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Teaching your baby to sleep, one day at a time

By Kylie

Teaching your baby to sleep, one day at a time

Things had gotten progressively worse over the past few weeks in terms of Caspar’s sleeping, and in turn, our sanity.  We got to the point where Caspar would only fall asleep after an hour or so of rocking, walking and jiggling in our arms, all the while crying and thrashing about hysterically.  During the day he would immediately wake up on transferal to the cot and start screaming again.  The only thing I could do to get him to stay asleep was sit in a chair, holding him in a dark room. 

I kept saying to myself that at least he wasn’t too bad at sleeping overnight.  Then that started to fall apart and he started waking overnight every 1 ½ to 2 hours - needing rocking, walking and feeding to get back to sleep again.  I was an absolute wreck, but I when I told people what was happening, the common response was “that’s normal … the first three months are really hard … it will get better” etc.  

Then I had my first Mothers Group.  The first hour was fine, and Caspar slept for about 30 minutes of it in the pram.  Then he woke up, massively overtired, and unable to get back to sleep.  He screamed hysterically to the point that the Maternal and Child Health Nurse took us into a separate room, and two nurses tried to calm him, to no avail.  They asked me if this was usual and I broke down into tears and told them that this happened every day, several times a day.  They started to talk to me about getting into a Mother Baby Unit, and gave me some names and telephone numbers to call that day.  Desperate for some help, I filled out application forms for three hospitals, and within a week, we were given a place at a Mother and Baby Unit.  They had a last minute cancellation, and I think I sounded so broken on the phone that they thought I needed to get in there ASAP.

The last three nights prior to going to the Mother and Baby Unit I fell asleep in the feeding chair, holding Caspar, at 4 in the morning and woke up a couple of hours later, thankfully still holding him.  At that point I realized how exhausted I was, and that our week at Masada couldn’t come soon enough. 

The first three days at the Mother Baby Unit were tough, but manageable.  The nurses basically looked after Caspar and put him down for his sleeps (in a cot!) while I had group sessions or relaxation time during the day.  It was tough to try to ‘relax’ when your baby is crying in the room across the hall! In the evenings we were given a sleeping tablet and the nurses fed or settled the babies as required. 

By the third day, Caspar was able to fall asleep by himself after being put into the cot awake.  Extraordinary!  And by the fourth day, he was sleeping from 10.30pm – 7am without waking.  Unbelievable!  I then had to learn the settling techniques the nurses were using.  It was incredibly hard not to go into his room as soon as I heard his grizzle, or cry, but to wait the required time.  And even harder not to pick him up to comfort him once I went in there.  But we stuck with it, and by the end of the week Caspar was sleeping for at least couple of hours straight in the morning without stirring. 

His afternoon sleeps are still a bit unsettled, and he hasn’t quite mastered putting himself back to sleep after one sleep cycle in the afternoon, but he is slowly improving day by day.  Some days he regresses a bit, and there is more unsettledness, but he usually gets back on track the next day.  He has learnt so much so quickly, and so have I. Most importantly, he is now a bright-eyed, giggling, engaged, happy baby.  And I am enjoying him so much more, and feeling so much more competent and confident. 

The support and friendship of the other mothers from our week at the Mother Baby Unit was fantastic while we were there, and has continued via a Facebook group where we ask other’s advice on sleeping and settling issues and seek solace when we are having a tough day. 

Now that we are getting some decent sleep, and our baby boy is so much more rested and content, our family life is so much happier. I don’t doubt that there will be bumps in the road ahead, but I feel empowered with skills and tools to manage them. And if I can’t, I’ll be going straight back to a Mother Baby Unit without delay.

Expert response from What Were We Thinking! expert, Sue Doogan

It can be very stressful (to say the least!) to parents who find themselves with a baby who doesn’t seem to be able to sleep, except if they are in your arms. It is important during these times to try and remember a few things - kindness, consistency and confidence!

Kindness...Be kind to yourself!
Parenting is like an apprenticeship - you learn on the job. It can take some time to get to know your baby, not to mention the changing dynamic of your relationship AND your new role in the world. Please don't put pressure on yourself and always ask for help. 

Consistency..."Rome wasn't built in a day"
Think back to a time where you started a new job or learned a new skill. You didn't expect to know it all straight away. You did the same thing over and over again until you gained confidence. Your baby needs consistency so they can slowly learn the skills of sleeping and you need to provide that consistency. The WWWT feed-play-sleep routine is a good reference point. 

Confidence...in your own ability
Give yourself credit for knowing your baby, even if you are still learning. You are constantly learning as parents and gaining new skills every day, skills that help your baby develop and your relationship to grow. 

Posted in:  Baby 5-8 weeks