Saturday, 31 January 2015

How I got my babies to sleep, the gentle way

In August 2014, the Yahoo Contributor Network was shut down. All the copyrights to articles thereon were returned to their authors, so I decided to publish certain articles of mine, originally written for Yahoo UK on my own blogs. This is one of them.
I have always sung my children to sleep. There is something about being rocked while hearing their lullaby that gets them every time.
Each of my children have their own lullaby, mostly because I was bored of the one I sing my eldest, by the time his brother came along. I usually sing it a couple of times over, then hum until they drift off. As soon as they hear the tune they start to settle as they recognise it is time for sleep.
I am fairly sure there is some kind of Pavlovian response going on. When I was in hospital recovering from the birth of my first child, I had only one CD with me, which got played a lot. I discovered when he was a few weeks old that one particular song on the CD had an almost mystical effect on him, no matter how distressed or overtired he was, if I played that song, he would be calm and sleepy by the end of the introduction. The artist in question was "The Cult", hardly your usual bedtime listening. We refer to the employment of this track in times of need as "The Cult Effect". It still worked at two years old, but it never had the same impact on our second child.
When my children were very young, they had no bedtime. I found that as they tended to cluster-feed to "fill the tank up" in the evening, it was not practical to try and get them into bed. Much better to let them doze and feed in my lap until my bedtime - when they would come to bed with me. This flexible arrangement also meant that we could go out as a family with no fear of upsetting the routine. As long as they were with me they were happy. Once they were sleeping solidly through the evening, they transitioned to a bedtime, at around the time they seemed naturally inclined to drop off.
I always nursed my babies to sleep. Some claim that this is a bad habit, but nighttime breastmilk is full of hormones that promote sleep, so surely this is how babies are designed to fall asleep. Both stopped nursing to sleep before they were a year old. They would have their fill, then roll over and settle, with a tiny smile and a full belly. Or sit up and try to play.
Their father became the secret weapon at this point. If their milk failed in its sleep-inducing effect, their dad would come in, wrap his arms around them and sing to them until they dropped off.
I have never felt inclined to "train" our children to sleep. Instead I have just had faith that in their own time, they will establish a sleep pattern that suits them. If along the way that meant that I had to spend a few evenings cuddling them as they dropped off, well, that's fine. There are few more worthy and fulfilling ways to spend a couple of hours than curled up, breathing their baby smell, and making sure they feel love and comfort as they drift off to sleep.

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