September 18, 2008 at 3:46PM
by Deirdre Dolan
My biggest fear in the weeks leading up to the birth of my first child wasnt missing movies, or fifty hours of labor, or tearing horribly (that was my second biggest). All I kept thinking about, with the kind of dread I used to feel for math finals, was the loss of daily sleep to come. I figured if so many hard things about a new baby never even get mentioned, the amount of talk sleeplessness gets must mean it applies to 99% of parents. And I guess this is because sleep issues are never one-sided. If your baby isnt eating you still manage to get some dinner, and if shes crying her eyes out youre probably mostly just watching her, but if shes not sleeping peacefully, theres no way around it, neither are you. I wasnt into a lot of pre-baby parenting advice and didnt read a lot of books, but my ears definitely pricked up any time conversations veered towards sleep and sleep tricks. Instead of taking a wait-and-see approach, we adopted the philosophy of Gina Ford, who wrote a book called The Contended Little Baby that freaked any friends who saw it on my table because shes British and strict.
Ford believes in black out curtains for the nursery, and wont even consult with parents who dont have them. Maybe we were being defensive to the point of dramatic, but my thinking was that if I hadnt tried absolutely everything to make sleep easy for the baby, if she didnt sleep I wouldnt know why. I realize now (almost a year into our second childs life) that babies come with temperaments and weve probably just been lucky. We have two sets of friends with kids who get up at 5 am every morning no matter when theyre put to bed they meet quietly outside each others houses in the dark and go sit in a nearby diner. The thought of doing that fills me with self-pity, but they say they cant shift them. I secretly think if they were as doctrinaire as weve been theyd sleep longer, but it probably just means they dont hate getting up in the dark as much as I would. Maybe we flatter ourselves, but the two families we did managed to indoctrinate have produced long-sleeping babies.
What worked for us:
1. Get a Sleep Mate noise machine. It has an actual fan it and sounds soothing and organic and not like a loop of fake digital recording of crickets. They say the womb is noisy place, and it makes sense that going from a small, wet, noisy atmosphere to a large, dry, quiet one overnight would make it harder to sleep. Put the noise machine as close to the babys head as possible directly under the bassinet or crib.
2. The swaddle. In birth class and before you leave the hospital youll waste time learning how to wrap the baby in a tight swaddle with one of the many receiving blankets your will be given. There are beautiful organic cottons and muslins out there, but the Miracle Blanket works much better. Sounds gimmicky, but theyre way harder to bust out of than the regular swaddle. We just gave three of ours away to a friend whos about to have a baby and I felt weirdly reluctant they were so crucial to everyones sleep I didnt want to let go of them. Heres a video of the miracle at work, but we always went tighter. I think parents think its cruel, and Im sure some babies hate it, but more would probably like it if they ever got the chance.
3. This Premaxx sling was key because you dont ever have to awkwardly remove the sleeping baby. It has drawstrings that can be released so that you can walk the baby around until she falls asleep, and then transfer her into the bassinet without removing her from the sling. We used clips to attach the flaps to the side of the bassinet.
4. Fill the Tank. This is harder when solely breastfeeding, but once your baby switches to bottles of milk or formula you can make sure theyre filling up before bed. Feed them during the day, the Super Baby Food book is great, and for the last feed add some organic rice cereal to the bottle. There is no real nutritional value to rice cereal, but it sure sticks to their ribs. I weaned my daughter two weeks ago she started sleeping 14-hour stretches almost overnight.
5. Dark. For almost two years keep them sleeping in the pitch dark. I made my own black curtains with a layer of flannel and a layer of velvet. Of course both of my daughters sleep fine at their grandparents houses where there is plenty light in the room, but they always sleep just a little bit better in the dark.
In our book we have a list of tricks for knocking out an inconsolable baby (driving around the block, vacuum cleaners, swinging chairs, etc.), but if you follow this list you may not ever even get there.
What are your secrets to getting your baby to sleep? Id love to hear them.