Sleep training baby Dot
Dot, 5 months
Written by Abbey Spence
Dot is our first baby, a darling little miracle, and hideously awake. I have read everything on newborn sleep and still feel clueless. Girlfriends talk about their babies’ routines, while I call mine ‘Whatever Works’. I feed her to sleep, but hubby, boobless, has a much harder time. He rocks Dot on his arm to Hayley Westenra, and I can’t decide who looks more grim.
At two months Dot is starting to sleep for a 4-5 hour stretch at night, but we do some travelling which really throws her. We come home with a three month old who wakes every three hours for a feed; when she hits four months it’s more like, Hey, I only fed 90 minutes ago, but it’s 2am and I thought, you know, you’d like to hang out. I’m a wreck. I can’t make decisions about anything anymore (the question “Do you want a cup of tea?” is paralysing. I don’t know. I don’t know), especially decisions about her sleep.
I read somewhere that most babies sleep through around six months, when they start solids. It becomes my talisman, my mantra. Each morning as hubby pushes me out of bed, I chant Just make it to six months. Dot is five months when I find out solids are no guarantee to a good night’s sleep; instead she needs to learn something mystical called self-settling. The same day I hear two girlfriends with younger babies are getting much more sleep than I am. Jealous, frustrated and too tired for dignity, I sob into an old cloth nappy.
Then I sign up for the two week phone consultation.
My sleep consultant Sophie makes it very clear for this to work the most important thing is consistency. I’m not used to a routine, and spend most of Day 1 realising I should have started something 10 minutes ago. There have been a stack of changes, from her sleep environment to her nap times, but the biggest one is stopping the feeding to sleep. It’s been replaced with a walk around the garden that leaves Dot mystified, but after five minutes of grizzling she’s asleep. I thought dropping the feed pre-nap would have a much larger impact, and feel oddly replaceable.
The day goes ok – not brilliantly, but ok – and I figure we’ll get better at following the routine as we go. I’m nervous about what Dot will be like tonight, when I don’t feed her on demand. At least I won’t have to second-guess everything; I’ll follow the schedule and hope that come morning I’ll still have the will to live.
She’s asleep by 7pm. For the first time since she’s born we have an evening! I put it to good use; after I stare at the wall for 10 minutes I blink and start staring at the carpet. At 10pm I’m supposed to give her a dreamfeed, but I’ve never been able to do one without waking her (there’s always some point when she’s mid-air, eyes rolling, face knotted in a monobrow, arms flapping in a desperate backstroke) so I save us both the hassle and just wake her up.
Her next feed will be at 2:30am, but she wakes at 1:40am. We’ve chosen the controlled crying method, so after 5min of crying I go in to check everything’s ok and calm her down. And then leave. She’s incensed. I go in at regular intervals and she cries the whole time. It’s a sulky little lady that finally feeds at 2:30am, and an hour later she still hasn’t settled, grizzling on and off. I go and help her settle; it’s 4am when we both fall asleep. In all I get four hours sleep.
I wake when hubby steals the covers and refuses to give them back. Dot’s first nap doesn’t go well, overtired I guess from last night, but after a feed we head out to the shops. I misjudge the time to get back and we’re late for her midday nap. She falls asleep in the car, even with me bellowing nursery rhymes from the front. I’m starting to panic – is it better to follow the routine, late, or to get her in bed now, as close to her bedtime as possible? I opt for bed and it’s a disaster. 30 minutes later it’s still not working, so I get her up, go through the routine and settle her into bed. It’s taken another 15 minutes, but the garden ritual is familiar enough today to have an effect, and she settles quickly. We inspect the veges, the chooks, shred a few flowers and stand on the cat. This calm, strange little ritual will become my favourite time of day.
The rest of the day goes pretty well. We still haven’t got the routine nailed, but she has slept more at each nap than yesterday. I head to bed early as I’m expecting another shocker, but after her 10pm feed she sleeps through until 4:50am! Woah, I think, I’ve had sleep! This is closely followed by Oh my word, tomorrow I have to get her to settle until 4:50am.
If at this point you’re thinking, Yeah ok, I could do this, promise me you will keep reading after Day 3. Day 3 is so terrible that if you stop reading here you will be tempted to sob into your own cloth nappy. I mean it. Sophie tells me later Day 3 is typically so bad clients call wanting to quit – the routine, the whole two weeks, probably parenthood for all I know. The night of Day 3 has even got a name, the Third Night Regression. Everything will feel like it’s falling apart but you have to keep going, or you’re in a worse position than you started. Oh, joy.
Never mind the night, the day of Day 3 is the pits. Her first two naps are write-offs, so for her afternoon nap I try taking it in the stroller, thinking the motion will help. Of course I pick the hottest day in January to do this, and I don’t need to tell you how it goes. We head into the evening with an overtired baby and a fatalistic mama. This is from my activity log:
|3:00am||She’s starts grizzling on and off. I’ve to get her to settle until 4:50am, and I am really, really hoping she does not cry for the next 2hrs.|
|3:21am||Silence. Maybe I got lucky.|
|3:24am||Maybe not. I start counting to 10. My strategy is to keep busy so her screaming won’t bore a hole in my head. I suddenly realise I’m starving, so I go make a Complan. The kitchen is a tip; dishes, food scraps and undiscovered life forms on every surface. I have no intention of touching the dishes, but at least I can clean up while I’m waiting.|
|3:34am||Go in to check and console. Woah she’s livid, I check my ear for blood. I may as well start loading the dishwasher.|
|3:42am||There’s a confused naked man in the hallway.“She’s crying.” He blinks. “I thought you might have fallen asleep.”As if! The neighbours across the road might be sleeping, but I’m pretty sure our immediate neighbours are all calling the cops right about now.“No,” I say, “I’m counting to twelve.”
This takes a while to sink in. More blinking.
“Yeah, this time it’s twelve. Go back to bed.”
|3:56am||Check and console. Between tidying the kitchen and jotting down the times in my activity log for Sophie, there is a glimmer of hope I will get through this with my sanity. I start doing the last of the dishes by hand.|
|4:11am||Check and console. I check her nappy, I check the temperature, I check everything I can think of but everything’s fine. Of course Dot thinks everything is not fine, and ups the volume to make sure I understand.|
|4:26am||Check and console. I can’t believe I have to keep cleaning.|
|4:40am||I suddenly realise she’s quiet. I’m trying not to get my hopes up in case I jinx it.|
|4:41am||No, she’s definitely quiet. I’ve just made it through the hardest bit of the whole sleep training!! Yeah-yah!!|
|4:50am||I’m convinced she’ll wake any moment for her feed, so I stay up and put a loaf of bread on.|
|5:00am||Wow, she’s really asleep. The kitchen is spotless, dishwasher and breadmaker on. Pad back to bed feeling like Nigella.|
|5:10am||Face it, I’m too amped to sleep. IT WORKED.|
|5:45am||Must have nodded off…she’s awake. I decide to feed both sides as she would’ve used a lot of calories crying and it’s 7hrs since her last feed.|
|6:10am||I settle her in her cot and slip back into bed…and can finally relax.|
|7:00am||Hubby is saying Better feed her it’s seven oh clock.|
|7:05am||Hubby is saying Wake up babe it’s seven oh five.|
|7:15am||Get pushed out of bed by hubby.I can’t believe it’s another day already.|
The difference between today and yesterday is unbelievable. All three naps go well and she settles down for the night, waking for a 10am feed. Then she stirs several times around 3am before resettling, finally waking at 5:45am for a quick feed. I feel like a pro. Apart from the five minutes I spent crawling around awkwardly on the floor of her room, trying to get the white noise back on again without her waking up and seeing me.
Maybe it’s because she’s getting more sleep, but today she is happier, and decides our daytime feeds are a great time for a conversation (this consists mainly of cooing and blowing bubbles). It’s cute but means she isn’t feeding properly, and I’m too tired to notice. The 10pm feed helps, but she hasn’t gotten enough milk during the day to see her through until 5:45am.
The grizzling starts around 3am. I’m lying in bed, waiting for it to either crank up or taper off when I see hubby standing starkers in the hallway again (I do not know why he does this).
“Honey, come back to bed. She’s fine.” He blinks. He doesn’t know what he’s doing in the hallway either.
“Give her a minute,” I say, and he stumbles back to bed.
Dot stops grizzling, and I close my eyes. I’m in that beautiful half-floating, heavy limb state when there is an insanely loud rustling to my left. Then the sound of paper ripping. I yank back some jackets to find the cat shredding a box of magazine clippings.
“Oh hey,” she says happily. “Look what I found! Isn’t this the greatest–”
I dump the cat in the hallway.
Half an hour later, Dot is crying at full volume. I’ll go in three times over the next hour and act calm and confident, but really I’m about to crack. The last time she screams in my face the whole time, and I crawl back into bed, pull the covers over my knees and sob. For consistency I need to be the one going in to her room all night so we can’t swap places, but hubby is amazing. He holds me and together we count to 25. She almost settles herself, cries again, and then falls asleep. We wait a bit longer. At 6am she wakes for her feed and I’m blown away how forgiving babies are; they can cry for ages and still greet you with a smile.
Everything is starting to fall into place. I’m more careful with Dot’s feeds, and she’s been napping well and sleeping well at night. I’d been hoping to train her to sleep through the night, but when she’s weighed at Plunket she’s only 6kg, too small to sleep 8hrs without a feed. I’m disappointed, but feel bad enough about last night – it’s clear to me now she was hungry – and determined to give her what she needs. For now, her nightly feeds will be at 10pm and 4am, and when the time comes I know exactly how to drop the 4am one.
We have a few extra wake ups during the night with the super hot evenings and cooler nights, but I can now swap her sleeping bag without too much grizzling. We’re really pleased with how well she’s sleeping, but we’re starting to feel limited by the short windows between naps. We ask Sophie for tips so we can go out some days over nap times without completely throwing her.
I’m stuck in motorway traffic one afternoon over nap time and she isn’t able to sleep. That day all the naps were pretty poor, but because she gets good sleeps most of the time she’s able to handle it and still settles well that night. The next day she takes her afternoon nap in the stroller for the first time, but of course I pretend it’s normal and my parent friends are all impressed. We haven’t been able to teach Dot to roll onto her back, but she can now sleep once she’s on her tummy.
We’ve been trying her on tiny amounts of solids, but tonight is the first night we give her a bit more. I feed her at 10pm, hear her wake and resettle herself at 3:20am, and then…SHE SLEEPS THROUGH!! My tiny Dot sleeps until 6:40am!!
“It’s six forty!” I shake hubby. “She slept through! Babe. She. Slept. Through.”
“Wow” is all he says.
We lie there listening to her playing, trying to work out what she’s doing (we work out later she’s practicing chewing!). By 6:50am she starts to get restless, I decide not to push my luck and get her up for the day.
It’s a month since we finished sleep training, and she’s continued to sleep through the night and nap well – most of the time. We have the odd day where her naps aren’t great or she takes longer to settle at night, but because she’s getting a good sleep the rest of the time she’s okay. She even cut her first teeth during some ridiculously hot weather, and slept fine. The third night after she started sleeping through was the worst one; I was up that night for 40 minutes. Hubby started grinning when I moaned about it the next morning.
“You know,” he said, “before sleep training…”
These last few days she’s been a lot harder to settle for her lunchtime nap. The old me would have panicked, but her sleep plan included changes for the next few months. I know it’s time to reduce her morning nap, and in another month it’ll be time to lose the afternoon one. There might be a few mucky days as Dot adjusts but I know what I’m doing. Hubby’s more confident with Dot too: he loves having a plan to follow, and I love that I can leave her with him and go out, or sleep in. Dot might have her nappy on backwards when I wake her (“She’s impossible!” hubby cries), but at least she’ll have slept.
Dot is happier too. I think she can sense our confidence and trusts us more, which confirms something I’ve been thinking. At first I told people I had a whole new baby, but really, she got a whole new mama.
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