Saturday, April 7, 2012

Walking dummy

What do you do when a baby relies on you to get them to sleep?
As I type this I am struggling to keep my eyes open.
I’ve been held hostage by a child who won’t sleep, and it’s now going on weeks since I last had more than three hours rest in one stretch.
I’m struggling to think of interesting articles to write about, so it’s only natural that I devote this column to the screamer of the night.
She’s adorable, she really is. But last night I actually yelled “Shut up!” at a 22-month-old. I lost it and left her crying, which in turn woke her older sister and my husband (who has his own sleep issues for example, if there’s a cricket outside our bedroom window, he’s got to go and kill it because he can’t sleep with the constant chirping). 
Anyway, back to the screamer.
I have countless books on getting kids to sleep, and after trying numerous methods on my firstborn, I thought I’d be able to figure it out much easier with the second one. Surely I can be a baby whisperer, too?
But night after night, she wakes, she cries, she calls out “Mummmmmeeeeee!”
It wasn’t always this way. Once we moved her from the cot into a big bed back in January, she started sleeping 10 hours straight, but for no apparent reason, she’s waking up again, and more than once a night.
The worst thing is that most nights I give in and let her sleep however she wants: in my arms, rocking from side to side, stroking her face and back, or snuggled up into my armpit as I end up sleeping in her bed squashed against the bed rail.
However, the way she most prefers to get back to sleep is if I breastfeed her.
Yes, you read that right – I’m still breastfeeding!
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be feeding a toddler in the night, but here I am – a walking dummy. 
Breastfeeding gives her such comfort that it’s like a little magic switch that turns my screamer into a peaceful angel.
I feel privileged to have succeeded in breastfeeding for this long, but I also feel like I have fallen into a trap, or as the old wives would say “made a rod for my own back”.
She’s using me as her way to settle back to sleep. Instead of a blanket or teddy, I’m her comfort, her warm, safe place to close her eyes and drift into dream land.
A part of me thought she would grow out of this on her own, and another part of me didn’t want to let go of those special midnight moments that we have shared together for so long.
But the bags under my eyes are growing and my boobs have seen better days.
So parents, if you’re feeling like a zombie like me, perhaps some of the tips below will give you some much needed shut-eye.

According to the Raising Children Network, the four steps to better sleep are as follows:
1. Identify the habit associated with the sleep problem.
2. Gradually phase out this habit.
3. Establish a positive bedtime routine.
4. Teach your baby to settle to sleep independently.
I’ve got points one and three in the bag, but points two and four are huge problems.
If your baby routinely falls asleep at the breast or with a bottle, they obviously depend on feeding to help fall asleep.
To change this habit, you have to try finishing the last feed at least 20 minutes before bedtime, and outside the bedroom (to diminish the link between feeding and sleeping), and phase out night feeds altogether.
Easier said than done, however if you do manage to get your baby to sleep at the start of the night without the breast or bottle, then you’re halfway there.
A good bedtime routine sets your baby up for a good night’s sleep and involves a daily routine of activities that are predictable and calming.
It’s also important that your baby gets enough sleep during the day. If they are overtired at night, you’ve got an even bigger battle on your hands.
The next step is teaching your baby to settle back to sleep on their own and there’s lots of ways you can do this.
You can introduce a comforter such as a blanket or teddy as a transitional object with the intention that it is to take your place in the middle of the night.
Ensure the room stays dark, do not talk except to hush your baby, and keep toys out of the bed (except for the comfort item).
Introduce key words that your baby will get to know at sleep time such as “Shhh, it’s bedtime now”, and use lullaby music.
To help your baby learn to fall asleep without a breastfeed or bottle, you might consider giving them a dummy, however it is not advised after the age of two as they are associated with speech delays and dental problems.
There is a gentle technique developed by Elizabeth Pantley to diminish the sucking-to-sleep association in her book The No-Cry Sleep Solution.
This involves removing the breast from the baby and gently holding their mouth closed under their chin. Your child may put up a fuss and still want you, so you let them feed again but continue the removal process as often as necessary until they fall asleep.
She suggests giving this method ten days to work. If it took 22 months to form this habit, 10 days is not much in the grand scheme of things.
Other experts suggest breastfeeding mothers take themselves entirely out of the picture and get the fathers to tend to the child when they wake, until they no longer wake up for their mother.
Behaviour management techniques aim to teach babies to fall asleep without the help of an adult.
The most controversial of them all is controlled crying. Leaving a baby to cry it out doesn’t feel right to me, so if this sounds like your cup of tea, do your research first to make sure you’re doing it right.
To me, a crying baby or toddler is one that needs nurturing, not left abandoned and ignored (yes, I know I did exactly that last night, but thankfully my husband stepped in to calm us both down).
Other methods include camping out (based on the idea that a parental presence is reassuring to a baby, and each night the parent reduces the amount of help the baby needs to settle).
So readers, tonight (and for at least the following nine nights) I’ll be trying the Pantley method. If that fails, then it’s back to the drawing board.
Wish us luck!


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