Sleeping Together Keeps Mum And Baby Happy

February 14, 2010
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Sometimes it requires the wisdom earned from personal experience to understand something as basic as how to ensure a good night’s sleep with a very young baby.

New parents are typically inundated with a variety of different opinions from well-meaning relatives and friends. This cacophony of voices, each with its own carefully considered piece of unsought advice, often add nothing to clarity, but instead serve to confound new parents.

Our sleep training, or rather failure to sleep train, saga began during my confinement period—those first 30 days when new mothers are cautioned not to wash their hair or do anything more laborious than coo at baby.

As is common with many Chinese families, we had engaged the services of a live-in confinement lady (pui yit) for the first 30 days of Andrea’s life.

Her job was to take care of both baby and me. Her instructions were to stuff me with all types of nourishing but diabolical drinks, soups, ginger-laced dishes and other assorted herbs (no spices); and to bath, dress, carry, change, and look after baby during the night.

However, as often comes with the territory, the pui yit had many contrarian views to our own about the best way to raise a baby. Chief among these were that we should feed our baby formula, and seeing as we were so mulish about breastfeeding on demand, that we should mix breastfeeding with formula (“because there just isn’t enough breast milk!”).

We rather suspect that she quietly fed Andrea litres of water when we were looking the other way because “there just isn’t enough breast milk”.

It was, therefore, with some trepidation that I surrendered Andrea to the pui yit every night after her nine p.m. breastfeed. I confess that while I was seduced by the chance to snatch some much-deserved sleep for myself, all I could think of was my baby and how she was probably hiccupping through her tears and getting cranky about being sent away, albeit to the next room.

So from the time that she was born, Andrea slept in a separate room from us, as part of some sort of a loose, supposedly clever, plan on our part to sleep train her so that we would be able to reclaim our own precious sleep as soon as possible.

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For me, it was a good rest in name only, but not in fact. The hype always sounds so much better than the reality. The strategy of leaving baby with the pui yit for the night did not deliver on its promises of securing more sleep or even better sleep.

We had miscalculated the level of cooperation that we would get from Andrea. Every time she was put down in her cot in the next room, after having nursed contentedly in my arms for about an hour, she would stir and make small noises. These sometimes escalated into loud cries for me to hold her close.

I could hear her whimpers on the baby monitor and my heart would get all knotted up. To further complicate the situation, the pui yit grumbled on several occasions that she had been kept up many nights walking Andrea around and around the room in between breastfeeds.

I should have listened to her protestations, and those of my baby. Instead, I foolishly persisted with leaving Andrea alone in her room, even after the pui yit finished her stint with us. It was a major exercise in inexperience and, on hindsight, could have been better handled—as first-time parents, we just didn’t know how.

I would jump out of bed at the smallest cry from the baby monitor, stumble half-asleep into Andrea’s room, pick her up from her cot while trying not to knock her head or mine on the cot rails, sit on a bed, adjust the pillows, cushions and so on, latch her on, nod off, change sides, nod off, almost drop her, then stagger back to her cot, drop her in and tiptoe out of the room.

As soon as I lie down to reclaim my much-interrupted sleep, another cry would issue from the baby monitor, and the whole cycle would repeat itself.

Friends volunteered information on how they had successfully trained their baby to sleep through the night from a young age, based on instructions that they’d read in a book.

They would put their baby down after her last night feed and walk out of the room, allow baby to cry for 15 minutes before going back into the room to comfort her; the second night increase the time they stay away to 30 minutes; the third night to 45 minutes and so on until baby sleeps through the night.

It should not take more than a week or two to train baby, the book said, and it worked for our friends.

I was positively envious but knew that sleep training methods were no good for me, simply because I could not and would not walk away from my crying baby.

Why wasn’t my baby sleeping when she was supposed to? I have memories of writing Christmas cards at 5 a.m. propped up in a bed next to Andrea’s cot while she played around with a toy, happy in the knowledge that I was nearby. All she wanted was for me to be next to her.

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The sleep deficit was making me seriously tired. When Andrea reached her fifth month and I was certain that I had reached the absolute end of my tether, divine inspiration struck. At that time, I was so tired I could easily have dropped her while retrieving her for a feed.

So on that fateful morning at about 3.00 a.m., instead of the usual routine which would have meant anything between 45 minutes to two hours away from bed for me and at least two more rounds of feeding before six, I scooped her up and stumbled back to our king-sized bed.

I placed her in the middle of our bed, rolled onto my side to nurse her and we both promptly fell asleep. There wasn’t another squeak from Andrea until morning. And if there was I was so soundly asleep that I missed it. That was the best sleep that both Andrea and I had since she was born.

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