The best-laid schemes o' mice an men

Sleep, dummies and moral imperatives

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Whilst pregnant I bought a couple of dummies without any thought of using them or not. I especially liked a natural rubber dummy I bought, made me feel like a responsible earth mother. It had never occurred to me that dummy use was yet another should I? shouldn’t I? battleground of motherhood.  After Curly was born and during our stay in intensive care the question was raised…”do you wish to use a dummy?” She had one whilst she was in the NICU, but as she began to recover and was transferred to the special care nursery the question was raised again. Wanting to be the best mum I possibly could I looked into the matter and discovered a whole list of pros and cons for dummy use. Due to her heart problems Curly had difficulty breastfeeding, so initially I decided against using the dummy. But life in the nursery wasn’t easy, I couldn’t always be by her side straight away when she woke up crying (which was often). The nurses kept pressuring me to let her use a dummy so eventually I relented.

IMG_2035She loved her dummy. I loved it, such a quick simple solution to a crying baby (especially when we were out and about!). Looking back though, I think it was masking the fact she was actually really hungry! Eventually it got the point (around 4 months) where Curly was waking up at least every 2 hours throughout the night wanting her dummy. She was still too little to find the dummy herself, and besides that, she liked being swaddled to sleep. After eliminating hunger and dirty nappies we decided that something had to be done. I wasn’t prepared to spend another 3 months of this broken sleep. We launched into dummy weaning, eliminating it from her day naps first, then attempting nights (I stupidly started when we had guests visiting too, don’t do that). At first I found myself rocking Curly to sleep during the day, and at night she would wake up crying out for her dummy…it was heart-breaking to hear. There’s something about a babies cry that’s like nails on a chalkboard to a mums ears.

I was a bit lost, I didn’t want to cause unnecessary trauma to my baby. A friend of mine stepped in, she had read a book titled ‘Save our Sleep’, following the advice in there had worked wonders for her breast-fed baby. This was a baby who would cry whenever mum wasn’t carrying her, she didn’t even like going in a pram. My friend had been desperate too. I bought the book and read the relevant chapters (I’m a skim reader and still haven’t read it all the way through). The basic premise was introduce your baby to a stable and routine day, where feeding, sleeping and play-time are predictable. Once consistency is established during the day, don’t rush to the cot at night when baby protests about going to sleep.

I need to make a note here. Curly was 4 months old, her different cries were becoming discernible, which helped a lot. Early on I could never tell what was a feed me cry, or I’m cold, I’m lonely, I’m bored, My nappies wet, My tummy hurts, I just want to cry for the sake of crying cry. But by 4 months of age there was definitely a difference between these cries. Because this was my experience, I don’t recommend starting sleep-training until you can tell the difference a bit yourself. Especially learning what a ‘protest’ cry is compared to a ‘I’m incredibly distraught and need a cuddle’ cry. Perhaps seeing her in agony having IV needles shoved into each arm during her NICU stay helped me out with this too. I know what Curly sounds like when she’s distressed.

We didn’t do the traditional ‘cry it out’ method (which involves checking in every 5, 10, 15 mins). Doing this seemed to prolong the crying and cause more distress. If Curly saw me she couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t pick her up. I would put her down to sleep and if she cried I would sit on the edge of the couch with gritted teeth wanting to punch my husband in the face (you’ll understand when you get there). YOU HAVE TO WATCH THE CLOCK. One minute can feel like one hour. I would try and go at least 10minutes of protest crying, longer if we could handle it (if it got into the really distressed stage I went in straight away and picked her up – this actually didn’t happen much and the longer you can live them the quicker this phase will pass). If she didn’t settle down then I would go into the room and (not pick her up), pat her, rock her in the cot and make nice shushing sounds until she fell asleep (even if it meant being there for 30minutes). This process continued throughout the night. It wasn’t easy.

Sitting on the nursery floor at 3am with my arm stuck at an odd angle through the cot bar patting Curly’s back listening to H. snoring from the room next door, awesome. It’s a nice middle-ground for those who can’t bear to just leave baby to cry, you’re still comforting them, just not picking them up and creating burdening sleep associations. After three days of this, something magic started to happen. She wouldn’t cry when I put her to sleep, she would smile as I wrapped her up, she would make little humming sounds to herself and settle off to sleep happily. I would hangout with my husband, watch some TV, give Curly a ‘dream-feed’ around 10:30pm and then head to bed myself. I would sleep…and sleep. We would all wake up the next morning well rested. It actually worked. And for the few intense ‘husband-punching’ moments I felt it really was worth it. It hasn’t always been sunshine and roses since then, but as Curly became well established with certain routine ways of doing things when she cried at night I knew then that something really was up. A teething fever, stuffy nose etc. and I could help her appropriately. She didn’t stop letting me know when something was wrong, but she stopped getting upset about bed-time and sleeping…and she stopped needing a dummy.

Turns out this is a touchy issue for parents, so let me get a little defensive…
Sleep is so important for brain development, reducing stress (in mum and baby), and fostering a much happier family environment all round. When I compare three days of some night-time crying compared to the 10months of wonderful, calm and restful sleep we’ve had since…well draw your own conclusions. Stress isn’t all bad, a little bit of cortisol is natural and aids development (I say that like a fact because I read it somewhere but can’t find the original article! Correct me if I’m wrong), thankfully she is a well-rested baby. Curly wasn’t completely abandoned and left to fall asleep whimpering from exhaustion, she’s never been neglected and had all her other needs met promptly with plenty of cuddling and snuggles. Occasionally I would let her nap during the day whilst being wrapped on my back or front, this didn’t seem to affect her sleep patterns adversely. We also got her used to the pram and sleeping in a portacot when visiting friends for dinner.

Further to that, much of the anti-controlled crying folk tout how important it is to meet baby’s needs promptly before crying becomes an issue…following the routine actually enabled this to happen with Curly. I was able to anticipate when she would be hungry, or tired and we rarely had moments where she would be screaming at me to feed two hours before the “scheduled” time. Anti-schedulers seem to worry about this happening…that mothers like me would leave their child to cry for food and ignore them. It just doesn’t happen like this. Really. The schedule is an aide, not a rulebook. The following is a link to another blog article on sleep that I found informative: 7 Worst baby sleep-training mistakes you can make.

Great articles discussing the science behind the so-called ‘cortisol’ fear-mongering.
A journal jumps on the Dr. Sears bandwagon to say sleep training is dangerous. Science says otherwise.
The Science behind Dr. Sears, does it stand up?
Controlled crying ‘safe for babies’

I can happily say that 14months on, Curly is such a sweet, happy little girl. She loves cuddle time and is very affectionate (as we are to her), despite her traumatic post-birth dramas with the surgery and operations she is developing as she should for her age. So I don’t think we’ve done irreversible psychological damage. I hope.

And finally, if you choose not to follow this method that’s okay. I don’t really care what other mums do, it’s their conscience, their sleep, their family. I have friends who didn’t follow a routine, some are very pro-attachment parenting and that’s their business and their story, they have a lot of wisdom to share and I love getting their advice.

If you are thinking about following this method though, I can’t recommend it strongly enough! Don’t follow my brief summary here, get the book yourself.



One thought on “Sleep, dummies and moral imperatives

  1. Pingback: Getting rid of the dummy. | The best-laid schemes o' mice an men

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