Memoirs from the Mattress - Woodmam

We went through fire and water almost in trying to procure for him a natural sleep. We swung him in blankets, wheeled him in little carts, walked the room with him by the hour, etc., etc., but it was wonderful how little sleep he obtained after all. He always looked wide awake and as if he did not need sleep.

G. L. Prentiss, The Life and Letters of Elizabeth Prentiss, 1822

Poor Elizabeth Prentiss could have learned a thing or two from the parents whose stories below reveal how they transformed their nighttime experience with their babies from getting “nickel and dimed” to money in the bank:

Debra and Andrew swaddled their twins, Audrey and Sophia, from the very first days in their lives. Swaddling prolonged their children’s nighttime sleep. Even at four months old, the twins still preferred being swaddled. It helped them sleep a full eight hours every night.

Debra, Andrew, Audrey, and Sophia

As she reached the four-week mark, our daughter Eve became more wakeful and more distressed with the world around her. When she wasn’t eating or sleeping, she was fussing—and at times she screamed inconsolably. One night she yelled so much her nose got stuffed and she began to snort. I called Dr. Karp’s office for advice. As I spoke with his nurse, Louise, I cradled Eve in my arms and rested them on top of the dryer. The noise, vibration, and warmth of the dryer calmed her, allowing me to talk for a few minutes.

Over the next couple of weeks, as I became skilled at using the “S’s” Nurse Louise had described that night, Eve rewarded us with six-to-eight-hour periods of uninterrupted sleep every night. At six months, we were still swaddling Eve at night but by then we would let one of her arms stay out so she could suck her fingers.

Shari, Michael, Hillary, Noah, and Eve

Didi and Richard were exhausted from Cameron’s hourly waking—all night long. They tried keeping their six-week-old up more during the day in the hope he would sleep better at night, but that just seemed to get him overtired and make him cry even more. At night, they tried to calm him with a bath, the vacuum, or a ride in the car, all of which worked for a while but Cameron would get upset again as soon as the “entertainment” stopped.

Then, they discovered their son liked to sleep tightly wrapped and seated in the swing next to a white-noise machine with the sound cranked up loud. However, they worried about leaving him in there, so after he fell asleep they would put him back into his bassinet. Cameron slept better that way, but still awoke every three or four hours.

Finally, Didi and Richard stumbled onto the secret for getting Cameron to sleep longer. One night when he was in the swing his exhausted parents fell asleep and let him stay in the fully reclined swing, strapped in, the white noise CD on, all night long. It made a huge difference. With that nighttime assistance he began to sleep a six-hour stretch, eat, and then go back down for another three hours!

When Wyatt was two months old, his parents—Lise, a nurse, and Aaron, a physician—noticed he would sleep five hours at night when wrapped and serenaded by white noise but only three hours when his arms were free and the room was quiet.

Lise said, “I was happy to see how well our son did with swaddling. But I still worried he would get ‘addicted’ to it and have trouble sleeping unwrapped when he got older. So as soon as he turned three months, I began putting him to bed unwrapped.

“Everything seemed fine, until a month later when Wyatt turned four months. Out of the blue, he began waking every two hours through the night—screaming! One friend told me he was teething, but Tylenol didn’t help. My husband guessed he was going through a growth spurt, but rice cereal didn’t help either. At Wyatt’s four-month checkup, I told Dr. Karp about my frustration and fatigue. He suggested I stop the medicine and cereal and try the wrapping and white noise again. To be honest, I thought Wyatt was too old for swaddling, but I was desperate.

“Within two nights, he went from waking up and shrieking five times a night to waking once, chowing down his milk, and then immediately sacking out again until 6 AM! He loved the waterfall sound of our sound machine. I played it loud for him for the first hour and then kept it turned on medium all night long. (It helped me to sleep, too!)

Everything worked so well that I continued the routine until one night, when Wyatt was six months old, I skipped putting him in his cocoon and still enjoyed a deep, beautiful sleep.”

Lise, Aaron, Wyatt, and Rachel

I never would have believed it, but wrapping was the key to everything! Our first son, Eli, never resisted being bundled up, but Benji fought it with all his strength. However, only after he was tightly swaddled did the rocking, pacifier, and shushing calm him.

After a few days of practicing the 5 “S’s,” I could put Benji down for hours at a time with no problem. Now at six weeks of age, and at the peak of what should be his worst time, he’s a pretty easy baby. He takes long naps and sleeps for seven to nine hours at night (with one very brief feeding).

For naps, I let him sleep in the swing—on the fast speed—fully reclined with the white noise CD as loud as a shower.

I let him nap frequently because I’ve noticed that Ben gets overstimulated and has a hard time settling himself if I let him have long awake periods during the day. So, when he starts getting cranky, I take that as my cue to put him back in the swing and do my womb imitation.

I recommend this method for anyone with a “difficult” baby. I can’t imagine what my mental state would be if I were still carrying him all day and rocking him all night. It has made an enormous difference for both me and Benji, as well as my first guys, Steve and Eli!

Wendy, Steve, Eli, and Benji
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