I read The Aware Baby whilst I was pregnant with our daughter Freja. It wasn’t until Freja was 10 days old that she became very unsettled. I was experiencing the following problems with Freja: She would cry for hours in the evenings for no apparent reason. Feeding was often difficult because she would keep pulling off even when she was hungry. Her body was tense and she startled at the slightest noise. She was obviously tired but I didn’t know how to encourage her to go to sleep without leaving her alone or feeding her to sleep, either of which I didn’t feel comfortable with.
I took Freja to sleep school and implemented their techniques, such as controlled crying and rocking. I spent two weeks trying to settle her using these techniques but I found that Freja got very distressed being left alone and once she was asleep she would wake after a short time, crying hysterically. I took her to an osteopath and also to a naturopath in case she had allergies. After that, and at my wits end I had a consultation with Aware Parenting instructor Marion Badenoch Rose where I learned to apply the Aware Parenting techniques. Freja was now 8 weeks old. Marion explained that sleep can be prevented by a build up of stress in the body resulting from new experiences, over stimulation and birth trauma. What I found was that once Freja was allowed to cry in my arms she would fall asleep peacefully and willingly. It took me a while to understand that babies don’t cry because they are tired. I thought “of course they do”, - but I found that in fact if their needs are met and they’ve cried to release, then they will fall asleep if they are tired. This has been my experience. When I notice she is tired I will pick her up and hold her. She will cry and then fall asleep in my arms. Once she is in a deep sleep after about 10 minutes she can be put into bed without waking.
For the first couple of weeks I allowed Freja to cry a lot, and from day one Freja began to sleep deeper and for longer. It was difficult at first because it was my instinct to try and soothe my crying baby. However, I would firstly make sure that all her other needs were met; that she was fed, dry, not too hot or cold etc. Four weeks on I have noticed the following changes in her: She is catching up on her crying to heal and now cries much less, - about half an hour on most days. She is alert, relaxed and happy. She is sleeping up to 9 hours at night. She does not pull on and off when feeding anymore but feeds calmly and easily. She will sleep anywhere when she is tired. We have found that Aware Parenting works for us and I believe all children would benefit from these techniques.
Freja at 11 months: For Freja’s first few months she would sleep really well at night; up to 8 hours without waking. Then, from about 5 months old she began waking up every 3-4 hours and I couldn’t understand why the change.
I was feeding her to sleep since birth, which means that when she woke during the night, instead of allowing her to cry I would feed her, mainly to keep the house quiet for my husband to sleep. I heard that this could result in her becoming reliant on the breast to enable her to go to sleep every time she wakes, but because she had been sleeping so long at night I didn’t worry about it.
I let this go on for about 3 months until she was about 8 months old and I just had to do something as I was so tired and irritable and it just didn’t feel right, feeding her to sleep when I knew she needed to release and to be close.
(By the way, even though we were practicing Aware Parenting since her first weeks I was still inadvertently feeding her when she needed to cry at times.) Then I read Aletha Solter’s ‘Helping Young Children Flourish’. She says that it is a common pattern for a baby to sleep really well at night until 3-5 months and then the wake-ups start.
I put a plan in place to allow Freja to cry during the night if she woke before 3 am and I slept in our spare room with her. She would wake a few times a night but I would allow her to cry until she finished and fell asleep, - sometimes she’d cry for an hour or so. Things changed very quickly though. The crying got less after a few days, but the wake ups kept occurring. It got down to about 2-3 wake ups a night, crying for about 10 minutes or so but got no better than that.
Then I looked closely at the day feeds. Was I still feeding her when she needed to cry in the day? Yes. I was feeding her every 3 hours pretty much on the dot and it wasn’t until I would let her cry at these times that she began to want the breast less frequently. She then would feed about every 4-5 hours. Since then I have introduced solids at more regular intervals, - 3 times a day, and now Freja breast feeds about 3 times a day at 6am, 12pm, 5pm or thereabouts.
I found it really hard to read/hear Freja’s signs whilst a ‘control pattern’ was in place but as she became less reliant on the breast and she would cry instead, I began to hear the differences. For Freja, she won’t really cry if she is hungry. It comes on slowly. She makes grunting or panting type sounds. If there is urgency in her voice or cry, then I know now that this is needing to release. If she was desperate for the breast and it had only been 3 hours since the last one, I knew that she was wanting to cover up her feelings.
If in doubt I would always hold-off feeding, if just for a five minute cry and then re-assess. Even once she was feeding I could still tell if she needed to cry if her sucking was irregular, lacked vigour or not attached well. Every journey is different, but my story became what it is thanks to the wonderful people who have shared their experiences and offered their empathy and love through the online group and I am very grateful.