In my work, I get to know many babies. After all, my job is talking to mothers about their babies (and how they sleep… or don’t sleep). Moms generally don’t tell me all the cute things their kids do – we’re too busy talking about their sleep habits and periods of irritability.
I also get to know quite a number of mothers. Hundreds, in fact. When working with a mother I get an intuitive feel for her right away Some women have to work harder than others to see success with their baby’s routine. After all of my years in the business, I can predict which clients will fall into that category within the first 10 minutes of our initial consultation.
A year and a half ago a woman from Canada got in touch with me through my website. She was desperate to help her sweet and sensitive 8-month-old girl get the daytime sleep her body was craving. The baby couldn’t settle down for naps, but would catnap once or twice for up to 20 minutes. (At that age, a baby needs three or four hours of daytime sleep.) Needless to say, baby was often irritable and mommy was at her wits’ end. As polished, well-read, and successful as she was, I could tell that she was going to have trouble implementing my program. I did give it a go, however, against my better judgment. And as it turns out, this was the first family I was unable to help. In the end I refunded her payment.
It’s their level of anxiety.
This mom, for example, was fully committed to the program we outlined, but she was just too anxious to allow her baby to respond naturally. Her intense frustration rubbed off on her baby, hampering the learning process.
Anxious Moms, Anxious Babies
Another client, Lindsay, mother to 10-month-old Erin, called me on night four of our three-week program. We had acclimated Erin to a decent routine and this was the first day of actual sleep training. Lindsay could barely contain her frustration over the phone: bedtime had taken much longer than expected, and how much longer would we be doing this for?!
Usually, a baby will find it easier to settle down as soon as she’s on a good schedule, so a mother will see some initial success. Since this baby apparently wasn’t, I asked her mom to tell me exactly what she was doing. She said she was humming and stroking her daughter’s face, but after 10 minutes she worried that it wasn’t going to work and nervously started tapping the crib. Then she paced the room. When Erin started to cry, Lindsay would come back to try to calm her, but it wasn’t working. I asked her how she felt physically at that point. She said her teeth were clenched, she was sweating, and her leg was jiggling. Erin, instead of very gradually relaxing into a new way of falling asleep, was riled up and confused.
I have to hand it to Lindsay, though. Despite her high-strung temperament, she was ultimately able to accept the three-week timing and take deep breaths instead of tapping and pacing. By the end of the program, she learned to appreciate her baby’s pace, and Erin learned to sleep.
Lots of moms can have the same rigid approach to timing. Some have emailed me frantically when their child was four minutes off from the routine we set.
They are stressing out their babies. It’s hard to wind down for sleep with the stress level in the room so high.
Lessons from Dad
In the maternity ward at Hadassah Hospital, I attended a workshop on caring for your newborn. The nurse demonstrated how to calm the baby by holding her in certain positions, and then she said, “But when Daddy comes home and picks Baby up, don’t tell him he’s not holding her right.” We all laughed. “And you’ll see. No matter which way he’s holding her, straddled, across his arm, against his shoulder, that’s where she’s going to fall asleep.” Some experienced mothers nodded and smiled. “You know why?” she continued. “Because he hasn’t been listening to the crying and he isn’t frustrated that she isn’t asleep yet. She feels the calm in his body and that puts her to sleep.”
I do in fact have the sweet memory of each of my babies taking their first nap on their Abba’s sturdy arm. And yes, it is Abba who manages to walk in and immediately calm down a hyper child with whom I have been struggling for an hour and a half. Why couldn’t I do it? Because I am ready to tear my hair out. So how could I possibly encourage him to relax?
Reminding Myself to Relax Too
And, when my 5-year-old came home hysterical that the new school bus driver dropped him off in the wrong place, and he had to wait until an adult walked passed who could help him cross the street, my husband took one look at how furious I was, and spirited the sensitive boy away from me. And I let him be, sitting on clear-headed Abba’s lap, and waited until my maternal emotions settled before I gave him a hug. Because my husband was right. The child needed help calming down and my thunderstorm of indignation and fear would not have done the job.
Some of us know intuitively how to maintain our equilibrium. While it may not come as easily to the rest of us, I believe there is no greater gift than a calm and accepting mommy. So learn deep breathing, enroll in a yoga class, collect meditative melodies on your mp3. And if you’re trying to choose the best time of day to practice these relaxation techniques, I would highly suggest you make it right before your children’s bedtime.