Rock-a-bye baby on a tree top
When the wind blows (or the floor board creaks, or mum breathes too loud) the cradle will rock…
It is a truth universally acknowledged that babies are the natural enemies of sleep.
Who can blame them? Having spent nine months on the inside eating, chilling and practicing gentle aero gymnastics, the big wide world on the other side of the womb has just too much fun to offer to get a restful sleep.
There is eating to be had, pooping to be done and stress-releasing screaming to be experimented with. Being outside the womb must be a baby equivalent of a sheltered Amish farmer suddenly being transported to Vegas. Pretty damn exciting.
Of course, there is always the odd angel baby who sleeps through at least 6 hours every night since birth with no interruptions. If you are the parent of such a miraculous individual, hats off to you, my friend.
Most babies come out of the womb with the same disregard for sleep exhibited by high-flying executive bankers. Sleep, think babies, is for the weak.
Why does nature torture us this way?
Well, to begin with, babies are born with tiny grape-like stomachs that crave to be filled every 60-90 mins. If breastfeeding, you will find that your newborn wants to feed more as breast milk is easier to digest. In the first few days before the milk comes in, baby survives lapping only droplets of highly nutritious colostrum to sustain itself for its first few hours.
Secondly, babies have no natural circadian rhythms, meaning the pattern of day and night is to be learned. This will typically develop within the first 6 weeks – 3 months as baby starts to learn about the world and get introduced to the concept of ‘routine’. If you can, practice the old adage and just ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’. Don’t do laundry. Don’t watch Netflix. Don’t worry about what’s for dinner next Thursday night when your posh mate Tabitha comes around. If the baby is sleeping and you are willing and able, SLEEP.
Thirdly, babies might have travel tripping to the land of nod due to common ailments such as constipation, reflux or colic. Gentle massage, pressing the baby’s legs up to tummy and a range of movements like circling the legs in a ‘bicycle’ movement can help relieve some of the built up gasses and ease distress. Speak to your pharmacist about readily available remedies such as Infacol. My baby suffered from colic and determined though I was to be non-intervention earth mother I think Infacol brought my nervous system back from the brink a few times. Most babies move on from gastric ailments and cramps by about 3-4 months.
Lastly, the baby just wants to feel your touch. Flattering, I know. Not so much after 15 hours stuck in the pothole you created in the sofa with a cramping buttock, a starved stomach and an eyelid flickering nervously like a 20 watt lightbulb in an office corridor. Babies just seem to want to sleep on you and some look upon their cot, Moses basket or co-sleeping cot with all the enthusiasm of an isolation prison cell.
So, how do you manage to get any rest looking after your tiny-stomached newborn banshee?
- Seek HELP. Call in the troops. Parents, siblings, trusted friends, doulas. These can help look after mini me whilst you are getting your 40 winks. Over-tiredness leads to grumpiness, anxiety, general rundownness and even depression. You are not the best version of yourself when you are at the brink of breakdown due to sleep deprivation. You do have to make sure you are resting yourself first.
- Just got with it. Things feel a thousand times worse if you think you should be doing something else. If your baby is cluster feeding, let them. They are establishing your milk supply. If your baby is restless and wants the comfort of your touch, feel free to offer it to them aplenty. You cannot ‘spoil’ a baby. If your baby is having a colic freak-out, soothe them with massage and Infacol and understand that this, too, shall pass. Take everything a day (or sometimes an hour) at a time and soon you’ll see the light.
- Turn up the noise. Wombs are no chill-out cave. They are noisy places filled with the whoosh of rushing blood, heartbeat and all manner of outside noise. What we as adults find relaxing, a.k.a. the sweet sound of silence, is actually quite unnerving to your baby. Babies love white noise, so try soothing your baby with these favorite classics: the sound of the washing machine, hoover or hair dryer, all available as ambient sounds on a myriad of CDs, Apps and even YouTube videos. You can even get your partner to run the washing machine or hoover around the place if you are feeling homely: two birds, one stone.
- Keep your cool. 18-21 degrees is the ideal temperature for babies. Dress the baby according to the room heat. If very warm, a sleeveless body may be all baby needs. If cooler, a body and a sleep suit should do the trick. Over-heating can be uncomfortable and even downright dangerous for babies and increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Remember to keep your baby’s sleeping space free of blankets, toys and / or other bits and pieces, too as they may present a suffocation risk.
- Don’t watch the clock. You are on a 24 hour time now, baby. 2.23 am used to be something between home cab time on a Saturday and a anxiety-before-a-presentation sleeplessness mid-week but now it’s just 2.23am, the rules are different and all this means nothing at all. Don’t watch the clock.
When the little mite is older and starts to understand the difference and gently fall into the rhythm of day and night, the following might help you get your 40 winks:
- Routine. When your baby reaches 4-6 months, it might be a good time to introduce a bed time routine. Bath, book, bed (BBB) is a tried and trusted favorite. Set a bedtime for baby, start with a warm bath, then get them nice and cozy in a darkened room for their pre-bed read. Your baby may not give a flying duck about your fancy hand-illustrated bed time read, but it helps to get you into the mood and baby picks up on the soothing energy. Plus, your baby will love your cuddles and exclusive attention.
- The power-out. Works well just before the BBB. A period of about 30 minutes when your baby goes totally mental on the jumperoo, the walker or the bouncer, launching themselves into the air like a space cadet. A long crawl chasing a bouncy ball might also do it. Basically, let your baby have their fun and get their energy out of them and they will be able to relax more easily, This is baby’s version of a power workout after which they feel they could do with a rest.
- Sleeping buddies. Find a sleeping situation that works well for you. Your baby might be ready to move into their own cot in their own room and happily occupy their own independent space or they might still wake up at night and reach for mummy and daddy. You might be co-sleeping with your treasure and find that this helps everyone get the best nigh’s sleep. Whatever it is, find an arrangement that works for you. Not the internet blog you follow, not your gran, not your aspiration friend Penelope. YOU. And then just do it.
Of course, there is all matter of other arsenal you can add to getting your baby to bye-bye. There are pacifiers, soothers, little blankies, clever sleeping bags that keep frenzied newborn arms in check and even little mittens that you might find your tot likes to suck on to soothe themselves. There is a song that your baby might particularly like. Or a special cuddly toy.
Whether your baby is a sleeper or not, trust that you will reach the end of this road when your baby finally does sleep through the night. Not because they are a ‘good’ baby. Not because you have suddenly discovered the holy grail of baby sleep secrets by accident. Maybe not even because you did anything right or wrong. But because your baby is ready. And that is the real secret of parenthood. Patience.