Winning the Baby Sleep Lottery

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I’ve found that new parents are quick to blame themselves when something goes wrong with their child, but when something goes right, we chalk it up to luck. So when Luella started sleeping 6 hours at a stretch during the night I completely wrote it off as a fluke.

But that fluke has lasted for two weeks now. Sometimes she only goes 5 hours and on some glorious nights like last night she goes for nearly 8! It’s unheard of for a baby who’s just under 8 weeks old. So I’ll be the first to acknowledge the large role that luck is playing in this development. And it’s certainly possible she’ll revert any day now, or teething will come along and it’ll all go to hell.

It’s also possible that we’ve stumbled onto a magical combination of tactics. I think a key for us has been trying a variety of techniques rather than sticking to what one book/midwife/friend told us to do. We’ve got a routine now that works. So I’m sharing it here not because I think it’s “the answer” to getting your baby to sleep through the night, but because it’s working for us and if it helps one other person then that’s awesome.

Here’s what we do:

Around 8:00 give or take, depending on her mood and what we’re up to, we start getting her ready for bed, which starts with a warm bath as she loves bath time. Then she gets a new nappie, pj’s and I give her a long feed in bed with the lights dimmed. This usually makes her quite drowsy so Jim burps her, swaddles her and then rocks her to sleep and puts her down in her cot with another blanket over her. Sometimes this works straight away. Sometimes she cries and he has to try again. Sometimes after 2 tries I then feed her while laying down.

Here’s what I think is key for us. We’ve side-carred her cot now. It didn’t work for us at first because immediately post-partum I was so sore and it was too hard for me to get in and out of bed this way. But we’ve adjusted the cot height so our mattresses line up and it’s essentially like having one huge mattress that spans the width of our bedroom.

This allows for me to feed her with the greatest of ease. I can literally just roll onto my side, pop out a boob and feed her while we both lay down. When we do this at the start of the night we both fall asleep this way and if we do it in the middle of the night it helps me get back to sleep easily because I’m not leaving the bed or even sitting up.

It’s a modified form of co-sleeping. Some nights we don’t need it and she’s in her cot all night. Some nights we’re snuggled the whole night. Jim had some reservations about co-sleeping at first as RPA advocates heavily against it. But when he learned his mother, a nurse/midwife did it with her three kids he was more willing to try.

We bear in mind some safety issues. Neither of us smoke, I’m barely drinking at all since I breast feed on demand. When she sleeps snuggled to me I ensure she doesn’t have my blankets on her and I keep mine below my waist. We’ll have to take some extra care when she starts being able to roll and we’re no longer swaddling her. We also don’t leave her in the cot unsupervised.

As she tends to sleep in the 9-7 range, this works for us. Jim’s up at 5:30 for work anyway. On nights when we’re out a bit later we skip the bath and put her straight to bed after a feed and it’s worked out ok. I think another key is in the breast feeding on demand. She’s not on a schedule and I don’t pump.

A lot of people have encouraged me to start pumping and giving her a bottle (because if I don’t introduce it now she will never take it, apparently). I don’t. There’s a few reasons. For one, it sounded incredibly complicated and time-consuming. And for what? So I could go have a drink out one night? We’re still able to go out and socialize and I’ve already gone a year without drinking, what’s another. I’ve squeezed in a glass of wine here or there. I’m not going back to work until she weens, so that gives me the luxury of being able to feed her whenever she needs it.

The other benefit to this, is that I learned that breast milk has a different make-up at different times of day. The milk I feed her at night is designed to help her sleep. (Read more on this from Pinky McKay here.) So if you’re feeding expressed milk at different times of day you could be confusing their inner clock. I’m pretty sure her long night feed cues her in that it’s bedtime more than any other part of our routine.

So there you have it. That’s what works for us. It wouldn’t work for everyone and it’s possible we just won the baby sleep lottery. It’s not without its drawbacks as well.

I find it tougher now to get her to nap during the day. She needs a lot more settling and gets especially cranky towards the end of the night. She also frequently pees so much during the night that it leaks out of her nappy and soaks through her blankets. We sleep on a towel now, and mattress protectors are our friends.

But when you’re getting a good night’s sleep all these other things are so manageable it’s a fine trade-off. Hopefully it only gets easier as she grows and we get to know her better.

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