The Mystery of the Sleeping Baby

As we nearly approach a year of parenting, we’d like to share all the numerous things we tried to get our baby to sleep better and longer, none of which actually worked.

High on my wishlist for 2021, when D will be 1 whole year old, is a six hour uninterrupted stretch of sleep for all three of us every night. Or at least few nights a week. Or at least 5 hours. Even four and a half?

The first thing I’d heard almost most new parents talk about or watched on TV shows soon after having a baby was sleep deprivation and blurred days and nights. In the first couple months of motherhood, we got beautifully deceived as D picked up the circadian day-night rhythm really early on and slept fairly well. Of course there were all the struggles of colicky evenings, breastfeeding and bottle-feeding and numerous other challenges of early parenthood, but the 3-hourly night wakings for a feed and immediately sleeping back didn’t seem to be the biggest challenge.

So I thought we’d got fairly lucky in this department. D would crash by 8 PM (still does) and wake between 5 and 6 AM(still does), and eventually, the wakings would reduce to become one big stretch with minimal interruptions — right?

Cut to 11 months, and the range of things we have tried to reduce sleep interruptions is now big enough to fill a few pages of a notebook. We attribute it to ever present possible sleep regressions (Although I’m not convinced on the concept of defined periods of sleep regression that all babies have), growth spurts, false alarms of teething, and the favourite ‘it’s all a phase’. But that doesn’t stop us from trying to crack this mystery called baby sleep.

The mystery of I think she sleeps better in the crib/ I think she needs to be co-sleeping

While our answer has mostly been the first option, D again sends us on a speculation spree by suddenly sleeping better on the main bed. So we make arrangements, get her a little mattress, push the bed against a wall, give her half the bed to have enough space to move while two people squeeze in in the other half, and have two reasonably peaceful nights (albeit with teeny feet kicking your face and 180 degree flip flops). But then, the extra tossing and turning and wailing begins and back to the crib it is. With the cycle repeating after some days.

The mystery of I think she needs a change in sleep environment

I’ve sent my family members into exasperation rearranging the house, moving all three of us from one room to the other, moving the bed from one wall to the other, 90 degrees, 45 degrees, against the window, far from the window, near the fan, away from the fan, crib parallel to bed, perpendicular to bed, touching the bed, far away from the bed. Each time we think yes, this has worked finally! But sorry, nope.

The mystery of I think she doesn’t have the right sleep clothing

We’ve done it all from zippered full body footed sleepsuits, half sleeves and full sleeves, shorts in case she was too hot, socks in case she was too cold, thin cotton covers to thick fleece blankets and everything in between these two. But trying to align the fluctuating Bengaluru weather with clothing that gets outgrown every month, the only thing we’ve successfully managed is to burn a huge hole in our Amazon shopping wallet.

The mystery of I think we should get a white noise machine

While I saw people sharing Spotify playlists at the end of the year, I think our top songs from Amazon music would have been Brahms Lullaby, White Noise and ‘Jo Jo Rama’ by Bombay Jayashree (which we easily modify and enter D’s name with random words). These three songs are in constant loop at nap times and bed times, and by the end of it I think all we’ve achieved is the me needing this music to sleep whether or not D does, especially when I take muc longer fall back asleep after each waking than the better half.

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The mystery of Does she need all that silence or are we overdoing it?

In the early days, we wanted to get her used to household noises and even didn’t bother telling people not to ring the doorbell or (gasp) even used the mixie. But as sleep got harder, we went into hush mode, tip-toeing around, planning the pressure cooking around nap times, phones eternally on silent mode. Thanks to Covid, surprise visitors ringing the door bell have been non-existent. We’re never sure whether our baby really needs all that silence to sleep, or can manage with a bit of noise. But who wants to risk waking a sleeping baby?

The mystery of I think we should change what/how/when much she eats

This is of course the classic, and most controversial of the lot. Online pro-breastfeeding pro-co-sleeping groups would tell you breastfeeding or food has absolutely nothing to do with sleep, just feed the baby even every half hour if needed, or ‘just keep a boob out and sleep’. Your grandparents with their depth of experience (seven children in my Paati’s case) would tell you a full tummy has everything to do with sleep, so give them a heavy dinner or formula (I can hear some collective gasps at the suggestion of formula).

Surprise surprise, not every baby is the same. Not every baby (and mother) wants to sleep latched on all night. Not every baby sleeps well with a bowl full of nice hot rasam rice or a bottle full of formula. Some babies do sleep well after solids. Some babies do get up out of a habit to nurse frequently. And we are still figuring out which category of these belong to.

The mystery of You need good vibes in your house.

This one mostly comes from well meaning elders. Lighting the lamp, playing specific chants or prayers in the evenings, narrating a prayer before every meal, drishti pottus, ‘arana kayirus’, vibhoothi, all of which grandparents try on and off.

The mystery of I think we should try some sort of sleep training.

Again, the controversial one for the last which I wouldn’t make the mistake of analysing, as opinions I’ve come across range from ‘it’s ok for the baby to cry’ or to ‘sleep training doesn’t have to mean tears’, to ‘even the slightest delay in attending to your baby and letting him or her whimper for a few seconds is tantamount to cruelty and will scar your baby FOR LIFE!’.

Surprise again, different things work for everyone. Or nothing may work for anyone! It doesn’t have to be one extreme or the other. Not everyone can plan their entire day around the minutiae of ideal baby naps, and all babies don’t fall into a scientific sleep pattern. And of course, unlike certain books that got me believe, not everyone can teach their babies to fall asleep on their own with a few tricks of white noise, dark rooms and lullabies. (Although I certainly wish I could!)

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Despite all this, there is certainly light in the tunnel always, not just at the end. With a super quiet house by 8PM bar the occasional sound that sends us running to the room, we have quiet dinners, TV or a book, and complaining like elderly retired uncles and aunties about kids who play downstairs or people who start loud motorbikes at ungodly hours like 8PM.

We catch the early morning sun at 5 AM with groggy eyes, wake up to toothless giggles and snuggles, and sometimes even have a fresh breakfast before 730AM (which was my weekday alarm a year back which I would liberally hit ‘snooze’ a few times). Unbelievably, we’ve done 20 things by 9AM.

We certainly haven’t cracked the mystery of how to help a baby to sleep, but seem to have at least learnt to laugh about it.

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