Monday, July 5, 2010

Nap time

...the boy's, that is. I'm going to try and make the most of what have become more or less predictable sleeping routines over the past couple of weeks. He usually goes down for about half an hour around nine, having woken up between six and seven. The next nap is longer, about an hour and a half, after lunch.

So, the grand plan shall be to try to get up a blog post in the morning, and do something thesis-y during the afternoon nap. Here's hoping it turns out as achievable in reality as it sounds plausible in theory...*

While I'm here I might as well put down some thoughts on the whole sleep issue with babies. The holy grail of parenthood (in the first year at least) seems to be getting the baby to "sleep through", which basically means the baby goes to sleep at night and doesn't wake his parents up before morning. Everyone wakes up during the night to some degree and has periods of lighter sleep, but adults don't tend to remember waking up because they know how to resettle themselves back to sleep very easily. Babies can't automatically do that, and often need help getting back to sleep. Add to that the fact that small babies also need to be fed every couple of hours, particularly when breastfed, it means that parents do have to be resigned to some level of sleep deprivation.

The first month or so of new parenthood is pretty gruesome, but after a while you do get used to waking up frequently - to the point that one night when the baby slept for a magical four hours straight, my husband and I still woke up after three and waited around to be "needed". And for the most part waking up frequently to breastfeed a baby wasn't that bad, particularly when Ben would get up and bring the Wee One over and take him back again. (In case anyone ever tries to convince you breastfeeding is only something mothers do, that's only half the truth: dads can make a huge difference in how well the whole thing works)

After a while, though, it becomes clear that the baby doesn't 'need' you in any real way as often as he wakes up, but is simply used to waking up and being helped back to sleep. For us that point came when we realised that, given he's eating at least three solid meals a day, he couldn't possibly be as hungry during the night as he was as an exclusively breastfed baby.

We used a fairly flexible reading of Save Our Sleep and The New Contended Little Baby Book, and the 'tricks' that worked for us were
  • bedtime routine (dinner, bath, breastfeed, cuddle) followed by putting the fully awake baby into his own bed (still in our room, though)
  • ignore the protest and tired cries
  • if he starts crawling around in bed or gets genuinely distressed, we help him settle down (without picking him up) and stay with him until he falls asleep
  • regular nap times during the day, no sleeping after 4pm until bed time
  • regular meals during the day
  • 'dream feed' at around 10-11 pm, although we dropped that after a week or so
We had a couple of nights when he would clearly be offended at not being picked up and fed as he had been up until that point, but that was it: he was offended, angry even, but not hungry or distressed. Soon he started settling reasonably easily, and would, as a rule, sleep for about eleven hours without needing us in between. The last couple of nights have strayed from the pattern a bit given he's coughing a lot, but by and large I think we've 'succeeded'.

I'm aware that for some people the methods we used (and the bit about ignoring certain cries in particular) amount to letting him "cry it out", which - if you believe some of the horror stories - is evil and sadistic. Although I don't know whether any "sleep expert" actually advocates leaving distressed babies to scream themselves to sleep, which is what the perception seems to be. The argument goes that babies cry to communicate, not to manipulate, which is of course true. The thing is, though, that babies don't always communicate the same thing with every cry. They have cries that don't need to be attended immediately, or in the same ways, and as hard as it can be listening to any kind of cry, if the reward for treating different cries differently is everyone having a better sleep the benefits would seem to outweight the inconveniences.

*so far, not so good: I've been adding to and editing this post while rescuing Boy Wonder from the fireplace. Shorter posts must be in order!


  1. Hmmm, "dream feed". I like the sound of this...

    And look at you with your brand spanking new blog - this is a most exciting development, indeed! Also, I'm free anytime for you, poppet. Just let me know when you'll be around uni and I will adjust my schedule accordingly.

  2. Aw, don't I feel loved! It would be fantastic meeting up with an accomplished scholar such as yourself (and an award-winning filmmaker and cross-atlantic fashionista to boot!), so I will definitely take you up on your offer. :-)

    Oh, and Chapter Three has been getting a gentle pruning this afternoon. Yay me!