, I fixated on her sweet slumber; how to make her fall sleep, how long she’d sleep for, how to keep her asleep, understanding her sleep cycles, managing her sleep associations, etc. To people free from the responsibilities of caring for a boisterous tiny human, this might seem a bit much. But hell hath no fury like an overtired baby, so at some point I think all parents morph into some sort of sleep scientist.

Poppy, for the most part, has been very fond of sleep. (I hope saying this doesn’t jinx it.) Before she was born, Scott and I thought we’d co-sleep with our bub until she was at least six months old. But Poppy is SO NOISY when she sleeps! Bless her. She grunts and chuckles, sometimes even screams — all the while sleeping. We had her sleeping between us for the first two nights before moving her to a mattress at the foot of our bed. But even then, it wasn’t realistic for her to sleep in our room once Scott returned to work because he’s a super light sleeper and gets bad headaches when he doesn’t get enough sleep. (But, don’t we all???????) So when she was just three weeks old, we moved her to a floor bed in another room.

I slept on a mattress next to her for the first couple of weeks but was back in my bed when I realised Poppy was sleeping really well on her own and only needed me when she wanted to nurse. We installed a baby monitor and I went into her room to nurse her twice in the night, until she was about 10 weeks old. Thereafter she dropped a feed and these days I pop in once, usually sometime between 4am and 6am, or not at all if she makes it through till sunrise at 7am.

It is crazy to think how we left our little baby in a room of her own, but after talking to parents of three-year-olds and even six-year-olds who are still struggling to transition their kids out of their beds, I think we’ve got a pretty good thing going on here. Or so Scott says. I’m always like, “can Poppy sleep with us tonight???” It’s kinda ironic, innit? We go through all this work to get her to sleep independently and then around 9pm, after I’ve taken dinner and a hot shower I’m like, “aww.. I miss Poppy. I wish we could bring her to bed with us.”

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to sleeping arrangements and how we choose to put our babies to sleep because every family is different and more crucially, every baby is different. But I thought it was worthwhile sharing our sleepy experience with Poppy because we came really, really close to sleep training her — as that was the advice we’d been given — even though it just didn’t feel right for us.

To be honest, we weren’t too fussed about how we were putting Poppy to sleep until one Thursday last December, when she woke up almost hourly in the night and nursing her was the only way she would settle. I understand this is a reality for some parents every, single, night. My heart goes out to you. I don’t know how you do it. Just one night of super broken sleep sent me down the rabbit hole, frantically Googling about babies and their sleep.

Could it be that the dreaded four-month sleep regression was upon us? Poppy seemed to be waking fully between each sleep cycle instead of drifting between cycles automatically as she used to. Sleep was now a very conscious thing for her and soothing herself to sleep was a skill she had to learn sooner rather than later, lest The Farmers never get a good night’s sleep again. We’d nursed and/or rocked her to sleep — which I had (have) no qualms about — since birth. But all over the Internet there was a general consensus that we needed to teach her how to fall asleep on her own or else we’d have to nurse and/or rock her to sleep forever. (Imagine still having to do all of this when she’s 18 years old! Gosh. No siree!)

But how would we teach her to fall asleep on her own?

Sleep training. Duh! The cry it out method, by far the most popular — and controversial — involves putting a baby down awake in his crib and letting him cry for a period of time before he goes to sleep. The baby is meant to learn how to “self-soothe” and avoid developing sleep associations that require someone else to put him to sleep. This somewhat rigid method has been around since the 1890’s and was dreamed up by male university sleep laboratory researchers. Many of the popular sleep training techniques of today are modified versions of this — allowing baby to cry for progressively longer periods without comforting him, instead of just leaving him to cry until he gives up and stops.

Crying is physically hard on a baby and I didn’t want Poppy to think I would ever not come to her. Moreover, I felt like these methods undermined breastfeeding (already difficult as it is, TYVM.) and were incongruent with my mothering instinct and the relationship I was trying to create with Poppy. Everyone always says “it [sleep training] is the hardest thing they’d ever done.” Why would I want to inflict ‘the hardest thing I’d ever done’ onto my young baby?!

Instead, we decided to go down a gentler route. We focused on her wake windows as well as creating a sleep-inducing environment and calming nighttime routine that allowed sleep to overtake her. And I’m happy to report that it’s been working out really well for us so far, save for a few weird wakings at 3am which I’ll elaborate more on at the end.

Wake Windows

Most of the resources we found on the Internet suggested a wake window of 1.5-2.5 hours and anywhere from three to six naps a day for a baby her age. However, Poppy’s body clock begged to differ. What we discovered was that she only really needed two naps a day if she’s had a good night’s sleep. One in the morning at 9:30am for 30 minutes and another at 12pm for two hours, at most. And then she’s GO GO GO until her bedtime at 7pm, where she immediately drifts off into a glorious reinvigorating snooze. (Ha! WE WISH.)

Dropping her third nap freaked me out because it was one of those elusive windows where I could catch a quick afternoon kip myself. Also, who wants to deal with an overtired baby in the evening? Not me.

But the moment we began tuning out the Internet and tuning in to Poppy, everything just fell into place and became so easy. If she isn’t tired, why force a nap on her? The longer she’s been awake, the stronger her desire and need to sleep eventually. That’s just how sleep pressure works.

Her first sign of tiredness is treated as boredom, and we nudge her to stay awake a little longer by engaging her in different activities and different environments such as splashing around in a basin of water or going for a walk outside. On some days, when she’s really restless and looking as though she might break, I whip out the milk bar around 4-5pm and she gets 15 minutes of quiet time on the boob — which is all she needs before she’s raring to go again.

Sleep-inducing environment

This is pretty straightforward. We draw her bedroom curtains, put the aircon on at 26C, and then turn on some white noise — leaves rustling and frogs croaking, to be specific. We used white noise for Poppy pretty much as soon as she got home from the hospital. It’s all part of her sleep cues, etc and helpful for drowning out day time construction or sirens blasting past or raucous cousins on Saturday nights.

We also put her in a sleep sack.

She was initially swaddled in a muslin cloth the traditional way but started to get really frustrated by the fact that she couldn’t move her arms. Mumma also started to get really frustrated wrapping origami around a squirmy fish at 3am in a pitch black room after she’d nursed and done an epic poo and was wailing because mumma dared to change her.

Technology has moved on and so have we; there are now sleepsuits! We celebrate this. So when she was about two months old we transitioned her into the Love to Dream swaddle, which put an end to her waking in the middle of the night and shouting at the top of her lungs as she attempted to Houdini out of her cloth swaddle.

Then around the four-month mark, when her Moro reflex had more or less disappeared and she started chewing on her fists and fingers as a means to soothe herself, we put her in a sleeveless sleep sack. She’s meant to be able to use this sleep sack till she’s 18 months old, but I think we’ll probably transition her out of it when she starts moving about because she’s on a floor bed.

Calming nighttime routine

A simple, relaxing nighttime routine has loads of benefits for tiny humans who love (read: need) consistency. When they know what to expect (and what’s expected of them), they learn to anticipate and trust bedtime.

It took us a few weeks of toying with the order of how we were going about Poppy’s bedtime routine before we ultimately found the magical sequence that worked for all of us — the ticking time bomb that is Poppy, Scott’s work, and my sanity.

5:45pm Bath — a delightful full-stop at the end of the day

6:00pm Massage — helps to signal that bedtime is nearing and it’s time to wind the heck down

6:10pm Milk bar — the process of breastfeeding itself regulates baby’s temperature and heart rate and lowers blood pressure, and makes baby very, very sleepy. This helps bub develop a healthy attitude about sleep, where sleep is viewed as a safe, comforting, natural state.

6:20pm Food — have you seen a baby eat? It seems counter intuitive to have this activity after she’s had her bath but in Gina Ford we trust.

6:35pm Quiet play — Scott and I lie down on the floor next to her and sing her songs while she has one last kick about.

6:45pm Milk bar — we keep saying we’ll try to stop nursing her to sleep, but it’s just SO DAMN EASY this way. She’s happy, we’re happy. Y’know what they say, if it ain’t broke...

7:00pm K.O. — Scott and I give each other a fist bump and then eat dinner.

Unfortunately, bedtimes are not a one-size-fits-all thing. And the right time for your sleepy little sod to hit the sack will depend on them. As I mentioned previously, we started Poppy on the Contented Little Baby routine when she was two weeks old. And although we’ve tweaked it here and there to make it work for us, the 7pm bedtime is something we’ve stuck to from the beginning.

The Weird Wakings at 3am

In theory, we go about the day setting Poppy up to be sleepy-but-not-overtired and ready to settle in for a full 11-12 hours of overnight sleep by 7pm.

However, she sometimes does this thing where she gets up at 3am ready to rock and roll. And here’s the thing — she’s not crying, unhappy, or hungry. She’s just awake. Wide awake, and chatting to herself. Loudly. We’ve tried ignoring her and sometimes she eventually does go back to sleep for a quick nap around 4 or 4:30am, but then is up again and ready for the day before 6am. Other times, Scott or myself go into her room and beg her to go back to sleep. Either way it creates a domino effect on the rest of the day and leaves us fighting to keep her up until bedtime the next day.

Meanwhile, we’re all exhausted.

So, what do we do? Cut another nap?? Force her to stay awake EVEN longer in the day? Give in and reconcile ourselves to a semi-charmed-nocturnal life?

At the moment, we just leave her to it and let her amuse herself during these ungodly wakings until she falls back asleep on her own. Hopefully this sorts itself out soon and she realises that nothing fun happens at 3am (no milk, no mumma, etc.) and it’s easier to just go back to sleep.

Okay, bye, I love you, you’ve got this, hang in there, you are DOIN’ IT!!!!

Just know that sleep is a developmental skill just like crawling, walking, and talking. It happens when the brain is ready. Maltesers help. So does knowing that you’re not alone. There are approximately 6,345,981,527 other parents just winging it while trying desperately to shush their kids to sleep, too.

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