Life with my first newborn, almost nine years ago now, was often miserable.
She was generally pleasant during the day but by late afternoon, all hell broke loose. She cried for hours. I felt like the worst mother in the world. And I used to be a neonatal ICU nurse! How could it be this hard to comfort my own child?
I sat at my mother’s dining room table with a breastfeeding pillow around my waist and my shirt bunched above Calliope’s bald head, doing my best to wolf down food one-handed.
My mom would take Calliope from time to time and bounce her repeatedly, which calmed Calliope momentarily but then she would cry even harder a few minutes later.
About the time that I was nearing my breaking point with the crying, having not left the house all day, my mother would hand the baby over and chirp cheerfully, “well, I’m getting tired, I think I’m going to go get ready for bed now.”
I frantically swaddled and swayed and nursed and rocked Calliope in her little swing. Nothing seemed to help. I was exhausted. And as a single mother by choice, I didn’t have a partner to turn to. My mother changed diapers and burped Calliope after feedings when she could, but she was a full-time attorney and busy with her own life.
My blog from 2011 says,
Calliope doesn’t seem to have any comfort mechanisms besides nursing. I know they say you can’t overfeed a breastfed baby... but I don’t believe that. If she is eating for reasons other than hunger, to my mind, that’s not necessarily healthy, just like it wouldn’t be healthy at any other age.
However, I still let her nurse whenever she wants to... but when she cries and roots while the nipple is still in her mouth, I feel beyond frustrated and helpless. Clearly she isn’t hungry. But I just don’t know how to help her.
Finally she fell asleep and II left her swinging in the den. I gathered my strength to climb the stairs to my bathroom. And cried in the shower.
I don't know how I can keep going like this. I love her but I can't bear the exhaustion."
Then my friend Catherine, another Brooklyn single mom, told me about a book called The Sleep Whisperer, by Tracy Hogg. She said it helped with her newborn son, Jack, just a few weeks older than Calliope.
I was desperate. And so tired I couldn’t imagine staying awake long enough to read a book. Desperation won out. I didn’t love the author’s tone. It was a bit too colloquial for me -- she addresses her clients as “luv.” But I forgave her for that because the information she shared changed our lives.
I finally understood that I was keeping Calliope awake too long. At just a few weeks old, she should have been awake for only an hour at a time. She should go to bed before she even looked tired, at the first sign of a yawn. And those too-late naps were thus too-short naps... which were absolutely causing the late afternoon witching hour(s).
I promptly put Calliope on Hogg’s EASY routine. EASY stands for Eat, Activity, Sleep, You.
Eat. Rather than letting her eat all the time, and especially before sleep, I only fed her when she first woke up from a nap. I aimed for feeding every three hours. I stopped feeding her to sleep.
Activity. For a newborn, activity was simple. Mostly it was a few minutes lying on her activity mat but other times, it was even less. It turns out that newborns don't need all that much in the way of stimulation. As she got older, this period gradually lengthened out.
Rest. I aimed to put her back to sleep after only an hour awake. If I saw a yawn after only forty-five minutes, I would put her down even sooner. I used four of Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s: swaddling, sucking (a pacifier), swinging and shushing (white noise). Back then, it was acceptable to let babies sleep inclined in swings. Now we know this is a risk factor for SIDS, unfortunately. All babies must be put down to sleep on their backs.
You. The part I lived for. This was time for me. To shower, exercise, call a friend, check email or (less fun) pursue the disability insurance folks. Getting a guaranteed break for myself made all the difference in the world to my emotional health. I never managed to nap but getting time off during the day meant I didn't stay up too late at night, trying to soak up some personal time.
Within a few days of putting Calliope on this schedule, she was a different child. She literally never cried. I could figure out her needs just by glancing at the clock.
It was hard, sometimes, to be so ruled by a schedule... but it was worlds better than hours of crying every afternoon. And I found I could compromise let her nap in the stroller occasionally without suffering the consequences at night.
And with just this routine, including the feeding schedule, Calliope was naturally sleeping 8 hours at a stretch at night without any formal sleep training by 6 weeks old. (The swing might have been an unfair advantage, though!)
I am not exagerating when I say that this schedule saved my sanity. I know I was lucky that she was a good sleeper... but I know it wasn't all luck, since she wasnt' a good sleeper before this schedule changed everything for us.
Moreover, it saved me from having to do any hard sleep training. This method didn't involve any crying at all. (In another post, I'll talk about the sleep training method that got me to 10 hours by 10 weeks. That was even better.)
It's never too soon to instill great sleep habits in your child. I started this schedule on our first day home from the hospital with my younger daughter. I never did any sleep training with her at all. She slept ten hours by ten weeks, too.
If you would like to get your little one on track and aren't sure where to start, schedule a free consult with me and get your life back on track.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and former NICU nurse. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.