Friday, 24 January 2020

sleeping through the night at 8 weeks : it happened again

today i'm sharing our tips on how we got our baby girl to sleep through the night at 8 weeks old. i thought it was a coincidence that our son was a good sleeper, and he slept through the night from about 12 weeks, but now i'm not so sure it's a coincidence. and just in case it's not, i want to share what we did, what we read, things that helped us, in case some tidbit here makes all the difference for you.

sleep is SO important, for all the family, and when you're both not getting enough, it's really, really tough.

i wish that this blog post could be a formula for success for everyone, but unfortunately i can't guarantee that if you do everything we did that you'll have a sleeping baby. each baby is different, as is each parent and home. i can only share things that i know have helped us establish good sleep. i am not a sleep expert, and i'm not a doctor. these are just things i've spotted that we do differently from other people, and they may be a factor in the sleeping, or they may not.

so let's start with a couple of important pieces of information...

firstly, what do i mean by sleeping through the night? everyone has a slightly different definition of it, and i simply mean that the baby is sleeping whilst we are sleeping, between about 10pm and 6am.

secondly, both our children had breastfeeding jaundice, which made them extra sleepy for the first couple of weeks of their life. this meant that they had to be woken up for every feed, instead of waking themselves, so this enabled me to set the pace of their feeding more easily in those initial weeks.

now let's break it down...

the feeding cycle

one of the things we learnt early on with our son, was that in the neonatal unit at the Belgian hospital in which he was born, ALL the babies are on a 3 or 4 hour feeding cycle. demand feeding wasn't really an option, i had to be there to wake him, change him and then feed him before he feel asleep again, and he was really only awake for about an hour at a time.

this meant that he was never overly hungry. it meant he rarely cried. it meant he was always fed enough to sleep well. i guess if in those first couple of days you let them sleep too long, then you could end up in a hunger cycle that would be hard to get out of.

i used to set a timer for 4 hours in those early days and nights, and make sure to wake baby when the timer went off. the timer indicated the beginning of one feeding session to the next - so for example i would feed at 4am, 8am, 12midday, 4pm, 8pm, midnight, etc. in the neonates, we started on a 3hr feed cycle and then went to a 4hr cycle, because he was smaller to begin with, but with our daughter we did 4 hourly to begin, and 3 hrs when we were treating her jaundice for a few weeks.

after a couple of weeks, as they got more alert, they were awake more often, or waking for feeds themselves. at that point with both my children, at about 3-4weeks, i switched to demand feeding in the day time, especially as both of them did spit up a lot, and our daughter even did a round of projectile vomiting! that way, feeding more like every 2 hours was a little easier for them, and made sure they kept it down.

don't overstimulate

the next 'secret' is that babies often look fully awake and then fall straight back to sleep. sometimes our daughter would even cry really loudly for a few short cries - it sounded like she was having a nightmare - and then go straight back into a deep sleep.

the key to the secret seems to be to resist the temptation to play with them or stimulate them. just let them be, and see if they don't put themselves back to sleep. most sleep therapists would say that the skill of being able to put themselves back to sleep is the key part of getting them to sleep through the night. and to do that they need to be able to practice in those early days when they're sleepy.

what we do is let our daughter make a few noises, and we only pick her up when it's consistent.

we also don't overstimulate in the day time, she's 3 months old and she doesn't do classes or too many outings, about all she can manage is to kick on her mat and attempt to grab her rattle, then she'll get annoyed and want less stimulation, so we pop her in her moses basket. it's ok to let them lie in a basket not doing too much, not looking at anything, i believe that in those times they're being allowed to figure out how to use their muscles and keep their brain calm in idle moments. and they're also figuring out that it's ok to be by themselves.

more sleep equals more sleep

we've always been sure that the whole idea of keeping them more awake in the day so they sleep at night is a myth, that actually you want to encourage sleep in the day, and that actually helps them sleep better at night.

sometimes it's imperative to force sleep by driving them around in a car seat or putting them in a baby carrier or wrap. that's what we did when our son was out of routine and we needed him to sleep more so that he would sleep more, and it's always worked.

if you're not sure how much sleep your child should be getting, you can check the Gina Ford book The Contented Little Baby Book (UK/US) - i found this a really helpful guide for how much sleep and how many minutes of breastfeeding, etc, was normal or appropriate for each age. i didn't and don't follow it word for word, but it's really helped us keep moving forward and find patterns.

swaddle, swaddle, swaddle

one of the things we also do is to swaddle in the first few months, because it mimics the feeling of the baby being back inside mummies tummy, all warm and tightly held. if you're not sure how to swaddle, you just need a 120x120cm muslin (like these ones - UK/US), and then to wrap them like a burrito (like in this Youtube video). it's important to do it safely.

a couple of other things we make sure to get right about their sleep environment:
  • not too many layers
  • wearing only 100% cotton to sleep in 
  • in a sleep suit, so there's nothing pulling on their tummy and no socks can fall off
  • in a sleep sack when they're too big for the swaddle
  • covered with a heavy cellular blanket over the swaddle in the winter months, and a lighter cellular blanket for the summer
  • safe - see The Lullaby Trust
  • their nappy/diaper isn't too tight (we usually use the size up for night time), and is fresh on before nighttime
  • the room they're sleeping in isn't too hot or too cold, we keep our house at 18.5c (65f)

avoid sleep associations

this is a really difficult one, and our boy got addicted to being bounced to sleep in the Ergobaby for a long time, and we had to wean him off of it at 18 months (read how we sleep trained him at 18 months here). it will be interesting to see how we handle sleep regressions and periods of sickness this time, because that's how we ended up with that situation with our boy. it's no bad thing to want to cuddle them to sleep when they're unwell, but it was tricky to get out of that cycle.

there are a couple of sleep associations we did avoid that can be tricky to get rid of. but the main one i hear problems with is using a dummy/pacifier - we just never used one, we just let our children be loud, which was not very well looked at by people around us in Belgium who all had one when my son was little. i think this is a bit of a cultural/family thing, but i do know that some kids wake up if they fall out of their mouths and parents have to go in to put it back, causing sleep disturbances

we sometimes feed to sleep, but not always, so it's not a requirement for sleep. i think this all stems back to the first point, of not feeding every time they cry and find other ways to settle them first. we also keep our baby in a separate moses basket and then in their own crib, rather than in our bed. our children, and we, just prefer to sleep that way, we don't really have anything against co-sleeping as such, as it's worked brilliantly for some people we know.

we tried to get our son to enjoy listening to music to relax and sleep and always played him Ed Sheeran. but he never needed it to sleep, or even really associated it with sleep - though it would've been nice to just play some Ed and have him fall to sleep!

one really positive sleep association is darkness - our daughter will sleep so long as it's really dark, it's how she knows it's nighttime. it's quite easy to provide darkness with blackout blinds during the summer months too. but it does mean that our son sleeps better in the winter than the summer, he basically hibernates and still takes a 2 hour nap in the winter at the age of almost 4.

some people swear by a bedtime routine, but we've never done a strict bedtime routine of bath, pyjamas, books, prayers, etc, because we knew we'd be travelling a lot with our son, and we wanted it to be easy for him to sleep anywhere and at different times. so instead, the only solid thing in the routine when they're little is that they're in their room and it's dark. we do incorporate the other things a lot of the time, but we're not strict on it, and we haven't found they really need it to relax before bed, until they're about 18months old when it gets a bit more important to teach them how to do that.

putting them down partially asleep

one of the things we learned from Gina Ford was the importance of putting baby down to sleep when they're half asleep, half awake.

with our son, we got to the point of having to make sure he was fast asleep before we put him down, and with our daughter i'm trying to put her down when she's just fallen asleep, and then letting her drift herself off to sleep again. she will usually put out a couple of loud cries and then fall asleep.

during the night however, i used to put her down when she was pretty awake. i would change her, nurse her til she didn't want any more, burp her for 5 minutes and then put her down, however awake or asleep she was. then i switched off the light. if she cried, i picked her up and fed her again and then put her down again. i repeated until she made no noise when i put her down. it’s tiring, but eventually she got the gist that being awake at night isn't something we do. i didn't talk to her, didn't play, kept the lights low. so by 8 weeks old, she was sleeping through.

take care of yourself mama!

so much of the time, sleep is related to how much they've fed, and how well they've fed. so i want to dial in on that a bit more, and give you my top tips for making sure baby is well fed. if you want to read more, check out my blog post about increasing breast milk supply.

- ditch dairy.
this has been a key thing for so many people i know, so it's worth giving it a shot if you're struggling. i restrict my dairy heavily, i might eat a tiny bit of butter on toast once in a while, and when i go out i might end up eating a little cream in a sauce or something. but i keep dairy-free ice cream and cream and milk in the house - i did this before i had kids to clear my acne (i still only get a spot when i eat dairy, otherwise my face is clear!). check this article out for more info on cows milk protein allergy in babies.

- increase fats and galactogogues.
making sure that you have a really rich diet is so important, you can't expect to make great milk if you're eating nutrient-poor foods, or not getting enough calories. i make a huge batch of cookies each week and eat two each day, full of coconut oil, oats, eggs, and other milk-enhancing foods. i usually have porridge and fruits for breakfast, eggs for lunch and fish for dinner. and i eat a LOT.  you need to keep yourself nourished. one of my favourite books for post-partum health is The First Forty Days (UK/US) - it teaches you why and how to get the vitamins in and looks at traditional cultural ways of doing so.

- feed for long enough!
one thing most people say about me is that i feed for way too long, or my kids are slow. but it's an intentional thing to make sure they're getting the fatty milk that comes at the end of finishing one side. if they get one whole boob, rather than two halves, they sleep loads because they're getting all the nutrients! so make sure you finish one breast before starting on the next!

if baby is fussy at the breast, you need to be the one to keep latching them back on. that happened a lot in the early days, and it's physically exhausting getting them to keep latching on again, but it's so worth it. feeds took 45minutes-1 hour to begin with, and now at 3 months she's taking 20-30minutes for a good feed. make sure you plan the time into you day for this, and relax into it (you want to make sure you also get a good let down or two).

- keep them upright
with both my babies, i kept them upright a lot after feeds, to burp but also to prevent them spitting out too much milk and help them digest. i try to keep my baby upright on my chest for 30minutes after a feed, so sometimes i put her in the Cuddlebug wrap so i can do other things too! the need for keeping her upright disappeared at about 10-12weeks as her digestive system matured.

- make sure you've had plenty of rest
i've said it before, and i'll say it again. babies always copy your emotions, so if mama is grumpy, they're grumpy, if mama is happy, they're happy, etc. so if i'm tired and stressed, what do you think baby is going to be? i make sure to do VERY little during the day, i maybe spend about an hour cleaning each day, and a lot of the rest of the time i'm doing something relaxing, meditative and peaceful - which for me is faith journaling, baking and watching a lot of Gilmore Girls.

dream feeding is the best

our daughter just turned 3 months old, and with that, she had her first dream feed. she'd fallen asleep at 8:30 and i could tell she was in a deep sleep for the night, and as my breasts were still a little full (i hand expressed for a second to check how full they were) i decided to try and dream feed her at 11pm as i went to bed as she still hadn't stirred. and she did it! it takes a while to dream feed, because you pick them up asleep and get them to latch and they keep falling asleep! but twenty minutes later she was done and had emptied them, and then slept all the way through until 7am! so she almost slept 11hrs! she's now been doing this for the last week, and so essentially she's sleeping a whole twelve hours in the night with no wake-ups.

i dreamfed my son for months and months, because it kept my milk supply up, but also allowed him that deep rest throughout the night.

for the first 3 months, she would wake for a feed at 10:30. and i can guarantee that if she doesn't have that dreamfeed she'll be up at 3am hungry for milk, at least until she starts solids.

i know this is a lot of information, so thank you so much for reading, and please do get in touch if you have any questions or comments. and please let me know if any of these things work for you!

i honestly don't want to sound at all preachy or like we have it all figured out. we don't. we've been really blessed with good sleepers. but like i said at the start, i wanted to share what we do because people are always so surprised by how well our kids sleep and they want to know the why, so here it is. plus also, if for some reason we have another child, i'll have all those notes of what we did to look back on!

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