Our two children were raised a bit differently: Jackson has been breastfed exclusively for almost six months, and will be for another six more. Avery was not so easy, and he had to switch to formula around three months old. We also did not discover cloth diapering until Jackson was three months old, and not at all with Avery, so he wore disposables until the day he turned two. My kids slept differently, started eating differently, and had very different temperaments. Avery cried constantly, wouldn’t sleep more than two hours (and took two years to start sleeping through the night!), and was always a very serious baby, not smiling often until he was about six months old. Jackson is easy peasy, always smiling (and smiling early, only a couple of weeks old), only cries when his immediate life needs aren’t met, and came home from the hospital sleeping five hours at a time (all night by 2-3 weeks old).
All of these differences can probably be attributed to basic personality differences, but not all of it. It’s possible that Avery is my high-strung, terrible sleeping, overly analytical little miniature; Jackson could be Big Daddy’s free-wheeling, optimistic, everyone-loves-him, Mr. Popular, little counterpart, but I like to think that we at least learned a thing or two between our first and second babies. Here’s what we did differently:
The single biggest, most life-changing difference between our two children is the way that they sleep. When Avery was a newborn, he would not sleep. In the hospital, he slept an hour at a time. Once we got home, we could squeeze maybe two hours out of him. I literally do not remember large portions of his newborn stage, and I have a feeling it’s because I walked around like a zombie for months after he was born.
With Avery, we tried everything (or so we thought). After we gave up on nursing around 3 months, we tried putting cereal in his nighttime bottle. We tried a strict bedtime routine. We tried nighttime baths, massages, sleep sacks, baby music. We tried letting him sleep in a bassinet, in the newborn sleeper on the pack & play, in the crib, in the swing. We tried back sleeping, stomach sleeping, rocking to sleep, crying it out. Nothing worked.
Swaddling: When we decided to have another baby, I knew that I wasn’t going to survive having two little ones who wouldn’t sleep through the night. Something had to change. I saw a book at the Methodist church consignment sale called Happiest Baby on the Block, and it was only 50¢, so that was where I started. For once, the first answer was the right answer! (For us, anyway.)
That book taught me how to properly swaddle – in theory, at least. I still wasn’t any good at it with a blanket, but the book did drill into me exactly how tight a swaddle needs to be. I started to think of it as, ‘swaddle the baby, pull it as tight as it will go, and then pull it a little tighter still.’ And Jackson slept. And slept. He always has. He is six months old and we still swaddle him, just in a larger size swaddler than we initially used.
The gist of the book (and the reason that we started swaddling) is that babies have a startle reflex. For each baby, it’s different, but swaddling helps. It keeps them from flinging their arms around, startling themselves, and waking up crying. Many (very new) babies can also get scared when they are laying on their backs, and you’ll see them fling their arms straight up like they are falling. We used to see Jackson do this every single time we laid him on the changing table, and it just broke our hearts. Not wanting him to do it while sleeping, I used a sleep positioner (even though they aren’t recommended anymore) and laid him in it sideways and swaddled.
The other four S’s in the book (side/stomach position, shushing, swinging and sucking) were all helpful, too, but swaddling was really the one that changed our lives.
Noise: Another thing that we changed was the background noise. Avery listened to baby tunes, mostly those Rockabye Baby albums (he had all of them that were available at the time: the Beatles, Nirvana, Metallica, Bob Marley, etc). Eventually he came to rely on them, though, and we have to take his iPod & dock pretty much every time we travel.
With Jackson, we actually use an air purifier. As in, the tower fan-type thing that filters allergens from the air. We just turn it on (blowing away from him) and lean it up against the crib – and the bassinet when he was still sleeping with that. Since he only requires vibration and/or white noise, we can travel with just the iPad and the White Noise app or use whatever is available where we’re staying.
Location: The last thing that we changed is where the baby slept. Avery slept everywhere. Like I said earlier, we tried everything. And part of that was changing where he slept. We tried the newborn napper on the Pack & Play, a full-size crib, a cosleeper, sleeping in the swing, bouncer, and car seat, and even my grandfather’s almost-75-year-old bassinet. Nada.
For Jackson, we put him in the ancient bassinet from the beginning. I put some 1″ binders underneath the head of the mattress to hold that end up just an inch or two to keep him at a slight angle (just in case he was reflux-y like Avery). With a sleep positioner on the mattress and the air purifier providing white noise and a slight vibration, I swaddled Jackson with the Swaddleme, wrapped him in a blanket over that (it was November and our house is always cold), and laid him down sleepy but awake. At worst, I may need to give him his paci after he dropped it once. Twice was very rare. It worked every time.
And we slept happily ever after.