Saturday, May 27, 2017

Getting babies to sleep

I see lots of discussions on the interwebs about sleep-training babies and, like all things parenting, the discussions can get pretty heated. As the mother of three children, the youngest of whom is three, I have to say, the sleep thing is hard. Mainly because, if your kids aren't sleeping, you're not sleeping. And being sleep-deprived is a horrible form of torture.

I know, because I spent years in the sleep deprivation tank of parenthood, and I'm only now starting to feel like I'm getting me back.

But, one thing I've learned is that no kid or situation is the same. What will work like a charm for one parent and child, won't for another. For all sorts of reasons. So you shouldn't beat yourself up if someone gives you parenting gold - the sleep technique that got their baby sleeping through the night - and it just doesn't work for your baby.

Case in point - I have three children, and they all needed different things to get them to settle.

Baby one
The witching hour was a real thing for my eldest daughter, L. She'd nap fine all day and then, come 5pm, she'd start screaming and nothing we could do would get her to settle for her evening nap. I tried to feed her to sleep in my bed. No go. I hushed her and patted her and shushed her and rocked her and danced with her for hours at a time until she'd finally settle. It was stressful.

When she was about 7-weeks' old, we went on holiday with my sister-in-law and she suggested we just put L in her bed and let her cry it out. We did, and my sister-in-law sat with me and talked quietly in the room with me as we waited for L to cry herself to sleep. It took half an hour and from that point on, she was able to cry herself to sleep every evening, usually in just a few minutes, and then she'd sleep the whole night through. We've cracked it, we thought.

Baby two 
20 months later, our second daughter, S, was born and something was different. From the very first night in hospital, something was different. S cried and cried. After a feed, she couldn't get comfortable. She'd squirm in her bed, so we propped her mattress up on an angle and used rolled up towels to support her on her side. That was definitely better than leaving her to lie flat on her back, but the best thing for S was to be held upright. We cottoned onto the fact she had reflux pretty quickly. Leaving her to cry herself to sleep in her bed wasn't possible, because she was crying from pain, not tiredness.

I was part breast-feeding, part bottle-feeding S because I don't make enough breast milk on my own, but neither kind of milk seemed to be better for her reflux. She'd squirm just as much after a breast-feed as a bottle-feed.

We learned we had to hold her upright until her milk had digested far enough that it didn't hurt anymore, so she'd often fall asleep on one of our shoulders and then we'd gently transfer her to her bed. Paul and I became experts at bringing up wind, but it still didn't seem to help. We dosed her bottles with winding medicine, and it slightly helped. We fed her goat's milk formula instead of cow's milk formula and it was definitely better, but still not great.

I bought an Ergo and carried S around in it a lot, just to keep her upright. That whole first year with her was hard. Finally, around the age of one, her reflux started to come right. She was eating solids and I had started feeding her coconut oil and chicken stock to help with her digestion. Things came right and S finally started sleeping better. I could put her down and she would actually fall asleep.

Baby three 
When I found out I was pregnant with baby three, I cried. I didn't think I could go through it all over again. But J arrived and he was different again.

He liked being close to me, and I was desperately trying to keep my milk production going, despite the fact we were relying on donor milk to give him the bulk of his nourishment, so I started feeding him to sleep every nap and overnight. He slept next to me in my bed till he was about 10 months' old and I loved it. When he woke in the night, I fed him back to sleep without needing to get up. It was relaxing and snuggly and it kept my milk flowing far longer than it had with the girls. But I was able to do that because it worked for him. He didn't have reflux, he fed better off me when he was sleepy, my milk came out slowly enough that it was soothing rather than gushing, and J fell asleep better if I was lying next to him.

At about ten months, he started falling asleep without me needing to feed him to sleep, so I moved him into his own cot and he started sleeping in there more often than not, settling with a bottle instead of me. The transition was smooth and when he was one, we moved him into his own room. When he moved into his big-boy bed, we started reading to him in bed and he liked it if we stayed lying next to him until he fell asleep. So we did. It took about 15 to 30 minutes every night and honestly, it was the nicest parts of my day.

This year J has stopped wanting us to lie next to him as he falls asleep. We still read him his stories while he drinks his bottle. Then we talk about his day, say his night-time prayers and kiss him goodnight, but he falls asleep on his own.

Three kids, three completely different sleep-settling routines. But we figured it out by watching their cues and doing what worked for them. Just like parents have been doing for millennia. It's hard, and it's tiring, but it's necessary. No one has all the answers, because no one has all the kids. We get the kids we get, and we learn to read them. Or we (don't) fall asleep trying.


  1. Sweet stories Emma :) glad you figured it out for each of them.

  2. The best line I have read for a long time :) "No one has all the answers, because no one has all the kids. We get the kids we get, and we learn to read them. Or we (don't) fall asleep trying."


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