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Sleep, glorious sleep.

Sleep, glorious sleep.

 

It’s so confusing. You should just let your baby cry it out and then you can all sleep. Or maybe, your baby will be traumatized for life if you let her cry herself to sleep. What to do?  Despite the claims of one of my high school friends, sleep is in fact a medical necessity. We all need sleep. My daughter is now 19-months-old and I’ve learned a few lessons the hard way. I hope that you can learn from my mistakes so that you can get some well-deserved rest. Some of these tips seem obvious now but are not always so obvious in the crazy postpartum haze. Also I might add that the phrase “sleeping the through night” can be misleading because pediatricians generally consider a 5-hour stretch of sleep to be “sleeping through the night.” So, although some parents supposedly have babies who sleep for 12 hour stretches without any intervention, this probably isn’t what you should expect.

Babies (and adults) need a consistent sleep schedule —

Going to bed, waking up, and napping at the same times each day will help babies know what to expect, and be prepared for sleep when it is time to sleep.

Create a calming bedtime routine —

The bedtime routine helps baby prepare for sleep. Something simple like bath, jammies, teeth brushing and story time works well. Again, this advice also works well for adults. I found that in the newborn days when I had to get up every two hours to nurse, it still helped me tremendously to stick to my own bedtime routine of brushing teeth, washing my face, and getting into pajamas so that I could still feel normal.

Babies need to learn to fall asleep on their own —

This was a very difficult and important lesson for me to learn. Although newborns cannot fall asleep on their own and usually need to be rocked or nursed to sleep, between the ages of 3 and 6 months babies begin to have the ability to self-soothe. If you continue rocking or nursing your baby to sleep past this point, they will need you to help them fall back asleep when they naturally wake up in the night.

I got into the habit of rocking Marie to sleep when she was a newborn, and continued to do so until she was about 10 or 11-months-old when I realized we all needed to sleep better. At that point we had gotten into the habit of co-sleeping (I’ll leave that for another post), so we just taught her to fall asleep on her own by lying in bed next to her until she fell asleep. This did involve some crying. But I didn’t feel bad about it because we were right there with her and I knew that this was a skill she had to learn. This has improved our sleep quite a bit during the rare times when she is not teething.

Babies will probably not sleep all night if you nurse them at night —

This is the step we’re working on now. My daughter is certainly old enough not to nurse at night, but since we’ve been co-sleeping, it’s hard to avoid. At the same time, if you’re co-sleeping then night nursing might not disrupt your sleep very much. If you’re not co-sleeping then it certainly will! When and how to night-wean is up to you. Different babies have different needs — my daughter is very thin so I’ve always wanted to feed her as much as possible. I just found a great article that recommends attempted night weaning by 8-9 months and that sounds realistic from my experience. However nursing at night can be very comforting for babies who are painfully teething, which typically continues off and on until about age 2.

 

 

 

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Skills not mentioned on my LinkedIn profile:

Able to change a diaper while my daughter tries to crawl off changing table
expert at singing baby to sleep
can roar like a lion and quack like a duck
knowledge of 80+ ASL signs including milk, more, want
can type while breastfeeding
can survive months of sleep deprivation without hallucinating
possesses strength to carry baby and groceries and diaper bag up stairs
still remembers the quadratic formula, though not how to use it
able to give everything for love

Mothers have been breastfeeding their babies throughout human history, so one would think that this natural act would come easily. At least that’s what I thought, before my daughter was born. My husband and I even went to a breastfeeding class at the hospital in order to be extra prepared.  “Newborn babies instinctively crawl to the breast after birth!” the lactation specialist cheerfully told us.

It was a rude awakening then to find that: 1) my newborn baby had no clue how to latch on, 2) I was so exhausted I could barely hold her in my lap, and 3) I had to breastfeed her every two hours around the clock for the first several weeks of life.

I know that I am not the only one who had a hard time with breastfeeding. I have heard other moms say that breastfeeding is one of the hardest things they’ve ever done. But since nursing is by far the healthiest and most cost-effective option for feeding your newborn, I offer you some tips for success.

Invest in a Brest Friend pillow.  Although I was hesitant to buy a $50 pillow, I found that it was well worth the money. It gave stable support to my daughter’s body and made it easy to get her into a good positioning for nursing.

Learn the side lying position.  Finally learning this nursing position when my daughter was about two-months-old made my life so much better – I wish I’d gotten it down sooner.  When you’re exhausted in the middle of the night, it’s much easier to lie in bed and nurse than to sit up in a chair. You can watch videos of this and other breastfeeding positions on YouTube to learn how it’s done.

Splurge on a double electric breast pump.  Even if you’re not planning on returning to work, this is an important investment – and your insurance company may even reimburse you. You will want the option of occasionally having someone else bottlefeed your baby, and it will be difficult to get enough milk without a double electric pump. Once we got the go ahead from the lactation specialist to bottlefeed, my husband took over one feeding per night. This allowed me to get much-needed four-hour stretches of sleep.

Catch up on your reading list. Reality check – you are going to be spending about eight hours a day breastfeeding your newborn. It can get a little boring. Get some good books or movies to keep your mind occupied and to help make this time more fun for you.

Be positive. Breastfeeding a newborn can be difficult, but it gets easier and more rewarding as time goes on. My daughter and I had a challenging start to our nursing relationship, and it took about a month to figure things out. Now, she is almost 11 months old and I’m still nursing her. Breastfeeding has given her the healthiest possible start to life, helped us bond, saved me time cleaning and sterilizing bottles, and saved our family more than a thousand dollars in formula costs. It has been well worth the challenges.

How did I survive the first few weeks with a new baby? How does anyone?

My friend Courtney was visiting when Baby Bear was about three weeks old. I told her that we hadn’t been sleeping much, but things had improved since the first week when we hadn’t slept more than a few hours a day.

Didn’t you start hallucinating? she asked.

One would think! According this article I found on the Internet (so we know it’s true!), some side effects of prolonged sleep deprivation include hallucinations, temporary insanity and sometimes death.

I’m happy to say that I didn’t hallucinate, although at times I did feel like I might die. Some things that helped me through the craziness were my husband, our moms, and our amazing friends who brought us meals for the first week. Homemade brownies and lasagna can help you through anything. As can love.

Baby Bear was born on a Saturday, after a night of no sleep.  When we finally got to go home on Monday afternoon, I had still hardly slept despite my extreme exhaustion. The lactation consultant was very clear that I needed to feed her every 3 hours from beginning of feeding to the next. So, if I started feeding her at 8 and finished at 8:45, I would have to make sure to feed her again at 11. That doesn’t leave much opportunity for sleep in between.

I was also still exhausted just from the birth itself. So tired in fact, it took about all my strength just to stand. And I’d experienced some tearing complications that had me on Vicodin and generally feeling awful.

Additionally, we had appointments for Baby Bear every day that first week. She had jaundice and was having problems breastfeeding. So we had two pediatrician visits, two lactation consultant visits, and two trips to the hospital for bilirubin tests.

On Wednesday, they determined she had lost a little more than 10% of her birth weight, which is a red flag for jaundice. So the lactation consultant put us on an even crazier regime where every 2 1/2 hours I had to breastfeed her, then Spencer would feed her breastmilk from a tube while I pumped breastmilk.

On Thursday we both had a meltdown and I called my mother-in-law and asked her to come spend the night. She came, did laundry and dishes, and took over Spencer’s tube feeding duties so that he at least could get some sleep.

Somewhere around Saturday I started having REM sleep again. I’d gone that whole week without dreaming, but I became so exhausted that I would sink into a deep sleep during each brief break between feeding the little one.

On Monday we went back to the lactation consultant, and she still had not gained much weight. I couldn’t believe it after we had worked so hard. The nurse gave us a new plan, where I would breastfeed her and then Spencer would feed her from a bottle. The bottle was able to fit quite a bit more milk than tube we’d been using.

The next day we returned to her pediatrician to find that she had gained several ounces. Thank God! Of course, we had to keep feeding her constantly, but the whole situation was becoming slightly less stressful.

Things have continued to get easier, and now at 10 weeks, Baby Bear is in the 75th percentile for weight and 95th percentile for height. She goes to bed regularly around 10 p.m., and I get up with her around 3 a.m. to feed her. Usually she sleeps for a few more hours after that, although last night she declared a sleeping strike from about 3:30 – 5:30.

Now, she is napping peacefully. I still can’t believe how beautiful she is, with her long, dark eyelashes and little elf ears. It all seems like such a miracle. To have such a sweet, healthy baby. To get through a natural birth and weeks of sleeplessness. To have all of our needs provided for when I was so worried that they wouldn’t be. I don’t know how it all happened. I can only say, thank you thank you thank you.

Now maybe I should nap.

 

Mama and baby ducks.