Sleep Swings and Roundabouts

LottieBoobNappingLottie is six weeks old on Friday. One thing I am quickly learning about babies and sleep is that you should never ever say ‘well that’s sorted!’ because nothing is ever sorted for long. The good news is, I’m finding that when things are bad, they’re not bad for long either. So you take the good with the bad and eventually muddle your way through.

An example of the bad is when on Saturday night, while I was in a beach house full of people trying to sleep, Lottie decided 2am was a good time to be awake. Wide awake. It was play time! This has only happened a few times so I know I should thank my lucky stars that Lottie usually goes straight down to sleep after night feeds so easily. But when she flips out and decides she’s awake at night, I must admit my coping mechanisms at that hour are delicate. Especially when I’m trying not to wake the house! So yes, Lottie ended up sleeping the rest of the night in her pram, which by the way she fell asleep in the moment I put her down, before I even started with the motion. Go figure.

Similarly to the problem that I’ve had with the morning sleeps, where Lottie doesn’t want to go in her cot, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to when babies decide that their sleeping habits are going to change. But I have tentative good news on this front. The last two mornings, including right now, Lottie slept in her cot. Hooray to typing with two hands without a sleeping baby in a carrier on my front! It may just be luck, but I will share with you anyway the different tactics I used to possibly influence this outcome in case they are useful for you.

Interestingly, what I have found when I have been looking for tips in books and on the internet about how to get my baby to sleep is that pretty much everyone is talking about the evening. However, so far, Lottie’s not had a problem going to sleep at 7pm bedtime. Apart from a few overnight party-time awake periods, night time sleeps after she wakes for a feed also haven’t been a problem. It’s the daytime sleeps that I struggle with, particularly in the morning at home in the cot. The reason I persist with getting Lottie as much sleep as possible during the day is because I know if she becomes overtired, the evening sleep will be a disaster too. Which makes it even stranger that the sleep advice you find in books and on the internet is so lacking for day time sleeps. Anyway, here is the daytime sleep routine I have found some very short-term success with so far based on the advice of family and friends, and also a phone call with a CAFS midwife who was able to offer some useful tips.

When I’m feeding Lottie during the day, she is often very sleepy on the boob. It was often taking me up to an hour to feed, after which she would be drowsy-milk-drunk and so I would put her down to sleep, skipping play-time. But an hour on the boob, apparently, is way too long and must have been including many short naps which meant when the feed was finished, Lottie didn’t feel like having more sleep. She was basically snacking and napping during feeding. Since I thought she was sleepy and was putting her straight down, she was missing the stimulation of playtime. But when I put her down in her cot, she was crying because she wasn’t ready to go to sleep and didn’t want to self-settle. Once I was given some advice about this and saw what I was doing wrong, I have since tried to keep her awake during feeds and low and behold the feeds have got much shorter. Each time she looks to be dosing off, I burp her to wake her up, swap sides, bounce her up and down and sometimes change her nappy. Then after the feed, even when she looks really tired, I try to keep her up for 90 minutes after she last woke, including some playtime. It’s amazing how quickly she goes from wide awake and fascinated with playtime activities, to whingy and glazed eyes, properly ready for a sleep. Once I spot these tired cues (which oddly enough often include hiccups), I swaddle her and sit quietly in the nursery, soothing her and making sure all the burps are out before I put her down. This generally takes about five minutes. Once she is quiet and drowsy (her eyes are starting to close), I put her in her cot and she has managed to miraculously self-settle herself to sleep including about 5 – 10 minutes of protesting.

I should also note that I’ve now instigated a 7am waking time (as well as continuing with the 7pm bedtime), as long as her last waking time was before 6:30am. This may have no influence on the successful day time sleeps, but I just thought I’d mention it.

I hope this method will continue to work, and that I will get better at spotting the tired cues so that I know the right time to put Lottie down before overtiredness strikes. It’s been lovely to have more playtime too, and I’m enjoying watching Lottie get more alert and interactive every day. When we are out of the house for day sleeps, I’m still very reliant on motion to get Lottie to sleep in the pram, the car and more recently the carrier. But once I have day sleeps in the cot more consistently manageable, I hope to be able to train Lottie to self-settle in a portacot too, so that we can take that to friends’ houses for day time sleeps and she can self-settle without me providing motion. But as I said, everything seems to change so quickly; tomorrow I might find this doesn’t work at all!

On the subject of things not working out the way you hoped, this video is brilliant, and something I’m sure all new mums and dads can relate to.

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In Science We Trust

SleepingBabyIf you were a newbie mum relying on baby wars you find on internet forums to review and assess different sleep strategies for your babies, you would quickly find that most forums made up of mother-experts are strongly against sleep training of any kind, including self-settling and cry-it-out. I have a suspicion that the reason for this apparent bias against sleep training, and the opposition to the idea that babies can be trained to sleep better, is because the parents who have had success with sleep training have moved on with their lives and aren’t on the forums anymore; because their babies are good sleepers, they themselves are getting plenty of sleep and they therefore no longer feel the need to lurk on online baby advice forums looking for sleep advice and decrying any method that they deem to be ‘wrong’. But since I have decided to train my baby to self-settle, and I know of parents who have had success with this method, while others have resorted to controlled-crying or cry-it-out and also found success, I was interested to see what the scientific community conclude about sleep training to see if the mother-experts are correct when they say that these strategies don’t work and are possibly harmful for my child’s emotional development.

I have a strong personal preference towards peer reviewed scientific results because in science I trust. I do understand, however, that it’s very easy to either purposely or accidentally cherry pick scientific results to suit your pre-conceived opinions. But luckily, when I went looking for it, I managed to find a study that can’t be accused of being cherry picked, because it’s a review of 52 other studies into sleep training methods, or treatments, for baby and children’s sleep. This study titled ‘Behavioral treatment of bedtime problems and night wakings in infants and young children’ was carried out by researchers from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. You can download the full paper here. But to save you reading it, I’ll do my best to summarise the outcomes.

The first thing of note is the scary statement that ‘longitudinal studies have demonstrated that sleep problems first presenting in infancy may persist into the preschool and school-aged years and become chronic’. The other scary conclusion is that, if left untreated, chronic sleep problems have been found to have detrimental consequences on a child’s cognitive development, health, mood regulation, attention, behaviour and quality of life. This makes sense to me, as I know how hopeless I am at remembering anything, maintaining a sunny disposition, being attentive and feeling healthy when I am sleep deprived. Not surprisingly, the studies have also apparently revealed the secondary side-effects of children’s chronic sleep problems as being detrimental to family life, including increasing the risk of maternal depression. Of course, the description of ‘chronic sleep problems’ is much more than my current problem of failing to get Lottie to sleep in her cot in the morning, so I’m not panicking just yet! But right off the bat, the paper gave me all the motivation I need to get Lottie’s sleeping habits sorted as soon as possible and backed up my theory that baby’s sleep intake is possibly equally as important as baby’s food intake.

After reviewing the prevalence of sleep disorders in children, the study went on to review studies of the efficacy of different sleep training methods, including Extinction, Graduated Extinction, Positive Routines/Faded Bedtime with Response Cost, Scheduled Awakening and the method I am practicing currently; Parent Education/Prevention. A summary of the results of the studies into each of these methods is as follows

Extinction and Graduated Extinction
Extinction and Graduated Extinction are scientific descriptions for the controversial ‘cry-it-out’ or ‘controlled-crying’ method of sleep training. As described in the paper, ‘Unmodified extinction procedures for sleep problems involve having the parents put the child to bed at a designated bedtime and then ignoring the child until a set time the next morning (although parents continue to monitor for illness, injury, etc)’. This ‘cry-it-out’ method is described as being most difficult for the parents, and as such, Graduated Extinction, or ‘controlled crying’ methods are often used instead; described as being when ‘parents are instructed to ignore bedtime crying and tantrums for specified periods. The duration or interval between check-ins with the child is often tailored to the child’s age and temperament, as well as the parents’ judgment of how long they [the parents] can tolerate the child’s crying’…‘The goal of Graduated Extinction is to enable a child to develop “self-soothing” skills in order for the child to fall asleep independently without undesirable sleep associations (e.g., nursing, drinking from a bottle, rocking by parent).’

So the big question is, do these cry-it-out methods work to improve a child’s sleep habits? Quoting from the paper that reviewed studies into the success of Extinction sleep training methods: ‘Extinction has a strong record of accomplishment, now having been evaluated in 19 separate research studies involving 552 participants. With the exception of 2 studies, in 17 studies the procedure has proven highly effective in eliminating bedtime problems and night wakings, and improving sleep continuity’. 17 out of 19 is a tick of approval in my opinion. And for Graduated Extinction, ‘All 14 [studies] reported positive treatment outcomes as indicated by a reduction in bedtime problems and/or night wakings’. So full marks.

Positive Routines/Faded Bedtime with Response Cost
‘Positive Routines’ is simply described as ‘the parents developing a set bedtime routine characterized by quiet activities that the child enjoys’. This is one method I am trying to employ, particularly for the night-time routine. But unfortunately, it’s not a method that has been specifically studied, as explained in the paper: ‘Having an infant or young child participate in a nightly Standardized Bedtime Routine has become a universal, “common sense” recommendation. This intervention component was included in no fewer than 14 of the selected studies. However, it was always included as part of a multi-component treatment package, and has yet to be systematically evaluated as a stand-alone intervention.’

‘Faded Bedtime with Response Cost’ is not a sleep training method I was familiar with before reading the paper, and is described as involving: ‘taking the child out of bed for prescribed periods of time when the child does not fall asleep. Bedtime is also delayed to ensure rapid sleep initiation and that appropriate cues for sleep onset are paired with positive parent-child interactions. Once the behavioral chain is well established and the child is falling asleep quickly, the bedtime is moved earlier by 15 to 30 minutes over successive nights until a pre-established bedtime goal is achieved. A scheduled wake time is established and daytime sleep is not allowed, with the exception of age-appropriate naps’. So this sounds to me like a way to enforce sleeping and waking routine times, however I would worry that getting the child out of bed when they are having trouble sleeping would lead to overtiredness. Nevertheless, letting the science judge rather than inexperienced me, the results of two studies into this sleep training method showed ‘the procedure is rapid and effective’. So perhaps it’s something I should look into if my preferred method doesn’t work, maybe when Lottie is a bit older.

Scheduled Awakenings
Scheduled Awakenings is also a method I have not come across before. It is described as involving: ‘parents awakening and consoling their child approximately 15 to 30 minutes before a typical spontaneous awakening. This strategy begins with establishing a baseline of the number and time of spontaneous night-time awakenings. Pre-emptive awakenings are then scheduled. Parent-induced scheduled awakenings are typically followed by the parents’ usual response to a spontaneous awakening, such as rocking or nursing the child back to sleep. Scheduled awakenings are then faded out, by systematically increasing the time span between awakenings. These scheduled awakenings appear to increase the duration of consolidated sleep.’ This one sounds really complicated, because I have no idea how you know your child is likely to awaken in 15 to 30 minutes. The paper seems to agree with me that this method is more difficult to accomplish than other methods like Extinction as it explains that Scheduled Awakenings is ‘slightly more complicated to carry out, and studies suggest that results may take several weeks rather than several days’. Nevertheless, four studies of this method by a particular group of researchers indicate that the method affords ‘another treatment option for frequent night-time awakenings’.

Parent Education/Prevention
I took extra interest in the results of this method since it is the one I am currently trying. Who doesn’t love the idea of ‘prevention’ before problems become entrenched! The researchers describe this method as encompassing many forms of new parent or soon-to-be-parent education that ‘focus on early establishment of positive sleep habits’ which ‘typically target bedtime routines, developing a consistent sleep schedule, parental handling during sleep initiation, and parental response to night-time awakenings’. The description goes on to explain that ‘almost all programs have incorporated the recommendation that babies should be put to bed ‘drowsy but awake’ to help them develop independent sleep initiation skills at bedtime, and enabling them to return to sleep without intervention following naturally occurring night time arousals’. This is the self-settling method that I am trying to train Lottie to master which is advocated in Tizzy Hall’s book Save Our Sleep. Happily, this method was given an endorsement by the researchers who claim that five large scale studies show that it ‘may set the standard as the most economical and time efficient approach to behaviourally based paediatric sleep problems’. This endorsement is great motivation to keep going with the training. So far, my own early experience is proving that when Lottie is able to self-settle, the whole family is a happy place!

As a last word, it’s also worth investigating whether many of the mother-experts are correct when they say that cry-it-out and controlled-crying is harmful to a child’s emotional development and relationship with their parents. As this study shows, the cry-it-out method is successful in improving a child’s sleep habits and can fix problems, often over a few short but painful nights. From what I can tell, cry-it-out is usually used to undo sleep habits that parents have identified as being problematic, such as when parents want to transition a child from co-sleeping to their own cot, or when the child is reliant on parent intervention to get them to sleep and into the next sleep cycle, such as rocking, patting, feeding to sleep or my current morning sleep crutch – motion in a pram or the car. Improving a child’s sleep and solving chronic sleep problems is clearly an important end unto itself for the child’s long term development. However no parent wants to think they’re doing emotional damage to their child by letting them cry; in other words, there’s contention about whether the ends justifies the means. However, the good news is, an Australian peer reviewed study has shown the controlled-crying method (which in the paper I’ve reviewed is called Graduated Extinction and is often also called camping-out) doesn’t do any long-term damage to a child. By comparing the emotional strength and parental and child bond of 6 year olds, half of who were sleep trained using the controlled-crying method, and half who were not, the study concluded that there was no difference in the two groups, and nor was there any difference in the sleep habits of the 6 year olds. I also came across this article that reviews some of the science the anti-cry-it-out (anti-Extinction) faction use to claim this method damages your child and frankly, I agree that science should never be misrepresented to scare people into believing they are damaging their child. So those tempted to use either the Extinction or Graduated Extinction method, or who have already used it, fear not, it would seem your child will not hate you or be emotionally stunted!

So there we have it – science has proven that not only are healthy sleep habits important for the health of a child, but that there are sleep training methods available to parents to improve the sleep habits of their child and the sanity of the family. Hooray for science!

My Sleep Mistake

Sleep mistakeOne of the major points of contention in discussions of different baby rearing methods is whether babies can be trained, and at what age they can officially ‘learn’ new skills. You see many mothers claiming there’s no way their child is able to learn anything when they are only a few weeks old, often accompanied by unhelpful comments like ‘my child is not a puppy’. Some baby experts also claim it’s not possible for babies to learn anything until they are a few months old. But I have one case study that proves this otherwise and unfortunately this training is not a good thing. I have trained my baby to go to sleep in the day with the help of motion; either in the pram or in the car. And over the last two days, I’ve proved that Lottie is so used to going to sleep this way when the sun is up that she is not able to sleep in her cot during daytime sleeps. Hours of crying, both protesting and proper emotional crying has resulted. It’s really scary how quickly this has happened and how hard this habit is going to be to break.

From the start of Lottie’s life, I was keen for her to get used to sleeping in the pram or the car so that I could be mobile with her. I didn’t want a baby who could only sleep in her cot, in her nursery, making me a prisoner in my own home. So off we went to visit friends and family, to go out for coffee, to go shopping, to drive to the beach and to take advantage of a sunny day and walk to the park. It all seemed to be going so well! Lottie slept well during the day, for at least 90 minutes to sometimes 3 or even 4 hours. And at night she seemed content to be in her cot, and usually after a bit of protesting-self-settling, would go to bed happily after our night-time routine of bath, feed and bed. But now looking back over the last three weeks that we’ve been home from hospital, I’ve realised that for pretty much every morning sleep at least, Lottie was put to sleep in her pram or car seat because I either went out, or pushed her around the living room in her pram. Why was I pushing her around inside you might ask? Because that was a good way to get her to sleep! I just didn’t realise that this sleep training method of parent intervention instead of self-settling her in a cot would become a habit so quickly! I’ve trained Lottie to need motion to go to sleep during the day. If this doesn’t prove that a very small baby can be trained, I don’t know what does. Because she definitely wasn’t born with this sleep habit. There’s not a latent gene in my family tree that makes Lottie a sleep-only-with-motion-in-the-daytime baby. It’s not a peculiar part of her unique personality. It’s something I’ve done to my child and now I have to work out how to undo it! It’s really scary.

With this realisation has come the empathy to understand how many mothers end up making a rod for their own back very early on when it comes to getting their babies to sleep, and why they find it so hard to break these early habits. For instance, during the first few weeks of regular feeding through the night, it’s easy to see how co-sleeping can accidently become the method of last resort to get the baby to sleep. And to allow the parents some sleep. But then it’s very quickly a habit and I assume a very difficult one to break! Because baby then is trained to sleep only in parents’ bed and you have a crutch that you can’t do without.

Over the last two days, after realising that I had this sleep problem (note; it’s my sleep problem, not Lottie’s, as she is the innocent victim in this situation), I’ve also come to understand how hard this habit is to break. Yesterday morning Lottie protested on and off in her cot for four hours, and was clearly beside herself with exhaustion. As per the sleep training method of self-settling, I would sooth her each time her protesting escalated to crying, assuming eventually she would sleep. Yet she wouldn’t. Once she’s been awake this long she is due another feed, so the whole feed, play, sleep routine is completely out the window. This morning I’ve had three hours of similar behaviour, and ended up putting her in the pram to get her to sleep as I know she won’t self-settle when she’s overtired. As soon as the pram motion started, she fell straight to sleep. I thought I could stop pushing to write this post, but alas I’ve had to come back to it three times as she keeps stirring when the pram motion stops. I’m learning to type with one hand. See how you can train yourself quickly to adapt to your environment? This is ridiculous.

While I was pushing Lottie around my living room and kitchen this afternoon, begging her to go to sleep, there were a mixture of very strange thoughts going through my sleep-deprived, desperate mind. ‘Would it be so bad if I had to push her to sleep in the pram every day?’, to which my mind would reply ‘yes! Look at yourself! You’re making two minute noodles for lunch with one hand and you’re busting to the toilet but you’re not willing to stop pushing the pram for one second in case Lottie wakes up! This is madness’. I also had a flash-forward to when Lottie goes to child care which will likely be around 9 months of age, with me explaining to the childcare people that she needs to be pushed in a pram to sleep and them looking at me like I’m a lunatic. Yes, it’s only week 5 at the moment, but if I gave in and didn’t break this routine, she would be 9 months old before I know it and I would have massive pram pushing biceps and a complete inability to do anything with my day until I had spent at least half an hour getting her to sleep every few hours! No thank you!

I’ve made this problem and now I need to commit to fixing it. I will keep you updated about how this turns out.

Instinctual motherhood

Lottie Wrapped Hand

With all the research I’ve been doing about different baby rearing methods, one word stands out; instincts. In particular, motherly instincts. When justifying why they mother the way they do, you will often find women saying that they follow their instincts and the instincts of their child which they know instinctively is the best instinctual thing to do. The father of Attachment Parenting, Dr Sears, bandies the instinct word around a lot, as do his followers. Their mantra seems to be that all women have to do to raise happy healthy children is to follow their instincts, and that these instincts are only correct if they follow Dr Sears’ Attachment Parenting advice to the letter. Because Dr Sears’ instincts are correct on all matters. Get it? So when a baby peeps, if your instincts tell you your baby is hungry, you should feed your baby because your instincts can’t be wrong. Apparently.

Only thing is, as I’m quickly learning through my baby boot camp, my instincts are completely upside down most of the time and if I didn’t fight against them, I could be causing some serious problems for my baby. Does this make me a ‘bad mother’, because I question my instincts? Or are my instincts incorrect which makes me a ‘bad mother’? I don’t think so. I think motherhood, like most things in life, is a learning process and like any new skill that needs to be learned, sometimes your instincts get in the way of smart decisions and rather than helping, take you way off in the wrong direction. The same goes for babies. An example of this is Lottie’s instinctual urge to free her hands from her swaddling. She is seriously good at this; no matter how carefully I wrap her, she very often manages to get at least one hand free. But once this hand is free, it waves around in her face and wakes her up by scaring her, because apparently babies are too small to understand that the thing flapping in front of their face belongs to them. Instincts can often be unhelpful in this way.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m currently feeding and sleeping (yes I’m using sleeping as an adjective) on an approximate 3 – 4 hour feed-play-sleep routine, whilst also following much of the advice of Tizzy Hall’s Save Our Sleep schedule such as the strict 7pm bedtime, a consistent bedtime routine, and the right amount of sleep and feeding per day for Lottie’s age. The reason I’m not following Tizzy’s advice to the letter is I’m finding that Lottie often doesn’t manage to stay awake as long as the Tizzy schedule recommends and if I tried to keep her awake she would get overtired. She also often doesn’t stay asleep for long enough during the day to make it to the next scheduled feed. For this reason, there is very minimal play time in the feed-play-sleep routine as Lottie often feeds for up to an hour, including burping and is then ready to go straight back to sleep. But I find I can mostly successfully get the recommended number of feeds and the right amount of sleep into a 24 hour period on an approximate 3 – 4 hour cycle, just not quite at the times Tizzy recommends. However, as Lottie gets older and is sleeping through the night, I will keep aiming for the predictability of Tizzy’s routines and hope that this naturally occurs.

So back to the question of motherly instincts. When I’m feeding overnight, Lottie quite often falls asleep on my boob and won’t keep feeding, particularly if I leave her swaddled while I feed. For a few nights, I let my instincts decide that since she was falling asleep on the boob, she obviously wasn’t hungry anymore and I should take the opportunity to put her down to sleep again, which I could do really easily since she was already wrapped. To be honest, I was instinctively following my own sleep instincts that told me to creep back to bed myself and get some much needed sleep. But I soon learned that following my instincts in this situation was wrong. Because when Lottie doesn’t have enough milk, she won’t sleep for very long, waking up hungry and trying to turn my 3 to 4 hour eat/sleep schedule into a demand-feeding situation. No thanks!

I was given some advice for night feeds which works much better than trusting my instincts. I now get Lottie up when she wakes for a feed, which is usually between 2 and 4 hours after she was put down to sleep. I unwrap her, and feed on one side, usually for about 15 – 20 minutes, followed by burping. Then I change her nappy, which is the perfect way to both wake her up and make sure ducks are lined up for the next sleep. She is awake enough to feed from the second boob for another 15 – 20 minutes and burp, and after this I have always found she goes straight back to sleep for another 2 to 4 hours. Both the right amount of feed and sleep are crucial to make this night-time routine work.

The other instinctual wrong-doing that can put out all my best-laid plans is the instinct to cuddle. During day time feeds, when Lottie is very milk-drunk she will suck on my boob without any productive swallowing, using my nipple as a pacifier. It is instinctively tempting at this point to let her do this for as long as she wants, which I have no doubt would be up to an hour, if not longer, if I let her and she would eventually go to sleep on the boob. It’s so nice to have her cuddling up against me and I’m also so tired all the time that just sitting there is much easier than doing something. But the problem with letting her do this is that it breaks one of the rules of training Lottie, and me, in the art of self-settling; that is that baby should be put to sleep awake in the same place where she is going to wake up so not to unsettle her when she naturally wakes at the end of a 45 minute sleep cycle. I also want to avoid feeding Lottie to sleep as this is a habit I definitely don’t want Lottie to rely on to get to sleep.

On the subject of self-settling, if you’re going to commit to it consistently to make sure your baby is used to putting herself to sleep, you really need to ignore your instincts to pick up your crying (protesting) baby. When babies self-settle, they’re very close to being asleep and are just crying out as they settle themselves. If you give in to your instincts and pick them up at this point, you’re not only going to fail to get them to sleep, you’re also going to annoy them the same way as you yourself would be annoyed to be poked and prodded just as you’re settling off to sleep. Listening to your baby protest as she puts herself to sleep isn’t easy, but I have to keep reminding myself that it’s helping Lottie to sleep independently, so in the long run, fighting my instincts to pick her up are the best way forward.

I also need to make sure I’m not instinctively assuming that every time Lottie cries she is hungry. Again this leads to demand-feeding which is what I’m trying to avoid. When Lottie has had a good feed, and I know she’s had a good feed because she’s had both boobs for at least 15-20 minutes each, she shouldn’t be hungry again for at least 3 to 4 hours from the start of the last feed. There are times when I find Lottie does need a top-up soon after being put down to sleep because she’s realised she actually hasn’t had enough and won’t fall asleep until her belly is completely full. This is sometimes because a post-feed burp has opened up some space for more milk. I’m getting used to knowing when Lottie’s emotional cries are for a quick filler feed, which usually is no longer than 3 – 5 minutes on one boob. But apart from this, if she wakes within the hour to 90 minutes of being put down and is properly crying, not just protesting, chances are she doesn’t need to be fed. She might need a nappy change, although I find at this age, Lottie sleeps through a dirty nappy. Or sometimes she does need a pat on the back to get a burp out. But I’ve also found that there are times when Lottie cries that she possibly doesn’t even need to be picked up. A few times, when Lottie has woken crying before the end of a proper sleep, I’ve gone against my motherly instincts to comfort her by picking her up, and all I’ve had to do is rub her belly and help her to burp, after which she goes straight back to sleep as if I’ve flicked a switch. Had I got her up at this point, I would have completely undone the self-settling process and properly woken her up, turning her sleep into a nap, and offering her a snack rather than a feed. My aim is always sleeps and feeds, not naps and snacks. But my motherly instincts could easily turn a perfectly good sleep and feed into a very unproductive nap and snack, so I’m constantly fighting the urge to fall for the instinctive reaction.

The big picture of all this instinct-fighting is a commitment to the sleep training, routine method that I have chosen for my baby. Very often this method is hard to achieve and involves constant effort; effort to get out of bed and sit up to breast feed instead of breast feeding in bed. Effort to keep her awake to get a proper feed and to keep her asleep when I would really like to just cuddle. And when things do go awry, such as when regularly I struggle to get Lottie to sleep in the mornings before she is too overtired to self-settle, I have to fight my instincts to give up on this method altogether and just let her stay up, let her get overtired and deal with the resulting hissy-fit later in the day. Just like when you’re learning to ride a bike, and you fall off, you do need to fight your instincts that tell you to never get on the dangerous, wobbly pile of metal that led to you scraping your knee ever again. But what good would that be? I’m aiming for the proficient bike riding Holy Grail of a full night’s sleep for Lottie, which is promised to me by the advocates of the sleep and feeding method I have chosen. So I persist and hope that eventually my newbie instincts to do the unhelpful thing are trained into the right instincts to make this work for all of us.

The Dangers of Attachment Parenting

Rick Lottie2Attachment Parenting is dangerous. No, I haven’t tried it. Because I’m not game to go there.

I understand that most parents aren’t fundamentalist when it comes to baby methods and mostly exist somewhere along the continuum between Attachment Parenting (AP) and hard-core scheduled, routine, self-settling or cry-it-out proponents. So far I am happily living on the routine, self-settling side of the fence, with the rough goal of Tizzy Hall’s Save Our Sleep routines, which in reality is currently closer to Brian Symon’s rough 3 – 4 hour routines of the ‘feed, play, sleep’ method.

For those who are interested, this method is working well for my family. Lottie is four weeks old tomorrow and is already self-settling for most of her sleeps, which occur approximately every 3 – 4 hours day and night. We even managed a five hour sleep after a bottle of expressed milk a few nights ago, which was a glorious gift for a very-sleep-deprived me! The only sleep I’m currently having trouble getting Lottie down for is her morning sleep, as for some reason we find at this time of the day she’s too wide awake to self-settle. But I’m working on this problem and understand it will be a daily struggle, with some days easier than others. Overall I’m happy with the consistency I’ve introduced to my family’s life with a newborn. But this happiness isn’t the only reason I’m not interested in even thinking about the demand-feeding, co-sleeping, 24/7 baby-wearing malarkey that is Attachment Parenting. I honestly think it’s a really dangerous parenting method for the child and the family. And with the bravery of an atheist preaching to a room of religious zealots, I’m not afraid to say it!

From what I have seen of the AP mothers online (note, I don’t actually know any of them), those on the very militantly strict end of this continuum, who treat their parenting method as something they are, fittingly, very attached to, behave like members of a strict religious cult. That is, they believe so strongly in what they are doing that they seem to lose all sense of the dangers of the method, whilst also judging those parents who don’t want to bring up their babies in this way and being incredibly high-and-mighty about the reasons they think AP is the only ‘moral’ way to parent. AP parents think self-settling is cruel to their babies. AP parents think crying-it-out is something selfish parents do who don’t care if their children are developmentally and emotionally damaged by crying. (What a load of bullshit!) And AP parents are, from what I can tell, in complete denial about the down-side dangers of the method they have chosen. Here are the main ones I, as a mother, would be most concerned about:

Co-Sleeping

I’ve already written about my reasoning for putting my baby to sleep in a her cot in her nursery, or in a bassinette during the day, and why I would be far too terrified to ever go to sleep with my baby in my arms or in my bed. But what angers me about AP advocates who claim co-sleeping is the only natural way to care for a newborn is that they never ever caveat this co-sleeping advocacy with warnings about SIDS.

This is where I’m going to be really controversial for a moment; but I actually don’t think suffocation through co-sleeping should even be called SIDS because SIDS is when babies die un-expectantly and doctors don’t know why they died. It’s a societal taboo to even talk about it, but I’ve never been afraid to call a spade a spade; if a baby suffocates in their parents’ bed by falling under the blankets, falling against a wall, or being rolled on by a parent, they haven’t died un-expectantly from a cause unknown. They’ve been suffocated in their parents’ bed. The risk of this happening is very small, but it’s a risk. It’s a risk enough that when I was visited by the CAFS midwife, I had to sign a document to say she had given me SIDS safe-sleeping guidelines which blatantly say co-sleeping is not recommended. Parents need to know the SIDS risk exists. Doctors and sleep-experts, and anyone advocating a certain sleeping method should always caveat their advice with the information that there are ways to minimise the risks of co-sleeping, but there is no absolutely 100% safe way to co-sleep. It’s completely irresponsible to pretend otherwise.

And to make matters worse, when this risk information is provided to the public, the co-sleepers, many of whom are APs, still deny the risks and attack those who point them out.

An example is this Mamamia article which quotes a study by Birmingham City University which revealed: an estimated 88 per cent of deaths that occurred while a child slept with their parents would not have happened if the baby had not been bed-sharing. Read this again and tell me co-sleeping is not a risk. Not every SIDS death occurs when babies are in their parents’ bed; some are unexplained deaths that occur in cots. But if almost 9 out of 10 SIDS deaths that occur in a co-sleeping situation wouldn’t have happened if the baby wasn’t co-sleeping, this is something the public need to know about!

If you’ve got time, check out many of the comments on this article from mothers who co-sleep and are hell-bent on justifying their decision. Would they reject outright scientific advice, and advice from coroners who have investigated SIDS deaths, if they were being told to give their child a particular medicine when they were sick, or to wear seatbelts, or to make sure their pram was safe, or to not eat certain foods that might poison them? I see it time and time again that APs and co-sleeping advocates justify their sleeping method by saying ‘my baby likes co-sleeping and I’m a good parent who lets my baby do what he likes’. I’m sorry, but would you let your child play on the freeway if they wanted to? And isn’t this usually more about what the parents enjoy than what the child enjoys? I will go even further to say to the AP advocates who claim that my four week old baby can’t learn to self-settle (even though I’m currently proving them wrong on a 3 – 4 hourly basis), can’t have it both ways and also claim that their child, who they say can’t learn anything, knows enough about the world to take responsibility for how they sleep and feed at night. Parents need to know the risks and for me, no matter how ‘nice’ it feels to sleep next to your child, the risk isn’t worth it and no-one should try to bible-bash me into thinking otherwise.

This is an interesting perspective from a mother who tried the Attachment Parenting method with her first child, and claims it almost ruined her life, including her health, so chose a self-settling method for her second child. Doesn’t she sound like someone who survived and escaped a life-sucking cult? And that brings me to the second reason I think Attachment Parenting is dangerous; because it erases the identity of the mother who is literally ball-and-chain-tied to her babies for up to 2 – 5 years at a time.

The Mother’s Identity

I am a proud feminist. When I decided to have children, I did so with the understanding that I wanted to continue to be a proud feminist and mother. For me, that means finding a parenting method that includes as much household equality as it’s possible to have.

My husband can’t breastfeed and hasn’t taken maternity leave, but where possible, we share the parenting of our child equally. Attachment Parenting doesn’t allow for this sharing. In fact, the relationship between the mother and the father is minimised by this parenting method, and the relationship between the child and the father is minimised. This is not good for the parent’s relationship, for the child, or the family unit, including older children. I also see Attachment Parenting as dangerous for the mother’s relationship, and the child’s relationship, with people outside the direct family, including parents/grandparents, aunties, uncles, siblings, friends, colleagues and anyone else who was in your life before the child arrives and would like to be in your life after you become a mother, and in the life of your child.

For instance, if you co-sleep and also want your child to have a stable bedtime of say 7:00pm, does that mean you go to bed at 7:00pm every night? When do you spend time with your husband who probably is at work all day? When do you speak to your friends who also might work all day and want to see you in the evenings? When do you go out to a movie, or host a dinner party, or celebrate a friend’s birthday with them? Or are you meant to give up all of this when you become an Attached-Parent? Are you meant to give up all your relationships for the sake of your child? Are you meant to give up doing all the things you enjoyed before you had children? How can grandparents babysit if your child is attached to you? How are you meant to keep being you with a child attached? Are you meant to give up your identity and think about, talk about and literally be attached to nothing else but your child, day and night for years? This doesn’t sound like a parenting method; this sounds like insanity.

Colleagues. This is another dangerous reality of Attachment Parenting. How do you go back to work when you’ve got a child attached to you all day and night? I’m assuming you don’t. But if you do want to go back, say after 6 months or a year, or you have to go back for financial reasons, the sudden ‘detachment’ would surely cause havoc for your child who suddenly has to learn to be an independent human. And the sleep-deprivation that would come from this forced detachment would make working very difficult for the zombie-like- mother. I would be interested to hear from mothers who have chosen the Attachment Parenting method and have chosen at some stage to break-free of the attachment as I assume it’s not an easy process to reverse.

Like most new mothers, I do find myself constantly justifying my parenting decisions and so I can’t blame Attachment Parents for doing the same. But if you’re a new parent considering Attachment Parenting, please consider these dangers and proceed with informed caution.

Dad’s newborn experience

Rick LottieThis post is an interview with my husband Rick so he could share his experience of being the parent of a newborn.

How did you feel when you found out Vic was pregnant?
I was ecstatic. I was very ready to have babies. Looking back, I think I’d been wanting to have a baby for quite a while so when I found out we were going to be parents, it was really exciting.

Describe the moment that you watched Lottie being born?
It’s a very emotional experience. People tell you the love you feel for a child is unbelievable, but you don’t understand until it happens and you see it. You get overwhelmed with emotions. The whole labour experience seemed to fly by and didn’t feel like 16 hours. All I really remember now is the moment Charlotte arrived.

How have the first 3 weeks been so far?
Things have been going really well considering we have a newborn. There is a lot we need to learn about, like when she’s crying what she’s crying for. It was hard when Vic was in hospital because I could only visit during the day and couldn’t stay the night. The nurses were helping out but I really wanted to be there too. I wanted Vic and Lottie to come home so I could get more involved.

The night times aren’t that bad. Well obviously they’re much easier for me than Vic because I don’t have to get up. I wake up whenever Lottie wakes up and Vic gets out of bed. I hear stories of babies waking every hour for feed or attention. Apart from one night so far, Lottie seems to be an ok sleeper. If she sleeps for 3-4 hours, I find I can get back to sleep. I used to sleep really soundly but since she arrived, I wake up easily when she makes a sound, as if I’m asleep but listening out for her. I enjoy helping with feeding by giving her a bottle and bathing her, taking my fair share of the burden so Vic can get some sleep. And I love having cuddles with her. Going back to work was OK but it would have been nice to have more time off to spend with her. I’m working 4 days a week for the next couple of months which gives me an extra day to spend with Lottie, which is good.

What is the best part of being a father of a newborn?
The pleasure of looking at her and thinking I’ve brought this beautiful child into the world. I want to do everything I can do to bring her up as a strong and confident child and adult.

What is the worst part?
Worrying about whether you’ve done things right – have I wrapped her right and put her down to sleep right. It’s a learning process and I’m feeling a bit inexperienced and anxious about making sure we’re doing the right things.

When I help out, Vic keeps saying thank you to me as if I’ve done her a favour. But I keep telling her she needs to stop saying thank you because Lottie is just as much my responsibility as she is Vic’s. Vic has taken time off work and is the only one who can feed but when I’m there she is just as much my responsibility. It’s patronising to say the husband is helping his wife with their child. No, he’s not helping, he’s doing what is his responsibility as a parent. Vic and I are a team and we support each other.

The realities of self-settling

Baby SleepingThis post is by my sister Cat about her experiences of sleep training her 3 month old son. As she mentions, it’s not considered polite to talk about getting a lot of sleep when you have a small baby. However, I personally find it inspirational and motivational to hear such success stories as I think it’s important for new mums to know that it is possible to get to a point where your child sleeps through the night. I’m such a proud aunty to watch Cat’s son grow into such a happy-go-lucky baby who is an absolute delight. I know I’m inspired by Cat’s experience so I hope you find it inspirational too. 

My son is 15 weeks old. He has slept 12 hours at night (with a dreamfeed) since he was 6 weeks old.

There. I’ve said it.

I don’t talk about this with anyone but close friends and family. Newborns and sleep is such a hot topic of conversation but its considered taboo to talk openly about it when they are sleeping well.

I get it.

It’s akin to taking a Large Big Mac Meal to a weight loss seminar and eating it in front of overweight people whilst telling them ‘if anything, I have trouble gaining weight’. You wouldn’t do it, and so in the company of other parents, I generally keep my mouth shut.

So why am I talking about it now?

Because I want to clear up a few things.

First things first. I know I am LUCKY. But it’s not the sort of luck you receive when you win the lottery. Lottery luck is random. The only extent by which I’ve received random luck is that my son was born near full term with a healthy birth weight of 4.3Kg. I understand the fact he was born with ‘fat on his bones’ probably has contributed to his ability to sleep well, drawing on his stores rather than being constantly hungry like skinnier babies.

I am also lucky that he – so far – doesn’t have any feeding or health issues that preclude his ability to sleep well, such as reflux or ear infections.

But that’s where my luck ends.

The second thing is. My husband and I have undertaken sleep training.

First we sleep trained ourselves as parents and then we sleep trained our child.

And I am grateful. Grateful not for being lucky but grateful for the set of circumstances which led to us committing ourselves to sleep train our child.

Like all new parents we sought advice. We targeted family and friends who had young children who we knew for a fact were good sleepers and asked them what they had done so that we could emulate their success. Thank goodness we had these people in our lives. If we had been the first people in our group of friends to reproduce we would have been clueless, or worse than clueless, reliant only on the nutcases who give parenting advice on internet forums.

We read the books that were recommended to us by these friends.

Through the advice of these friends, and these books we learnt a lot about parenting before our son arrived.

We committed to the methods described to us. We believed when we were told that consistency was the key to success.

We vowed to start as we meant to go on.

So from day 1, our son was placed into his bed awake, and allowed to go to sleep by himself.

We determined his sleep times based on a mixture of tired cues and advice from routines stipulated in Tizzie Hall’s ‘Save our Sleep’ on how long a baby his age would likely stay awake for at certain times of day.

And sometimes he cried.

It was hard. No one wants to hear their baby cry.

Early on, it is difficult to differentiate between what is described as ‘distressed’ crying and ‘protest’ crying so we relied on our instinct. We learnt that even sometimes our instinct was wrong.

Sometimes when we put him down the scream was so urgent we ‘knew’ he needed something other than sleep. So we offered a top up feed or checked his nappy, or burped him again, and then put him back down. Sometimes we were convinced he ‘needed’ us but by the time we opened the door, he had fallen asleep.

Other times we felt the crying was definitely just protesting or line-ball enough that we set the timer and waited out the recommended time to allow him to learn the skill of settling.

At the beginning this was 2 minutes. 2 minutes is a long time. When your child is crying it feels like an eternity. If I wasn’t watching the clock tick over I would have thought it was 10, 15 minutes. When he stopped for 5 seconds then started again, the timer gets reset. Sometimes this made me hopeful that he was going to sleep, other times when he had reached 1 minute 55, I willed him to get to 2 minutes so I could satisfy my urge to reassure him, cuddle him, tell him I loved him and ‘Mummy’s here’. Nowhere on the planet is there a parent who doesn’t want to do this when their child is crying.

But I kept the faith.

He hardly ever got to 2 minutes.

Sometimes he cried for a minute and 50 seconds 4 times, 5 times in a row. I gritted my teeth. I shed tears, of frustration, and of guilt.

I felt bad. Articles about controlled crying, which linked it to some kind of psychological damage to the child, would fill my thoughts. The people, even some experts, who say babies can’t learn anything until they are 6 months old. Was I a bad mother? Was I a cold-hearted bitch? Will my son still love me if I let him cry?

A few other thoughts steeled me.

And when I say thoughts, I should say, beliefs. Because when you’re in that situation, letting your child cry, but not going to him, it is only your beliefs that will steel you. The advice you’ve received, the books and articles you’ve read, none of that matters if you don’t believe in what you’re doing.

LaughingI believe that his cries were not distress. I believe that his cries were at worst a frustration that he felt himself falling asleep but couldn’t quite achieve sleep. Like the way he would cry if a toy was out of reach once he’s old enough to sit up but not crawl.

I believe that if I resisted cradling / patting and shooshing / feeding or rocking him to sleep and picking him up each time he made a noise, then he would learn that he CAN fall asleep without an adult present, indeed, he would know no different.

And most of all, I believe that he needed sleep more than he needed a cuddle.

As he got a bit older, it got easier, with one exception.

It got easier because it became easier to spot his tired cues and because his cries naturally became easier to distinguish. Now his pre-sleep noises don’t even sound like crying (MOST of the time), it just sounds like whinging. Which is easier to ignore. The sounds is deeper and the gaps are longer. (Here is an example of his ‘protest’ cry and his ‘distressed’ cry).

It got easier because I knew that he was getting his required sleep, and that was worth the whinge at the beginning or after one sleep cycle.

And finally, it got easier because he got better at it.

The exception was overtiredness. I have now learnt that the tireder he is when he gets put down to sleep, the longer he will protest for, both at the beginning of the sleep and after sleep cycles.

The trick with overtiredness is it can creep up on you. If his morning sleep has been a write-off but his afternoon sleep has been normal, it’s easy to assume the evening will be fine because ‘he just didn’t need to sleep in the morning’. In my experience the ‘he just didn’t need to sleep’ doesn’t work. He always needs at least 4 hours of sleep in the day and sometimes gets 6 hours. It’s best if he can get it in blocks, but even six 45 minute ‘cat naps’ are better than nothing. If he gets less than 4 hours total, and more than 90 minutes of awake time between day sleeps, he can get overtired very quickly. The result of overtiredness is he finds it very difficult to settle and in the evening can get what we describe as ‘completely over it’, which generally means a lot of fussing, crying and is difficult to feed or settle.

Avoiding overtiredness is a daily goal whereby his day sleeps are managed by his parents. Left to his own devices, he would never achieve enough.

When he has slept well, he is a delight during play times, and it seems the better he sleeps the better he sleeps.

Occasionally we have failed in our consistent approach to sleep training. A few times, usually when there are other people around, I have gotten him up after he’s woken after 1 sleep cycle, even when I knew he would likely go back to sleep quickly. A few times I have even gotten him up and moved him into the pram or car to try to get him to go to sleep in the first place. I have never listened to him protest on and off for more than 30 minutes, but I could count on one hand how many times he has lasted that long. If I haven’t been in a position to have him in his cot, pram or the car, for bedtime, I have struggled to get him to sleep any other way than putting him on the boob and letting him fall asleep in my arms, where he remains for his whole nap. I know this goes against the sleep training so I am careful to keep these instances to a minimum.

A couple of weeks ago it dawned on me how proficiently my son had learned to self settle.

I had realised that his tired cues were cutting in after 90 minutes of awake time. Although I had been following the routines in ‘Save Our Sleep’ since his birth, and finding his feed and sleep times were mostly appropriate, I now realised that he couldn’t stay awake for the 2 hours of awake time stipulated in the current routine, so I modified it to become a basic ‘eat, play, sleep’ pattern based on his tired cues which included general whingy-ness and sucking his thumb. I guess you could say we used to do routines but now we ‘sleep on demand’. My husband also developed a ‘two yawn rule’ where he is put straight to bed after the second yawn, which generally occurs exactly 90 minutes after he last woke up.

As soon as we zip up his sleep suit, turn on his white noise machine and put his blanket up to his chest, his thumb goes straight to his mouth, the sucking begins and we turn off the light. The result? Either silence, or at most, 30 seconds of very tired-sounding protests. Then sleep, glorious, sleep.

On Saturday night we took our son to a friend’s home to be babysat for a few hours in the evening while we went out to a party. She had insisted that rather than bring him over to go straight to bed, we must bring him earlier so they could have some awake time. She missed her babies who are now teenagers.

I briefly explained to her what time I’d expect him to want to go to sleep and that he would likely go to sleep on his own after some thumb-sucking and possibly a little protest crying.

Around bedtime we received a text message advising us that he was asleep. Phew!

When we returned to collect him a few hours later, she described how he had become whingey like we’d said so they’d gotten him ready for bed. They had then tried rocking him to sleep in their arms, but he had gotten more whingey, they then had walked him up and down the corridor in their arms, which also didn’t work. At this point I was wondering if they simply hadn’t heard me when I’d suggested that he would fall asleep by himself. Maybe they heard me but didn’t believe me. Eventually, they said, they’d put him in his bed, crying, and he’d gone straight to sleep. She said to me ‘my sons loved being rocked to sleep but your son wanted to sleep on his own.’

That comment struck me. The truth is, I believe, babies don’t ‘like or dislike’ any way of going to sleep, they are simply trained to go to sleep one way or another. The glorious part about self settling is that he doesn’t need his parents to help him go to sleep, whether that be at 7pm, 2:30pm or worse, 1am. Hallelujah to that!

The curse of the overtired baby

OvertirednessToday Lottie is three weeks old. My biggest learning so far on this raising-newborn journey is the importance of getting enough food into her, and enough sleep. Because what I’ve realised is you can’t have one without the other!

Today the CAFS nurse visited and Lottie was weighed for the first time since leaving hospital. She has put on 32g a day over the last two weeks, which is a good amount and makes me feel satisfied that the feeding situation is on track. We’ve now also been trying out the Tizzy Hall Save our Sleep routine method for two weeks, with mixed results. But I also think Lottie is getting enough sleep because as of last night she’s up to an approximate average of a 3 hour feed routine day and night.

These simple statements make the whole situation sound much easier than it really is. And that’s the one thing I find really difficult about both Tizzy’s advice and also Dr Brian Symon’s advice, whose book I am also reading. Both advocate self-settling without parent intervention so the baby learns how to put themselves to sleep, as well as fixed routines to make sure that your baby is getting enough sleep and food from day one. Both explain the major issues a child can have if it is allowed to get overtired, as babies then have trouble feeding and sleeping sufficiently because they are too tired to function. However, even knowing and completely understanding all this useful information, there doesn’t seem to be much advice out there about what to do if your baby isn’t going to sleep easily and how to stretch their awake times and sleep cycles to hit the magical suggested routine times.

As an example, at night I am still demand feeding as per Tizzy’s advice and I’m fairly happy to be finally reaching 3.5 hour or 3 hour cycles. My baby self-settles herself to sleep when I put her down at night after 30 – 40 minute feeds. This is mostly without a peep as she is so milk-drunk she is close to asleep by the time I put her down, give or take a couple of minutes of fussing. But, during the day, particularly in the morning, I find she is wide awake and sometimes it’s really hard to get her to sleep. I’m told I’m lucky that she is already recognising that night time is for sleeping and daytime for being awake. I also consider myself lucky that when she is wide awake in the mornings during the times she should be asleep, that she’s not screaming her lungs out. She lies in her cot, wrapped, burped, with a dry nappy and full tummy, so all the ducks are lined up for sleep. But her eyes are wide and she’s looking around the world happily like she has no intention of ever going to sleep again. When this happens, I am absolutely paranoid that she’ll reach the point of overtiredness which will put the rest of the day, and possibly the night sleep/feed schedule out. So I have been offering parent-intervention of sorts – by relying on either pushing her in the pram to sleep in my living room or out on a long walk, or putting her in the car and driving her to sleep. So far I’ve only done the driving to sleep thing when I’ve actually been going somewhere so it’s not like I’m having to go way out of my way to get her to sleep. But the pram pushing thing has got to the point a few times where she will wake up the second I stop pushing, and so I find myself obsessively keeping her moving for the entire 90 – 120 minute sleep. Great for my fitness, but not great for my sanity or productivity!

The reason I persist with working to get the daytime sleeps happening, is because as I said, I really do understand that overtiredness is a curse that can cause havoc for baby and family. Dr Symon even goes as far as saying overtiredness, if it becomes a prolonged situation for a baby, can affect their development and personality, making it difficult for them to learn skills and turning them into whingy, stressed and unaffectionate babies and toddlers. His controversial sleep-therapy which aims to teach babies with sleep problems how to self-settle by letting them cry for short periods without parent-intervention, is designed to break the overtiredness curse, to make the baby a contented, well-fed, and a well-slept member of the family. However, I would really like to avoid this controlled-crying-like sleep-therapy method as the idea of letting Lottie cry herself to sleep is horrible to say the least. That’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend it if it does help the child to get more sleep in the long run as from what I have read, the emotional damage from prolonged overtiredness is much more problematic than a few nights of crying for the child. Problematic for both baby, and family. So it’s a bit of a catch-22 really, like many situations faced by new parents.

Apparently it’s quite common for some families to get used to their baby being overtired every day and to believe that it’s normal for babies to cry for hours at a time, usually around bedtime in the evenings. This is not a normal I’m willing to accept, and so I will continue to try to find ways to get Lottie to sleep during the day and to stay asleep for long enough to keep her from getting overtired. As I said, this is proving to be a challenge! I’ll keep you updated on how the next couple of weeks pan out.

Where does baby sleep?

WhereBabySleepsThis Friday I have a CAFS nurse visiting my home for the mandatory newborn baby and mother check. When the appointment was made, I was told that the nurse would be checking where my baby sleeps. So this might be a good moment to explain why my baby sleeps where she does.

My baby is now two and a half weeks old and my husband and I decided that she would be sleeping in her cot in her nursery at night from the first day we brought her home from hospital. Controversial, I know! The recommendations to reduce the risk of SIDS is to have your newborn in a cot in your bedroom for the first six months. However this was not going to work for my family for a couple of reasons. The first is that we have three cats. One, perhaps two of these cats are heat-seeking deep sleepers who I worry might think a sleeping baby is a nice warm place for a nap. Keeping the three cats out of our bedroom would be difficult as we would be opening and closing the door and constantly trying to herd them out. But in the nursery, I can shut the door and be sure that the cats aren’t in there and therefore they can’t get into the cot.

The other reason for our decision is our ability to keep the nursery warm. We are experiencing a relatively cold winter currently, and I know babies have trouble regulating their own temperatures. From the moment our baby came home, we have had an oil heater on in her nursery and I check before she is put down to sleep that the temperature of the room is 20 degrees, which is not too hot or not too cold for baby. The door remains closed all day to keep the heat in the nursery, something we couldn’t manage in our bedroom. Apart from living in fear of our next electricity bill, I feel confident that my baby is sleeping in a warm room, in a safe cot that meets all safe-sleeping rules, swaddled in a wrap, with ample blankets and no furry visitors in the cot. She settles off to sleep very easily in her room and I have a sound monitor in her cot with her, which is put next to my bed at night, or in the living room during the day. So I can hear her as if I’m right next to her.

During the day, my baby either sleeps in her cot in the nursery, or in her bassinette on the pram. This works well for me because sometimes I will take her out for a walk in the pram while she is asleep, or even sometimes to help her get to sleep, so I’m pleased to find she sleeps soundly in the bassinette. I think it’s important that she learns to sleep in places other than her cot so that it gives me more flexibility about where she goes to bed; whether it be at a friend or family member’s house in a Portacot when she’s a bit older, or in her pram while we are out and about.

Now for a confession that I’m sure I’m not alone in admitting; I am paranoid about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The idea of my daughter being put down to sleep and never waking up again fills me with an anxious dread. I keep this anxiety at bay by reminding myself constantly that I’ve followed all the SIDS recommendations about putting her to sleep on her back, in a swaddle, in a safe cot or bassinette and I have a monitor listening out for her at all times. Sometimes I give in to the anxiety just a little by checking on her perhaps every hour when she is asleep. And I have chosen not to follow the SIDS recommendation of having her in my room. But I also feel that if I did have her in my room, I might be tempted to do something I have guiltily done once or twice in the last couple of weeks; and that is to breast feed while I’m still in bed. Both times I have done this my husband has brought her into me as she’s woken for a feed while he is up and I’m having a nap. And as much as it saved the hassle of getting out of a warm bed in the cold winter night to feed her sitting up in my nursing chair in the nursery, I am really aware that it would be far too easy to accidently fall asleep while breast feeding if I made a habit of feeding her in my bed. For me, the short walk to the nursery when she wakes up in the night for a feed is enough to wake me up sufficiently to organise the feed, and once sitting up in the nursing chair, I don’t feel there is any risk of me falling asleep.

A quick note here about sleep-deprivation. So far my daughter is sleeping fairly well for a newborn, which means a maximum of 2 – 3 hours at a time. That means I’m only sleeping a maximum of 2 – 3 hours at a time while she is asleep. So although over the course of a night I might get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep, it is broken. And for me, broken sleep is nothing like a good 7- 9 hour stretch. I’m not a huge fan of napping during the day as I usually wake up with a headache and feel quite groggy afterwards. So I’m surviving ok at the moment with the broken night sleeps. However, I am exhausted all the time. I’m drinking coffee for the first time in my life and it does help me to get through the day. And I know this period of sleep-deprivation won’t last as she will sleep for longer as she gets bigger. I hope! But for the time being I need to make it really clear that I’m exhausted. So the risk of me falling asleep with her on my boob is relatively high. Which is why I make sure I’m always sitting up in a chair to breastfeed, day and night. Because I am terrified that if I fell asleep while breastfeeding, I would drop my baby, or smother her and cause her death.

This fear is also why I could never co-sleep with my baby. I totally understand why mums choose co-sleeping; their baby probably sleeps better next to them and they don’t have to get out of bed to breastfeed so they get more sleep too. Some women are so exhausted by their baby’s short sleep patterns that they will do anything to find some rest and co-sleeping offers them this intoxicatingly attractive option. I understand co-sleepers take all the precautions they can to make bedding and their baby’s position as safe as possible. And I understand that some women really believe that they are in tune with their baby to know they would never ever roll onto their child. But honestly, I couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t because I just know I sleep far too soundly, particularly when I’m as exhausted as I am now. The warnings about the increased risk of SIDS for co-sleeping babies is just too big a risk for me to take. So whereas I might ignore the recommendations by experts to reduce the risk of SIDS by having my baby in her own nursery rather than in a cot by my bed, I won’t be ignoring the recommendations against co-sleeping, no matter how tempting a good night’s sleep might be.

Routines Versus Demand Feeding

RoutinesVersusDemandHaving discovered the baby wars being waged online between mother-experts advocating differing methods for feeding and sleeping, I have decided it would be useful to review the information and experience I have so far with one of the hotly contested controversies, to help me, and anyone who happens across this post, to decide what might work best for them. So here it is; a critique of routines, including sleep training, versus demand feeding.

Routines

This review of self-settling routines is based on the recommendations in Tizzy Hall’s book Save our Sleep. When my best friend was pregnant, her grandma’s advice to her which she passed onto me and has become a mantra of sorts was simply; ‘baby is not boss’. Tizzy Hall’s methods follow this mantra in that they are more about parent training than baby training, and can therefore be categorised as ‘parent-led’.

My sister has a 13 week old baby and she has found Tizzy’s routines to be a god send so far. She has been dream-feeding her baby son (feeding while he sleeps) at 10:30pm at night and then he’s been sleeping through until 7:00am most mornings. Sometimes her husband does the dream-feed with expressed milk in a bottle (Tizzy encourages expressing from week 1) and so all in all, my sister has had an incredibly painless newborn experience. Her son is healthy and is growing before our eyes and he is a happy, laughing, pleasure of a baby. The ability for her husband to help with feeding has given her the chance to have full nights of sleep and she can go out in the evening without her baby, which is fantastic for her mental health. You can see why I am therefore trying to emulate her success with my little one and have been reading Save our Sleep to work out its secrets.

Tizzy’s routines include sleep-training methods which encourage parents to learn how to teach their baby to self-settle. Self-settling is refraining from picking up baby when baby protests – usually fighting against going to sleep. But when baby actually cries, you do intervene because there’s some reason they are crying that needs the parents’ attention. You quickly learn the difference between protesting (whinging) and crying. I have already after just a few days. And if baby does cry, you solve the problem (usually hunger) and then baby settles itself back to sleep. It’s a miracle to watch!

Tizzy does not encourage controlled-crying, but rather wants the parents to self-settle from as young as possible so not to get into sleep-habits that then need to be broken through controlled-crying once the baby is older. Habits that eventually need to be broken and can be upsetting for the child once they are withdrawn include any method of parent-intervention needed to get the baby to stop crying and go to sleep, such as rocking, feeding to sleep, being patted, or driven around the block 100 times in the car every night. Tizzy’s philosophy is that if you get all your ducks lined up prior to a sleep, there is no reason the baby can’t be put down for long stretches, and that when the baby wakes through normal 45 minute sleep cycles, they can self-settle without the parents’ help. Ducks lined up means enough milk, burping done, baby is warm or cool enough and with a clean nappy. Tizzy believes that babies like routines because they always know what is coming next – whether it be a sleep, a feed, a bath or playtime. And by training them to feed at approximately the same time every day, they get used to feeding enough to get them through to the next scheduled feed.

Of great importance in Tizzy’s suggested routines are the 7:00am start to the day and the 7:00pm bedtime, as well as a pre-bedtime routine that includes a bath and feed. Tizzy recommends demand-feeding overnight for the first few weeks until baby’s stomach is big enough to sustain a longer overnight sleep so her method is actually a mixture of flexible routines during the day and demand feeding at night until the baby is old enough to sleep for more routine, longer periods. So eventually the feeds give the baby more breastmilk or formula, and the sleeps get longer, and low and behold baby, and importantly, family gets a good night’s sleep. Bliss!

One of the things that makes the routines attractive to me (apart from the long sleeps I will get!) is that from the start of a child’s life, your partner can get to know the routines and can assist where he can so that the pressure isn’t solely on the mother to attend to the child’s every need. The health of the relationship between mother and father is important, and the other members of the household such as older siblings who also need their parents’ attention. So too is it useful, in my opinion, for people like me who like to be organised and have some predictability to their day, to know what is coming next; what time of the day they might be available to do things that aren’t 100% all about the baby, such as having visitors over, going to appointments, spending time with their partner, family and friends without a screaming baby or a baby on the boob, and eventually to go back to work. Having enough sleep is also important, particularly when you go back to work. And generally for a new mum’s mental health, getting as much sleep as possible is good for your health – both physical and mental.

In the first two weeks of my baby’s life, we’ve been vaguely aiming for the ‘first two weeks’ schedule that Tizzy recommends, including expressing at regular intervals to build up milk supply for growth spurts and to try out bottle feeding to get baby used to being fed by someone other than me. Things are working well so far. Our daughter is demanding a feed every 2 – 4 hours at night and settles herself to sleep fairly quickly after, seemingly understanding that it is night-time. The daytime sleeps are a little harder – she is often wide-eyed awake after she’s been fed and sometimes needs to be pushed in her pram to get her to sleep which isn’t the ideal self-settling scenario. But overall she’s feeding really well and once asleep, she sleeps soundly through numerous 45 minute sleep cycles and wakes close to the suggested next feed time. So I’m fairly happy with this self-setting, routine trial in these very early days.

In my opinion, as long as you use the routines as a rough guide to aim for, and don’t try too hard to force your child into the patterns which may end up just stressing you and the baby out, there are enough benefits to the routine method for me to recommend it as worth a try.

Demand Feeding

Demand feeding is baby-led free-style parenting as compared to routines which are parent-led. Basically the philosophy behind demand feeding is that you wait for your child to let you know when they are hungry and then you feed them immediately, wherever or whenever they want it. In the first few weeks of a baby’s life, they need to be fed 8 – 12 times a day and take a long time to feed, sometimes up to an hour. Some newborns, especially premature babies, need to be woken to be fed as they’re not old enough to ‘demand’ food when they need it. As babies get older, the ones who are demand fed might fall into longer feed routines where they can go a few hours without food, or they might snack their way throughout the day and night, feeding possibly every 1 – 2 hours, or numerous times in a short period. For this reason, mothers of babies who demand feed, whether they are breast-feeding or using formula, need to be ready to pop a boob or bottle into the child’s mouth at a moment’s notice day and night.

There are no doubt some babies who are demand fed who fall into their own routines of sorts, feeding at patterns that are similar each day and this would make demand feeding a lot easier. I also understand that you can demand feed and also let your baby self-settle whenever they are tired so you don’t have to spend hours helping baby get to sleep. But I assume there are also babies who never fall into such a pattern and therefore their mothers might be feeding them on and off day and night and settling them to sleep at random intervals between feeds, which for me sounds like a really difficult experience.

I’ve seen many comments from demand-feeding mothers online who say it’s perfectly natural for a baby to demand feed, or snack, at random intervals throughout the day, because just like adults, they want to eat when they’re hungry, not just on a schedule. This strikes me as an odd analogy however, as I don’t know many adults who snack throughout the day, but rather most people I know eat three main meals a day and learn to eat enough in each meal to get them to the next one without needing a snack in-between. I see no reason why a baby can’t be taught to eat enough at each feed to ensure they’re not hungry for a few hours, so encouraging short-snacking-like feeds is another problem that I see with demand-feeding.

One of the other challenges of demand feeding that I would also find quite daunting is knowing why your baby is crying and not just assuming it’s for hunger. With routines, when your baby cries, it’s fairly easy to predict that they are hungry or tired based on what is coming up next in the schedule. But if you’re demand feeding, there’s a risk that you’ll put the baby on your boob or give them a bottle every time they cry, assuming they are demanding food, when in actual fact they’re not hungry and just need their nappy changed, or are tired, or hot or cold. Then you might find yourself in a pattern of using food to settle your baby, which could become a habit that is difficult to break as the child gets older. You might also find that your baby starts to use your nipple as comfort, when they’re not actually hungry so they might suck away for hours at a time, as if your boob is a pacifier, which leaves you and the baby stuck in one spot for hours when the baby really should just be asleep and you getting on with your day or your own sleep. Advocates of attached parenting, which is another whole kettle of fish, would say that it’s perfectly natural for you to be literally attached to your child all day every day. But for me, this sounds like a prison sentence and I don’t think would be good for my mental health.

Along with snacking, the other risk of demand feeding is that you’ll encourage short sleeps, or naps, and therefore your child will snack and nap all day and night, never feeding long enough to sustain a longer sleep, and waking after cat naps to be fed again in what sounds to me like a nightmare newborn cycle of pain and sleep deprivation for everyone.

Yesterday my two-week old daughter and I attempted our first social outing for a friend’s baby shower. The lunch started at 1:00pm and I was quite nervous about how I was going to cope with the rough routine I’ve been trying so I basically gave up on it for a day and let my baby go without a proper feed or sleep for the whole afternoon. In fact we managed the social outing fine; my baby lay awake in her pram bassinette all the way through her usual sleep time. She wasn’t fussing, but it was clear she was overstimulated and had become too tired to self-settle. When she did eventually start to cry, which was unluckily right when my lunch arrived, I breast fed her and she fell asleep quite quickly on my boob. So I put her down again and she was wide awake in her bassinette for a little while until she cried again. Next I tried changing her nappy and put her back on the boob, where she again fell asleep before she had a proper feed. By the time I took her home, she was so overtired that I knew the usual evening bath and feed routine was ruined. We gave her a bottle of expressed milk and she was still too overtired to sleep. Then she filled three nappies in close succession and three nappy changes later I was at my wits’ end wondering if she would ever sleep again. My husband and I took turns pushing her around the living room in her pram bassinette and 90 minutes later she was asleep, way past her bedtime. It was a horrible experience, and showed me that the rough routine we had been using was actually working much better than we thought as she hadn’t been overtired before then, nor starving, nor having multiple nappy changes in a short period. So this short trial of demand-feeding, and letting baby decide when she does what, drove me even more determinedly back to the relative ease of the self-settling routine.

From what I have researched online, mothers who demand feed find that they get to spend a lot of quality cuddle time with their babies, which does sound like an attractive benefit of this method. The routine method is quite strict about how much awake time the baby has, and although there is play time put aside in the routine, it’s more focussed on trying to get the baby to feed when it’s awake and not to spend time cuddling just because you enjoy it. Personally I enjoy breast feeding because that’s time I get to spend with my baby while she’s awake, but I can see that I would get more of this quality time if I was demand feeding. So by choosing a routine, this is one aspect of motherhood which will be less of a benefit for me.

In summary, I have chosen the routine with self-settling method and will stick at it while I still feel that there is enough benefit in it for me, my baby and my family. I’ll keep you updated on this blog about how this turns out for all of us!