Monday, 22 October 2012

On sleep: parenthood at nine weeks

The thing about sleep—for us, and I assume many parents will recognize this—is not that we get less of it. In fact, I'd say we sleep at least as many hours as we did before the babe. It's that that sleep is interrupted up to three times a night for periods from half an hour to three hours. I say this because so many people have said to us, "Oh, no more sleep for you!" or asked, "Are you sleeping?" Well, we are sleeping, but we are certainly not getting the kind of rest that uninterrupted sleep offers.

Danijela is taking it like a champ, but we're both going a bit loopy.

So sleep is our challenge at the moment—for us more than Oliver. He is thriving, as far as we can tell. He's sleeping more, eating well, interacting, growing, and developing. But we were spoiled by numerous nights of five- and six-hour stretches of unbroken sleep. We want those nights back! So, we're tweaking a couple of things that we let slide before.

First, the swaddle. Oliver would almost always wriggle his arms free from his swaddle in the night, which would invariably wake him up as he flailed them about. He'd always done this, but since he was sleeping so well, we didn't bother trying to stop it. Thankfully, there are lots of swaddle solutions, most of which look like baby straightjackets with velcro. Well, I guess they are baby straightjackets. On Tuesday, after Oliver's pediatrician appointment, we stopped at Marlene's Just Babies on Dupont at Clinton and settled on a SwaddleMe. We strapped him in that night and I think he slept almost five hours. Every night since he's done between four and five, so, improvement.

On the topic of swaddling, the Globe and Mail recently discussed the "controversy":

Several studies have linked swaddling to a higher risk of respiratory infections and, if done improperly, hip dysplasia. Swaddled babies may overheat, especially if their heads are partially covered, which can cause hyperthermia and even death. There is ongoing debate over whether swaddling prevents infants from waking easily, hinders weight gain or, most troubling, increases the chance of SIDS.
There’s also a fundamental question of whether the very function of swaddling—keeping the movements of infants restricted in order to soothe—is good for babies, or is just good for parents.
One pediatric physiotherapist in Toronto says, "Really, [parents] shouldn’t be doing this. [Swaddling] is really not that beneficial." This despite the fact that the article notes "not enough quality research into swaddling has been done."

I suppose it wasn't the intent, but I find this type of comment pointlessly antagonistic, especially from a medical professional. How am I supposed to feel as a parent who swaddles his baby when I read something like that? However, I'm sure there are people on both sides of the issue who will make confident statements based on limited information.

Had we more information about calming and sleeping baby early on, we might have swaddled Oliver less, but nobody ever recommended we not do it. In fact, most of our caregivers said it would be beneficial, and it has been, as far as we can tell. Anyway, we don't cover Oliver's head, we don't wrap his hips or legs tightly, he has no trouble waking, he's definitely finding his mouth with his hands, and he has grown very well.

Second, the white noise. We've been using rain sounds for maybe six weeks now—all night and fairly loud—to improve Oliver's sleep. I'm getting sick of it—I miss blessed silence!—but I can block out the noise fairly easily. We had set up portable speakers on our window ledge connected to an ipod on repeat, but the noise mostly passed over the bassinet, and no matter how loud we set the volume, it was actually quite quiet in the cradle. Again, we knew about this, but didn't really see the need to do anything about it. Not so now! We picked up a couple of smaller speakers and have secured them to the bassinet so there's no escaping the noise. They sound terrible, though, and they're not very loud, so I don't know. We'll just have to give them a try.

I do worry that using these things—"props" as they are commonly called—is instilling bad habits that we will eventually have to break, but I also think it's still too early to worry too much. We've just had a book recommended to us, The Sleep Sense Program, by Dana Obleman, which suggests that parents can't really train a baby to sleep until three months or so, but they can prime the child by implementing a sleep routine with bathing, singing, stories, and repeated cue phrases, like "night-night". We had started doing this a while ago, during the breastfeeding troubles, but never did it consistently. I think we'll try again asap, and I'll surely be talking more about sleep over the next while! Obleman also recommends eliminating props, including rocking, nursing, bouncing, and swinging to sleep—eep! Dr. Karp (of The Happiest Baby on the Block) suggests that it's the easiest thing in the world to wean a baby off of props, but I don't share his optimism!

For the moment, there are things we can't do much about, I think. If Oliver needs to have a bowel movement in the night, he will wake up (and us too, likely), and he will not go back to sleep until he's done, at which point, we might as well feed and change him. And some nights, he poos three times—come on baby; hold it in! We've been using disposable diapers at night in the hope that their extra absorbency will prevent him from getting uncomfortable, but I don't think it's making any difference, and I'd like to return to cloth at night.

And of course, if he's hungry in the night...

While we don't seem much better at controlling Oliver's sleep patterns, we are definitely better able to understand when he's sleepy and getting him to sleep. He makes a very distinctive sound of varying intensities when he's getting tired. I think Danijela described it like a cat in heat. That would be in the "quite tired" range. It sounds like a short or slightly extended "Ow" (or "Owh" in the Dunstan baby language), and it's become clearer in the past week. So he makes it much clearer when he's tired and at those times it's much easier to rock or bounce him to sleep.

He's getting more tired in the evenings, too, and we're debating putting him down earlier, but we want to be sure that we're in bed when he has his long stretch, and we're not quite ready to sleep at eight! We'll see though. Now, in the mornings he often wakes up around seven-thirty or eight, for comfort or a change (or if Danijela is sufficiently awake, a feed), and then goes back to sleep until ten or so. Usually, I get up with him and stay up. Maybe if he went to bed earlier, he—and we—could have a couple of good long stretches of sleep. Who knows!

In other sleep-related news, it won't be long before Oliver is too big for his bassinet—maybe six weeks; I doubt more than eight. Danijela dreads this time because he'll have to sleep in his crib in his nursery upstairs from our bedroom. I guess I should dread it for the same reason, as I'm the diaper man. It's possible that we'll move the crib downstairs temporarily, but we'll just see how it goes. Ideally, by that time, he'll sleep through the night! Then it simply wouldn't be an issue. Ah, a new parent can dream.


Not only do babies not blink, they do not ever close their eyes voluntarily. The only times they close their eyes are to sneeze, to sleep, and when triggered by some other reflex. I'm not kidding. It's weird.
We almost always have to induce sleep eye-closing. But then, there is little Oliver does that is voluntary. In fact, at this stage, while he's certainly gaining increasing control over his limbs and movements, I'd say pretty much all of his actions are responses to internal or external stimuli.

Photos simply do not do justice to this little one. They flatten out his features and make his face much more round. His features are far more refined.

I know I promised to follow up on recent events and milestones, but You'll have to wait to hear about Oliver's first fashion show, I'm afraid. However, I will say that at his pediatrician appointment, the doctor weighed him at 5.52 kilograms (12 pounds, two ounces), so it seems he grew more than two pounds from six to eight weeks (including the spurt) or better than an ounce and a half a day!

Since I've abandoned Facebook and Twitter for the time being, if you want to leave me a comment or ask a question, please do so here, rather than there. However, I am still collecting Facebook private messages.

More later!

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