Hush Little Baby
By Sheryl Cooksley
On a recent overnight shift with new parents, they gave me a rundown of the elaborate procedure they used to get their 3-week-old baby to sleep….in their arms. I asked if they would be okay with me trying some of my age-old techniques to help this sweet baby safely sleep in her crib or bassinet.
YES. Please do.
I noticed that she was drowsy when they handed her off to me. She had been fed and her diaper was changed already. I shut off all the lights, leaving only the night lights in her room, swaddled her in a simple flannel blanket (learn my swaddle technique here- I use the first one with only one layer), and placed her in her crib. And she slept. When she awoke an hour later, it was time for her to eat. I changed her diaper, fed her, swaddled her and rocked her until she showed me all the signs of being tired again, and I placed her back in her crib. She slept. We did this 2 more times during my shift. I came back the next night and we did it all over again.
I received this text after the first night:
Not a miracle at all, but tried and true sleep shaping techniques. Sleep Shaping provides babies, and their parents, with a routine. Something that’s predictable. I jokingly call myself the Magic Doula Fairy because parents think this is the best thing EVER…. a miracle. They’re getting better chunks of sleep, and their baby is getting the sleep they need in the safest way possible.
I am asked, “Can we learn how to do this too?”
What we’ve learned is that babies are not the culprits of poor sleep habits. Parents start doing whatever it takes and create poor sleep habits out of sheer survival. No blame or shame here…. I did my share of that, too, before I was trained as a doula. When you’re in survival-I-need-sleep mode, a parent will do ANYTHING to get some sleep, even if it means creating bad sleep habits, sometimes throwing safe sleep recommendations and protocol to the wind.
What if we could start babies, and parents, off on a better, more sound footing? No guarantees, but better possibilities and likelihood of quality sleep and better sleep habits? That is where Sleep Shaping comes in.
Sleep Shaping is often confused with Sleep Training. They are not the same.
Sleep Shaping starts early on and is not solely intended to help babies sleep through the night. The intention of Sleep Shaping is to establish a feeding and sleep routine that suits the family, creating day and night patterns that supports the baby’s needs for eating, sleeping and nurturing. It supports heartier “feeds”, so baby stays satiated longer and, therefore, sleeping longer. Sleep Shaping also supports babies sleeping safely and follows the American Academy of Pediatricians guidelines for Safe Sleep. It helps establish a day/night rhythm that is not naturally present when babies are newborn. This method is a gentle guide for the new baby and their parents.
Sleep Training usually starts at 4 months old when a baby’s brain is more likely to be wired to understand (and fight) sleep.
That’s possibly 4 months of parents sleeping poorly and bad sleep habits being created (and accepted) by everyone as “just the way it is.” That’s 4 months of possible sleep deprivation or deficit for both the parents and the baby.
When can you start Sleep Shaping?
Anytime, but really, the earlier the better. We start Sleep Shaping usually after breastfeeding is well established and breastmilk (not just colostrum) is being produced, or when your baby is formula feeding without problem. We also consider the health of the baby: Were they premature? Are they gaining weight and growing? Are they sucking well? Do they have reflux? Are there any medical issues? If your baby’s health is good and they are feeding well, you can start shaping their sleep (creating routine) when they are in their first week of life.
The needs of the parents are also considered. What time in the morning is a reasonable time to start the day? Note: this is parenthood folks, “reasonable time” means somewhere between 6am-8am. What time is a reasonable time for your household to go to bed? You don’t have to go to sleep, just shut down for the night enough to create a peaceful “house is quiet” calm to support your baby’s night time sleep needs.
Most parents need a little support in this challenging new adventure of caring for a newborn while trying to get some sleep. Having a trained professional may sound luxurious, but really, two to three nights of support from a professional can help you and your baby have a more positive start…. especially when it comes to sleep. This little bit of professional support at the very beginning of parenthood can be a game changer. My work as a Postpartum Doula allows me the privilege to support families during this crucial, overwhelming time. It also provides early support for infant feeding, whether breastfeeding or formula, and basic informational support, like diapering and answering maternal postpartum questions.
When parents get the rest they need, and feel supported, AND their baby has some sort of day and night sleep cycle, there is a peace in the household… a calm. In turn, parents have more energy and sense of sustainability to create a stability in their home.
We call this a “foundation”. Every structure, including your family, can benefit from a solid foundation. Sleep shaping is just one piece of building your solid foundation.
You can't build a great building on a weak foundation. You must have a solid foundation if you're going to have a strong superstructure.
Gordon B. Hinckley
Sleep is a fundamental building block of your family foundation…..and just feels so darn good!
Sheryl Cooksley is a Certified Postpartum Doula and seasoned parent with years of experience helping families create or strengthen their family’s foundation. She provides Daytime and Overnight Postpartum Doula care in and around Portland, Oregon. If you have questions about the Sleep Shaping process, you can contact us here: www.familytreedoula.net/contact