Is this the new normal?

Everything changes when you have a baby.  People will tell parents to be to expect a massive upheaval of your life; that nothing stays the same once you have a child.  But no one has ever told us how constantly things change after baby arrives, too.  It's not just that your lives change forever, it's that as soon as you get used to something and think you have the hang of things, all those things change, too.

Jack has not been an easy sleeper.  I think part of this has to do with him being a preemie (born 33w, 3d--6.5 weeks early), and part of it has to do with disposition.  When he was still in the NICU, he was on a very rigid schedule.  Feeding and diaper change every 3 hours.  In between feedings, he pretty much slept the whole time.  And since he was being fed through an NG tube, he didn't even really have to wake up for feedings and changes.  It made sense for him to want/need/be able to sleep that much.  After all, he really should've still been in utero where he would've been asleep that much and provided with constant nourishment.

feeding tube

As he got stronger and started to develop his suck/swallow/breathe reflex, we started learning how to breastfeed, and I switched from the rigid 3 hour schedule to a feed on demand schedule.  This was in part due to the advice of the lactation consultants, and the fact that he would often start to cry sooner than the 3 hour schedule, and no matter what anyone said, I wasn't about to wait and withhold food from Jack just because he was deviating from the hospital 's schedule.  He would cry, I would change his diaper and feed him, then he would just go back to sleep on his own.  Half of the time he would fall asleep while nursing!  What an easy baby I thought!  What a good sleeper!

This continued after we took him home from the hospital.  We didn't even try to put him on a schedule.  It was complete feeding/sleeping on demand.  The one big concern the doctors had for Jack, upon his discharge from the NICU, was gaining weight.  He was very slow to gain at first.  I was dead set against formula and bottle feedings, especially at such a young age, but would've switched to formula or at least supplemented if it had become necessary.  So every time Jack cried, I fed him.  Sometimes he would fall asleep right after eating and sometimes he wouldn't.  If he got fussy again, even if it was just fussiness from being sleepy, I would put him back on the breast.  I wanted to make sure he was getting enough and gaining weight, and it was an easy way to pacify him and get him to sleep.  I didn't care that he was an incredibly slow eater; feedings would often take over an hour, and then he would only sleep for an hour or two before he woke and wanted to nurse again.  If he wanted to be on the breast, he was on the breast.  Of course, this left me incredibly sleep deprived, but I figured this was just life with a newborn preemie, and if he needed that much time to nurse I was going to give him that much time to nurse, and if he wanted to nurse that often, I was going to let him nurse that often.

I didn't get a chance to read up about breastfeeding and sleeping patterns before he arrived, and with the schedule he was keeping I didn't have any time to look anything up online, either.  It's tough to determine a preemie's developmental timeline anyway; they do some things according to their actual birth date and others according to their due date.  Preemie's development doesn't follow the usual progression that full term babies do, so it's much harder to guess what he should be doing and when he should be doing it.

However, while still in the hospital, I did get a chance to read The Happiest Baby on the Block, and we were implementing the 5 S's in order to calm him down and stop his crying.  We weren't very successful with actually putting him down to sleep, though.  Jack hates being put down.  He wants to be held constantly, and even if he falls asleep in our arms, he won't stay asleep if we put him down.  He also hates being sleepy and fights it with all his might.  We try to soothe him to sleep, but he will have none of it.  Jack only wants to nurse to sleep, and I mostly don't mind, but I can't do that forever.

Daddy and Jack

Our plan was to co-sleep with him in a co-sleeper instead of in our bed, for safety reasons, but he arrived so early we hadn't ordered the co-sleeper yet.  Our good friend, Keli, loaned us a cradle she used for her two boys, but Jack didn't like being put down.  He'd have to be deep asleep for us to be able to transfer him into the cradle, and if he fell asleep while nursing it was virtually impossible to move him into the cradle without waking him.  What had happened to my good sleeper?!?

My solution was to co-sleep with him on the couch.  I would nurse him to sleep, and then gently arrange him next to me and we would both sleep until he started rooting, which was usually about 1.5-3 hours, and then I would nurse him again.  I know this isn't recommended by any medical board, and is even called dangerous in order to discourage it, but I feel we had no other choice.  I made sure to put Jack's safety at the forefront of sleeping this way; I didn't just do it to make things easier for myself, after all, he needed to sleep, too.  Our couch is deep and there was plenty of room for both of us without the risk of Jack falling (and I was placing him in the crook of my arm to keep him away from the edge), but not so deep that I could roll over on top of him.  And I never positioned him between me and the back of the couch.  Sleeping on the couch felt safer than in our bed.  We have a Tempurpedic mattress and we sink so far into it I was worried Jack would roll into us and get smothered.  By this time we had gotten the co-sleeper, but Jack hated it and wouldn't sleep for more than 20 minutes in it.  So at night, Jack and I would sleep/nurse on the couch.  And this worked wonders.  He still wasn't sleeping through the night, but he would root, nurse, and then go right back to sleep.  We were able to do this for close to 12 hours at a time, adding up to between 6 and 8 hours of sleep.  If this is what it was going to take for us to sleep, then this is what we were going to do.

Bolivar, Squeak, Jack, and I

I did have some concerns that Jack would never learn to sleep on his own.  I didn't worry too much about it, though.  We started co-sleeping when he was about 4 weeks old, meaning he was still minus-2 weeks old according to his adjusted age.  This felt way too early to be worrying about sleep schedules or to set up any kind of routine.  I was just happy we were both able to sleep, and it felt like we were ahead of the curve.  Day time was still difficult since he didn't want to be put down, was still too little to be in our baby sling, and didn't really take any naps, but I tried not to over think things.

By about 9-11 weeks old (adjusted age 3-5 weeks) Dennis and I were starting to loose our minds a little.  Jack was still  nursing every 1.5-3 hours, and his stretches of sleep weren't getting any longer like we expected them to.  What little reading and research I had done was telling me that by about this time babies *should* be sleeping a little longer at night and *should* start going a little longer between feedings, even taking into consideration his adjusted age.  Even co-sleeping on the couch was taking it's toll; waking every 2 hours or so was really taxing on me and sleep deprivation was starting to make me feel a little crazy.  I looked up healthy sleeping habits online, and we weren't doing any of the things various sites recommended.  No bedtime, no routine, no putting him down while drowsy but still awake; we were still 100% baby led.  I knew if we continued on that road, Jack would probably end up with really horrible sleep habits.

hanging out in the cradle

That's when I decided we needed a before bed routine. And that we had to implement it immediately.  I read tons of stuff online about what made a good routine and settled on something that sounded like it would work well for us.  Jack still didn't have any pattern or consistency to his day (in part because Dennis and I have such widely varying schedules), but I was hoping that if we started a before bedtime routine he would get used to the cues for sleepy-time and I could then start doing the routine at about the same time every day, thus leading to establishing a schedule.  I decided that after his mid-evening feeding (usually sometime between 7pm and 9pm) we would give him a bath, put him in footed jammies, swaddle him, rock him, and then finally one last feeding before setting him down to sleep.  Or in his case, nursing him to sleep then putting him down.

That night, he wanted to nurse from 7pm-8pm.  We then bathed him, dressed him, swaddled him, rocked him, and I started feeding him again at close to 9pm.  He fell asleep while nursing at about 9:45pm.  "Wow," I thought, "this is really working!  It's so easy; all the websites were right.  How lucky we are!  It should be no time before we start sleeping through the night!!!"  I set him down in his co-sleeper and held my breath.  He stayed asleep...for all of 5 minutes, and then he lost.his.mind.  Dennis and I spent the next 3, yes, 3 hours rocking, shhhhh-ing, and feeding him before he finally-finally fell asleep in my arms on the couch.  The next morning, we decided he probably wasn't ready for a bedtime.  Or rather, we couldn't take another night like that and we would go back to what was already working.

Jack is now 14 weeks old (adjusted 8 weeks) and for the last few nights not only has he slept in his swing, but he has also slept for between 5 and 6 hours without waking for a night feeding!  Dennis and I haven't really done anything to facilitate this wonderful change in his sleep pattern.  It's still 100% baby led.  We noticed that Jack was letting us set him down for longer and longer periods of time during the day; sometimes as long at 15 minutes, and one night last week, after Jack fell asleep, Dennis took him from me and put him in his cradle.  We both thought Jack would be asleep for a couple of hours, but when we were ready to go to bed, he was still asleep.  Miracle of miracles!!!  I slept on the couch next to the cradle that night thinking it would be business as usual, but on and on he slept.  The next night, the same thing happened, only I decided to capitalize on the sleep time and I actually slept in my own bed!  My good sleeper seems to be back (knock on wood).

asleep in my arms

I think Jack may be ready for more of a bedtime routine now along with a bedtime.  His long sleep starts around 11 pm and he sleeps until almost 5 am.  Considering his previous pattern of getting close to 8 hours at night waking/feeding/sleeping, I'm hoping to guide him to an earlier bedtime with a feeding at 11 pm or so.  This time I'll ease into it, though.  We've already started changing him into jammies and swaddling him before his evening feeding, but he doesn't always go to sleep after eating, so we'll see how well that goes.  He fights going to sleep so hard even when he's tired!  That seems to be the missing puzzle piece to establishing an actual bedtime.  I hear about this mythical act of "putting your baby down to sleep," but I think it's just that, a myth.  I'm just as likely to come across a unicorn as putting Jack down to sleep.  I don't quite understand the how's of putting baby to sleep, I guess.  He has a mind of his own and will sleep when he's good and ready! At least that sleep is now in 5-6 hour blocks in the middle of the night.  I wonder what he has in store for us next?

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