April 11, 2010

Parenting Hurdle- Sleeping

I've been a parent for a solid six months plus, and during that time I have had two infants. Therefore, I feel it safe to claim that I have been parenting infants for over a year.

And of course, this makes me an expert.

Before becoming a parent, I had one great fear. One that I am sure is shared by all parents-to-be world over. That is, the fear that one will never have a full nights of sleep again, will never feel well rested, and will never wake up leisurely in their beds with nothing but the morning sun in their eyes and the sound of chirping birds in their ears.

To be fair, that last part will probably never happen. I don't know about you, but just having stuff to do on a regular basis kept me from having those lovely luxurious mornings. But hey, there's always Mother's Day, right?

As for feeling well rested and actually getting that full night's sleep on a regular basis- it can happen. Hell, it WILL happen. And I have learned that with a few tricks and a little flexibility, there's no reason it shouldn't happen AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. So without further ado, my prescription for a sleeping baby for a whole night.

To start, you keep your expectations for those first two months as low as you can. Babies don't like coming out of the womb, in my nigh year of experience, and they're going to wake up. Viciously, as though they know that you're finally having a nice time without them. But this is a short lived phenomena. From the time they weigh about ten pounds, or are two months old, there's no reason they shouldn't sleep through the night.

Keep them in your bedroom at night for the first two months. You'll get to know their patterns, you'll get to know their noises, you'll get to keep checking on them to make sure they're breathing (you know you will, you crazy-ass mamas). Keep them in the room with you for those two months, and you'll feel more and more confident that they're still breathing when you're not looking, that they're not going to wake up, and that they're not missing you while they're sleeping.

A key to getting babies to sleep in the first place- learn to swaddle your baby. Swaddling will save you over and over again, and until the baby is routinely kicking the swaddle off in the night, it is safe to lay them in their crib wrapped in a blanket. A small, thin, swaddling blanket. Not an afghan or comforter.

Whenever you put them in the crib, turn on some white noise. A radio tuned to static, a constantly running El outside the window... we like a sound machine playing the sound of the ocean. That white noise will save your life.

Decide on bedtime based on THEIR patterns. Which brings me to my first General Rule of Parenting: You are not in charge of your children. You got that, you're not in charge. You might get to be someday soon, but until you have ANY way of genuinely communicating with them, the only thing you can do is respond. So get over it, and learn to bend over backwards for a few months. And yes, this General Rule will be absolutely contradicted in the future.

The chances are very good that your baby will want to go to sleep for the night between 8pm and 10pm. And anytime in that window is fine. I don't recommend going too much earlier, because you'll be awake that much earlier, but whatever works for you is what will work.

Now that you know when you two month old's bedtime is, your baby is swaddled, you have your white noise, and you know that your baby will sleep peacefully for at least a few minutes, you want to stretch that few minutes into a full night.

Start by feeding the baby until they will not eat any more.

Before the shout-down begins, hear me out.
Infant eating habits do not dictate lifetime eating habits. What is good for an infant might not be good for a grown up, but you must keep in mind the second General Rule of Parenting: Whatever keeps you functional is by default good parenting. So yeah, you're going to stuff your baby silly.

If you're nursing exclusively, you might find this an odd bit of advice. How can you keep offering food if you can't actually control what you're producing? Ah, but you can! In the evenings, you must pump after each feeding! Your breasts accommodate the demand placed on them. Most women find that they produce less milk in the evening to begin with, so from the get-go, if you want that early sleep, you should be pumping after each post meridial feeding. This way, you'll be producing more and more in the evenings, giving you the opportunity to stuff that baby silly come bedtime.

The controversial part. Consider adding a bottle of formula anyway. Formula is harder to digest, meaning that babies feel fuller longer. Yeah, I know, 100% formula is best. But you know what's better? Having a full night of sleep that lets you deal with the screaming and vomiting and diapers the next day. Because you're not hurting your baby by giving them a bottle. When they ONLY get a bottle at the end of the day, they're not associating it with giving up the breast, they're associating it with a full night's sleep.

Yes yes yes, breast is best. But better than ideal nutrition for your baby is a mommy who can be SuperMommy all freakin' day the next day, because she's had enough sleep. Because it doesn't matter how nutritional your food is when the grown up taking care of you is huddled in a corner sobbing and eating cheese curls because they have no idea why they thought they could be a mother. The more functional you are, the better off your child is. Period.

Really don't want to do formula? Go ahead and offer expressed milk. In a cup or in a bottle, but either way- get a bottle that's as breastlike as you can. Stay away from Dr. Brown styles, it's wrong philosophy entirely. I would recommend the Adiri company's Natural Nursers, but they sadly succumbed to the poor economy a few months ago. There are similar styles out there, though, and there's always overstock.com.

In my nigh 12 months of parenting, I have found that these bottles cause no nipple confusion with infants. But more on nursing and nipple confusion later.

You've stuffed your two month old baby silly, swaddled them, laid them in the crib, and turned on the white noise. Now just let them sleep. If they wake up, pick them up and put them back to sleep. Sing a lullaby, walk them around the white noise filled room, or just shush them gently for a while. I have found that, unless the baby is sick, covered in feces, or wet all the way through, they will fall asleep again within 20 minutes. Usually less than 10. And you can go to sleep. In my experience, this waking up again will also occur within the first three hours of being laid down. If they wake at the tail end of this three hours and WILL NOT SETTLE, nurse them. they're not going to eat much, but nursing is sort of like baby Xanax. It rocks- and once again, expect a nursing entry or twelve in the near future.

The big question will raise its ugly head- do you let the baby "cry itself out?" Let's face it, you're going to try once in a while. And that's fine. But don't make it a general rule. Again, revert to the priority list of baby/mommy health- a functional parent is paramount in child rearing. If you NEED to let that baby scream for 20 minutes (it will not take any longer if they are going to "cry it out"), doing it once in a while isn't going to hurt them. It will hurt the bedtime routine though. The more they trust that you're still there, the better they'll sleep the next night.

You will feel guilt. You will feel shame. You will feel relief. And you will probably cry and eat a block of baker's chocolate.

And then you will get a good night's sleep and wake up ready to be the best damn mommy ever.

Following this system, you should be getting a solid ten hour block of sleep from your babies by the time they're 10 weeks old.

Impossible? Never- nothing is impossible for SuperMommy.

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