I have a confession to make. It’s a secret I’ve kept quiet for too long.
It’s something I stay silent about when talking to other parents, for fear of judgement, isolation, possibly even retribution. But I can’t hold it any longer. After just over a year of parenting, I’ve finally found the courage to tell everyone…
My baby sleeps. She sleeps really, really well.
There. I said it. Shun me if you must. But, if you are even a little curious about how this all happened, read on (you can always rage tweet me at the end if you still hate me).
Firstly, let’s define ‘really, really well’. Hannah sleeps for an average of 13 hours per day. Sometimes more, sometimes a little less. Of that 13 hours, 10-11 hours is unbroken, night-time sleep.
Have you sent that rage tweet yet?
You can see why I tend to keep this quiet. Parenting forums, blogs, Facebook groups and Twitter conversations all seem to form a camaraderie based on the assumption that none of the participants are getting any sleep. On the rare occasions that I do comment about sleep, I usually feel that I come off looking like a bragger or a sanctimonious, up-myself jerk. I usually end up dodging the conversation or making a joke to lighten the mood.
You may be asking why I’m writing about this now, if I know that it’s a topic that can really annoy many parents. There are two reasons – firstly, I want to be honest about my experiences as a parent, good and bad. Secondly, I want to share the strategies that have allowed us all to sleep soundly. Perhaps they may be of use to you, after all, there is enough evidence to suggest that poor quality sleep should be the exception, not the rule.
How To Help Your Baby Sleep
Pure, dumb luck
Yes, I’m happy to admit that this is a factor in Hannah’s sleep. Hannah has slept well since the day she was born. In the early days, we even had to wake her up to give her the night-time feeds. Often, during these feeds she would fall back asleep, mid-feed. I have distinct memories of a flabbergasted maternity nurse trying every trick in the book to keep Hannah awake, none of which worked. You probably have not, or will not, be so lucky. Don’t give up, it doesn’t all come down to the luck of the draw. Read on!
Before Hannah was born, Emma and I spent some time researching routines. We both highly value our sleep time, and one of the biggest fears that we both had was having that ripped away from us with the sudden arrival of our first-born. The book Eat, Play, Sleep (Lucy DeSouza) was good starting point, with plenty of anecdotal evidence of the effect that routine can have on sleep. Since then, Emma in particular has read countless books and websites as Hannah’s patterns have developed and changed. The book Save Our Sleep (Tizzie Hall) has proven to be particularly helpful in guiding routine change – Hannah is currently transitioning from two naps per day to one and this book has guided how we approached this change.
We shied away from concepts such as co-sleeping pretty quickly, as the arguments for seemed to be based on emotion, whereas the arguments against were based on evidence of long-term negative impacts and increased danger for young babies.
Although Hannah showed early sign of being a good sleeper, there was still work to be done to develop the proper routines. Hannah didn’t know exactly when the right time was to go to sleep – she’s a baby! She needed guidance from some more knowledgeable people – her parents. In the first few weeks of forming a good routine, there were times when Hannah cried when she was put down. It was hard to listen to. As a new parent, the first instinct is to rush over and offer comfort. But, in the long run, we knew that would do far more damage than good.
After a few nights, we learnt that Hannah would cry a little (perhaps for a few minutes), but that soon she would drift off to sleep.
I’ve read horror stories from some parents who followed their instinct to rush in and pick up, rock, hold or feed the baby when they started crying. More often than not, it seems to lead to developing undesirable routines, that are then hard to break.
There were times when we did have to pick Hannah up, especially when she was really little. They were the times when there was full-blown crying, as opposed to small sobs. Even then, I have distinct memories of marching around the room like a soldier, Hannah in a horizontal position on my arm. No eye-contact, no calming words, no rocking or bouncing. Just the steady reassurance of my steps that she was in a safe place. Sometimes it took a little while, but eventually she was calm and ready for sleep again. Once Hannah transitioned to the cot, we occasionally used a calming shush.
We have never had to seek expert advice to help Hannah sleep, but we have for other things. Hannah most likely wouldn’t have breastfed if it wasn’t for the help of an amazing lactation consultant and a speech pathologist. Thanks to those wonderful people and a lot of effort, Hannah began breastfeeding after ten long days, and she hasn’t looked back since.
We also sought professional help with Hannah’s eczema. Through her paediatrician, we were able to discuss treatment with some of the best specialists in the public health system, at Sydney Children’s Hospital. Again, controlling the eczema has been a slow and often challenging experience, but overall it has led to a better quality of life for Hannah.
The same goes for sleep. If your baby is having trouble sleeping at night, then it is an issue that can significantly impact their (and your) health. Specialists in sleep have the knowledge that may just help you to establish some effective routines and provide your baby with the quality of sleep that their little brain and body so desperately needs.
Start with a visit to a paediatrician. Talk about your concerns and ask for referrals to specialists. It may end up costing a bit of money, and it will undoubtedly involve a bit of hard work on your behalf, but a good night’s sleep, night after night, is well worth it in my books.
The right products
The products required for babies to get a good night’s sleep are really quite minimal. In fact, the less products involved, the better. What it really boils down to is a safe and comfortable place to sleep each night. SIDS and Kids was a website that I consulted regularly in the early days, due to a healthy dose of paranoia (partly instilled during antenatal classes). A sturdy bassinet (or cot when they are older), a firm mattress, a mattress protector, fitted sheet and a sleep bag were all we ever used, and still all we use to this day.
We have found the Grobags to be the absolute best way to provide our baby with the comfort she needs in the safest way possible. They come in a range of thicknesses (togs) to cater for all temperature conditions. The winter ones are supremely snug – there is nothing better than a warm cuddle from a baby in a super soft Grobag first thing in the morning. (I recently reviewed some Grobags and the companion Groegg, you can find that review here).
There are products that are not vital, like the ones listed above, but that can help you to get a good night’s sleep as well. A decent baby monitor means that you can see the cause of any little disturbances from bed, and assess the need to get up or not (with Hannah, she sometimes cries out during the night. When we look at the monitor, she is actually still fast asleep, perhaps having a dream). An ear thermometer is also a handy tool for when they inevitably get sick, and you need to check on them through the night.
How my baby sleeps through the night
In my experience, a good night’s sleep is best achieved through a combination of all of the points listed above. Don’t expect to be able to chuck a screaming baby in a super-comfortable Grobag, and expect that to solve all your problems – it won’t. But, a combination of all the things above (including expert advice when necessary) might just put you and your baby on the path to consistent quality sleep each night. It may not be easy, but I truly believe you will appreciate the hard work in the long run.
If you have strategies that help your baby to sleep well, please feel free to add them in the comments. I’m sure there are many more helpful strategies out there