Hearing your baby cry is heartbreaking, but what about when they scream relentlessly every time they are put down?
This was the unfortunate case for 3 month old Olive, and her Mum was struggling.
Olive was catnapping frequently throughout the day – often for only 20 minutes at a time – and managing only short periods of awake time in between (about half of what was usual for her age). Olive’s Mum couldn’t get her to sleep on her own amidst the screaming, so Olive’s naps tended to take place in the frontpack – however, Olive’s Mum knew this wasn’t sustainable.
Night-time sleeps were done with Olive’s Mum and her partner taking ‘shifts’ and some of the recommended ‘safe sleep’ practices were causing problems, so they knew that this was unsustainable too.
Olive’s Mum wasn’t sure whether it was too early to seek any sort of sleep support, but she knew she wanted to do something to help Olive, because seeing her so upset was distressing – not to mention the toll it was having on the rest of the household. She wasn’t sure what she was doing wrong…!
Olive’s Mum reached out to Perth-based sleep consultant Abby, who visited Olive and her Mum for a day-time consult.
An underlying problem going un-diagnosed
We’ve all heard our baby’s cry and had to work to decipher what it is that’s upsetting them – discomfort, hunger, overtiredness or a whole host of other possibilities. For first time mothers, it can be even more difficult to determine what to expect versus what is atypical. Abby’s outside perspective and experience enabled her to recognise that, much of the time, wee Olive was genuinely in pain.
Olive’s Mum had taken her to see the GP and checked in with a Lactation Consultant, both of whom suggested that Olive was likely to grow out of her current troubles by 12 weeks. Unfortunately, this hadn’t happened… So on Abby’s recommendation, Olive’s Mum booked an appointment with a pediatrician. Even knowing that they were seeking additional help was a comfort and, eventually, a diagnosis of silent reflux was given. Olive was started on some medication, which made her much more comfortable. Understanding the issues, Abby’s approach to Olive’s sleep had to fit alongside this treatment.
Supporting sleep and feeding – breaking the vicious cycle
For the first three or four days, while awaiting a diagnosis and treatment plan, the approach to Olive’s sleep was based around starting to get some structure into the day and mitigating the symptoms Olive appeared to be experiencing. Olive’s Mum persisted in offering a dummy for settling and Olive continued to do most of her naps on Mum to recover some of her sleep debt and begin the process of setting her body clock into an age-appropriate rhythm.
Olive had been in a vicious cycle of not enough consolidated or restorative sleep to last for decent awake times, which then meant she didn’t have a high enough drive to sleep when she did nod off again. Her feeds were also being affected and were relatively erratic, based on what her gastrointestinal tract could handle. Those early days were about finding the balance for feeding so that Olive had enough in her tummy to not get hungry while she was sleeping, but also wasn’t eating so close to sleep time that her symptoms were exacerbated.
A gentle, hands-on approach for the longer-term
Once Olive had responded well to the medication and was more comfortable, Abby discussed other options and methods for settling. Olive’s Mum found the prospect of lying Olive down to sleep daunting, when that had previously been the source of so much screaming. Abby helped her with the idea of tackling just one nap a day in her cot first.
Initially, Olive’s Mum mimicked the settling techniques with Olive upright, before Abby supported her through very gradual and hands-on settling techniques to help Olive fall asleep in her cot. As soon as Olive was more comfortable physically, and her Mum had a plan, things fell into place quickly. Olive was soon down to three naps a day and was self-settling for the morning and lunchtime one, which became consistently longer in duration too.
Getting into an age-appropriate structure around feeds and sleep meant that Olive was able to achieve the restorative rest that she needed to thrive again. Olive’s Mum had her happy and sparkly wee girl back and was so relieved that Olive was able to sleep on her own – and safely.
Abby is a certified infant and child sleep consultant, mother of two and passionate about helping families find a sleep solution that works.
“Working with families to find a solution to their sleep issues through empowering them with the relevant knowledge and tools is something I feel passionate about. I pride myself on offering an approach that focuses on listening to you before forming an approach that you feel comfortable with and that meshes well with your parenting style and philosophy.”