Getting your baby to sleep like… a baby: the secrets of getting some kip

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…

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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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Victoria xox

You CAN have it all – but you can’t DO it all: the importance of support in early parenthood.

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If you have kids, you know the feeling. You’re tired.  Wait, make that ANNIHILATED. You may have had, let’s see, 1 hour 36 minutes of sleep. You’re an interstate highway of hormones. You’re hungry. You’re thirsty. You are recovering from various possibilities of delivery with various degrees of success – or, if you’re the partner, supporting someone who is.

There have been blood, sweat and tears. There may be hemorrhoids. And, at the centre of it all, there is a tiny human being whose existence and survival you, and only you, are now entirely responsible for.

Welcome to the joys of parenthood! Yippee!!

Now, this is not to put anyone off having children. The human race must go on, after all. But facts are facts and it is important to realize that a living, breathing tiny human is no tamagotchi or a baby Annabelle doll that you can put away. No, Friend. This is life. FOREVER.

Dun-dun-duuuuuuuuuun.

Amid the chaos and madness of life with a newborn comes the inevitable flurry of visitors and ‘friendly faces’ that poke about asking helpful things like ‘How much sleep are you getting?’ (none, thanks for reminding me), ‘How is breastfeeding going’ (Slow, sore and seemingly endless. Can I interest you in seeing some chafed nips?) and, personal favorite, ‘Is (s)he a good baby?’ (aaaarggggh gggggrrrrr rraaaaaaaargh).

Yes, having a newborn to look after is not easy.  Luckily, there ARE some helpful people that come around bearing babygros, making tea in silence and even, joy of joys, offer to take your baby for a couple of hours so you can get some kip. However, there are also those saps that treat a visit to a family with a newborn with the same sick relish of bystanders of a car crash, wagging their tongues at gory details, pain and misery.

The truth is, as you settle to your little ‘bundle of joy’ (expectation, much?) there may be times when you are feeling anything but joyful. Yes, of course you are proud. Yes, of course you are ecstatic to see bump become baby and bring life into the world. Yes, of course you think your baby is the cutest and most beautiful thing ever and you are excited beyond words.

However, having gone through 9 months of physically supporting another human being inside of you and then delivering them into the light through a massive physical and mental effort, you could do with a week at a spa and a beach holiday sipping alcoholic drinks through a swirly paper straw. Instead, you’re wiping thick meconium from tiny nappies, surviving on biscuits and cat naps and generally trying desperately to make sure this helpless human being survives and thrives in the big wide world.

Tired has taken on a new meaning and you are TIRED.

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A taxing delivery or complications do not help matters. Nor does a lack of real support.

Ah, support. What is support? True support. Not the kind of support where people sit around barking rules, instructions and old wives’ tales. Not people telling you with all the sensitivity of a Rottweiler that you are ‘doing it wrong’, whatever it is in question. Not the kind where people ask you how you are and expect to see a gleaming smile and a blissful ‘wonderful‘ because they are uncomfortable dealing with real, raw emotion.

Support is getting the help with whatever you need in that moment. For parents of newborns, support commonly includes:

  • No. 1: help with bubbah so mum and dad can get some SLEEP!
  • cooking
  • shopping
  • having a tidy around the house
  • bringing clothes, nappies and equipment if baby comes a wee bit early and mum and dad are caught short
  • encouraging mama to breastfeed if she wants to and offering reassurance
  • if partner has to return to work, keeping mama company and coming over for cake and a chat so that she can have a shower, go the bathroom ALONE and generally get some adult company

Support ISNT:

  • coming up with unsolicited opinions / advice
  • asking questions that should be rhetorical – ‘How much sleep are you getting?’, ‘Is he a good boy?’
  • make mum / parents feel worried with questions like ‘Is that normal’? ‘Should she be doing that?’, ‘Are you sure he is getting enough milk?’
  • sitting around asking for cups of tea and meals. These are not normal times. If you are a guest, make your own tea – and for the parents whist you are at it.
  • ASKING IF THE BABY IS A ‘GOOD’ BABY.

This is a personal bug bear, but what is with people asking this question? Define ‘good’. The baby is just a baby. This question does nothing more than worry parents about being incompetent. Unless their baby is a heavenly angel who sleeps 12 hours straight, breastfeeds with the efficiency of an deep sea oil extraction pump and gives the parents back rubs in a quiet moment. In that case, feel free to make big, sparkly eyes and sing-song ‘Ooooh yes, a very good baby. We are so lucky, aren’t we, Lawrence? #Blessed“.

When the baby comes there is a seemingly continuous list of duties that will have you wondering how three simple tasks: feeding, changing nappies, sleeping, can occupy ALL DAY and ALL NIGHT, the two often indistinguishable and running into each other.

In addition, there is recovery from birth to be done, dealing with all the visitors and generally trying to get back a semblance of life that does not revolve around baby. Not easy when said baby suddenly decides to cluster feed in a services McDonalds parking lot on the way to the family’s first ‘big day out’. Nice one, baby.

Welcoming a newborn into your life is a time of happiness and celebration. It is also a time of exhaustion, big learning curves and walking about in a stained dressing gown. Everyone wants to know how you are but probably wouldn’t appreciate you detailing the ebb and flow of your lochia.

Today’s society does not make it easy for new parents to get along with things in their usual mad, messy and emotionally unstable way. Hectic, ecstatic and occasionally miserable, welcome to life! Not like some aspirational Instagram poster-mum in hot pants in Nikki Beach Cancun, Day 3 after birth.

Parents are expected to look like this:

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The truth is, how easy or hard you find to adjust to parenthood does not always have everything to do with you. Adjusting to parenthood depends on a number of factors. Some are:

  • what kind of delivery you had
  • what kind of pregnancy you had
  • whether this is your first child
  • whether this is a planned pregnancy
  • proximity of family
  • proximity of friends with kids
  • whether you have a partner or are raising the child alone
  • your financial situation
  • your house (bungalow with garden? Fourth floor flat, no lift?)
  • the time of year you had your baby
  • your mental health prior to baby
  • whether your baby is healthy or there were complications
  • how baby and you are adjusting to breastfeeding
  • your partner’s attitude to you and baby

and many, many more!

Of course, babies pop out all over this big blue planet and the vast majority survive and thrive. A tiny studio flat on top of a chippy can be as good as a palace for a baby as long as it is loved and cared for. Nor is raising a baby in a palace any guarantee for an easy adjustment to life with a plus one. But there are many things, the first of which is having a network of trusted friends and family who can share in some of the childcare duties, that can ease and influence your transition into this bright new world.

The message of this blog is: Do NOT be afraid of experiencing raw emotion.

Don’t be afraid of being exhausted.

Don’t be afraid of being occasionally miserable.

Don’t be afraid to admit you are.

An estimated 1 in 5 mums and 1 in 10 dads experience baby blues, so if you are feeling down, you are not alone! Hey, if rich and gorgeous Chrissy Teigen can open up about postnatal depression with a full-time live-in nanny, that husband and those legs (!) (read her open letter in Glamour magazine here), why shouldn’t it happen to you??

Feeling down, crying, questioning things, snapping at your partner – this is the stuff some moments are made of. If you feel you are not ‘performing’ or handling things as well as you should, try to be gentle, forgiving and loving with yourself. Some tips are:

  1. Get some REST! Do NOT be superwoman. Bring in your parents or a good friend you can really trust or time share with baby care with your partner. Do what you have to do, but get some sleep. Sleep is important. A good night’s sleep can totally change how you feel.
  2. Make time for yourself. You are not JUST a mother (or father). Yes, your baby is number 1, but you can only give what you have. So look after yourself first and try to make time to do things that you enjoy, whether it’s taking a yoga class, going for a quick walk or having an uninterrupted phone call with a friend. Do NOT sit there getting thumb cramp checking Snapchat on your phone. Do NOT obsess with how baby is doing. Make this time count.
  3. Talk Talk Talk. Talk to your mum. Talk to your partner. Talk to your friends. Talk to your GP, your midwife and your health visitor. Talk to PANDAS. Get a doula and talk to her (Me: “Hello!”). Don’t try to keep it all inside or be embarrassed. The more people know about how you feel, the more people can help you. People can’t help you if they don’t know what’s wrong. Understand that it’s ok to be going through things and it certainly doesn’t make you a bad or incompetent mum or dad. Mental health is complicated and you feel what you feel – no shame in that.

The truth is, it’s ok to have those moments. Mind you, Moments. Maybe days. Certainly not weeks. If you have been feeling low for a week or more, it’s time to call a GP, talk to your midwife or health visitors or turn to a postnatal depression support group such as the PANDAS foundation. They are not going to judge you or take away your baby. They will help you find a way out so that you can start enjoying life and find yourself again.

Conclusion? Yes you can have it all. All the cuddles, all the surprises, all the explosive nappies, all the sleepless nights, all the drama, all the worry and all the love and joy of having a small baby. But, just like a busy executive or a famous pop star, getting good assistance around you frees up your time and energy to enjoy the really beautiful stuff.

You have had a baby and it’s ripped through the structure of your life like a firework. You are dealing with new challenges, new schedules and a new identity. It’s a period of change and it requires time to adjust to. But adjust to it you will. Soon, I promise you, you will wonder what on earth you did with all that time you had in the era of BB (before baby). And you will not be able to imagine NOT having your warm, fuzzy, incredible, beautiful, magical, loving, funny, adorable baby in your life.

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