How to train your baby to sleep like a baby

Mimi Mur­ray goes from des­per­ate mother to black-out queen in the blink of a very tired eye

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health | Sleep - Mimi Mur­ray

Sleep de­pri­va­tion is one of the most ef­fec­tive forms of tor­ture, ac­cord­ing to the CIA. As a be­lea­guered, sec­ond-time mother with a baby who didn’t sleep, I can fully at­test to this and I am sure most par­ents can re­late to it, too. I know that I would have signed any con­fes­sion put in front of me in a bid to get eight hours straight.

Every­day jobs that I could nor­mally carry out with ease, and some­times flair, such as cook a meal, drive a car, make a cup of tea or think of my last name, had turned into a colos­sal, of­ten daunt­ing task, on lit­tle or no sleep.

Af­ter Ja­cob was born last De­cem­ber, I an­tic­i­pated the usual feel­ings of ex­haus­tion, but five months of the new baby wak­ing ev­ery hour to feed, started to take its toll on me, my fam­ily and the lit­tle man him­self. Tem­pers flared eas­ily, nerves were frayed and we were all like walk­ing zom­bies.

It was then that, through a friend, I heard about a sleep coach. En­ter Berit An­der­sen, a qual­i­fied so­cial worker who pre­vi­ously worked at the Coombe hospi­tal in Dublin and is now based in Copen­hagen. She has de­vised a pro­gramme to help ba­bies sleep af­ter her own daugh­ter fell into a “ter­ri­ble” pat­tern when she was six months old.

An­der­sen’s tech­nique in­volves a very strict rou­tine, in­clud­ing con­sis­tent eat­ing and sleep­ing times as well as the child be­ing “filled up” by the par­ent through­out the day. This is one of the key ar­eas where An­der­sen dif­fers from other sleep train­ers.

An­der­sen be­lieves there is a huge ad­van­tage to chil­dren, and adults, go­ing to sleep at the same time ev­ery day. Things such as day­light seep­ing into a room and the time of meal s are all ex­am­ined as part of the pro­gramme.

But at the heart of any­thing child-re­lated is at­tach­ment, ac­cord­ing to An­der­sen. “Chil­dren will stay awake to get as much out of the par­ents as they can, to make sure they are get­ting that qual­ity time.”

Our per­sonal pro­gramme be­gan with a Skype con­sul­ta­tion with An­der­sen. Fol­low­ing this we filled out daily rou­tine charts that in­cluded all of his sleep­ing and eat­ing habits, which An­der­son ex­am­ined at the end of each day. This gave her a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the sched­ule we needed to put in place for Ja­cob.

We also made a short video of my in­ter­ac­tion with Ja­cob, ei­ther at play, or dur­ing his bed­time rou­tine, so that An­der­sen could see any ar­eas where he might be “filled up” more. This as­pect of the sleep train­ing has its foun­da­tions in Marte Meo, which was de­vised by Dutch ther­a­pist Maria Aarts in the 1980s and has been used with success used in the decades since.

Trans­lated from Latin, Marte Meo means “On one’s own strengths” and looks to build on the good com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills that par­ents al­ready have and use. The ap­proach uses in­ter­ac­tion anal­y­sis to iden­tify the par­ent or care­givers strengths.

An­der­sen ex­plains how it works: “A very short film is taken of mum and baby (My hus­band took ours on his phone) and I go through it sec­ond by sec­ond and see what the child is look­ing for and how the par­ent is re­spond­ing. All par­ents do lots of things right and some things wrong, but with Marte Meo we fo­cus on the child get­ting the right re­sponse from the par­ent seven times out of 10.”

Self-con­scious­ness kicked in and I found it tricky to be my­self with Ja­cob while be­ing filmed, but af­ter a cou­ple of at­tempts, we had some­thing she could work with. She was able to point out the things I was do­ing in order to sup­port Ja­cob’s de­vel­op­ment and en­cour­aged me to do more of this.

Com­mit­ment

The pro­gramme takes three weeks and re­quires a huge com­mit­ment. It’s a stip­u­la­tion that all naps are taken in the cot, so we couldn’t take a stroll in the buggy, for fear he might nod off. This is so that a good rou­tine is es­tab­lished and pos­i­tive sleep as­so­ci­a­tions with the cot be­come in­grained.

I was still breast­feed­ing when we started, and An­der­sen was very sup­port­ive of this, but I wanted to move to­wards giv­ing him more bot­tles, which she worked into the sched­ule.

There were times when Ja­cob would roll over and go straight to sleep, from day two of the rou­tine be­ing im­ple­mented. But he also cried and at those times An­der­sen rec­om­mended that I be­come an “an­chor” for Ja­cob. I should go in and place a firm hand on his chest or back and stay present while he let off steam.

In terms of the con­tro­ver­sial cry-it-out method, which of­ten di­vides opin­ion, An­der­sen says she per­son­ally does not rec­om­mend or en­cour­age it. How­ever, she con­cedes that if it comes to a choice be­tween that and a child get­ting no sleep, the former is prefer­able. “A child needs undis­turbed sleep af­ter the six-month mark for a num­ber of hours in a row; it’s detri­men­tal to de­vel­op­ment and phys­i­cal growth if they don’t get enough, so it may be bet­ter in the long run. How­ever, I just think, if some­thing looks trau­matic, it usu­ally is. There is an­other way to do it.”

Daily phone con­ver­sa­tions with An­der­sen are in­cluded in the pro­gramme and this level of sup­port is in­valu­able. On any given day I was pre­pared to ditch the en­tire process and lapse back into old habits be­cause old habits are com­fort­able, even if they’re harder in the long run. But An­der­sen was there to pull me back from the abyss and talk me through each wob­ble.

In terms of sleep­ing through the night, An­der­son says par­ents should be re­al­is­tic about what they ex­pect from a baby, and some­times pos­i­tive change is what they should strive for.

“Sleep­ing five to six hours is sleep­ing through the night for a small baby: you wouldn’t re­ally ex­pect more than that be­fore five to six months. It’s a very rare thing, sleep­ing 7pm to 7am at a few months old, and there is of­ten a nu­tri­tional need to wake up and get some food, but it’s about mov­ing back into sleep rel­a­tively eas­ily”.

When the three weeks came to an end, Ja­cob was wak­ing twice a night, a mir­a­cle in my eyes com­pared with the pre­vi­ous hourly wak­ing. This con­sol­i­dated over the next few weeks and at seven months old, he wakes once at night and usu­ally gets be­tween 11 and 12 hours’ sleep.

The pro­gramme cost ¤300 but it was money well spent. The loss of my san­ity would have been a much greater price.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: KEVIN MAYER/IS­TOCK

Mimi Mur­ray with her baby son, Ja­cob, who has pro­gressed from wak­ing ev­ery hour to sleep­ing 11 or 12 hours a night.

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