Thursday, March 20, 2014

Newborn sleep 2.0

I will admit: we are a sleep-obsessed family. Take the old adage, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy," change it to, "If baby ain't sleeping, ain't nobody happy," and you get an insight into our little world.

The past 10 weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions and expectations, nearly all of which boil down to concerns over sleep -- not getting enough, when will our lives return to normal....ohmygoddidwemakeahorriblemistake. The conclusion is that no, in fact, we did not make a mistake; we have another wonderful sleeper on our hands, but it just took us some time to adjust. In many ways learning to be patient with newborn sleep was a lot harder for Matt and me this second time around because Natalie set the bar so high with her excellent sleep habits from early on, and we were unrealistically eager to get that show on the road with Adam.

We had forgotten some things along the way and we tried some new tricks this time, too. Ultimately, we had a really successful time with Adam's newborn sleep stage even though in the thick of it all we wouldn't have admitted so easily that things weren't that bad.

Here's what we forgot:
Newborns can typically only stay awake for 1-2 hour stretches for the first few months
Adam would cry, and we'd think, "Well, you have a clean diaper and a full stomach, but maybe you still need to keep eating?" Wrong. He really needed to sleep. Rereading my favorite baby sleep book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child corrected that mistake fast and we started putting Adam down for naps and bedtime much more quickly. We discovered that Adam has a 1 hour, 15 minute awake cycle. By about 1 hour of being awake he needs to start his soothing to sleep routine.

Try to put babies down drowsy but awake
In those earliest weeks it really doesn't matter what you do; a baby will sleep whenever and however it feels like sleeping. But, out of parenting necessity, we wanted to get Adam aboard the Better Sleep Habits Train as early as possible, so we started trying to put him down drowsy but awake starting when he was about 5 weeks old. This meant that, though he would often fall asleep while nursing or even having a bottle, we'd wait until the feeding was over to swaddle him so that he'd be awake but ready to fall asleep by the time he got into his crib.

Here's what we did differently this time:
Adam slept in his own room when he was less than 2 weeks old
I already mentioned this, but this point bears repeating. If I was doing it all over again, I would have insisted on Natalie sleeping in her own room much earlier. Even though she was in the nursery for bedtime by the time she was 6 weeks old, I think we all could have been a lot happier if we'd ripped the Band-Aid off sooner. This time around we did, and we were much happier.

Adam got an early bedtime at 6 weeks
Natalie didn't earn an early bedtime until she was 3 months old. This time around, we knew we wanted to do that differently. I already also mentioned, though, how in our haste we tried to force an early bedtime on Adam when he was only a few weeks old. That was a major failure. We tried again, though, when Adam turned 6 weeks old, and despite a few rough nights at the beginning of that effort, Adam has maintained a bedtime that falls between 6:30 and 7 p.m. and it has led to some seriously good sleep habits (sleep begets sleep!). We must start his bedtime routine early to account for the possibility that it could take him some time to wind down, but by his second week of an early bedtime he stopped waking up before midnight. This meant he was consistently getting at least a 5-hour stretch of sleep every night beginning at 7 weeks old. His first incredibly long stretch of sleep (longer than 6 hours) came when he was 8 weeks old and slept for 9.5 hours straight. Now that Adam's 10 weeks old he seems to be in a holding pattern of waking up around 3 a.m. (meaning he's asleep for 8-8.5 hours) feeding for about 15 minutes, and then waking up "for the day" from anywhere between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. One blessed night a few days ago the child actually slept from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The skies parted and the angels sang.

Adam takes most of his naps in his crib
This is another point I mentioned that once again bears repeating. We treated newborn Natalie as our portable little baby, not really concerned with whether or not she napped in her crib. Because Natalie has her own nap schedule though (typically between 1 and 3:30 each day) we are more homebound and therefore have gotten Adam to take nearly all his naps while at home in his crib. He's a champion at sleeping in the Ergo carrier, which is great because Natalie still has activities and trips that get in the way of him always sleeping at home when he needs to, but I'm glad that he has some solid napping experience in his crib already.

The pause
We sort of did "the pause" with Natalie, but we are really following this technique with Adam, partly out of necessity and partly because we now know better. Basically, as the book Bringing Up Bebe reveals, European parents are more likely to use this technique of waiting approximately 5 minutes after a baby makes his initial sound before entering the baby's room. We do this with Adam, both at naptime and at night, and on many occasions have discovered that he puts himself back to sleep in that 5-minute window. It may be challenging to hear a baby cry and not respond, but we have to remember that our baby is better for learning how to put himself back to sleep and not having his sleep interrupted before he's really ready to wake up.

Adam sometimes cries a little to put himself to sleep
I think when I only had Natalie, I believed that if a baby cried some while going to sleep, that was "crying it out." No, "crying it out" is truly when parents just leave their babies in their rooms to let them cry for as long as it takes to fall asleep. As Dr. Weissbluth points out in his book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby, "extinction" or "gradual extinction" are two methods most parents actually use that people often confuse with "crying it out." In both these methods, babies are only allowed to cry after all their needs have been met, and these are techniques that Dr. Weissbluth recommends only using once a baby has reached 4 months old. In true "crying it out" there's no real regard for whether or not a baby's needs have been satisfied. With Natalie I really thought I couldn't let her cry while falling asleep before turning 4 months old. But upon rereading Healthy Sleep Habits, I was reminded that it's quite normal for tiny babies to still need to cry (fuss) a little before going to sleep. So, we've discovered that sometimes Adam needs up to 5 minutes of crying to get to sleep. Once he hits that 5-minute mark, though, we know he's reached the point where he won't fall asleep without our help. Often he only needs something as simple as one of us holding him for a couple minutes, and then he's truly out.

But we have been impatient
Considering how great Adam is today in terms of sleep, you'd think our lives have been perfect of the past 10 weeks. As I said earlier, though, we were sort of brats about his sleep habits before they really turned the corner around the 7-week mark. I definitely crashed at week 5. I felt like I had 5 weeks' worth of adrenaline, and then I hit a wall at week 5 and felt like I couldn't function. I definitely cried a number of times, once several times in one day, and I even went so far as to tell Matt when he got home from work one day, "If you were wondering what's the number of children a couple should have, the correct answer is no more than one." I was sleep deprived, I wasn't being nice, and I wasn't thinking straight. A set of ladies and their toddlers bounded up to me at the mall during this sleep-deprived period when I was able to run a few errands with only Adam in tow. The ladies, assuming I was a first-time mother, looked at me wistfully and said, "Once you get over that 6-week hump, the hardest time is over." I knew this was true, too, but I could not imagine a life in which I would ever sleep again. It's so easy to take whatever you're experiencing that week with a newborn and think this will be the rest of your life, but it's so important to remember how quickly babies change.

Now I just hope the changes we have ahead of us are for the better, not for the worse.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Helping new parents

The other week a good friend alerted me to a great post: 100 Ways to Encourage a New Mom. This list really speaks to me, especially now that we're exiting the earliest of newborn weeks (and crossing our fingers that "the worst is behind us" as so many people have tried to remind me).

The author of the list invites everyone to share her post and add their own thoughts. I have to say that after now having had two newborns two years apart, we've experienced a tremendous outpouring of love and support from so many friends and family. I've learned from their example in discovering what is most (and sometimes least) helpful for parents of a new baby. So, below is the compiled wisdom of my friends and family. Though this list is mostly geared toward helping a new mom, because, let's face it, much of the physical toll falls on her, this is also applicable to all those great fathers like my own husband who are in the trenches too. Some of the items on my list likely overlap with the list in the link above. Please forgive me for any repeats; I'm the mom of a newborn.

The guiding philosophy behind dealing with parents of a newborn is: Don't enter your interactions with any selfish motives. You want to see a cute little baby, one likely tinier than you've ever seen, but they just want to get through the day (and the night...oh, the night). Make everything in your visits and offers of help about the parents, not about yourself, and you'll be the most helpful.

Here are some more specific ways we've been helped:


  • When giving a gift after the baby is born, tell them no thank you note or email is necessary. My good friend who sent me the link above reminded me of this one. I try to say this to my friends, too.
  • Provide gift receipts for baby clothes
  • Buy 9 or 12 month baby clothes
  • Bring diapers and baby wipes
  • Don't regift them items you know they won't like/need, and don't give them your leftovers of items you know are not the best quality, like cheap diapers that don't actually hold leaks
  • Give her a robe she can wear for late-night nursing sessions
  • Give her a nursing tank she can just wear (and sweat through) at night (seriously, my night sweats need to end already)
  • Give her beauty items she can use on days when she doesn't shower or just wants to feel a little better. A friend brought me these Say Yes to Blueberries Age Refresh Towelettes and they're awesome.
  • Share your Amazon Prime membership with them (it can be shared between two mailing addresses)
  • Bring toys or other activities to entertain the toddler that: don't make really loud noise, don't require batteries, don't require parental supervision

Gifts don't have to be new!

  • Bring any of your leftover, unused baby essentials, such as newborn or size 1 diapers, breastmilk storage bags, nursing pads, extra breastpump parts, formula
  • Offer to loan her big-ticket baby items she may not own, such as a swing, bouncer, carrier, infant gym, Snap n Go or Pack n Play

The most appreciated gifts often come in the form of food. Really, you can't go wrong here, but here are a few additional ways we've been shown kindness:

  • Bring food in disposable containers or containers you don't except returned
  • Bring food that can be easily frozen. Don't have time to cook? A friend brought us frozen meals from Dinner Done. See if there's a similar service where you live.
  • Bring breakfast and lunch food they can eat with one hand -- muffins, bagels, fruit that doesn't require cutting or peeling (or that's already cut/peeled)
  • Bring food the week that she and/or her mate returns to work
  • Bring gift cards for places that offer takeout and/or delivery
  • Bring coffee

Helping around the house

  • Offer to do the chore they hate the most
  • Hire a cleaning service to come by when they've been home from the hospital for two weeks and the house has gotten sufficiently dirty
  • Take care of their animals -- take the dogs for a walk or the cat to get its nails trimmed (or, dear god, someone figure out how to make my dogs' breath not smell horrible...)

Emotional support

  • Tell her you've also cried in the shower
  • Tell her it gets better
  • When asked, couch any advice in, "What worked for us was..."
  • Help connect her with other moms who have babies roughly the same age as hers
  • If you're going to send her links about parenting or babies, make sure there is not a hint of judgment in what you're sending (i.e. the benefits of breastfeeding to a mom who's formula feeding or the dangers of co-sleeping to a mom who's co-sleeping)
  • Send her links to articles and websites that have nothing to do with motherhood or babies
  • Watch the baby, even if only for an hour, so she and her mate can leave the house together and do something without the baby
  • Give her the benefit of the doubt -- she is likely unable to maintain coherent conversations, she might have a meltdown in front of you. (True story: my dog stole my hard-earned sandwich off my plate while one of my best friends was visiting, and I started crying rather irrationally in front of her. She understood.) Don't take it seriously or personally. Just say, "I've been there."