My baby just fell asleep. He was awake for 4.5 hours (I’m led to believe this is far too long a stretch for a 5-week old) and would not settle down. First he surprised me with two poo explosions mid-way through his feed. Then he was super hungry and fed for over an hour. Then he couldn’t get his wind up.
We tried to settle him down after what seemed to be a few satisfying burps but still he refused, so we took advantage of his wakefulness and gave him a bath. Then he was hungry again. Then every time I’d put him down he’d wake and wail angrily at me and go all red in the face as if to say “Waaaahhhh!!! Not cool Mama!! No way it was ok to put me down!!!”
But now… he’s asleep. Knocked out and snoring ever so softly.
I’ve heard of the “witching hour”, a time – usually early in the evening – when babies seem unable to settle down, and they cry and fuss for what feels like an eternity. This isn’t the first time we’ve just experienced it. And, like other things related to pregnancy and parenting, the term “witching hour” is so ill-fitting. An hour of fussing and crying? Pfft. How I wish it was just an hour! This is like how people often talk of “morning sickness” when really it’s never just morning sickness, it’s really “all-day-and-night sickness”.
There I was, after having spent a lovely day at home with my (normally cooperative) baby boy, seated in front of the TV just in time for the afternoon news, expecting to feed him and have him settled down for a nap in time for his dad to get home so we could have dinner, and suddenly I feel dragged into a never ending marathon of feed-burp-cry-burp-cry-poo-cry-cry-cry. If I hadn’t known about a baby’s 90-minute basic rest and activity (BRAC) cycle I would never have seen the light at the end of the tunnel. I just convinced myself that once Baby was awake 4.5 hours (ie 3 x 90 minutes), he’d be ready for sleep again. Thankfully I was right.
I read about the BRAC cycle in a book by Polly Moore called The 90-Minute Baby Sleep Program. Moore’s theory is our bodies have an internal clock that runs a series of important cycles on a regular basis, including our periods of alertness and rest; a cycle that lasts for 90 minutes. Once a newborn baby wakes the clock starts ticking and within 90 minutes they’re ready for rest. This is often why a newborn wakes, feeds and is pretty much ready for sleep not long after having woken. If you wait too long before allowing the baby to rest (ie nap), another 90-minute cycle begins and they stay awake, usually tired and irritable, and will often settle only at the end of the next 90-minute cycle. As a newborn baby gets older, it can stay alert for 2 x 90-minute cycles. In tonight’s case, Joshua stayed up for 3.
The book goes on about using the 90-minute cycle to establish good sleeping habits. It’s a good book and, though I don’t follow all the advice Moore has, it’s been one of four invaluable resources I’ve used to guide me during my first month as a mother. I’ll list the other three below because without the knowledge/tips/tricks/guidelines I’ve gained from them, I’d still be feeling incredibly lost. Plus, I wouldn’t have come across these if it hadn’t been for other generous parents who had told me about them or lent me the books. I’m forever indebted to them for their thoughtfulness, as it has preserved my sanity.
The New Contented Little Baby Book (Gina Ford)
My sister lent me this book when I went on maternity leave and I started reading it before I gave birth. The basic idea is to structure the baby’s day in such a way that they consume the most food and only take short naps during the day and therefore sleep longer and more contentedly during the night. When I first read it I found it quite daunting; Ford’s routines seemed strict and demanding and, though I love having structure in my day, I didn’t think I’d have the discipline to follow them (I now know I definitely don’t). My outlook changed after Baby’s first visit to the hospital; for 72 hours we had been following a ridiculously strict 3-hour feeding routine and I was beyond exhausted. I think I’d totalled <5 hours sleep in 3 days. Because he was still jaundiced and my milk had come in late, I needed a way to ensure that I wasn’t too tired (ie I needed to be able to sleep for more than 1-2 hours stretches during the night) so I could increase my milk supply and ensure he was feeding well. So, Baby was less than two weeks old when we first attempted getting him into a routine. I don’t follow it to the tee (there’ve probably been 3 or 4 days in the past month we’ve actually been able to follow the timings Ford sets out), but the book has at least given us guidelines as to when / how often to feed and nap, and is probably the reason why my son can now sleep up to 4-5 hours during the night. The routine also allows his dad to feed him using the bottle for the last feed of the day, allowing me to get to bed earlier (usually before midnight), and allowing him ~6-7 hours sleep before having to get up for work the next day while I do one feed in the middle of the night. I have the everlasting memory of Baby’s second and third night at home when he wouldn’t sleep for longer than an hour (meaning neither did we). I am so grateful we haven’t had to go through that since.
The Happiest Baby on the Block (Harvey Karp)
Our friend from Miami was the one who recommended this one to me. He said a friend had sat him down to watch Karp’s DVD and it changed his life; talk about a convincing review! I found both the book and DVD incredibly useful – though Part I of the book got annoying as Karp spends the entire time talking about why all the theories behind the cause of colic are all wrong (I honestly didn’t care – I just wanted to know how to stop my baby from crying). What I did like was his theory that the first 3 months of a newborn’s life are equitable to a “fourth trimester” so mimicking the environment in the womb would instantly activate a “calming reflex”. What I like even more was how Karp goes into detail about how to use “Five S’s” to activate your baby’s calming reflex: swaddling, side/stomach (a baby’s feel-good position), shushing, swinging and sucking. The DVD is great for watching the techniques that Karp describes in his book (eg his method of swaddling; once mastered it’s the only one Joshua hasn’t been able to escape from). It also features a Q&A section where parents discuss their concerns with Karp; things I would never have known to ask.
Dunstan Baby Language (as seen on Oprah)
This is a pretty cool segment that Oprah did with Australian mother Priscilla Dunstan about the “language” of babies. She describes five basic sounds that your baby will naturally make to communicate what they need/feel (hunger, tiredness, burping, lower gas and discomfort). I can now recognise baby’s hunger, tired and burp cry which is super helpful because now I’ve got a method of working out why he doesn’t want to settle in his cot.
This is obviously not an extensive list of things I’ve seen/read about babies; there have been dozens of books, videos, websites, articles and conversations that have helped to build the bank of information I now have swimming around in my brain. The challenge now – besides trying to remember it all – is picking which bits of advice and research to listen to and take on board, versus which to reject. Many people offer conflicting advice; be they mothers, midwives, doctors or authors. Even in my short list above, Moore is against waking up babies from sleep but Ford says it’s necessary for establishing long sleeps at night.
I know it is up to me and my husband to make decisions about how we will raise our own child, and part of how we do this is spending time with him and learning how he communicates what he wants. That’s what I’ve found to be most helpful and to be honest, the most enjoyable.
I’m sure my list of invaluable resources will grow (I’m currently in the middle of reading What to expect when you’re breastfeeding… and what if you can’t by Clare Byam-Cook – man I wish I’d read it BEFORE I started breastfeeding), but in the mean time I’m going to take full advantage of the peaceful slumber my baby is enjoying…. and I’m going to have me some dinner.
If you’re a fellow parent, I’d love for you to share the irreplaceable resources and/or advice you received that have helped to settle your baby!