Hello Sleep – I’ve missed you

A month ago, under the guidance of a sleep consultant, we started sleep training with Cameron and it has utterly transformed our lives. Cam has gone from waking every hour and a half at night to sleeping for 11 hours or more. What’s more, he usually goes down for his naps with very little fuss, and using the system, anyone babysitting for us can get him down too. He is thriving and I am a functional human being again!

As you can gather, the rewards have been huge, which has made it much easier to stick with the program on the tough days (of which there have been plenty). There have been lots of tears (mostly Cameron’s but some of mine too), resolve has fluctuated and occasionally doubt has crept in. Our sleep training story is not one of those miraculous 24 hour transformations – heck, a month in, Cam’s naps are still incredibly inconsistent! But having gone through it, I am firmly on the side of sleep training because not only does it work, but I can see the benefits decent sleep has had for our entire family.

Simply put, we had to remove all props Cameron was using to sleep (i.e. feeding and rocking) and give him space to learn to fall asleep by himself. Initially that space was filled with lengthy protests and plenty of tears but in a surprisingly short amount of time that stopped. Now when we put him down after his bath, he rolls over and mostly we don’t hear a peep from him until 6 am the next morning. The change is so dramatic that some days I have to remind myself it’s the same baby!

While it is true that Colin and I had to do the hard work in implementing the system, I am incredibly grateful for our sleep consultant, Petro Thamm*. She’s like a South African version of Mary Poppins – firm yet fun, professional yet easy to relate to and with a whole host of tricks and sage advice up her sleeve. And I needed that because sleep training was as hard as I anticipated it would be. In those first few days when I sat next to Cam’s cot, he would crawl over to me, put his arm between the slats and lie with his little hand stretched out, crying in confusion. It broke my heart and looking back now, I’m not sure how I managed! But knowing Petro was going to phone the next morning somehow strengthened my resolve.

The process of sleep training has been our first attempt at disciplining Cameron and we’ve learnt some big lessons. The first is just how consistent consistency needs to be. The second is that tough love is tough on parents too. The third is that there is a strong link between discipline and love. As Cam is testing boundaries more and more, we have plenty of opportunity to put these lessons into practice and are growing as parents in the process. To quote Bill Cosby:

In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising in the bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything. You just need a lot of love and luck – and, of course, courage.

Here’s to love, luck, courage and a good night’s sleep!

*Petro Thamm is a certified Sleep Sense consultant. To find out more about her program, visit her website at http://www.goodnightbaby.co.za

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Sleep survivor | Outwait, outsing, outsway

I’ve recently started teaching Cameron to link his sleep cycles during the day. I’m fortunate in that he usually sleeps for 45 minutes during his day naps, but I’ve noticed that he’s often still tired when he wakes up so I’m trying to help him learn to sleep for longer. The Sleep Sense book that I’ve been using has some very helpful tips, and incredibly, the first time I tried to get him to link cycles he did. Of course that was three weeks ago and he hasn’t done so since! But we keep persevering.

Probably unwisely, I started this process while we were on holiday earlier this month. Cameron wasn’t sleeping well anyway and the challenge became one of getting him to sleep at all, never mind about linking cycles! The situation soon deteriorated into a battle of wills and we found ourselves playing a not-terribly fun game of Sleep Survivor.

Outwait

Step one in the strategy is to give Cameron a chance to self-sooth. After all, he’s not going to learn new skills unless he’s given the chance to practice them. So come nap time, I wrap in a blanket, give him his bunny (we’re trying to teach him that it’s a sleep soother), put him in his cot and leave him to it. Occasionally, after a few minutes of muttering to himself, all goes quiet and I peek around the door to find a sleeping babe. More often though, it’s on to step two …

Outsing

Being cognisant of the fact that Cameron is starting to develop sleep associations, I try not to pick him up if he hasn’t fallen asleep by himself. So step two is to put my hand on him and sing softly to try and ease him into dreamland. It is vital at this point not to make eye-contact! However, the harsh truth is that if step one has failed, step two is rarely successful and we move onto step three.

Outsway

This is no holds barred involvement. Often by this stage Cam has moved into over-tired mode and I have to resort to rocking him until he is incredibly drowsy, if not fast asleep. As he now weighs over 7 kilograms and this process can take up to half an hour, this is a serious endurance test. But as in Survivor, this last endurance challenge has the grand prize at the end of it, so one just knuckles down and does whatever is necessary to go the distance. When we were on holiday, Col’s sister counted to 200, as many times as necessary. Col takes his mind off it by watching TV with the sound on mute, and I usually prop my Kindle up and increase the font size so I can read at a distance!

At the moment Cameron’s sleeping patterns are all over the place so this post is by no means a report on a successful campaign. Due to the high prevalence of allergies in my family I am trying to breastfeed exclusively until Cameron is 6 months old. However, his appetite is growing and the 6-7 hour stretch he used to go at night has shrunk right back to 3 or 4 hours. This regression back to newborn sleeping habits means I’m becoming increasingly bleary eyed as the days progress but as I’m not working I feel this is a sacrifice I can make. Happily, he is occasionally taking longer naps during the day, but there is no pattern to them yet. Sometimes it’s the first nap, sometimes the second, other days not at all. So it’s all a bit of a guessing game right now, but one I’m hoping will start to settle down when I start him on solids in four weeks’ time.

The hardest part of the process is that there are no hidden immunity idols for me and at the moment I feel like I am spending my life trying to get Cameron down for naps. But my cousin sent us this cute little baby grow from the UK, and I’m hoping that by the time Cam grows into it, it’s message just might be true!

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Nearly four months old

I’m so behind on my blog I’m not even sure where to start with the catching up. The problem with a blog is that if you don’t post things as they happen, there’s often not much point doing so later. So some of the items on my ‘To blog about list’ will have to be scrapped I suppose. However, there are a few that are still worth writing about so I’ll work on those when I can, but for now I think an update on Cameron is the most pertinent report to make.

Our little man is a few days shy of four months old. I took him for his second round of immunisations on Monday (I opted for the eight week schedule instead of the six week one) and he clocked in at 6.6 kilograms. He is 61 centimetres tall, putting him in the 90th percentile for height (so taking after his dad in that regard). His early arrival means that he is quite a small baby for four months (he is still comfortable in 0-3 month clothing), but in all other respects he is doing marvellously well.

Cam’s personality is starting to really shine through and Colin and I are just utterly enthralled! He remains an incredibly calm and contented little boy. When faced with new people and environments he absorbs it all with an expression of solemn concentration of his little face. However, when in familiar environments he has really started to relax and has become delightfully vocal. When lying on his play mat (or Play Station as we’ve taken to calling it), he will have long conversations with himself, and has even started to chuckle.

Lately I keep hearing about these babies who are sleeping through the night, but Cam isn’t one of them and usually wakes at 1 am and again at 4 am. Whether this is because I’m still exclusively breastfeeding I’m not sure, but as he is still feeding well at night I don’t think it’s just routine. Having Colin on holiday at the moment is great as he’s been helping me with the night feedings, giving me a bit of a break for the first time since September. Oddly I am finding that the more sleep I get the more I want, so instead of feeling more rested on my increased sleep hours, I am feeling more weary. Go figure!

While we generally have a pretty good routine going, we are finding that things change often so we have to be flexible. For example, last week we were really getting concerned as we were rocking Cameron to sleep for every nap and at night. I borrowed the Sleep Sense book from a friend and started keeping a sleep diary with the view of correcting bad habits. And then all of a sudden it was no longer necessary. On Wednesday night Col and I were both too tired to rock Cam, so we put him in his crib and decided to leave him until he started crying. Only he fell asleep all by himself instead and since then complains when rocked. (Bewildered gratitude is how I would describe my response.) With slightly less enthusiasm I must report that his other latest trick is to just start screaming for no apparent reason. There is no build-up of discontent, merely a split-second warning as his bottom lip drops and then he lets rip with an ear piercing wail! My suspicion is that these outbreaks are related to the level of stimulation he is receiving as they often occur after a bath or when we are somewhere new. Overstimulation is nothing new to us, but to keep us on our toes his response to it seems to have become less gradual.

At this time of year I tend to get overly reflective and have spent two days trying to end this post off. Various attempts at describing the joy Cam has already brought into our lives have floundered and failed in the murky waters of incomplete thought. So to avoid getting all maudlin at this happy time of year, I will rather just sum up by saying that life in the Rip household at the moment is generally peaceful, fairly routine, occasionally deafening and utterly underpinned by gratitude, love and contentment. From our little family to all of you, have a wonderful Christmas!

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