The Baby Sleep Saga Part 2: Desperation and Hope
I am going to reveal to you the most important fact about baby sleep. Are you ready?
How long a newborn will sleep has little to nothing to do with how tired they are and just about EVERYTHING to do with how much food is in their tummy.
To quote my pediatrician, "I have never known a hungry baby to sleep." This seems like a relatively simple concept to grasp, but not so easy to implement. You've got a 24 hour day, and in that 24 hours, your baby has a certain amount of food that they need to get into them. The most basic calculation you can do is baby's weight (say 7.5 lbs) x 2 or 2.5 = 15 -19 ounces of food per day. Making sure your baby is getting that when it's bottle fed is easy enough, but breastfeeding ends up being mostly guesses. So say you feed your kid 8 times a day (once every three hours), that means the kid needs to be taking in 2 ounces at each of those 8 feedings. BUT what if, rather than feeding every 3 hours, you fed the kid 2 ounces every 2 hours? Now the kid has all 16 ounces they needed for that day and will (in theory) sleep that last 8 hour chunk. Or maybe you get the kid to eat 3 ounces and you only have to do 6 feedings every three hours and the kid sleeps that last 6 hour chunk (there are a million ways you can break up the math, but you get the point). This can, however, be easier said than done. Newborns have teeny tiny tummies, and they can be lazy and sleepy (Daphne was not, and with my delayed milk supply she developed a habit of nursing for very long stretches, this contributed to her tummy expanding and being able to hold more milk at a feeding LATER). Having a reflux baby (I did, yeesh) can make this even more difficult, as they have a tendency to spit up if they eat large amounts all at once
I've already talked about the invaluable contribution my friend, Mary, had to my sanity in those early weeks of pregnancy [Stranger in a Strange Land]. The other gift bestowed on me by friend and fellow new mother, Evelyn, was also immeasurable. It was in the depths of the dark ages (8 days old) that I received the following message from her on facebook:
"I have been thinking about writing you but I don't dare want to overstep my bounds. I was very grateful for the women in my life that shared tips and tricks with me! I hope the unsolicited advice isn't offensive...Schedules. We started working on a schedule for Makenna when she was about a month. Makenna started sleeping 10 hours straight at 1.5 months...and still is at nearly 4 months. I swear by routine."
Ten hours... TEN HOURS?!?! It was like someone had just asked me if I'd like a pot of gold bullion. Uhm, yes??? Please! Dear god, anything, JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO!
So Evelyn linked me to Noob Mommy's link to 4wk-4month baby schedule inspired by the Baby Whisperer.
I read this over carefully and debated my options. Daphne was over birthweight, and I was desperate, so I'll give you exactly one guess as to whether I was going to wait until the 4 week month to give this a shot... Here's the message I sent to Evelyn when Daphne was 10 days old:
so yesterday afternoon i read that schedule and figured since she's over her birthweight we'd just give it a shot to see if we could get a few hours extra to sleep at night. so we decided to try and trigger her cluster feeding around 7pm and it worked. oh man she was at the boob for the better part of 5 hours! (around hour 4 i was ready to throw in the towel but ian helped out a lot and was able to soothe her to sleep). ian says she conked out around midnight and OMG SHE SLEPT UNTIL 7! and we woke her up then to change her diaper. fucking amazing. i am hoping we can make this happen with consistency...
10 days old. 7 hours of sleep. I didn't follow the full schedule, I just decided around 7 to start feeding her more and she responded with enthusiasm. I was a basket case by 11pm, so the hubby took over with getting her to fall asleep while I crashed hard. It took him about an hour of her being a pain in the butt, but eventually she fell asleep and stayed that way until 7am the next day. Ian and I both woke up to silence that morning, staring at each other with wide-eyed wonder, completely convinced that our baby was surely dead because no way she had slept that long. We crept up to the co-sleeper, and there she was... snoozing away. I scooper her up and kissed her all over her face and begged her to not let it be a fluke.
It wasn't. However, schedules are not easy. It took a lot of work and STRESS before I figured out you have to tailor the schedule to the baby and not the other way around. To work around her reflux, Daphne would naturally start staying awake for longer periods of time so she could eat more between naps (she would have 2 or 3 feedings before a nap, and a nap would be anywhere from 45 minutes to 2.5 hours). In the end, we had to settle for Daphne having nothing that even remotely resembled a schedule during the day. We stacked her feedings at night and limited naps later in the day, and she slowly started to find a consistent bedtime/wake-up time. The husband was an invaluable help, taking her from me at the end of the day when I was DONE and getting her to fall asleep with daddy magic. I sent this message to Evelyn 16 days after our first attempt at the schedule:
Just wanted to thank you for showing me the schedule stuff. Daphne slept 8 hours last night.
There it is. 3.5 weeks old and Daphne was consistently sleeping 8 hours at a stretch without any middle of the night feedings. July 29th was the last night she woke me up in the middle of the night, to this day she consistently sleeps until at least 7am. We've had a few "scares" when she woke up in the middle of the night, but she would mumble and babble and eventually she drifted back off.
So I give a huge endorsement to the idea of schedules, and finding/making one that works for you and your baby. Evelyn said it true: babies thrive on consistency. They might challenge you and test you initially, but it is 100% worth it. When we start Daphne's bedtime ritual now, she settles down and consistently falls asleep in less than 10 minutes once the ritual is complete.
Since July 30th I've gotten to sleep from 11pm - 7am almost every night. It is the best gift my daughter has given me and I cherish this sleep for the precious thing it is. I NEVER take it for granted, and know that it can change at any time. But... it hasn't yet. JINX JINX JINX.
Evelyn's response to my last message? Pay it forward. That was one of my biggest inspirations for starting MinkFlamingos.
Stay tuned for Part 3- I'll discuss the details of implementing a schedule, bedtime routines, Daphne's specific habits, and the little tips and tricks we used to help keep a newborn asleep for such a nice long stretch. I was a little OCD before having a kid, mastering baby sleep has made me... more than a little.