My two month old exclusively breastfed daughter wakes just once a night (sleeping 8pm – 8am) to feed, and has done since she was a few weeks old after initially waking twice. This blatant disregard for following ‘normal’ babies’ strict ‘don’t let Mum get anything close to resembling healthy amounts of sleep’ code, causes me no end of problems as I can’t get done all the things I use to get done during the many many night feeds that I did with my boy when he was a baby.
Oh look that’s our play date just text to cancel and my blog followers have halfed…
I know, I know, a post about how wonderfully my baby sleeps (and she really does sleep amazingly well with a guaranteed 9 hour stretch each night being just heavenly) is probably not something you want to read as you rock back and forth with a screaming child for the hundredth time tonight so why risk alienating you all?
Well I am actually just being whimsical when I moan about not being up enough at night. Of course I am absolutely amazed and elated that my second child sleeps as good as she does because let me tell you, that was not the case with my son, certainly not to start with. No, this isn’t a boasting post (although I do frequently want to shout it from the roof tops), it is a sharing of knowledge post. Designed to hopefully help some poor sleep deprived parent out there by my offering up a few things I had wished I had known about baby sleep the first time round.
I was up a LOT with baby Aiden and I was in such desperate need of sleep (sleep when baby sleeps should be a sentence banned from utterance for it’s shear stupidity) I would spend hours upon hours reading everything out there on baby sleep theories. Unsurprisingly it is a hot topic and seems to have been covered from every angle possible but this in itself can be crazy overwhelming at 3am so here are a few top tips that I personally found worked a treat.
1. Have a comforter / blanket that baby only gets at bed and nap time and have it smell of Mum.
Yes folks, both my kids have a comforter that I routinely rub under my armpits so it smells of me. You might think this is embarrassing and something I would wish to keep to myself but I firmly belive this is the main reason both my children sleep so well.
When my boy was a few weeks old and I hadn’t slept in a few weeks, a stranger appeared at breastfeeding group (as if by magic!) and suggested this to me. Willing to try absolutely anything at that point, I went home and got a rather adorable Jellycat comforter (we later named himl Custard and his counterpart that my daughter has is called Crumble) and feeling rather stupid I secretly rubbed him under my armpits and put little drops of breast milk on it as the stranger from breastfeeding group had suggested. Well for the first time ever Aiden slept longer than 45mins (if I remember correctly he managed about 4hrs the first time he had Custard next to him) and it blew my mind. It only got better from there too until he now sleeps a glorious 11/12 hours straight through and has done for a good long while. Custard only comes out at nap or bed time and stays in Aiden’s bed as I decided I wanted him to be used to bring about strong sleep associations only. As soon as my boy has Custard in his hands, sees his distinctive stripes and holds him close to his nose to smell me, he calms down and knows it is sleep time. I have found babies and young kids (I can only speak for up to a 2 year 3 month old currently) thrive on routine, predictability and repeated cues be they through sight, sound or smell. A comforter that smells of Mum does all these things with the added bonus that it allows the child to feel safe enough to go to sleep (or most importantly go BACK to sleep once they wake during the night) as they subconsciously, through smell, feel close to their Mum.
You might think it is gross. I don’t care. It works. It works really really well. I went and actually hugged that stranger the next week at breastfeeding group (and then I never saw her again, she may have been some sort of angel!) and I told others about it. I told anyone and everyone actually who would listen and wouldn’t you know it, they went and tried and I suddenly became the stranger they were hugging!
Additional tip; if you are breastfeeding and want to try this from birth, for the first few weeks have the comforter snuggled into you and baby when you nurse. It allows the baby to associate the comforter with a really positive and safe experience.
2. Keep it dark and dull during the night.
This might seem obvious to some but it certainly wasn’t to me. After having given birth to my first I was simply in survival mode and that mode didn’t have a common sense setting. So in the first few days and nights after Aiden was born we sat in a brightly lit living room with the TV blaring as I nursed for hours on end and simply couldn’t comprehend why my baby didn’t seem to want to sleep in this crazy sensory overload world I had created.
Well eventually I hit upon a chapter in a parenting book that informed me I would need to programme or tune my baby into day and night. Well noone had mentioned this to us before! Then suddenly it made sense, of course baby had no idea what night and day was, those things simply didn’t exist in the womb, but how do I teach it that? Simple really; keep it dark at night and quiet. I have a fab singing turtle that projects waves on to the ceiling on both my kids rooms which also shines enough light to change a nappy in. I don’t talk to my baby during the night, just hold her close and nurse her. They soon realise that they can feed fast and go right back to sleep as it is DULL during the night.
I do something simular at nap time but when Aiden was a baby and struggling to nap I would push him everywhere in his pram to get him to sleep and if you made any eye contact as he was drifting off he would be wide awake again. I once blurted out “don’t engage him!” as my partner foolishly smiled at our son who was just beginning to drift off. I am never going to live that one down and it is a favourite catch phrase in our house now.
3. Make a bedtime routine as early on as possible and stick to it.
Again, seems obvious but in the haze of having children it often gets forgotten.
I read somewhere once that keeping nap and bedtime routines as close to identical as you can each day allows your child to successfully prepare for what is coming and therefore to accept it with open arms.
Keep whatever routine you decide upon easy enough to achieve each night and short enough that baby doesn’t get distracted (or hungry again!) before you put them to bed.
Mine is very simple;
No electronic toys after dinner. Instead we always cuddle up on the sofa and do quiet things. Normally reading.
Have a bath. Not for cleanliness but as a bed time cue. I believe it takes a child away from their often very busy and lively world. Both my kids were water births and are total water babies.
Then it is time to read two more books in bed during which the lights are dimmed and my good friend Mr Turtle is playing his docile tones.
Then it is hugs and kisses and off to sleep for toddler and one more feed for baby. This is the only time other than the night feed, that I feed to sleep. In the day time I follow the EASY routine (Eat Activity Sleep You) which is great for providing a little bit of structure but allowing a whole load of flexibility. For a newborn, the activity section can be as simple as something like a nappy change before they go back to sleep. The important thing in this theory is that tiny gap between nursing and sleep allows the baby to learn to fall asleep without the feeding which makes it easier when they wake up at night for them to self sooth back to sleep.
So there you have it; I few tips that have taken me years to discover and perfect, all yours to try out for free. I hope they bring you as much joy as they have me. Now I’ll bid you goodnight.