Days and Nights

Warning – this is a long post!  It’s full of ways that have worked for us when it comes to calming and soothing Joe and encouraging him to sleep through the night.

I’ve had a few people ask me how we got Joe, at 6 weeks old, to start going 7 – 8 hours stretches without needing to nurse at night.  Truth be told, I’m not exactly sure.  We did a lot of things that seemed intuitive to us in terms of how we cared for him, but I think people need to take into consideration the fact that every baby is different.  Some babies are night owls, some are morning glories, and some are a little bit of both.  I’m certain that there are many parents who will try every soothing technique in the book, only to realize that they’re little one runs on their own schedule.  Some babies just don’t sleep through the night.  So, read this, but keep in mind that this is what has worked for us.  You may find that you need to take a different approach, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

So, yes – Joe started to sleep for 7 – 8 hour stretches when he was 6 weeks old.  I attribute a lot of that to the way that we care for Joe.  We do a lot of holding, on-demand breastfeeding {yikes – not an easy thing, I’ll tell you that right now}, he slept in the same room as us, and I’ve never let him cry it out {CIO}.  That being said, I absolutely understand why some parents choose the CIO method, and I’m not judging anyone who does.

Day Time

Joe is kept upright or semi-upright for almost all of his waking hours.  He’s either in his bouncy seat, in the carrier with me, in the swing, or in the stroller if we go on walks.  My midwife encouraged us to do this as a means of minimizing reflux and gas.  Joe has just recently started taking naps in his cot {crib}.  Up till now, if he fell asleep he’d either get swaddled and tucked into a corner of his playmat, the couch, or be left in his bouncy chair with his arms swaddled down.  He learned to sleep right here in the lounge with the sun shining and the background noise.  I did this because of something a friend shared with me.  Her brother’s newborn baby was able to sleep in a house where music lessons took place and the parents were practicing their instruments frequently.  I wondered how that was possible, and she said it was just what the baby was used to.  Their little one learned early on that music was a part of life, and adapted to it.  With Joe, he’s learned that noise is a part of living in this apartment.  I don’t play heavy-metal music or do home-construction projects when he naps, but I will do the dishes, vacuum, occasionally bang a door accidentally, or drop something.  And I don’t {usually} have to worry that those sounds will startle him awake.

I keep it quite bright in the lounge.  We have lots of windows and I get those shades up and open as early in the morning as possible {i.e., as soon as I’m decent!}.  Having a stark contrast between day and night with the bright lights has helped Joe learn when he needs to be awake and when he needs to sleep.  Plus, the bright light + background noises meant that when he did take a daytime nap, he usually didn’t nap too deeply or for too long.  At most, he’d go 45 minutes, then be awake and ready to nurse.  I’ve been known to play baby music on my iPod for several hours a day as a way of keeping Joe interested and alert.  Babies get bored, too, after all!

I’d estimate that, till recently, 80% of Joe’s naps were taken in the bouncy seat with the vibrator set to “on”.  He loves that vibrator!  He can be a bit grunty and fussy, and after a few minutes of vibration he’s happy as a clam.  The other 20% of Joe’s naps was split pretty evenly between the mei-tai carrier, napping on the couch, or simply falling asleep in my arms.  He never napped in the same place that he slept at night, and he was rarely lying flat on his back.

Joe, asleep in the mei tai carrier

Then, there’s feeding time.  Joe ate constantly during those first 6 weeks.  I can remember the Plunket nurse telling me that I ought to try spacing it out some.  I did for about 3 or 4 feedings, only to have a very cranky baby who kept us up that night for the first time in a long time.  My style has been to nurse Joe whenever he gave me a cue.  He tends to get really alert when he’s hungry now, but when he was a little guy, he’d let me know that it was feeding time by making “fish lips”, sticking out his cute little tongue, and/or turning his head towards my finger if I used it to stroke his upper lip or cheek.  And of course, there’s the classic sign of hunger – fussiness!

I kept a diary of Joe’s days for about a week and saw that Joe was going, at most, 1 hour between feeding sessions.  It was exhuasting, and I asked my midwife what she thought.  She encouraged me to do the following: nurse on one side, burp Joe and try to rouse him a bit, nurse him again on the same side, burp him again and do a nappy change, and then offer him the other side.  This sometimes meant that I spent an hour and a half – 2 hours nursing.  It was exhausting, but I learned to make the most of it.  I padded the couch with a lot of comfy pillows, kept finger-foods handy, and watched more DVDs than I’ve ever watched in my life.  I tried to re-frame how I was thinking about it and look at it as an excuse to lie around and cuddle with my darling baby boy while watching loads of chick flicks.  It {sort of} helped take my mind off of the pain associated with breastfeeding and the fact that my rear end was getting numb!

Thankfully, I didn’t have to do that for long.  By ensuring that Joe got a really full tummy each time he nursed, he slowly started to stretch out his daytime feedings.  He started to go about 90 – 120 minutes between sessions for most of the day.  He still did a lot of cluster feeding in the evenings.  He would start to nurse at about 5/6pm and would go non-stop till 10 or 11pm on some nights.  I can remember feeling so frustrated.  Chris was finally home from work and able to help out, only he couldn’t because Joe wanted to do nothing but nurse.  I had to admit, though, that all of those cluster feedings were OK by me if it meant that Joe slept a bit more at night.

Nowadays, Joe goes about 2 – 3 hours between nursing sessions.  He’ll eat for about 15 minutes on one side and he’s done.  It’s such a change from when he was a newbie.  A very welcome change.  He doesn’t cluster feed in the evenings.  I’ve also been working on his naps.  We started to notice that, come 5 – 6pm, Joe was over-tired.  He started having full-blown screaming, red-in-the-face, crocodile tears streaming down his face meltdowns.  After 2 evenings of that, I said, “Enough!”  I talked to our Plunket nurse, and she encouraged me to try to soothe Joe back to sleep when he woke from his naps.  He was still going for only 45 minutes, despite the fact that I was swaddling him and putting him in his nursery {which has blackout shades} with white noise.  I felt so badly for the little buddy and was happy to try anything.

The next time I put Joe down for a nap, he did his usual 45 minute cycle and then began to grunt and snuffle.  I quietly opened the door, kept the lights off, turned on his sleep sheep, and looked in the cot.  Joe always smiles when he first sees me, but unless I’m going to take him out of bed, I don’t smile back.  So hard!  Instead, I “shhhhh” him, start rubbing his tummy, maybe rub my thumb across his eyebrow {this encourages him to close his eyes}, put the paci back in his mouth, and give him a few kisses while avoiding too much eye contact.  Sometimes, I have to “shhhh” right in his ear.  I’ll usually do that and alternate with kisses to his eyelids.  I call this, “convincing Joe that he’s not ready to wake up yet”.  It sometimes takes 15 minutes before he settles again, but when he does he’s usually napping for another hour.

I’ve also learned that before putting Joe down for his nap, I need to do 1 last nappy change and offer him a feeding session.  Otherwise, the reason why he wakes up is because he’s ravenous and no amount of encouragement will get him back to sleep.  Again, he’s only just started doing daytime naps like this in the last 2 – 3 weeks.  Up till now, he always napped for very brief periods in the lounge.

Night Time

Night time is another story.  Once 6/6:30pm rolls around, I make a point to dim the lights, turn off or turn down the baby music, and keep Joe warm and cozy.  I let him nurse as much as he likes, but I don’t force it on him now that he’s given up the cluster feeding.  I hold him till he nods off, and then swaddle him up tight.  If he looks pretty well asleep, then I put him in bed. I turn on the sleep sheep, turn on the fan, turn on the AngelCare monitor, and call it a night.

Joe started sleeping in his cot at 3 months of age.  Before that, he slept in the bassinet right by my side.  I tried to have him sleep on my chest or in the bed with me.  My midwife was a strong proponent for that, but I was never comfortable with it.  For starters, I’m a side sleeper and having Joe on my chest meant that I was uncomfortable all night long.  If I had Joe sleeping on the mattress, I worried all night and woke frequently to check on him.  No thanks.  The top of the bassinet is level with the top of our mattress, and it was as easy as anything for me to roll over, reach in, and pick him up if he needed cuddling.  He was happy as a clam and I was sleeping a bit easier.  I think that one of the big reasons why some people prefer having the baby in bed with them is that it means they can nurse in bed.  I hated nursing in bed, so that wasn’t much of an attraction.

Joe is very well snuggled at night.  We used swaddling blankets at first and eventually moved onto a more structured, purpose-built sleep swaddler.  He got so strong that my swaddles couldn’t contain him!  In addition to the swaddling, I keep him stabilized in bed by placing a blanket roll tucked along either side of him.  I drape a blanket over him and tuck its sides under the blanket rolls so that he’s snug as a bug.  If you prefer, you can purchase specially made things like a Safe-T-Sleep and they work similarly well.

A real, live baby burrito!

He basically can’t move at all when he’s snuggled up like this.  I think that it makes him feel more secure and it’s certainly cut down on the number of times where he startles himself awake.

Whenever Joe fusses during the night, I respond to him.  Note – I said “respond” to him.  I don’t always pick him up, and I don’t automatically nurse him.  During the first 2 weeks postpartum, I always nursed him if he fussed in the night.  However, once he was 2+ weeks old, I started introducing the pacifier as a first resort.  Joe had been waking up to nurse, only to fall asleep 5 minutes into it.  So frustrating, and I wondered if the pacifier might help.

It did.  Joe would usually take the pacifier for 20 – 30 minutes and fall back asleep.  The paci would slip out, he’d fuss a bit, he’d take the paci again for another 20 – 30 minutes {or less – it wasn’t exact}, doze until it slipped out, and then really rouse.  By then, he was hungry enough to go for a good, long nursing session rather than a quick nibble.  And doing 1 good, long nursing session meant that once he was done, he usually slept for several hours straight.  By the end of the 3rd week, he was only getting up once to nurse in the night.  He’d fall asleep around 9pm, sleep till about midnight or 1am, wake up and nurse for 2 hours, and then sleep for another 3 hours or so.  Some people might sneer at the use of a pacifier or turn their noses up.  I could care less.  Joe is happy, he’s well-fed, he doesn’t scream if he can’t have a pacifier, he’s healthy as can be, and we’re certainly no less attached or bonded to one another because of it.

I tried nursing Joe in bed, but like I said – I hated it.  I could never doze and nurse, which meant that I was lying in bed, staring into the dark, feeling incredibly bored.  The thing that worked best for me was to take Joe, still swaddled, into the dimly lit lounge, snuggle up on the couch with a lot of pillows, get a drink, and nurse him while watching a DVD on low volume.  Joe usually nursed for about 2 hours during the night.  He’d nurse on one side, burp, nurse again on the same side, do a nappy change, and then nurse on the other side.  It was a long stretch {1 1/2 – 2 hours}, but by burping him, changing him, and offering him the chance to nurse several times, he usually ended up being quite full and sleeping for a good stretch.  As soon as he was done, I swaddled him back up, let him sit with me for about 5 – 10 minutes just to make sure he didn’t pull a “fake-out” {so disheartening when he did!}, and then we both went back to bed.

Of course, saying that he went 4 hours without needing to nurse doesn’t necessarily mean that he slept perfectly quietly for 4 hours.  Joe has always been a snuffaluffagus when he’s asleep, and if he has to have a poo or pass gas, we know about it!  He’ll do some loud grunts, arch his back, and generally act uncomfortable.  When he was in the bassinet, I would lean over and put some gentle pressure on his tummy while rubbing my hand in circles over his abdomen.  I’d give him the paci and “shhhh” him, maybe kiss his cheek – whatever I needed to do to reassure him that I was there and that he was OK.  It wasn’t a lot of fun on my end – I would be so tired and exhausted, and there I was rubbing a semi-conscious baby’s tummy in the hopes that he’d just go ahead and poo already!  But doing that for 15 minutes and then having him fall fully asleep again was much nicer than picking him, rousing him completely, and being up with him for an even longer stretch.

Nowadays, Joe still has a middle-of-the-night “I need to poo!” episode.  I still respond to him every night.  Yes, this means that I have to get out of bed and walk next door to the nursery, but I find that I sleep better overall.  Now, I really do have 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep.  He’ll grunt and start to whimper, I get up and go next door, we do a “convincing” session where I reassure him that I’m there, he passes gas or has a poo, and then I head back to bed for another 3 – 4 hours.  At first, Joe would need me to be in the nursery with him for 15 minutes.  Last night, I was in there for less than 5 minutes.  He’s gotten to the point where almost as soon as I walk in the nursery, he passes gas and just wants a quick kiss on the head before closing his eyes again.  I’m hopeful that he’ll eventually not need me to come in there at all.  We’ll see.

I’m not a stickler about things.  There have been 1 or 2 nights where Joe has had no interest in being “convinced” back to sleep.  I’ll try it for 15 minutes or so, but if he’s really giving me signs that he’s not going to drift off to dreamland, then I have no problem picking him up.  I still always try to rock him back to sleep first as opposed to nursing him, and usually this works within 10 –  15 minutes.  We have a method where I hold him really tight, rapidly bounce my knee, “ssshhhhh” very close to his ear, and pat his bum or his back.  It nearly always does the trick, but it cracks me up how “involved” I have to be in order to get him to sleep.  I think it’s so funny how I used to think that the best way to get a baby to sleep was to sing them a lullaby and gently rock them.  Ha!

I hope that you don’t read this and come away feeling criticized or like a failure if you’ve done something differently.  One thing that becoming a mother has taught me is that a lot of preconceived notions about the “best” way to care for your child can change.  I’ve had several moments where I was exhausted, exasperated, and felt overwhelmed.  I’m not perfect, nor do I pretend to be {despite the name of my blog!}, but I also don’t want to dwell on the negatives.

So, there you have it.  That’s what we’ve done.  I’m sorry that this post was a bit rambling, but describing what we do isn’t easy.  Joe grows and changes every day, and my style adapts to his needs.  There’s a general structure to the whole thing, but my boundaries are flexible.  Again, if you’ve taken a different approach, please don’t feel criticized.  This has been our experience and what has worked the best for our family.  If you have any questions or other words of wisdom for readers, please let me know in a comment!

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5 comments

  1. Laura@laurasblondemoments says:

    Wow this is JUST the post that I needed to be assured that I wasn’t alone in everything from the cluster feedings to the exhaustion and emotions that go along with it. Thank you for the great advice and that is wonderful that Joe is such a happy little clam. It’s so true that each baby is different, and now that our little Brynley Bug is gaining her weight and doing much better, we have let her demand the feedings this afternoon. The every 2 hour feedings is a killer but I know it’s what they need when so small. I just hoped and prayed all week to get her back to her “old self” so now I am hoping we have another good night of nursing where she isn’t too sleepy to eat. The most disheartening thing is when you finally get done with a feeding, thinking they are ready to settle in, and you finally get to sleep the first 5 minutes because you are THAT tired. And then BAM they wake up and aren’t ready to settle so you start the routine all over again and 4 am turns to 5 am. We have come a long way in a week haha!

    🙂 Laura
    laurasblondemoments.blogspot.com

  2. Jenny @ Practically Perfect... says:

    We swaddle Joe during naps and at night. I learned that if I didn’t swaddle him tightly, he’d work those little arms loose and wake himself up. I know that some babies hate to be swaddled, but it seems to do the trick where Joe is concerned 🙂

  3. Laura says:

    What a cute little bunny! You are quite the swaddler too! I am jealous of his great sleeping habits, because it took me 9 months to teach peebs to sleep all night!

  4. Brittany says:

    Jenny, I love this post. LOVE IT. Mostly because you do what works for you guys, and that’s why you have such a happy, well-adjusted little man. I’m not a proponent of CIO, as you know, because I believe that attending to the needs of your infant lays a good groundwork for a secure, happy child. But what I love about your post is that you show that, even though you and have some slight differences in how we handle sleep with our kids, we both have achieved amazing, happy, healthy results without rigidly scheduling our kids with CIO methods.

    You are an amazing mama.

  5. Michelle says:

    I loved reading this. It was nice to read that you don’t leave him to cry it out. I sometimes think that it’s more important to look at your child’s needs and get to know what they want and need rather than what a book says. I follow what my gut is saying and it has always worked.

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