Thank you to all the wonderful mums who have offered me their suggestions and support. It has been lovely to have so many people care.
Here is what I know about me and my baby. I cannot stress enough that I am not talking about your baby or your beliefs, which I am not trying to judge:
- I believe different babies have different sleep needs - meaning they need different total amounts of sleep, and also that they have different levels of rhythmicity (meaning some love a very predictable routine while others have a more dynamic pattern). There is nothing wrong with a baby sleeping 12 hours a day if that's what suits them, or sleeping less one day then catching up with more sleep the next, regardless of what 'experts' like Tizzie Hall say. However, below 11 hours is not just abnormal, it's likely to be unhealthy. I believe this based on reading large longitudinal studies of what is 'normal' sleep, and studies on when sleep deprivation actually does have an impact on brain development. There are probably some babies who can live on less than 11 hours, and if mine seemed happy and alert I probably still wouldn't worry - but she's not.
- My baby has been sleeping badly for over 3 weeks now, in that she has been sleeping very little and seems sleepy when she wakes - often yawning and rubbing her eyes. I think sleep deteriorated because of the cyclone, a cold, and teething (and possibly crawling too, though we were really past that). However, these things have passed. I think what has happened now is that her internal sleep regulation system thinks that she needs less sleep than she really does.
- To further complicate matters, through these difficult weeks I have fed her to sleep almost every time. I don't regret it. She was unnerved / in pain etc and she needed soothing. But now she nearly always requires boob to settle, and even that isn't always cutting it. She's overfull and distressed till she throws up.
- I believe my baby needs about 12-13 hours sleep a day, and that she doesn't stick to a rigid routine but is happy to go with a little less sleep one day and make it up the next. I believe this because prior to all this disruption, she was quite happy sleeping in that way. She settled super quick (like, less than 5 min, when she was tired with rocking / patting / feeding etc. without distress), and any attempts to make her bedtimes earlier just had her awake earlier too. I think she needs about 10 hours at night and about 2 hours during the day.
- I have tried every gentle method. Rocking, walking, patting, shushing, putting her in a stroller, in the car, feeding her to sleep. Many of these used to work. Some never worked. And some still work some of the time, but now there are often times when nothing works. When they don't work, she just seems to not sleep and get overtired.
- She hates slings for anything longer than a short period of time. I have an ergo, a comfy carry, and a hugabub - for a short while I think they help if she wants to be near me, then she gets uncomfortable and squirms and cries till I let her out.
- I don't think screaming herself to sleep in a stroller or carseat is any more gentle than screaming herself to sleep in a cot. Sometimes she goes to sleep happily with movement, but this is often not the case.
- I honestly don't think my baby would be cued by a long and complicated routine, but she has started to recognise familiar rituals. For example, we live in an apartment and every time I get in the lift I narrate the doors opening and closing, pressing the buttons, moving down (or up) the floors, and getting out at the bottom. She doesn't cotton on what's happening till we actually get in the lift, but as soon as I start the narration she can't stop grinning. She grins like this too when I show her pictures of her dad and I, but not for other pictures. So, she does like small, familiar rituals.
- I believe attachment is important, and that letting a baby cry is counter to attachment principles. Regardless of whether it 'works', there are risks attached. I think the risk varies from baby to baby, and depending on the parenting style and home environment overall.
- I don't think many babies really have sleep problems that cause a problem for them as opposed to a problem for the parents. The percentage of babies who have persistent sleep problems is actually very small <10%. The idea that you have to train your baby to sleep or they will grow up to be an insomniac is rubbish, and most babies happily grow out of sleep inconveniences by the time they are 3 years old. However, different babies cause different levels of havoc, and different parents are up for tolerating different levels of stress. Most of us don't live in communes where you can share the sleep deprivation and baby care around. I know I don't.
- I think my going back to work is disrupting her. But I am also not prepared to resign my job so that I can be with her to help her sleep. Firstly, I'm not even 100% sure that would help. And secondly, I have managed to get an arrangement where I'm only working 2 days a week and she is looked after by her Granny (who is very loving to her). This arrangement may take some getting used to, but it is a very healthy arrangement. I am even still coming home at lunch to feed her.
- I am happy to do multiple night wakings, co-sleep, spend time soothing and settling baby, and fight with other people (including my husband) who try and tell me to be 'tougher'.
- But I am not happy to let my baby struggle on for weeks when she is obviously so tired she is unhappy, when I can't help her with gentler methods, when she's biting me on the boob if I comfort feed, and in pain and throwing up.
- I don't believe in the distressed cry / just protesting cry theory - at least not from the baby's perspective, although it does help parents feel a bit better about cc. I'm sorry if this is what you believe but I honestly don't think there's a shred of evidence to support it. According to this theory the baby is only really distressed when they make that screaming cry they do when they're in acute physical pain (you've heard it when they get their injections), but other times they're just chucking a tanty. I don't believe it. Sure they get upset over seemingly inconsequential things, but to them, the feelings are still devastating and they don't have the higher brain power to rationalise those things or put them in perspective. I think they're genuinely distressed whatever kind of cry they're doing, although if they're doing the screaming acute pain cry I would be worried about their safety if you left them to it.
- Being left alone to cry can work for a couple of reasons. It can break a sleep association and the babies learn self-soothing habits. It can activate the right frontal brain which puts babies into 'withdrawal' mode. And it can teach babies that crying is futile because no one's here to help them. These reasons aren't mutually exclusive. The first is all good, but the second two are worrying. (I believe this from doing a lot of research, which you can find in the Factual Info tab).
- I think we have a genuine classic sleep association problem. Bethany needs the boob to get to sleep, but she can't always have it because she's already full and more milk is just making her sick, or because I'm not available because I'm at work.
- Bethany is an active, very stubbornly determined baby. She's almost never in withdrawal mode. She's so desperate to be doing things she protests at being strapped into a car seat or stroller. She doesn't just want to cuddle. She persists in trying to stand up a thousand times, even when she's tired or it is evident she's in pain. I am not worried that she is already 'withdrawn' and therefore at risk of developing anxiety / depression from cc. In fact, I was worried of the opposite - that she would desperately persist in crying for hours - which I would not have allowed, because I would have considered it too traumatic for everyone.
- I believe cc is potentially damaging to attachment, because you abandon the baby to a traumatic experience - but if it's only done for a short period, and careful care is taken to be responsive to the baby at all other times, you can overcome any damage caused. I want my baby to learn that I'm here for her when she's sad, angry, frustrated etc., not just when she's "being good", and that until she's older and can genuinely learn to deal with emotions in healthy ways, I want her to express them so that I know where she's coming from and we can learn to deal with them together. Bottom line, I want a child who will not be abused by someone in authority because she's desperate to please, who can talk with me about it if she's in trouble without worrying about upsetting me, and who will be respectful of her own needs as well as empathising with others as a teenager and adult.
- I do not think doing cc with a baby this young has anything to do with teaching the baby how to respect others limits. They are barely developing a sense of self, let alone an awareness of who you are or that you have needs. All they know is that they are unhappy and afraid. But parents who aren't coping need to set limits that will allow them to cope - and indeed to function optimally for all their parenting experience - since attachment is a 24 hour concept, it does not just apply at sleep time. That said, my comfort is not really the issue in this particular case.
Having thought all this through, I have decided that we are going to use crying in an effort to teach Bethany to self-settle for sleeps. I would love to be rocking or cuddling her to sleep but it's just not working for anyone, including her.
This is the bad stuff: She cries for me desperately. She stands at the edge of the cot and howls (we have a video monitor). She sounds sad, angry, desperate. She buries her face into the mattress and sobs. It's frickin horrible.
This is the good stuff: She has started sleeping properly for day naps, and when she woke up she was smiling a lot more and no longer rubbing at her eyes and yawning. She also stopped needing resettles between feeds at night.
This is the worrying stuff: It was astonishing how much more placid she was. Some people might read this as 'good behaviour' or happiness, but I didn't, because she's too young to understand that sort of concept or have much (any?) self-control, and it wasn't about being happier but being passive - so I read it as going into 'withdrawal mode'. When I offered her my hands she didn't want to pull herself to stand. She sat listlessly in her stroller and just stared, the way you or I might stare at a TV.
BUT: I gave her lots of cuddles and encouragement, carried her round, encouraged her to explore and interact, and responded to her promptly when she cried out, and she soon became more energised and active.
An anticipated but unwelcome side effect: She become scared of her cot. I made a point of taking her in there to play a lot with me until she was happy in there again. I also practiced our bed-time ritual with a teddy, so she could become familiar with the words in a non-threatening setting.
It's gone like this (I think - I haven't written down the times but I have been watching a clock): 25 min crying morning nap, 20 min crying when she woke after 30 min and I left her there to re-settle, 15 min crying afternoon nap, 25 min crying evening sleep, fed and co-slept through the night (4 feeds - co-sleeping feeds are all kind of like dream feeds), 12 min crying morning nap, accidentally fed to sleep at lunch, slept in stroller evening nap, 12 min crying night sleep, fed and co-slept through the night (3 feeds), 10 min crying morning nap. I think there was an extra feed the first night because I hadn't fed her to sleep and she was hungry, whereas the second night she did a big feed, but just got put down awake.
So overall, I feel that doing this is unpleasant but that she's coping well and I'm able to address the side effects.