Friday, April 5, 2019

Month #4 - Sleep Training and Sleep Regression?

Whoever says that it will be easier after three months should be hung upside-down. The 4-month milestone sees a SHARP decline in sleep as the baby goes through a heck lot of internal changes - mainly the notorious 4-month sleep regression, and as if that's not enough, BAM. It coincides with the 4-month growth spurt... and a shitnami of things struck:

Frequent wakings
Gone are the days (hopefully temporarily) when baby Olivia could sleep for 5-6 hours straight at night. At four months, she's going through a process called sleep regression, or sleep transitions as experts claim. According to them, the term "regression" means to take a step back, but this is a healthy developmental milestone whereby sleep cycles get adjusted to being more like an adult's. To explain this briefly: One full sleep cycle lasts approximately 45min for babies (it's 90min for adults). Unlike adults, most babies have not learnt how to transit to the next cycle. If you are lucky, they might whimper, shift their bodies slightly, or cry for a few seconds if they have to, and fall right back to sleep for another cycle. Otherwise, parental intervention is needed, such as assurance by patting, humming, or carrying.
Baby, it's not time to wake up yet.

But let's be honest here, waking up every 30-60 minutes (and especially when you are already in deep sleep) sucks big time. For both the baby and the parents. Late last month, we spent between 1 hour to a terrifying 3-4 hours to lull her to sleep, only to have her waking up in 30 minutes. WHAT. Oh, and I can't describe how stressful it is to anticipate involuntarily when she is going to let out a cry. My small heart can't take this.

Heads up from the world of the internet - this process lasts from two to six weeks. To indefinitely. Very helpful information.

Sleep training?
In mid-March, we had a consultant came over to advise us on her feeding and sleeping, and that's when she protested a heck lot. To be fair, weeks of intense rocking, doing squats to make her sleep had already formed some kind of habit. Mummy couldn't take it and cried during the training and even signalled me to end the consultation as soon as possible. It's $200 to have the consultant come over for 3 hours by the way.

Thank God, we started to see the gradual fruits of sleep training - we adopted the gentler shush-pat/pick-up-put-down method. Towards the 4-5th day of sleep training, she's able to sleep in her own cot after 20-30 minutes of shush-pat and minimal rocking, but then sleep regression struck and she's waking up every 45 minutes or so. Uh, what? Here's something to prep ourselves for the near future - we would probably have to restart sleep training every once in a while after certain incidents, such as going overseas, sickness,  and sleep regression. The bad news is that there are approximately five of them until the baby is two years old.

Hey, since we are at this topic, let's delve into sleep training for a little.

The idea of sleep training originates in North America, and from my point of view, it is mainly beneficial for the parents more than that for the baby. Parents need their sleep too aye? After countless sleepless nights, you couldn't blame parents for having the thought that "THIS IS IT" and wanting to sleep train their babies. So there exists a spectrum of methods:

Image result for sleep training methods

Evidently, more gentle methods would take considerable more time to sleep train as compared to "less gentle" methods. Let's face it, they are harsh methods. Here, my wife and I were divided on which method we should adopt. I was keened on the Ferber method (also known as controlled comforting/crying) which would work in as fast as two days. This method requires the parents check on the baby in increasing intervals (after 3 mins, then 5, then 10, etc.), but mummy's heart couldn't take it when baby Olivia was screaming at the top of her lungs and sobbing uncontrollably.

No doubts there are advocates, but there are articles which do not recommend harsh methods that allow the baby to cry for extended periods of time as they reasoned that the child may have developmental issues in the future and what not. Not sure how true is that, but like what my cell leader advised us, what's important is that we seek God and be unified in our methods. So if mummy doesn't want this approach, then we will try one that we are both comfortable with.

Olivia's sleep routine
As of currently, putting Olivia to bed is something like this for us:

Close the shades (still with light peeking through during the day), turn on the usual lullaby, swaddle, minimal rocking, and if she's not crying, put her into the cot (we lay her sideways*) and shush-pat. If she cries uncontrollably for >20 seconds in her cot, pick up, comfort with minimal rocking, and place back into the cot. Sometimes, she falls asleep while in our arms, but as much as possible, we put her back in the cot while her eyes are still slightly open, or the drowsy but awake state. This teaches her that her $1,000 cot is safe for her to sleep in. Pretty self-explanatory, but what to do? She's only a baby.

*Contrary to health experts' advice that babies should sleep on their back until they know how to turn. Ultimately, you find what's good for your baby.
One of the things I will miss when she grows older.

If it's bedtime (usually around 6-7pm, depending on her last nap), we do a ~30-minute of wind-down and bedtime routine of cleaning her face with a warm towel, tummy and feet massage (with the good ol' ruyi oil and Vicks respectively), prayer, bedtime mantra of "sweet dreams, daddy and mummy love you, good night, night, night, night, night" and a good-night kiss.

On good days, she will fuss around 20-30 minutes before she sleeps. On bad days, thank God that this doesn't happen as often now, it could last between 1-3 hours. There is no doubt our little Olivia is a fighter, but she's fighting the wrong thing - she's fighting sleep.

🀦

Another problem - Snacking
Snacking means that a baby is eating little but on a frequent basis. For example, if she needs to drink 800ml of milk per day. Ideally, that would mean 6 feedings of 130ml. Not so ideally, if a baby snacks, that may mean 20 feedings of 40ml. And, no surprises, that's what happened to Olivia. More often than not, there is one root cause. The culprit of all - Non-existent schedule.

Without a proper schedule, we didn't know if Olivia is hungry or not, simply because we used to feed her on demand. Let me be clear here, feeding on demand is not wrong. The baby is yours and you decide what's best for him. The major downside of this feeding method is the difficulty of establishing a schedule, which we had the eureka moment (finally) that:

SCHEDULING IS IMPORTANT.
So darn important, I'm capitalising and bolding it.

As of the time of writing, we are still trying to reinforce the schedule, by following the Eat, Play, Sleep cycle (contrary to what I said on 3rd month). Currently, her cycle is approximately 3 hours. Yet, sometimes she may need to take a small feed before she sleeps. So usually, it's something like this:

Wake up, latch/bottle feed, play and other activities (e.g., bath), latch/bottle feed (usually she snacks at this point or suck for comfort), and at the first signs of tiredness (rubbing eyes, yawning, etc.), we start her nap/bedtime routine. Her wake time is usually 1.5h to 2h, with a nap time of 45min-1.5h.
Bringing her out is still pretty challenging.

Not so recent, we got to know about a Facebook group called "Sleep Like an SG Baby" - which has some pretty useful information about baby sleep and scheduling. It's like science with all the equations of wake/nap time and what not. There is no doubt that it may prove useful if we follow strictly, but it's too stressful for us and felt like we are raising up a robot, so we are just picking up bits and pieces of information and incorporating to Olivia's schedule. But hey, joining this group has made us realised and given us much comfort that so many other parents are going through this. Just remember, you are not alone.

Yet, even with all these happening, I am grateful and thankful that with the grace of God, another month has passed. I wonder what this month would bring. Prayerfully, it's gonna be better sleep and better eating habits, and this lazy bum needs to learn how to roll over by herself.