Newborn Sleep CAN Happen: How I helped my daughter learn to self-soothe.

10487182_10203763406777975_5428785870809281767_nSome babies respond just fine to rocking or nursing to sleep. Then there are the babies that you help into a floppy, blissful state of sleep and set them down ever so carefully only to have them WAKE UP the second their little bodies touch their bed, leaving you in frustrated tears. That was the story with both of my children. With my son, we suffered through four sleep-deprived, tear-filled months (him and us) before making some changes. With my new daughter, I wanted to avoid creating parent-led associations that hindered my son’s sleep and instead, give her the confidence to trust her own body.  Lisa Sunbury, who was a great support, reminded me that Magda Gerber often said to “start as you wish to continue.” That was exactly what I was trying to achieve: long-lasting habits, right from the start. Newborn sleep CAN happen, and it can happen respectfully.

Getting To Know Her

With my son, I was so stressed about his crying that I tried everything to just get the tears to stop, without actually listening to what he was telling me. In contrast, with my new baby, I did not immediately try at all costs to make the crying stop, but rather approached the tears in a calmer and more intuitive way. When she cried, I held her and told her I was trying to understand what she needed. Instead of trying to shut her down, I spent my energy listening to her tears and learning about what they meant. As a result, I found that I bonded with her sooner than I did with my son, because I had viewed my son as an infant in distress, and anxiety about my failure to stop his tears clouded our bond; with my daughter, I understood that her crying was communication and that it didn’t threaten her attachment to me.

Preparing the Day for Sleep

Babies are so easily overstimulated. Anything from a lamp to the sound of a passing car can be too much for some. Try to keep your baby in an area that has low lighting and minimal sounds. When feeding or changing, move slowly and use a gentle voice. It can be challenging to provide the optimal setting for a newborn 100% of the time, but you can do the best you are able. It’s also important that you let your baby release their frustrations, kind of like a friend that needs to cry on your shoulder at the end of a hard day. Being a newborn is so emotionally exhausting with the huge amount of newness in every little thing they experience; so everyday for them is a long, hard day. With my baby, I would snuggle up with her and let her cry out all of her frustrations. As soon as she was done, she would finally relax in my arms, ready for peaceful sleep.

Falling Asleep with Mama*

I wanted to avoid giving my daughter the habits that had made my son’s sleep so hard. I made sure to nurse her while she was awake and to avoid rocking, bouncing, or wearing her to sleep. Once I learned my daughter’s tired signs, I would go to her calm sleeping place, hold her, and allow her to fuss if she needed. I would not try to MAKE her sleep; instead, I gave her a quiet and peaceful space where she could fall asleep easily. She could snuggle in my arms and cry out her tensions, and then drift off to sleep. For the first week or so, we co-slept because I was recovering from birth and in bed most of the time anyway.

Once my daughter was used to falling asleep in my arms easily, I began putting her next to me. I would lay my hand on her while she fussed or cried to sleep. Gradually, I started moving my hand away and just watching her while she fell asleep. Eventually, this made for a lovely situation where she would coo and try to smile before falling asleep. She was learning that sleep was a wonderful thing and that it was in her power to drift off as she liked. She was learning to trust her body. This step worked for us because I was still in bed most of the time and slept with her.

*This would be a step you can skip if you don’t want to co-sleep.

Supported Self-Soothing

Once I was recovered a bit and ready to re-enter my daily life, it was time for her to sleep on her own in the co-sleeper. When my daughter was drowsy, I would put her down in her bed and sit by her. I would rub her head and say soothing things as she drifted off. Sometimes she cried, and sometimes she simply closed her eyes and fell asleep. Once she was calmer about her bed, I started putting her down without physical soothing, just singing to her until she fell asleep so she knew I was still there.

She would fuss a bit while she worked on finding her own methods to soothe. It took some practice, but eventually she learned to put her fingers in her mouth for comfort. After she made this discovery, I would just lie in my bed while she fell asleep, helping only if her fussing turned into full-on-crying. If, at any point, she got very upset in a way that did not sound like a tired cry, I would help her by starting with minimal support (singing or stroking) and then eventually picking her up and holding her for a bit before trying again.

Trusting Her Self-Moderation

I still don’t try to force sleep on my baby. If she is genuinely having trouble settling, I trust that she’s telling me that she’s not tired yet and bring her out to play until a bit later. She has gained the confidence to fall asleep on her own and knows that I respond to her if she needs me. This means that some days she sleeps less, and some days more. At this point, I can put her in her bed, kiss her sweet head, and walk away. Sometimes she fusses a bit before finding her thumb and soothing herself to sleep, but most of the time she smiles as I lay her in her bed. She loves sleep and loves her bed; it’s a comforting place for her. Sleep has never been something that must happen to her, but something wonderful that she gets to give herself.

Coping with Setbacks

Of course, although my daughter can now fall asleep without my help, we still have setbacks and fussy or troubled sleep times. My daughter still wakes 1-2 times a night for a feeding, and sometimes she needs more snuggles when she’s teething or going through a milestone. What helps is making more time during the day to see where the real challenge is coming from and then supporting that. For instance, she’s working on crawling now so I’ve been giving her ample opportunities to practice. The biggest help during setbacks will be this kind of observation and adjustment to her daily routine. They are always changing their needs and often times troubled sleep is the first indicator that minor changes might need to happen to their day.

There is no magical solution that eliminates all night wakings for any child. Even when they CAN fall asleep on their own and soothe themselves to sleep, they will still need us often over their early years as they go through milestones, developmental leaps, illness and other stressful events. Helping my children with their confidence to fall asleep without parent-led associations is not just for me and my sleep (though a well-rested mother is important) but it’s for their own well being as well.

The Grass is Greener on the Other Side: My Struggle with Postpartum Depression and How I Prevailed

I’m laying in bed on a Sunday morning while my husband gets ready for work. I can hear my son fussing and crying while my husband changes him and gets his breakfast ready. I know that in a few minutes I will be on duty as a mom and I cannot bear this thought. At this moment, I hate being a mom. The sound of my child’s fussing is like nails on a chalkboard and I want nothing but to be left alone. This is something I cannot have now, I must find a way to be a mother today, find a way to cope. I come out of the bedroom and my husband wraps me up in his arms while I sob and beg him to stay home from work. He cannot because he has already called in the last two days because of my sleep deprivation and sadness. He kisses me good-bye and shuts the door behind him and I crawl up in a ball and continue sobbing. My son watches me anxiously and then finally, tired of being ignored, cries out for me. I get him from his high chair and then we sit on the couch together while I cry…about nothing. “There is nothing wrong with me” I tell myself over an over; “there is nothing wrong with my life and no reason to be like this, I just want to be happy and enjoy my life and my child.”

This was me in January, February, March, April, May and June of 2012. I was battling postpartum depression, and loosing the battle. Everyday I would wake in fear for the day and every night I would battle sleep as my mind filled with every possible anxiety and worry. Everyone said I was fine, that life was hard with a baby, but was it supposed to be this hard? I never really told anyone how bad it was for fear of appearing vulnerable or weak. I used to be so strong and positive all of the time and now I felt like I was drowning in my own life with absolutely nobody to rescue me. I never thought of killing myself or hurting my child, but just mothered with a sort of apathy and intolerance for my son and his needs. I tried to trick myself to be happy; tried to train myself to think positively and tried to exercise to raise my serotonin. People said to balance my adrenals with nutrition and to cut out foods from my diet. For 6 months I battled alone and then finally, one sleep deprived day,  I had had enough.

I sought help! I went on medication! Within 2 weeks, I started feeling better!

Slowly I noticed that situations that used to make me fall completely apart, were completely manageable! I noticed that I was happy and I enjoyed being a mother again! I felt like myself! I still got grumpy and sad, but it was a surface feeling and deep down, I was content and my old positive self. I cannot tell you exactly why I waited so long to seek professional help. I think perhaps I didn’t believe in medication. Or maybe I didn’t want to admit that I was actually depressed because of the social stigma. A big part of it was that people would tell me that what I was feeling was normal “because I had a lot on my plate and my stressed reaction was appropriate.” I can assure you now that THOSE FEELINGS ARE NOT NORMAL!

I am sharing this story with you because I feel it is important to know what postpartum mood disorders look like. It is important to know that this happens to 20% of women after giving birth. It’s important to know that you are most at risk 3-6 months after giving birth and after weaning. Mostly, It’s important to know that you can get help and that IT DOES GET BETTER.

The good news is that if you have Postpartum Depression, there is treatment available. In addition, here are some things you can do to take care of yourself:

  • Get good, old-fashioned rest. Always try to nap when the baby naps.
  • Try and take breaks for some “me” time.
  • Stop putting pressure on yourself to do everything. Do as much as you can and leave the rest! Ask for help with household chores and nighttime feedings.
  • Talk to your husband, partner, family, and friends about how you are feeling. Don’t be afraid to speak up as it will help immensely.
  • Do not spend a lot of time alone. Get dressed and leave the house – runan errand or take a short walk.
  • Spend time alone with your husband or partner.
  • Remember that babies are fussy and cry and that if you need a break from that, it’s okay. When they cry they are communicating and you are not failing.
  • Talk to your health care provider about medical treatment. Do not be shyabout telling them your concerns. Not all health care providers know how to tell if you have Postpartum Depression. Ask for a referral to a mental health professional who specializes in treating depression.
  • Talk with other mothers, so you can learn from their experiences.
  • Join a support group for women with Postpartum Depression. Call a local hotline or look inyour telephone book for information and services.

Here is a list of resources that will come in handy if you have PPD or another postpartum mood disorder.

If you live in Washington, this is an amazing list of support groups that will help.

Postpartum Mood Disorder Support provides warm, understanding, effective and private support and professional referrals for new mothers and their family members. 1-888-404-7763 (PPMD)

Best on the Web Blogs, a list of PPD blogs that could be helpful.

Postpartum Support International is dedicated to helping women suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, including postpartum depression, the most common complication of childbirth.  1-800-944-4PPD

Pacific Postpartum Support Society provides telephone support, weekly women’s support groups, partner education sessions, community trainings and resource materials. 1-855-255-7999

Mama Eve writes that “bouts of depression are often associated with the post-partum period and the intensity of caring for a newborn, but I think the roots of it can definitely be found during pregnancy as well.” Here on her blog she shares her challenges with depression or “blues” during her pregnancy.

I had this worry that if I went on medication it would affect my son, but according to Thomas Hale, PhD LLL: “The effects of an untreated depressed mom on the infant are significant and hazardous; but the marginal effects of any medication usually are less hazardous than those effects. Treating a mom with postpartum depression (PPD) is much preferable to not treating, since a baby has a better outcome generally (as measured by Bayley scores, measuring interaction skills and speech and language development) when being cared for by a non-depressed parent.” According to this study, “Infants exposed to Paxil and Zoloft had undetectable levels of the antidepressant in their blood.” This needless worry of mine caused me 6 months of suffering that could have been avoided had I acted sooner with medication.

One thing to know is that 1 in 10 dad’s can experience postpartum mood disorders as well. The difference between depression in women and men is that men may be more in denial than women and refuse to seek help. In this article it states that “while Dad’s depression may take a different tone, with more irritable and angry behaviors, than Mom’s, it is likely to be just as detrimental to the child.” Here is a great resource for how to help your husband if you sense that he may be suffering from any postpartum mood disorders.

Now that I have sought help, I don’t feel that I “lost the battle” or “gave up” by going on medication. I feel empowered that I finally made the choice to care for myself, and in turn, care for my family.

I feel that this experience happened to me so that I can openly share my story and hopefully help other women suffering from postpartum mood disorders. This is a common challenge for new parents and we can help remove the stigma by talking about it openly as well as offering support to parents that struggle.

Please share your comments of your own experiences with postpartum mood disorder as well as other resouces you may have surrounding this topic.