Poor Stevie

A thing about baby sleep

Breaking news: Babies are really tricky little jerks.

When we were in hospital with CC in the days after she was born, she slept like crazy. She slept through many cuddles, she slept through her hearing test, and through all the beeps and alarms in the maternity ward. I thought: ‘everyone was wrong about babies, she is awesome, and I am great’.

That didn’t last long, and very soon she was resisting daytime naps and waking up 14 trillion times a night. It was so hard because my life depends on sleep, and without it I was a crying, shrieking, anxious wretch and it was making our lives hell. I would ask the women in my mothers’ group about how they were getting their babies to sleep, and everyone was very, very vague.

So I was interested to read the article on controlled crying in the Good Weekend, almost 18 months on from having a baby. The article was pretty reassuring in emphasising that babies are weird, they do not sleep, they need you a lot, they get hungry quickly, and it is not your fault. I liked this bit especially: “Your baby is normal, you are normal. This too shall pass.” I really needed to read those words about a year ago.

But it did make me feel sorry for anyone currently attempting controlled crying, because it raised a lot of questions, but couldn’t really give any definite answers about whether it works and if it’s good for your baby.

What I really wanted to know at that stage of life was ‘how the hell to I make this kid sleep?’

In short, I would say: Do what works. Do what you feel comfortable with. Everything is a phase. You are not a failure. Don’t listen to Mark Latham.

Below is the long version of stuff that worked for us. I took what I liked from non-crazy baby sites like Tresillian, Raising Children, and the Ngala forums. I also read Baby Love, spoke to other mothers, and went with my instincts where possible.

Newborn-6 weeks-ish: We had her bassinet in our room and we did anything that worked. Patting, rocking, feeding to sleep, cuddling, turning on the vacuum cleaner, holding her in close proximity to the buzzing fridge, walking her in the pram, using a dummy (she loved a dummy, she would close her eyes in pure ecstasy as soon as we put it in her mouth), tight swaddling, putting This American Life on in the background (for real. Hipster baby). We had a bedtime ‘routine’ from the start – bath, book, bed – which sometimes seemed to help calm her down. Anything to stop the screaming.

6 weeks to 3 months-ish: It was around this time that I started getting really worried that I wasn’t putting her down in her crib while she was awake. Our community nurse told us to look out for “tired signs”, most of which I had been misreading as “play with me” signs. (On this whole ‘tired signs’ business, lots of mothers have told me they think it’s a crock of shit, so it may not work for you). Once I would see her rub her eyes, or yawn, or get grizzly, I would swaddle her, put a dummy in, put her in the crib and rock the crib.

Then I started to get angsty about the dummy, because she would wake up when she dropped it. So I got rid of the dummy, which was easier than I expected. I would swaddle her (one arm out by this stage), lie her on her side in the crib,  pat her bottom and say “shhh”. It was magic. If I put her down when she was genuinely tired, this would make her fall asleep in less than five minutes, with a bit of grizzling. I read that this method is a good way to get rid of the dummy and transition to “self-settling” because it all happens in the crib. I was high fiving myself violently all day long.

But like everything with babies, it suddenly stopped working and there was A LOT of screaming. Then I kind of realised that all the shooshing and patting was pissing her off. So one day, I just put her in bed with only a soft little cotton bunny to soothe her just to see what happened. I spied on her from the doorway, as she played with the bunny, stared at the ceiling quietly for a while and then fell asleep. I remember thinking “Oh my god, I’ve done it. The kid is putting herself to sleep. My life will be better forever”.

3 months – 6 months: No. Just as she started putting herself to sleep, the dreaded “three month sleep regression” hit our house BIG TIME. I’m sorry to tell you that for about two months straight, she would wake up at 1am and “chat” loudly until maybe 5am. There was NOTHING that would shut her up. So we just let her have her filibusters. She also cried to be fed about twice a night, so that’s what we did. It was awful, I cried all the time, she cried all the time, J-man probably took a lover.

6 months – 9 months: Once the chatting kind of calmed down, she still wanted to be fed twice a night. It was the only thing that would stop her crying, so we just did it. Then we moved house, she started daycare, and got lots of bugs. One cold night, I draped my fluffy dressing gown over the top of her and she only woke once. Then, with the dressing gown for company, she started sleeping more soundly at night. Then, the night before I was due to go back to work, SHE SLEPT THROUGH FOR THE FIRST TIME. It turns out, she needed a fluffy dressing gown to cuddle and suck on. Gross to you and I, yeah, but it worked.

9 months – 17 months: We night weaned, pretty much thanks to the fluffy dressing gown [which we’ve cut into squares], by about 10 months. She went through a phase of sleeping through the night for about six weeks, but hasn’t really done that since. She often wakes once in the night these days. Sometimes, if she’s just grizzling and not screaming, we ignore her, other times we go in and just say “shh”, sometimes we give her water.

It gets better.

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