Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Battle of Sleepy Corner by Kate

Well, no one can accuse me of being taken by surprise by the sleeplessness of new parenthood - I thoroughly expected a fair number of zzz's would elude me and have generally tried not to get stressed about getting a good deal less than my favoured seven hours of sleep in every 24. My stint of early shifts for the BBC had given me insight into sleep deprivation, including the useful knowledge that it's perfectly possible to function reasonably well even without sufficient snoozing. Of course, when I did the earlies I generally had weekends off and they let me have five weeks holiday per year. None of that comes with the Motherhood Contract.

Feeding a newborn baby is a round-the-clock deal and if you're breast-feeding, you can't easily let someone else step in for a shift. OK, you can milk yourself into a convenient bottle and get your husband to take an overnight shift, but there's no doubt that being physically on the breast is part of what soothes babies - well, our baby anyway - and allows me to get her back to sleep again when she's had her fill. It's also a time of precious closeness, so despite the fact that the precious closeness comes at a price and tends to take place in the hinterland between consciousness and unconsciousness, it's still a valuable thing.

No, the real killer is not the feeding - not even the amount of time it takes to feed (around 40 mins, usually), plus burping (5 to 10 mins) plus the nappy change (up to 20 mins because of the gas-releasing tummy massage and leg-cycling it includes) and then resettling (up to 30 mins usually). Yes, that means each feeding session tends to last around an hour and a half. No, the really tough part is Rosie's inability to sleep peacefully because of her insistent digestive system.

For one so tiny, she produces impressive quantities of intestinal gas and releasing it is clearly an uncomfortable experience that leads to a lot of grunting, straining, fidgeting and squeaking. Advice to avoid SIDS says that babies must sleep on their backs, but this is the worst position when it comes to letting rip the kind of farts required to take the pressure of her infant tummy. That means we might get half an hour of peace before the squirming and vocalising begins - and unfortunately, despite gentle efforts to assist (lifting her legs up etc), Rosie's wind situation has been responsible for waking her - and me - at indecently short intervals, almost since she was born.

So, a multi-pronged attack has been necessary. I acquired a baby sleeping bag for extra snuggliness and something she can keep on so the transition between cuddling with me and being in her bed is less severe. I got a specially-designed moulded baby sleeping cushion so Rosie can have her legs raised if she's on her back or can safely sleep on her side (which she seems to find much more comfortable). I also invested in a monitor/sensor for extra reassurance that her breathing is OK when she's on her side (it vibrates gently to stimulate breathing if no movement is detected after 15 seconds and an alarm sounds if there's still nothing after 20).
That's the physical weaponry. I've also got stuff from the pharmacy to help her digestion - basically, essence of chamomile, fennel and anise - and have been avoiding certain foods which may make my breast milk more flatulence-producing (brassicas, pulses etc.). And there are the tummy massage/leg bending moves at each nappy change (a most impressive amount of wind can be produced by those - far more satisfying than a piffly post-feed burping session).

The good news is, we've just had two nights where she managed to sleep for four hours at a stretch without waking - huzzah! The wind was still happening, but it seemed to be at a level she could cope with without actually waking. The other thing is that I seem to be able to tune out most of her mid-sleep symphony and only come to at a more wakeful melody. It's amazing what the difference between 2 and 4 hours' sleep can make to a person. I feel almost energised. Still, we may have won a skirmish or two, but I'm not going to declare victory in the overall battle. And I'm not even allowing myself to think about winning the war.

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