If you’re pregnant with your first baby you might be reading that blog title thinking, what?! Or if you have a new baby that’s over a month old and have just realised your precious sleepy bubba no longer just falls asleep whenever, wherever, you might be thinking, tell me how!
Like you I was a bit surprised to learn that you can’t just put a baby down in their bed awake and have them drift off into slumber. I, like I’m sure many of you reading this, opted for the easy route and breastfed my babies to sleep. I mean why wouldn’t you? It’s usually pretty quick and easy, and breastfeeding seems made for this purpose, surely it’s the natural thing to do! It’s just a scientific inevitability that breastfeeding will make a baby sleepy (and also the mum!).
My problem with breastfeeding to sleep became three-fold.
1. I have windy babies, and feeding them to sleep generated wind which they can’t get out before falling asleep. So they either drop off to sleep only to be roused after 10-30 mins with those annoying burps, or they pull off at the end of feeding/sucking unable to get to sleep because of the wind. Which then leads to burping, more feeding, and trying again. Anyone see a problem with this picture?
2. Breastfeeding them to sleep doesn’t teach the baby how to self settle, or self soothe. I didn’t realise that babies aren’t born with the innate ability to get themselves off to sleep. And at 3 years old my oldest still doesn’t go to sleep by himself. You might be thinking why did we let it go on so long? Well, we just did! Reflux babies, food intolerance, sickness, moving house… there was always something which meant it wasn’t possible or just too hard to face!
3. You are the only one that can put them down to sleep! This can become quite restrictive and led me to feeling a bit trapped.
So second time around I was more determined to try and teach my baby how to get to sleep without being fed to sleep. In the first 2-3 months I just decided to go with the flow, as you do with a second child. I also recognised he just needed the closeness and the sucking, so was happy to give him what he needed at that time while he was still wee. But once he was 5 months old I figured it was time to start thinking about it.
When number 1 was a younger baby we learned that patting a baby on the bottom in a heart beat rhythm (or “shunting”) can work wonders for settling an unsettled baby, and it really works! Taking this one step further, it is used as part of the “sshh pat” method for self settling. This involves the baby falling asleep in their own bed, with you assisting them if they grizzle or get upset. You make a sshhhing sound (which is comforting to them and mimicks the sounds they can hear the womb), while patting them in a heartbeat rhythm on their bottom. This technique is used by many “baby gurus” and books, including New Zealand’s own baby whisperer, Sharlene Poole. I like this technique because it doesn’t involve leaving your baby to cry, but teaches them to fall asleep in their bed gently (without being fed to sleep!).
I’ve managed to master doing this for some of bub’s day naps, but if he’s windy or uncomfortable, forget it! Only the boob will do. And for now I’m cool with that. Hopefully by 6 months old we’ll both be in a better place to try properly!
We got this working for out first son when he was a little older, but never quite got to the next stage of him falling asleep without us in the room. So that’s our next challenge! I wish we’d done it sooner; now that he’s 3 we’ve created a bit more of a battle for ourselves, but it has to be done. Will let you know how it goes.
You can check out Sharlene’s baby whispering book if you want to know more details of her settling methods. Her burping method is also great.