When Leo was born, he could fall asleep anywhere: in coffee shops, in car seats, in prams, on changing tables, on just about anyone’s chest – in curled-up froggy formation, one of the best forms of therapy ever invented, for the person attached to the chest. In fact, if more people held snoozing froggy babies, the world would be a happier, more peaceful place.
Sadly, the sleepy phase didn’t last long. Soon enough, I was doing all kinds of crazy things to help Leo fall asleep. Some of them didn’t really work – blankies, mobiles and Mozart lullabies – and some of them worked but were downright exhausting – pacing up and down, topless, for eternity while my husband drifted off (ironically) on the bed in the room, for moral support.
But over time, I discovered 3 things that really helped:
1. Radio static. Forget panpipe music and singing dolphins. Newborn babies relax to the strangest sounds: vrooming vacuum cleaners, high-pitched hairdryers, whirring washing machines and a tinny cacophony of exceedingly irritating white-noise “music” tracks. You can’t exactly leave a vacuum cleaner on all night – although I did entertain the idea – but you can put a radio in your baby’s room and tune it to the static between stations. Leo fell asleep more easily with it on, plus it muffled external noises like barking dogs, motorbikes and noisy dinner guests. Leo is 18 months old and I still crank up the static when people come over for dinner. It certainly beats whispering all evening.
2. The 5 S’s. A wonderful lady named Heather Woods (from Thula Baby Centre in Sea Point) taught me these: swaddling (click here if you’re not sure how), shushing (“shhh shhhh shhh”), swinging (bouncing), sucking (a dummy) and side-lying (on the left side). Combine these things and your baby will be lulled to sleep (almost) every time. It’s difficult to explain Heather’s technique in words, so here’s a video of me demonstrating it:
3. Sleep training! Leo’s life so far is divided into two periods: BE and AE (Before Erica and After Erica). Erica Lotter is the sleep trainer I called in when Leo was eight months old – but if I’d known how simple and untraumatic the process was going to be, I would have called her much sooner. The BE period involved standing beside Leo’s cot for ages and ages, whispering “shhh shhh shhh” and patting his bum until he fell asleep. Fully, deeply, 100% asleep – stop too soon and he’d squirm back to life, and then you’d have to start all over again. “Shhh shhh shhh…” Erica came to my house for a consultation, and asked all kinds of questions about Leo’s life. She then gave me advice on his routine and explained the sleep training process, step by step. The plan involved putting Leo in his bed wide awake, saying goodnight and then – gasp – leaving the room. I’d then let him cry for short periods (maximum 3 minutes), going in just to resettle him and then leaving again. There’s more to it (contact Erica if you need to know), but suffice to say that even the first night of sleep training was less traumatic than Leo’s average night BE. And by the third night AE, he was sleeping through without a single visit from us – and he pretty much has been ever since. The end.