Sleep: The brief(ish) rundown

Ah, sleep, what a wonderful thing you once were.  I never truly valued you until I lost you!  Luckily, for my husband and me the infamous sleep stealing monster was only a short-lived two and a half or so months.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t as though we didn’t have our struggles, oh boy we did, but we were lucky enough to have a great resource base of new moms who not only filled us in on their favourite reads on the subject of all things baby, but also on their own successful tools.  So, when it came time to think about how help little JC develop the skill to sleep (and it is a skill, that very much needs to be taught and learned), we had some guidance from people who had not too long ago been in our shoes and figured it out.  Keep in mind, these people are not as common as you’d think, there were plenty of friends who were also parents that were still struggling with the sleep demon, while we would get advice from them, it was more of a warning of what not to do!

Today let’s just discuss the basics of sleep.  I’ll get into specifics for bed time and napping on later posts.

Two reads that were recommended to me that I would say are worthy of every new mom’s attention are: Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman and  Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth, M.D.

Why I like these books:

Both offer realistic suggestions that are easy to incorporate into your daily baby routines, and the thinking behind the suggestions is rational and easy to get onboard with.

If all you want is specific information about sleep that you can dip into and jump out of without having to fully invest all your limited time on then go for it!  In fact, Dr. Weissbluth’s book is really all about diving in when you need information, strategies, ideas etc. for where you are now and coming back to it when you’re in a new phase and ready to learn and read something new.  The point form break down at the end of each chapter is meant for sleep deprived parents!

Bringing up Bebe is a great memoir piece that everyone can learn something from.  Why do French parents have kids who will sleep through the night at 2.5-3 months?  What are they doing differently?  The simple notion of attend (to wait) changed JC’s naps from short 45 minute ones to hour and a half-three hour-long naps. Druckerman does more than just talk about sleep, she goes on to talk about the whole gambit of parenting differences between North American and French mothers (and fathers too).

**Veering from the topic here but, I recently came across a really great place to get books online for a steal of a deal and FREE shipping.  It’s great for children’s books too! Check out  The Book Depository

you won’t regret it!

Things to keep in mind with these books: 

Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Baby is written in a way that is very rigid and all-knowing.  While I agree that the routine and consistency is important, his method is a form of protocol that feels and seems very inflexible; anyone with a baby will agree that being inflexible is not a trait that is synonymous with effective and successful parenting (heck it isn’t a trait that will take you far in any avenue of life!).  So, bear in mind while Weissbluth has some great ideas and even indicates that they need to be followed precisely, like anything take it with a grain of salt.  Yes, ideas in this book will help you, but becoming a stickler for the rules will drive you insane and is counterproductive.  A girlfriend of mine joked that there were times she would just get so fed up she’d throw the book across the room, only to come back to it days/weeks later because despite the author’s approach it does have some useful techniques.

Druckerman’s Bringing up Bebe is a great read, but it is not just about sleep, nor is it a step-by-step “how-to” book.  Also keep in mind, while it is based on her personal experience it is also founded on academic research.

Here are the tools that I took from these books and my own personal experience that have helped me in the sleep department.

1.) Window of wakefulness (Weissbluth) – Babies have a window of about 1-2 hours that they can be up for before becoming over-tired.  Avoid the over-tired baby at all costs (if you’re reading this post, you likely are in the process of trying to do that right now).

2.) Watch the clock, but more importantly watch your babe.  While you don’t want to go too much beyond the two-hour window (in early months JC could only be up for an hour before he’d need another nap), you don’t want to put them to bed when they’re not even close to tired either.  So, you’ll also need to watch the babe for tired cues and put him/her down when you see them.  It’s hard in the beginning, you’re just getting to know one another, trying to pick up on your babe’s tired cues may be tricky, but soon enough they’ll be glaringly obvious. Rubbing eyes, crying/fussing, yawning (although this may be a sign, it is not always THE be all end all sign, sometimes my baby yawns after 20 minutes, yet will pleasantly be up and play for the two-hour window with no problem), red forehead/brow line (JC gets this when he’s tired), droopy eyes, slow blinking, just to name a few.  Keep in mind, your baby may have traits that are unique to him/her, which is totally normal.

3.) Put the baby down in a calm, drowsy but awake state.  This is to help teach them to fall asleep on their own, which is crucial for future months. Keep in mind, we are not talking about a baby that is only a few weeks old, they are still in a place where they will sleep wherever and whenever they need to.  If your brand new baby is not sleeping the majority of the day without help I would recommend checking with your doctor/midwife/public health nurse to troubleshoot.

4.) Start a nap/bedtime routine as early as 1.5-3 months if possible.  Bed time should be a different routine than the nap time one.  Your routine may include a song, book, bath, cuddle, feed, etc.  whatever it is just remember to be consistent.

5.) If the baby is waking after 30 minutes to an hour let them stir for 10-12 minutes.  As mentioned before sleep is a skill that needs to be taught/learned, in the first few months babies will wake at the end of the first sleep cycle (often around 45 minutes) and begin to fuss, if you leave them for a bit in most scenarios they will fall back asleep.  Eventually they will be able to connect their sleep cycles without all the stirring.  **Note: I would only do this when JC was just making noises, fussing etc. but if he was actually crying as opposed to the “fake” cries, as my husband and I refer to them as, then yes go to them.  As the brain matures it will be able to sleep for longer periods of time, and thus those sleep cycles will connect.

This is just a start to the big, bad, world of infant sleep.  I will be posting more specifics about naps and bedtime sleep soon.  Until then, if you have any questions, comments or personal stories please feel free to leave them below.