Oh my goodness me!! How many theories and opinions have we all been subjected to over the last month or so through all forms of the media regarding sleeping your baby? I have read, watched or listened to many of these programmes and can understand how confusing it must be for new mums who use google and enter ‘how do I get my baby to sleep?’
Along with all these sleep theories there are just as many ‘anti-s’ – these are the people who go on line to tell these young mums how terrible, wrong and harmful these theories and opinions are.
I can understand how confusing it must be because the most confused is the baby, who is subjected to a couple of days of this theory and then a couple of days of that theory and then throw in the desperate mother’s theory of carrying the baby around until he goes to sleep and then he is gently lowered into his bassinet and is never given the chance of settling into a great sleep programme at all.
The baby continues along the stressful pathway of not sleeping and then becomes so tired that he can’t get to sleep at all. Then the mother becomes more and more anxious and sleep deprived herself and don’t let’s forget about the dad! He too is affected by this little piece of humanity who has come into their lives and is not the darling little cute bundle they both thought he would be, instead he is screaming little bundle who will not sleep! The parents don’t either!
I have met parents who are so desperate that they will take the baby out in the car and of course, he is so exhausted that he will fall asleep in his car seat.
I often see mums and dads pushing a pram around the streets early evening, especially in the summer, and I know exactly why!
In my 55 years of caring for babies the most often asked question is ‘how do I get my baby to sleep – between feeds or through the night?’ Well here it is – a sleep system that works - and quite quickly. It’s not a theory, which according to the Oxford Concise Dictionary in short – is ‘a system of ideas, explaining something’.
This system which I learnt during my training as a Karitane Nurse at the Karitane Hospital in Wanganui (one of five such hospitals throughout New Zealand – but don’t go onto google and search – they are no longer part of the Plunket system in New Zealand) is called ‘self settling’ – that is, I wrap the baby and put him in his bassinet, tuck him in firmly and then let him self settle – that is going to sleep by himself. In my book ‘Baby on Board – Mum is Driving’ – on page 15 I explain how this works and I’ll go over it again here.
Self settling means you are going to ‘teach’ the baby how to go to sleep in his own bed, on his own. Yes – that’s right – and if you follow the rules and continue to follow the rules your baby will learn to self settle and if you carry our my instructions every time you put your baby to bed, he will learn quite quickly and you will be the most relieved parents in your town/country and maybe the world!!.
Here is how you will ‘self settling’ your baby.
Firstly, and most importantly, if your baby is breast fed, you will make sure that he has a really good feed. That means, at the beginning when you first arrive home from the place where he was born, he will feed from the breast for, lets say, 6 minutes each side. Your milk may not yet be of great quantity, so I always suggest that after the baby has suckled he should be offered a small amount – lets say 30/40 ml of formula. Now, this is not taking the place of your breast milk, but it is to ensure that the baby is not hungry and therefore will not sleep for more than half an hour before he realizes that he is hungry, will cry and you will think he should be put to the breast again. So – it is a good idea to have a can of baby formula in your pantry for times such as this. The bottle should be sterilized – either in a pot of boiling water for 3 mins or in a super duper flash sterilizing unit that you put into the microwave!
Follow the instructions from the can of formula, mix with boiled water and place into the fridge in a baby’s bottle with the teat upside down within the bottle – or use the teat cover to keep the teat sterilized. This formula should be fresh each day – and once it has been warmed and the baby has had all or some of the milk, it should be disposed of. The holes in the teat should be large enough so that when you test the milk on the inside of your wrist to make sure it is ‘blood heat’ – that is as warm on your skin – the milk should flow quite easily. This means the baby gets the milk from the bottle as readily as he does the milk from your nipple.
Now back to ‘self-settling’
So, the baby has been well fed. You will know when this has happened, because the baby is simply not interested in either the nipple or a teat. He should be winded half way through a breast feed and again at the end – as well as after any additional milk he has from a bottle. You will wind him by firstly sitting him firmly upright – he should not be bent in two and not securely straight up and down. You do this by sitting him on you knee – one hand firmly under his tummy and your other hand supporting his back and using two of your fingers to support his head to prevent it flopping all over the place! All this will become second nature to you in a few days.
In this position, your baby might expel some wind as a ‘burp’ – great – he is allowed to do that! If a burp is not forthcoming in 2/3/4 minutes, put him over your shoulder and gently rub his back. There is no need to vigorously pat his back.
Again within 2/3/4 minutes a ‘burp’ may happen – but if not, lie him down on a changing table – or a towel on the bed and check his nappy. It’s no good expecting a baby to sleep with a very wet nappy, or, worse still, a dirty one!
Take care of that end of the baby, then wrap or swaddle (the same) the baby really firmly (hopefully, your mid-wife has shown you how and then watched while you do it) – babies feel very secure when they are wrapped – pop him over your shoulder one more time and then he is ready for bed.
All this can take 10 minutes when you baby is very new, but you will be able to prepare him for bed within minutes when you have done it a few times. After a hug, a kiss and a chat, tell him it’s time for bed and that all babies go to bed. You can chat about anything – how all the baby animals go to sleep, all the birds, and the butterflies etc. etc. He will not understand right now but he can hear your voice. Very important. Now – tuck him firmly into his bassinet, leave the room and pull the door shut – or nearly shut. I’ll tell you why at the end of this blog!
This is all part of the ‘going to sleep routine’ and you will do this every time you put him into bed. Babies respond so well to routine and routines become such an important part of their lives. They eventually know what is going to happen next – that a little chat before being tucked in means they are going to have a sleep, that getting undressed and hearing the bath water means they are going to have a bath. Routines happen every day at almost the same time and this makes them feel secure. Now – don’t hover around outside the baby’s door waiting for them to start crying! Some babies will settle immediately and a lot of babies will have a cry. It will not hurt them to have a cry.
Go to the kitchen, put the kettle on and make a cuppa – or more importantly, if you are breast feeding, have a big glass of water. If the baby is still having a cry – don’t be tempted to go in and pick him up. If you do this, your baby will quickly – and I mean quickly discover that if he cries for a few minutes, you will come and pick him up.
By not picking him up, you are teaching him the beginnings of self settling. Let him cry for 10 minutes. Then you may go in and pick him up but you will NOT take him out of his room – you will NOT have a long and cheerful chat to him – this is not happy chat time this is seriously self settling time! You are simply checking that he has no wind – so over your shoulder for a few minutes – then wrap firmly – I find this is more easily done when he is lying in his bassinet – then tuck him in firmly and leave the room pulling the door shut or nearly shut. If the baby is getting his hands out of the wrap, you are not wrapping him firmly enough.
Again, don’t listen outside his door – yes – he probably will have a cry – but, I’ll say this again – you are teaching him to self settle. Go away from his bedroom area – go and put your feet up on the sofa a read a magazine or watch a bit of TV or go and hang the washing out. Do something that will take you 15 minutes and by then your baby will most likely have gone to sleep. If not – go through the same routine as I have just described and if you allow him to have a cry and self settle you will be forever grateful that you followed these instructions and taught your baby to self settle.
DON”T GIVE IN – because if you do you will lose the battle of self settling. If you follow these guidelines, I promise you that within a very short space of time – maybe a week or so or maybe less, your baby will be self settling. They may cry, but it will only be for a short space of time, because they know that no-one is going to come and pick them up.
Babies need sleep – the more sleep they have, the more they want and they will forever be good sleepers. I mean that every time you put your baby/toddler/small person to bed, they will self settle and never end up in your bed, or in the car being driven around your town/or rocked to sleep in your arms. Have you ever thought about rocking a 2/3/4 year old to sleep in your arms?
Babies need to sleep at least 3 hours between feeds from birth to at least three months – then they are up for a few more hours during the day. The 3 hours is measured from the time they are tucked down after a feed until the time they wake up for the following feed and babies – providing they are healthy and not premature or have a medical problem need only be fed every four hours – give or take 10 – 15 minutes. This time is measured from the time they wake for a feed to the time they wake for the following feed.
I once self-settled a toddler of 20 months who had no idea what this self settling lark was all about! It took one afternoon sleep, followed by that evening bed-time, the following afternoon sleep where I let her cry for up to 35 minutes before she gave in and went to sleep. The second evening sleep her mother said ‘Lyndsay, come and listen to this’ – the little girl was in bed – no lights, door shut and she was in bed singing! See – it does work – you just have to hang in there and go through the process.
When it was time for me to leave, the parents got their cheque-book out and proceeded to write a cheque for $1000. When I protested that that was far too much, they said to me ‘If we had $1,000,000 in the bank, we would give it to you’. Wow – I was stunned!!
Now – let me tell you why I suggest that it is a good idea to shut the bedroom door. The baby gets used to the sound of the door shutting – and, quite soon, in his little brain, he knows that it is part of the routine.
Secondly, if you don’t shut the door as part of the routine, when this darling baby gets to sleep in a single bed and the door is open – never been shut – what do you think will happen? Yes – that’s right. He will quickly get out of bed and come for a visit to ‘the party room’. And this will go on and on – and he will wear you down – he will scream and scream every time you put him back in his room, and eventually, you will give in he will end up sleeping in your bed.
Yes – it does happen – and often.
So – there you are. You have a choice of teaching your baby to self settle.
It works – I have done it so often, I have lost count. I had three children under 3 yrs of age – and I did it for all of them. Then I did it when they were 6 weeks – yes – 6 weeks - when they were all healthy – putting on weight – and did not need feeding during the night.
So when they woke for that 2am feed – I changed their nappy, re-wrapped them and wheeled the bassinet into the sitting-room, shut three doors and went back to sleep. It took maybe 2/3 nights before they slept through the night, knowing that no-one was coming to pick them up.
And they still love me! And none of them have suffered any psychological trauma at any stage of their lives.