the aspiring yummy mummy

My adventures into Motherhood

It’s sleepy time……yeah right

Today I sympathised with my friend Vicki on the phone about the age-old problem that all parents obsess over……. SLEEEEEP zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Mainly, how to get it? For us and our precious little babies who turn into little monsters when they don’t get it. Now I don’t claim to be any kind of sleep expert, but for those of you out there who are living in a zombie fug of partial motor function due to lack of sleep, here are some things that worked for me and Sofia. And Nathan – who used to look over at the other new Dad in the next pod and see that he had fallen asleep on his keyboard. Again.

So when do you realise that your baby is sleepy? Ideally you know that your baby is going to be sleepy before they even know it themselves. Perhaps your baby can really only last about 2 hours in good humour, and after that they might start to exhibit the three signs of tiredness – ear-pulling, yawning and rubbing their eyes. When you see these cues try to wind your baby down. Gina Ford reckons that babies need about 20 minutes of settle-down time before they can go to sleep. So for small babies you could try quiet play, like just laying them on their back without too much stimulation, or reading a book together with your baby on your lap. Then I used to make sure Sofia had no cause for complaint by changing her bum and feeding her before a nap. By the time she’d had some milk and a little cuddle, she was in heavy-lidded drowsy land. But then comes the hard part…… putting them down in the cot.

The BEST thing my Mum ever taught me was to get Sofia to ‘self-settle’. It’s not some mystical level of enlightenment, but it sure as heck feels that way when you get there. It was hard work, there was a lot of screaming and tantrum-throwing (Sofia) and lots of despairing looks and sitting on hands while we counted the minutes (Me). I used to look at Nath imploring him with my puppy-dog eyes, “can I please go pick up my child now?” and he’d diligently shake his head, “it’s not time”. Essentially what you’re trying to train your child to do is be comfortable and secure enough in their own cot, that they can go to sleep themselves. No rocking required. This is not natural for a baby. Pretty much all babies love to be cuddled, and we love to cuddle them. Babies love to be warm and held tight and hear Mummy’s heartbeat. And when they’re really tiny they’re so easy to hold when they fall asleep on you, because then you get to gaze adoringly at them the entire time! But there comes a time when this has got to stop, and then there’s trouble…….

We went with the controlled crying method, which consisted of:

  • When baby is drowsy, but NOT completely asleep, put baby down in her own cot.
  • If baby cries, wait a minute or two before going back into the room. Re-settle and calm baby, then put baby back down in her own cot. Exit room.
  • If baby cries again, wait 5 minutes before going back into the room. Re-settle and calm baby, then put baby back down in her own cot. Exit room.
  • If baby cries again, wait 10 minutes before going back into the room. Re-settle and calm baby, then put baby back down in her own cot. Exit room.

Are you getting the picture…..? Repeat until baby gets the message that she must go to sleep in her own cot. This sounds very harsh and it’s terribly hard to listen to your baby cry while you do nothing but sit there, and sometimes your baby will have a right outraged tantrum and you will feel awfully guilty and heartbroken at how upset your child is with you, but you have to persevere if you want this thing to work. Maybe you won’t be able to do it every time, and sometimes you’ll find yourself having to sit nearby the cot so that your baby is reassured that you’re still there. And sometimes to save your sanity you’ll need to bung your child into the pram and walk around the block with your earphones in until your child has fallen asleep. Just remember, they may have won that battle, but they will not win the war. At the next sleep engagement – try again.

When Sofia was still small – about 2 months old – I started keeping a daily diary of her actions to get a handle on her natural routine. Because I was feeding on demand, and each day blurred into the next, I had no real idea of what I was doing. So I wrote it all down and after a few days a pattern emerged. As my diary continued, I honed the feeding times and sleep times and managed to get some order into my life. I could see how 30 minutes could make a difference to Sofia being ready to sleep or being overtired. And an overtired baby is a demon monster you do not want to meet. Overtired babies sometimes don’t seem it. One minute they’re rubbing their eyes and grizzling a little and the next you’ll think they’ve gotten a second wind because they’re laughing and bouncing and are so happy to play. But beware the crash and burn you’re headed for. It’s very hard to calm down an overtired baby, they’re manic bi-polar little %*$&@ and they laugh then scream, arch their backs, spit their dummies out, throw their toys, thrash their arms, kick their legs, and no amount of cuddling does any good. It’s exhausting, worrying, distressing, and you’ll wonder if holding a pillow down on them is a reasonable action given that the circumstances have driven you to insanity. Which will make you question whether you’re fit to be a parent. Trust me, you are – it happens to the best of us a lot of the time.

Other things I’ve found to be really helpful in training Sofia to sleep like a champion are keeping her nap and bedtime routines constant (as much as humanly possible). I do the same things with her to get her ready to sleep, allow her some quiet wind-down time, make sure she’s fine and dandy in bottom and tummy department, and she always goes to sleep with her sheepskin. She’s had her sheepskin forever, it’s got her smell on it (it does get washed occasionally though) and it’s her comfort item. A soft toy might be easier (with doppelganger for wash days) for portability, but Sof seems to disregard all attempts to introduce her to a ‘friend’ – instead she just wants her sheepskin. The good thing about it is that wherever we put her sheepskin down, that’s her home. Strange hotel travel cots in strange rooms don’t give her any cause for concern so long as she has her sheepskin. To get her ready for travelling, I used to make Sofia sleep in the lounge sometimes. In the full glare of sunlight (very un-Gina Ford) my girl went glamping (glam-camping doncha know) in her travel cot, just to mix it up with sunlight and noise, to make her hopefully a bit more adaptable. And she’s a great little traveller, falling asleep without too much fuss when we mess with her routine because of flights or poor parental navigation to the hotel, taking in about ten train changes around the outskirts of Berlin…….but that’s another story…..

That’s all I’ve got so I hope that helps some of you, feel free to share your sleep tips in the comments! And happy zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz’s everyone!


One comment on “It’s sleepy time……yeah right

  1. CJ
    January 17, 2012

    Agh you inspired me to start this with Brooklyn. She starts daycare next month and I’m pretty sure they won’t push her around in the pram there… Or breastfeeding her to sleep!

    It’s only the first night of controlled crying and all up it lasted 45 mins with me going in every 5,10,15 etc. Hopefully this is as bad as it gets and she learns quickly!

    Thanks for the tips! Am now enjoying a stiff drink!

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