The one thing that I remember from pre-parent life is everyone warning me about the lack of sleep. “Say goodbye to lie-ins!” they said, almost gleefully. HB is now almost 3 months old and we’ve had a roller coaster of a ride with his sleep. Suffice to say, there were times when we awoke only to look at the clock and discover that HB had slept for FOUR HOURS STRAIGHT. However, these instances have been far and few between and more likely than not, we’re propping up our eyelids with matchsticks after a particularly hairy night. And because sleep is like gold dust, we’ve tried everything to improve our zzz’s.
At the beginning, it was fine. Why? We were in the neo-natal unit and weren’t staying at the hospital so we got to go home and aside from expressing every 3-4 hours, we had it relatively easy. Of course, we didn’t think that at the time and duly complained about how sleep deprived we were. Ha.
Then, we were given a room at UCLH so we could see if we could sufficiently breastfeed HB day AND night; a prerequisite before we were allowed to whisk him home. This was a little harder but even then, we had nurses on hand to help settle him. After this, it got really shit. From not realising just how much babies wanted to feed (I really had no idea) regardless of whether it was day or night to jumping at his every murmur and let’s not forget the keen observation in the dead of night, every hour, looking at his chest for the tell-tale sign of breathing.
It turns out that when comparing HB to other babies on my NCT, he’s certainly not the best sleeper. Everyone else gets these milk comas, we get WIDE EYED STARING. After a while of little sleep at night and little sleep during the day (pffft to all those people who say ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ – what if your baby is ALWAYS AWAKE?!) I quickly went through a whole arsenal of tactics and when those didn’t work, threw money at the problem.
Here’s what worked and what didn’t when getting a newborn to sleep:
I had a bouncer as a kid and I remember loving it. Goodness knows if I actually slept in it but it was a lot of fun and so I guess I wanted to recreate that with HB. Bjorn Bouncers are pricey and so before we splashed out, I wanted to make sure that it was money well spent. A friend had a bouncer just hanging about in her husband’s car which wasn’t being used so we borrowed it for a few days. The bouncer was a rather chunky one from somewhere like Mothercare which rocked, rather than bounced. It had a cushiony back and HB seemed pretty chilled in it. I felt that given enough time, he’d totally fall asleep. So I bought the Bjorn Bouncer (the white mesh one rather than the black – apparently the black gathers lots of fluff…) and it’s a sexy thing! Sleek and bouncy, I loved it! HB on the other hand, wasn’t so sure. It has 3 ‘settings’ – one for sleep, one for chilling out in and one for play. We learnt pretty quickly that HB doesn’t like to be left in it on the floor. Put him on the bed in it (a big no-no according to the instructions) and he’s somewhat more tolerant. But would he sleep in it? The short answer is YES! The longer answer is ‘as long as he was being bounced’. Part of the Bjorn bouncer’s appeal was that babies could bounce themselves but having such little stumpy legs and being quite light it was perhaps overly optimistic that HB could manage such a feat.
Verdict: 5/10 – often HB would cry when put into it so some settling was required before the mummy-powered bouncing and sleep could happen.
I love this! Not only because it’s free but because I feel like it has some success at working. It has a range of supposedly soothing noises that will play for up to an hour (you have to pay for the hour-long version but the free version will play the sounds for up to 30 minutes) and these include mountain river (my favourite), rain (a classic), ocean (quite soothing) and the standard hoover, hairdryer etc. There are even two versions of ‘shh-ing’ which I find slightly annoying / disturbing.
Verdict: 8/10 – it also helps cover up the creaking of noisy floorboards as we make our retreat
Chatting with my NCT friends, there’s mixed reviews about the swaddle. Some think it’s dangerous (it can be if it’s done too tightly or the baby’s too warm it seems) and I would never have tried it in the first place, had neo-natal not swaddled him first. Personally, I think swaddling is the baby version of a straight-jacket, although I will also confess that I think that HB looks like a burrito when he’s all swaddled up and that’s quite cute. HB has a strong moro reflex (also known as the startle reflex), where for no apparent rhyme or reason, he suddenly throws up his little arms with such force that it wakes him up from the deepest of sleeps. And then he cries.
Verdict: 8.5/10 – you can swaddle using any piece of material really but we use the Gro-Swaddle which is pretty foolproof.
The Sling / Baby Carrier
We have both the Baby Bjorn (The Original and the WE) and a Hana Sling. Both have their pro’s and cons but with regards to sleeping, they’re invaluable. I found that some rather violent squats with HB attached to me worked remarkably well, as did just walking about with him. It usually wouldn’t take long for him to drop off to sleep. All I had to do was keep moving…
Verdict 9/10 – So handy and a better solution than the pram which only worked half the time. Plus, it meant HB could sleep and I could get stuff done around the house.
We have a BabyZen Yoyo which is a really basic and simple pram – the main benefit being that it’s light and folds up super small. Because of this, it may not be as cosy as some of the other prams out there on the market but that’s not stopped many babies I know from having a good kip (often for many hours) when in the YoYo. However, HB is a different kettle of fish. He USED to sleep well in his pram and we could go for HOURS wheeling him about. And then, at around 4 weeks, he changed. Now, he’ll happily drift off and have maybe an hour’s sleep but if we stop moving at all (if I stop to sit down for lunch) it’s like a red flag to a bull and then he’s awake. And crying. Sometimes, he’s awake and not crying. But the point is that he’s not sleeping.
Verdict 6/10 – it’s pretty convenient and kinder to my back to have HB in a pram rather than a sling or carrier, especially for long days out but whilst he can be pretty chilled in it, it’s not necessarily conducive to sleep.
The Cocoonababy is like a giant marshmallow that someone’s leapt backwards into. Designed specifically for young babies, it’s like a firm white pillow with indentations for the baby to lie in. It promises to help reduce the Moro reflex (HB has a strong startle reflex and will often wake himself up with it many times a night, unless he’s swaddled and even then it can wake him occasionally) and the semi-foetal position it helps babies lie in is supposed to be comforting. It also tilts the head at a 20’ angle. HB, due to his deviated septum maybe and consequent blocked nose, hates sleeping on his back so from the start, I was very much hoping this would work. Ever since we got it at around 5 weeks, he’s slept in it and I personally think he sleeps better. We swaddle him up and gently place him in. There’s also a waist strap which we use as it helps control his arms. To start with, I was a little concerned as it does look like his chin is too near his chest but he seems to be fine. The only issue with the Cocoonababy is trying to keep the cat out of it!
Verdict: 8.5/10 – I think it’s helped with his sleep. Admittedly, nothing seems to help him sleep when he’s all bunged up and finding it hard to breathe but I feel confident it’s doing more good than bad.
Ewan the Sheep is held up as a sleep must-have. Indeed, we cling to this sheep like HB clings to my hair. Ewan even came along to a trip to Australia as a vital piece of luggage. A friend bought us Ewan and he’s been one of our most used gifts (thanks Michelle!) – you should have seen the speed at which we unwrapped him and got him into HB’s cot! Again, Ewan isn’t the magic answer but he is 100% useful when it comes to getting HB to sleep, and for keeping him asleep. Each of his 4 legs plays a different white noise (apart from one which plays a very annoying tune) for 20 minutes (I wish it were for longer) and there’s also an option for it to light up too (but we’ve not used this yet). We put it on when we put HB down to sleep and continue playing Ewan until we fall asleep ourselves.
Verdict: 9/10 – I’d buy this myself and for friends. I swear by Ewan.
The Maternity Nurse
We’ve had a maternity nurse twice now, for 24 hours. As well as helping us look at establishing a routine, she’s also helped looked after him at night. The thing about maternity nurse is that they’ve got so much more practise than you at helping settle babies at night, mainly because all that people ever want is to know how they can get more sleep. When our maternity nurse was over, we moved the BedNest with the Cocoonababy inside into her room. Yes, HB cried in the night but it was also impressive watching her soothe and calm him when I’d have automatically given HB the boob. And aside from waking up to express and feed, it was a considerably better night’s sleep for me!
Verdict: 9/10 – there’s no denying that having someone else look after your baby at night is conducive to a better night’s sleep for you. As for HB, it felt like he cried less and even though he was still waking at 4.30am I felt like he was being encouraged to go back to sleep rather than automatically be soothed by the boob.
With a finger, I gently stroke from the top of his forehead in a straight line down his nose and continue this until his eyes close and he falls asleep. At least, that’s what I aim to happen. If he’s having an absolute meltdown then the last thing he wants is for me to be trying to stroke his nose. However, if he’s just woken up and is having a grizzle but is otherwise tired, then it can be super effective. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as seeing his eyes close as soon as I start going down his forehead.
Verdict: 8/10 – effective when he’s already in bed and just needs a little nudge to fall properly asleep. The only trouble is stopping and then trying to sneak away. He knows!
I took a ridiculously expensive baby massage course at Clissold House (£70!) but it did give me a good grounding in how to massage HB. We try to do this at night, when we do his last change. If he’s in the right mood then he can be quite up for some massage (and who wouldn’t?) but it can also get him all worked up and his little legs kick all over the place and its like he thinks it’s a game. There’s loads of massage oils on the market and you can even use olive oil but I love the TEN Baby Massage Oil as it smells so good.
Verdict: 4/10 – it’s fun to do and I like to think it’s a good bonding experience but I can’t say that it helps prep him for sleep, or that we see him sleep any better after it.
So many new mums praise bath time for chilling out their babies. Their baby splashes around and gets all dreamy in the bath and often screams when he has to come out. HB is the exact opposite. I’ve never seen a baby hate bath time more. He screams on being lifted over the water, screams when we drizzle water gently over it and should we attempt to put him all the way in, he screams so much he turns a beetroot colour and forgets to breathe.
However, AFTER his bath, once we’ve got him out, he’s dazed and confused and if we can dry, change and swaddle him quickly he can then slip into sleep. Probably because he wore himself out so much screaming.
Verdict: 5/10 – bath times aren’t relaxing for anyone and I’m not sure I want to go through the stress of it for the benefits after.
Bottom Patting & Bouncing
A technique we use a lot with HB. During a meltdown we chuck him over a shoulder, do some bouncing (light squats), pat his bottom and SHH loudly in his ear. Often, it works wonders. But whilst it calms him, does it help him sleep? Yes. The payoff though is that he sleeps but you have to continue the bouncing and shh-ing and bottom patting.
Verdict: 6/10 –Effective but not sustainable for long periods of time.
Getting a newborn to sleep seems like a feat at the best of times but with HB, a lot of the time, he can’t sleep due to his mega snot-filled nose – and having a deviated septum certainly doesn’t help. I feel so sorry for him – he wakes up unable to breathe and is in a lot of distress. We then try saline drops, Olbas oil and the nose sucker but most often than not it doesn’t really do anything. I do feel that he’d actually be quite a good little sleeper otherwise. Hopefully when his obligate nose breathing reflex ends and he can start breathing through his mouth then sleeping will improve. Fingers crossed!