We were pregnant with our third baby. Our romantic vision of parenthood had been hammered into harsh reality by the anvil of more than a year of sleepless nights. Maybe our second daughter had stomach issues or maybe we unwittingly encouraged her night waking … or both. Antecedent events set aside, our eyes stung and our patience was hard to find.
As thoughts of pregnancy and memories of sleepless nights tumbled in a circuit in my brain, another sort of memory emerged. Had not my friend, Julia, once told me how she had helped her babies to sleep through the night? I searched and found an old email from her about it. Shortly after, we ran into each other and spoke at length. And then we spoke on the phone. In fact, we spoke again and again about her sanity saving technique. It was obvious that Julia had patience not only for babies, but for adults as well.
As she coached me, I slowly began to internalize what common sense and 32 babies had taught her, her mother and her grandmother. Since they are born with a stomach the size of a chick pea, babies will be full with only a small amount of milk. Feeding a baby a little more each feed will slightly stretch the stomach, allowing more milk to be taken in and allowing a longer time between each feed. There is no need to rush or force this process. It happens little by little, very naturally, by nursing baby fully right from the first feed (whether by breast or by bottle). By keeping track of when her baby feeds, the mother can establish a routine the main elements of which are: full feeds, longer nap times, then gradually longer wake times and night time sleeps.
But that is only half recipe for success; the other half is about team work.
Working together, the mother and the father take cues from the baby and create a flexible routine that allows for more order and peace in the 24 hours of each day. Through this dedicated teamwork, baby develops his own daily routine so that the mother knows he will wake at a set hour, have his feeds at set hours and go to bed at a set hour. However, this routine also has a high degree of flexibility, with the mother being able to feed baby a bit earlier or later, depending on the commitments of the family.
I will always remember October 11. That was the night that my third daughter starting sleeping through the night – every single night! – for ten and a half hours straight. What a difference it made to our household. How much easier life was when we weren’t sleepwalking through the day, wishing for bedtime, with the patience of a shark which attacks without warning.
Julia walked me through this baby’s every stage. The newborn period was the biggest period of adjustment, while baby “Clare” and I were getting to know each other. With Julia’s ideas in mind, I would slowly stretch out the feeds, figuring out each obstacle that presented itself. One key idea was Clare’s awake time before her last feed. Making this the time of day when she was most awake was essential to setting a routine.
At first, it was only about 10 minutes. We would play with Clare, change her diaper, bathe her or walk in circles if necessary. Then she would be ready for a good feed, a good burp (this is usually very important) and, hopefully, a good sleep. When a baby’s awake time is longest before the last feed, the overall awake time will naturally and gradually expand downwards into the day. The same pattern emerged with each of my last five babies. First their awake time would be almost only at night before the last feed, then a bit more in the mid-afternoon, then a bit more in early afternoon and so on.
All babies are equal, but they are not all the same.
When our fourth girl was born, Julia again provided invaluable advice. All my babies were so different. Different challenges to the schedule would arise with each. For example, one newborn was sleeping very well, but suddenly the night time hours she slept started to decrease. A quick consult with Julia helped me to realize that I had been putting her in an automatic swing which soothed her into sleeping too often during the day. Another baby had acid reflux and again Julia provided effective advice.
I realized that my friend had a gift, a heightened intuition when it came to motherhood, and that gift needed to be shared with others. That’s when our book, Team Baby: Creating a Happy and Rested Family, was conceived. The gestation took a number of years during which Julia Dee and I shared ideas about the issues we found to be most important to young families. Team Baby expounds Julia’s core principles, discusses the different stages from newborn to feeding solid foods, and then considers different situations that arise in a trouble-shooting section.
The main goal of our book is to make life easier for families during the busy, exciting, but exhausting period of life when the children are very young. The words of a mother of two and teacher from our local school sum it up: “I read it cover to cover over the summer and have been referring to it often. The strategy really works! It’s amazing! The baby sleeps 8 hours in a row every night and he's only 2 months. It took our first born 15 months to do this!!! Everyone is so happy in my household.”
Ida Gazzola is the mother of 6 girls and one boy and lives in British Columbia, Canada. Before embarking on the adventure of parenting, she studied and worked in the financial industry. Team Baby: Creating a Happy and Rested Family, which she co-authored with Julia Dee, offers parents of new babies practical ways to develop a tranquil flow of life within the family. It is published by Scepter in the USA.