Sunday, January 11, 2015

Baby Sleep Secrets Part II

Esther at 10 days asleep in the trug.

To follow-on from my last post, I'll continue with my list of things I have learned to get my two babes to sleep twelve hours through the night at an early age:

5)  Sleep them swaddled on their side at first, then un-swaddled on their tummies once they can move their heads.

Here in the UK, the universal advice is to sleep babies on their back because of SIDS, the thought being it is somehow safer.  Yet babies could asphyxiate much easier on their backs.  My sister Anje (the mother of 9 babies she taught to sleep through the night early on) believes it is equally safe to side-sleep, if not safe, and that babies sleep better in this position.  She taught me to sleep Gideon (swaddled) on his side, propped up by rolled blankets or towels.  For Esther, I use the soft animals people have given me (you can see them a bit in the see last post).

Once they can move their heads back and forth, my sister sleeps babies on their tummies, unsaddled, as this is the position best for sleep.  Unswaddling them at this point makes sense if you are sleeping them on a flat surface, as their arm and leg movements are less likely to wake them up, because they are stopped by the mattress.  I have to swaddle for a bit longer, as our newborn trug is just a little curved.  I am now in the process of un-swaddling Esther, as she has almost grown out of the trug, and will soon sleep her in our baby hammock.

swaddle, sussex trug, newborn photo
G at one week asleep in the trug.

6) Make sure they are getting enough day sleep, but not too much.

A well-slept baby sleeps better.  My little Esther's best nap is her first, then the next, and on down through till her fourth nap at the end of the day, which is fitful and very short.  (I'm working on the afternoon nap to be longer, as she'll keep this the longest.)

Although in my last post on baby sleep secrets, I indicated that a baby should be woken every three hours to feed.  This is true.  But I've found that you also have to get them to sleep for the hour or half hour immediately before they feed.

This can be a tricky math problem.  Gideon couldn't stay up longer than an hour till he was 4 or 5 months, but then wouldn't sleep longer than an hour.  Esther did well at this until about a month ago (she's nearing 12 weeks).  She would be awake for 40-60 minutes before sleeping for two or more hours, so the three hour schedule worked well.  But now she needs less total sleep, but can still only be up for up to one hour and 15 minutes, usually less.

As I mentioned above, her naps get progressively shorter throughout the day.  Her first nap is from 7:30 to 9:30 or 10:00 a.m.  The next is suppose to be from 10:30 or 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in order to stay on schedule, but she can usually only make it till 11:45 or 12:00.  By 12:30 p.m. when she is suppose to feed, she is too tired to feed and then everything is thrown off, she has to take a short nap, and then she reverts to snacking rather than getting really good big feeds that will last her three hours.

In order to have her sleeping before the next feed, and to "save" some of her sleep for the important afternoon nap, I have started waking her at 11:30 a.m. for 30 minutes, and then let her sleep from 12 to 12:30 p.m. before her feed.

I have found that as my babies get more tired throughout the day, they need more help getting--and staying--asleep.  The first nap usually requires very little in terms of helping them to sleep, but they can need more cuddles, white noise, or darkness throughout the day (will post on these items in the next baby sleep secrets post).

My sister says that you have to teach babies to sleep, and when. She bounces her babies, held on their side, to sleep, patting their bums, until nine or so weeks, when she starts putting them down barely asleep, then works backwards till fully awake).  I spent countless hours when Gideon was little getting him to sleep each time till he was 4 months.  With Esther, I started just putting her down from day 1, and that works - usually.  If I miss her window (more below), I have to do more work and use more props (white noise machine, binky/dummy, and darkness).

Esther's current (ideal) schedule at 11+ weeks is as follows:

6:30 a.m. up and feed

7:30-7:45 a.m. down for first nap in the trug

9:30 a.m. second feed

10:30-10:45 a.m. down for second nap, usually in the sling, as this is when I go out with G for his daily adventure.  (If I had a double stroller/push chair, she'd probably sleep in it, but I'm attempting to avoid one at all costs.  When G gets evicted from the stroller when he turns 2 in March - when he'll need to stand on a boogy board or ride along on the scooter - she'll probably nap in the stroller.)

11:30 a.m. up for a bit of stimulation

12:00 noon down again

12:30 p.m. third feed, then another top-up right before the afternoon nap.

1:30 p.m. afternoon nap in the trug- this one is currently the hardest.  In order to get her to "sleep" through this one, I have been spending the better part of the hour between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. rocking her trug, shushing her, or bouncing her in the dark the last few weeks to make sure this "nap" lasts long enough to stay on schedule.  I thought I had this sorted yesterday when, after two days of waking her during her mid-morning nap, she slept through.  But then things went south today - we'll see!  In short, getting them to sleep long enough takes WORK and I can only do this because Gideon is asleep at this time.

3:30-4:00 p.m. fourth feed

4:30-4:45 p.m. down for final nap in the sling while I make dinner

5:30 p.m. bath, 4-5 oz. of expressed milk in bottle

6:00 p.m. breastfeed in darkened room

6:30 p.m. down for the night

7) Don't put them to bed overtired.

gap multi stripe, baby sweaters, diaper pin
Well slept babies are happy babies.  Over-tired babies are demons! (p.s. that's a three month old dress on my little giant)
Not only is there an overtired in general, resulting in perms-crabby babies, but there is a discrete overtired state when you miss their window to go down to sleep.

My children have a window during which they can be put down to sleep easily.  Put them down too soon and they are upset because they aren't ready to go to bed/get bored in the dark (and you can get off schedule because they can't sleep till their next feeding time); put them down too late and they are a tired mess who need lots of help going to sleep.  G was much harder, as he was colicky, but Esther has a definite easy window.  I watch for their tired cues.  They are usually squirmy and a bit shouty and then start sneezing.  Then there are the yawns - usually three about a minute or two apart.  Then the seven mile stare.  Then if they are not already in bed, they can quickly transform from happy little cherubs into demons of the blackest hell.

If I let G get to the yawns, it was already too late.  Esther is much more flexible.  If I'm on top of things, however, I try to start swaddling Esther when the sneezing begins and things are smooth sailing.

The other tough thing about putting kids to bed overtired is that their sleep cycles, normally 50-60 minutes, is diminished, sometimes to 30 minutes, but it can even go as low as 10 or 5 minutes.  (More on sleep cycles in the next post.)  Worse, they are not rested enough to have the energy to seamlessly transition from one sleep cycle to the next.  This means they can get really fussy and may not be able to make the transition themselves.  This affects transitions at both the beginning of the nap or night sleep or at the end of the nap or night sleep, resulting in a crabby baby from waking too soon.

OK - that's all for now.  More to come in the next post...


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  5. Thank you. I am going to try a few things mentioned here, need to buy White Noise Machine too. I have a 3 month old daughter and she has been slipping one or both hands out of her swaddle and that of course wakes her up and I’ll have to re-swaddle in the middle of the night.