Sleep and other first world problems

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Last night I posed the following question to my Super Defacto (SD): “if you could speak to your pre-baby self, what advice would you give him about fatherhood?” He offered this profundity: “if your Missus is offering sex, get it when you can!”

True that.

On the motherhood side of things, I will add the two most important things I have learned since giving birth seven months ago:

1. If you only achieve four things each day, make sure they are (in this order): feed your baby, feed yourself, go for a walk, have a shower. My wise lady GP told me this after I broke down in floods of tears in her office. It works. It lowers your expectations of yourself. The shower is optional.

2. Understand HOW and WHEN your baby sleeps.

This is a BIG one.

I had always thought I was going to be one of those cool, carefree Mums who took everything in her stride (I have no idea why. This is entirely contrary to my nature). “No routine for me”, I thought! “She can just do what I do!” “The longer she stays up during the day, the better she’ll sleep at night!”

NAAAAAT!

At about four months old, the wee spud had us waking around five to six times per night. On the worst nights it would be every one to two hours. We would put her to bed around 7pm, only for her to wake around 8.30pm and require resettling, then 9.30pm for a feed, then 11.30pm (resettle), 1.30am (feed), 3am (resettle), 7am (awake for the day). Hooray!

We tried EVERYTHING to lengthen her oh-so-brief sleep cycles: a range of sleeping bags, adjusting the temperature in her room, talk-back radio, rain music, night lights, alas…her wake-ups were like…clockwork.

SD and I ran with it for a while thinking it must be normal but times were getting desperate. I was feeling anxious and depressed, wanting to get the most out of the time with my amazing baby but finding it really tough, especially when I kept on hearing about magical sleeping babies who would “sleep through the night”.

SD and I were getting short with each other. I didn’t feel like going out and doing anything during the day because I was so goddamn tired. On days when I would go out I would shuffle down to the local shops and join the 4pm army of prams, looking each mother directly in the eye to see if she was having as hard a time of it as I was.

I knew I had reached a low point when I found myself matching my daughter tear for tear, holding her in my arms as we sobbed in unison.

Then a friend told me about sleep school.

I understand that there is a range of sleep schools across Australia, which are generally run through parenting centres. They offer a variety of programs in parenting skills.

The ever-helpful Raising Children Network lists them here: http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/getting_help_from_parenting_centres.html/context/612

There are also a range of private practitioners who will come to your home to offer sleep and settling skills.

We opted for a government-funded program through Tweddle Child + Family Health Service in Melbourne: http://www.tweddle.org.au/

Luckily, we managed to get in at very short notice, partly due to a referral from my doctor.

Tweddle runs a four-night residential sleep program, including all meals and accommodation. Partners can stay as well and all for the princely sum of $16. Thank you Medicare. It was an incredibly intense – at times, excruciating – four days as we learned how to understand “tired signs”, practiced settling techniques (which we still use to this day) and, most importantly, gained confidence.

The two most valuable things SD and I took away were: (a) getting Baby to sleep without her dummy. This way she doesn’t wake up every time said dummy falls out; and (b) the dynamic relationship between day sleeps and night sleeps, AKA, the more they sleep during the day, the more they sleep at night.

Easier said than done, I know, I know, I know.

So that leads me to a third thing I’ve learned since becoming a mother, naff as it sounds, and that is patience.

Keen to hear your stories about sleep, no sleep, tears and beers.

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