Mummy Confession: For a portion of their tiny lives, my babies were belly-sleeping bed-sharers.
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I know I will probably get some negative feedback for this, because I already know it goes against SIDS safe sleeping guidelines,. I do not recommend it, and urge parents to exercise safe sleeping in every way possible.
So, settling baby may be one thing, but how do you get them to STAY asleep? (If you need tips and tricks on getting them to sleep, check out this post)
I was four days into parenting when I was faced head-on with this conundrum. My child was cranky. She had reflux (which I didn’t know anything about at the time), and would only settle in arms, while standing, and occasionally with a swaddle. When it came time to put her down or even merely sit, all the evil of the world seemed to unleash in blood-curtling screams.
Why was I abandoning her?! How dare I put her down? What kind of mother was I? Obviously, I cared nothing for my child, or so her terrible cries insinuated.
At this point, I was terrified to sleep her on her back for fear of choking, as she would spit up and projectile vomit at random. On the other hand, I was told belly sleeping was more dangerous! Car seats were not an option, because she was being slowly tortured in there. Swaddling worked to calm her down, as long as I kept her in my arms. I had tried everything to get her to sleep, but the point came where I needed to place her down somewhere to get sleep of my own. And she would have nothing of any place that was not beside me.
I was left with two options here: get no sleep, or let her sleep in my bed. After much delibaration, tears, and frustration, I chose the later. I read up on Safe sleeping guidelines for bed-sharing, and placed her down for the first time, holding my breath.
What do you know, she slept. It was only one to three hour stretches at first, but that was better than the ten to thirty minutes I was getting before! She also had to sleep on her belly, which again is not recommended, but at the rate she was constantly throwing up, I figured choking was more likely than suffocation for her. (She had woken me before choking several times, and scared me half to death.) That first night, I didn’t sleep much, because I was watching her back rise and fall.
Now, while I don’t recommend it, and it is definitely not for everyone, it is what helped me survive those first months of on and off cluster-feeding (and boy were those days fun), unsettled startles, and the whole “fourth trimester” as it is now called. During the day, she was far more placid, and wasn’t bothered when she was put in her crib.
As far as helpful tools to help them stay asleep, here are some helpful tips which fall within SIDS guidelines for your peace of mind for babes who decide they can’t sleep just anywhere. (Some are intertwined with the tips and tricks to help settle them to sleep I’ve mentioned prior):
If none of these are working for you, reach out to someone in the resource page for pregnancy, birth and beyond.
1. Swaddling– I mention this again, because it is something that seems to help a lot of babies STAY asleep. If it’s not working for you, have you tried to swaddle them arms up? It’s apparently a more natural position and helps them soothe themselves a bit as well as calm the startle reflex.
There are many ways to swaddle, including arms up or down, but also using just a basic Muslin wrap, or a zip or Velcro swaddle. I have even heard of a more weighty option called the Magical Sleep suit. Some babies prefer one over the other. My first was a Houdini of sorts, and the normal blankets could simply not contain her magical prowess, so we opted for zip-up, arms up swaddles. For a summary of different swaddles, check out this post.
2. Co-sleepers– these come in all sorts and shapes. They help keep Baby near while still keeping them safe sleeping. It is important to understand that co-sleeping just means within the same room, not always sharing a bed, which is referred to as bed-sharing.
Side-car Cosleepers are bassinet type beds that literally sit as a side car next to your bed. They are at more of an eye-level for seeing baby, but prevent you from rolling over baby, as bubs has their own space. I’ve never used one of these, but have heard positive feedback from other mums about these.
The first years or similar beds stay in your bed, but have sides to protect bubs from being rolled over. With this, they can even feel your warmth a bit, which I strongly believe helps them sleep. Mine even had a handy light to check babe in the night,This worked for a little for our first and subsequent baby, but my third would have none of it.
Dock-a-tot is another option, although expensive, and many mums swear by them! Though not only used in the big bed, they also make crib sleeping a lot easier. They are basically a snug cushion around baby, helping them feel more secure, with a breathable material which helps ease mum’s mind. I’ve even heard they are excellent to transition toddlers to “big kid” beds, or prevent them falling out of beds with no sides. They come in two sizes. One is for up to 9 months old, and the other can be used until about three years old. Use the link here to save $10 on one today!
3. Snug Sheets, tucked in nice also help babes with their startle reflex, and keep them feeling snug and secure. You can do this by tucking the sheets nice and snugly underneath the mattress of the crib or bassinet in which baby sleeps. This also seems to help a little with them to roll less. Be sure to follow the safe sleeping guidelines with no loose blankets or other toys around them.
4. Warm Rice Bag, either warmed and placed in the spot where bubs is to be put down, to be nice and cozy, especially for a winter baby, seems to help a lot of parents. I know some also leave it next to baby as they sleep, ensuring it isn’t too hot, but please be careful if you choose to do this, as it doesn’t fall within safe sleeping guidelines.
5. Something that smells like mum or dad. This has worked a little for one child, but had no magic for the others. Obviously within guidelines, strategically placing an item of mum or dad’s worn (but not overly so) clothing near Baby. He can smell familiarity and be soothed. I’ve found it’s usually a milk-stained shirt that works best strangely enough.
6. Keeping the lights off seems to help some babies stay asleep. For some, noise or music also helps, but other prefer quiet. I found my babies would awaken if lights were on, or would stay awake in-between wake-ups a bit longer if I had the room too bright.
7. Put the pacifier back in…sometimes it is just that simple. Most times, I will be honest, it is not.
8. Routines, routines, routines. Just doing and keeping a solid routine can help baby to calm and stay asleep a bit better and longer. Doing the same things every night and following baby’s sleep cues helps massively.
9. Ninja like escape from underneath or next to an already sleeping baby seems to be the way of everything in my life now. You have to prefect your method depending on your child, but some like a super slow transition, with patting and shushing in between, while others do better with a “ripping-the-bandaid-off-quickly” yet gentle approach. What works best for us is my slowly moving away after quickly but gently setting them down from being settled upon my forearm. I show you this technique here (humour me).
With all of these in mind, do remember that each child is different, and some may sleep easier than others. Some babies may require several of these ideas to stay sleeping, or you may find another trick that works better for you! Also, note that little ones typically don’t “sleep through the night” until at least 6 months old, and this term usually refers to about a six-hour stretch. Some don’t until much later, like my children at two years old. But, these tricks and tips may help to keep them sleeping a bit longer, or go from their night routine of eating and changing, back to sleep a bit easier.
Another option to mention would be the sleep-training methods that are out there, however they are not recommended until baby is at least 6 months or older. These for us, were a last resort, and we didn’t commit to just one method. We didn’t attempt anything until bubs were around 9 months either.
How do you get your babies to sleep and to stay there? Has it been hard or do your children transtion easily? Leave some of your tips and tricks for helping sleeping babies stay asleep in the comments below!