For me, babies are a lot like computers. You bring home a shiny new one, load it to the eyeballs, play with all its buttons and experiment like crazy, then within a few months you’re calling in the experts to fix up the mess.
At least, this is how I find the whole sleep issue with newborns. After three babies, you’d think that by now I might have a clue about how to establish an early sleep routine. But here I am yet again: bleary-eyed, shrug-shouldered and ready to scream for help. ‘Is there a midwife in the house?! I’ve gone and broken another one!’
How quickly my good intentions slide into chaos, and in no part due to my being overly ambitious or unrealistic. I generally start out seeking only to master the feeding issue. Once that’s gone to wrack and ruin – usually within a few weeks – I turn my attention to sleeping.
By this time, things have already started to go seriously awry, with more bad patterns than a Girl Guides’ knitting class. The experts say one of the first goals with a new baby should be to teach him the difference between night and day. This, they attest, is done by keeping daytimes light, playful and full of long hearty feeds, thus making night-times dark, serious and sleep-worthy.
Unfortunately, due to the debilitating lack of sleep I myself receive each night, my daytime demeanour isn’t so much playful as downright pitiful. I stumble from one mysterious crying episode to the next. Is the baby hungry? He can’t be. Is his nappy full? Nope. Hot? Cold? No. No. Does he want a bath? Who knows! Does he just want a cuddle? Yes, that must be it. Let’s have another cuddle, a big, long cuddle, and, oh, look at that, he’s gone to sleep again. Maybe I can… oh no, he’s awake again. It must be hunger. But he only fed an hour ago. Perhaps it’s… oh, for CRYING OUT LOUD!
The next goal, apparently, should be to establish settling routines for the baby. These are devices, such as rocking, patting, massage and lullabies, which tell a baby it’s sleep o’clock and all is well. I’ve tried all of these with baby number 3, but have found only two that work: (1) swaying the baby in my arms for around four hours after each feed while the rest of the family starve to death or (2) putting him
in the electronic swing.
If anyone tries to tell you that electronic swings are just expensive replacements for lazy parents, they’d be right. That’s what’s so great about them! My only fear is that, in a few years’ time, when my newborn learns to run and speak, he’ll immediately cast away aboard a high-seas boat because of a chronic inability to stand still.
For those clever clogs who are successful in teaching their babies to self-settle and sleep for marginally longer than it takes to flee the room on tiptoe, the next goal is to establish a daily routine in which feeding and sleeping find a beautiful, predictable synergy. Then, the textbooks promise, you’ll be able to better plan your day and, best of all, ‘sleep when the baby sleeps.’
Right now, sleeping when my baby sleeps would entail me nodding off for two-minute intervals every time I hit 70mph on the motorway, but hey, I’m game if you are.
The optimistic part of me knows that things will right themselves with my new baby if I just hang on in there. After all, he has to move out and get a job eventually. But for now, the sleep issue remains a right debacle.
Sorry to keep you up.