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! Read on..!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Ups and downs in babytown: eight weeks of parenthood

So, wow: two weeks.

I want to thank everyone who has offered help and advice, given us clothes and other baby stuff, and brought us food and cheer over the past eight-plus weeks. We appreciate everything, even when we haven't been able to use it! We are both feeling much better about this parenting business, and Oliver is growing and developing as well as we could ask.

Now the news!

When I started this post two weeks ago, I wrote that since things had gotten better, we were probably in for a big change any day, which would shake our newfound confidence... At that time, breastfeeding had improved dramatically—Oliver feeds faster and gets fuller—and I suppose he had settled into a loose pattern of sleep—up to six hours at a stretch—that was allowing us to feel moderately rested. Then, at about seven weeks, the change came. Oliver's appetite increased and his sleep declined. For the next week, our panic climbed near previous heights: a week-long growth spurt, and boy did he grow. We're still feeling the effects, and things certainly aren't back to where we'd like!

But let me step back in time.

The past two weeks were full of appointments, visits, events (both fun and responsible), and continuing developments. The thing is, while Oliver doesn't seem too far from where he was two weeks ago, I feel like I can hardly remember what it was like then.

In week seven, he had his final visits at the Better Breastfeeding Clinic, the midwives, and the osteopath, and all were satisfied with his progress. He weighed 4.92 kilos (~ten pounds, thirteen ounces) that Tuesday, and 4.96 kilos (ten and fifteen) by Thursday. The midwife also measured him at about fifty-seven centimetres.

A pediatrician at the breastfeeding clinic thought he heard a slight murmur, and recommended we mention it to Oliver's permanent doctor when we saw her. However, he told us not to worry, which was hard to avoid.

The osteopath showed us some more positions to release gas, and endorsed Dr. Karp's use of soothers, so that was reassuring. She also recommended Danijela have craniosacral treatments. If she does, it will be interesting to see the results.

Then we had an informal baby choking and CPR lesson with our friends Juli and John, who are especially concerned since their daughter is starting to eat solid foods. There's a worry we have to look forward to in a few months.

On the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, Danijela worked her third wedding since Oliver was born, this one the longest at eleven hours. My mum came by to help out again, and Oliver was fine except by the end of the night he had taken all the milk we had collected, and I was worried that he'd want more before bed. Luckily he didn't, although he fed soon after Danijela got home. Somehow, I also managed to make chutney and pickles that day.

Our friends Jen and Mike had invited us for Thanksgiving dinner the next day in Hamilton, and with the lure of a bacon-wrapped turkey—as well as a social visit, of course!—we were keen to go. And we managed it, even though Danijela was exhausted from her long day. It was well worth it though. I hate to miss a Michael Kennedy feast, and this one was no exception. Plus, we got to see Marco and Melissa and their two-week-old daughter. We didn't want to reflect on our own experience of Oliver at two weeks! But it was a treat to see another family so new, and it was a reminder that things move so quickly. We also passed on a bag full of Oliver's clothes, some of which he didn't even get to wear. That night in Hamilton, Oliver slept for six and a half hours straight. Life was good.

The next day we gathered our energy to drive back to Toronto for a nice big family Thanksgiving at my folks' house, with Anne and Robert, Danijela's parents, and Snjezana and Carlos. We filled ourselves up again, and stocked up on leftovers, looking forward to the next weekend, when we'd head back to Hamilton for Danijela's family slava dinner. But this was the week...

We assume that it was all a growth spurt that has been causing Oliver to wake more frequently, but there are probably other factors. The less sleep we get, the more stress we feel, and I'm certain that affects Oliver's state. And now that Danijela has brought her computer home from her studio to work, things feel a bit less loose than before. Also, he seemed to be napping more during the days, and even had a couple of unprecedented three-hour early evening sleeps. Maybe that was keeping him from sleeping at length. I don't know. Of course, those extended daytime sleeps are making it easier for Danijela to actually get work done at home, and should allow me to cook us up some dinners.

We managed to get to High Park for a couple of walks to see the colours, although there wasn't much change yet, and we tried to get dinner at the new Hey Meatball! restaurant (simply, "Hey!") on Roncesvalles, but one night it closed early and the other we learned that their dinner menu doesn't include meatballs—how disappointing! (It's also fairly pricey for what looks like pretty basic fare.) I think we both managed to fight off burgeoning colds, too, despite our advancing exhaustion.

Meanwhile, I worried about frost and having the time to pull down all my tomato plants. I managed to get them out mid-week and make (and then burn) another batch of chutney. Still waiting to make more pickles and plant my garlic though!

Somewhere along the way, we learned that Jane and TJ and Raven were coming to town—yay!—for a whirlwind weekend visit so TJ could participate in The Shows, a Toronto Fashion Week event showcasing ex-pat Canadian designers. Of course, we already had a full weekend ahead, and we were worried we might not even see them—at least until the show on Tuesday, which we wouldn't miss if at all possible.

Saturday, friends Leslie and Andrew finally got hitched after sixteen years. We were excited about this for many reasons, the big one being that we were going out without Oliver—gasp! My parents brought Jane and Raven along to babysit, so we had a brief reunion while we rushed around getting ourselves ready. I had to instruct my mum in diaper-changing, bottle-warming, and to-bed-putting—well not really instructing, but you know, we have our ways of doing these things. It was too much a rush, especially when we see the London Gorleys so infrequently, but it can hardly be helped. We are lucky to see them as often as we do (in fact this year has been especially good to us). It was only in the spring they were in Toronto last, and nearly six-year-old Raven seems to have grown up quite a bit. I'm sure attending school is making a difference.

The wedding was lovely, the ceremony brief and charming. I find most ceremonies short after being at so many Serbian weddings! Sometimes I want them to go on a bit—to be a bit more ceremonious—but maybe not to the length Danijela's and mine did. It was a great pleasure to see many friends, although we left before dancing. Our babysitters were also getting tired.

Then back to Hamilton on Sunday! It never stops! Danijela's family's saint is St. Michael and their slava day always falls on or around Thanksgiving. Slava is always an important dinner, similar to Thanksgiving, but this year was especially important, due to the new addition to the family—Mile and Mara's first grandchild. Snjezana and Carlos were there of course, along with our friend Tijana and one small branch of Danijela's mum's family: her aunt, uncle, and cousin. Given the gravity of the occasion, Mile had also invited the family's priest—now retired—Otac Lazar, to sing and bless Oliver. It was fitting, as he married us and will probably christen Oliver, too. Mile had already opened (and the party—mainly he, Carlos, and Otac Lazar—had gone through) a third of a bottle of very good cognac reserved four years earlier just for the occasion of Oliver's birth. I caught up quickly before dinner. It was an important celebration after all.

Oliver was happy enough to be doted over by family, and we were happy to have someone else take care of him for a little while! That night, the Hamilton magic returned and he slept for six hours. Was the growth spurt over? Could we return to background panic? Could we sleep again? Would I once again avoid a hangover? Tune in next time to find out!

But seriously, I want to stop here, so I can think about other things for a minute. The boy will awake soon, and then, who knows!


Babies don't blink.
Read on..!
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