I think I traumatised my 3 month old baby son
(Invercargill, New Zealand)
Hi so I have a 3 month old son, he is my first. He is formula fed and is quite an alert interactive baby. I was until about two weeks ago rocking and cuddling him to sleep then putting him in his bassinet. He was having a 3hr-4hr nap around 9-10am then another around 1-2pm then every second day a bath at around 5.30ish then bed for the night at about 6.30-7.30pm.
He got up maybe twice in the night I would change him then feed him and he would usually fall asleep while I was burping him or I would give him a cuddle till he fell asleep then back into his bassinet.
I was told he should be going down to bed awake and was told to try this along with introducing him to his cot as he is getting too big for his bassinet. He would lie awake in his cot for over 40mins then start crying really upset, I wasn't told what to do when he cried so I just cuddled him till he calmed down and put him back in. He wasnt loving it so i thought he must not be ready and went to go back to cuddling him but he just screams now and it is really difficult to get him sleeping, he goes bright red.
If he thinks your going to put him down he wakes up. I was told about your way of weaning them off cuddling which I would rather do but how do I untraumatise him now and get him to sleep without all the stress?
He has hardly slept during the day the last couple days and his night sleeping is getting shorter. His day sleeps are lasting less than an hour and only twice a day.
Heidi's Answer: Dear Maia,
You have been doing so well, the regularity and routine you describe and how you gently put your son down are really great and your little boy seemed to be doing perfectly.
It's a pity – but don't worry we'll fix it – you got the advice about putting down awake in the way you did, but trust me, there are few moms in this world who do not get this “get it over with” kind of advice at some point. And it sounds so right that most of us have difficulty not feeling like we should try it ...
In principle “they” are right of course, it is good for a baby to learn to go down awake and be able to settle independently. But what “they” usually do not mention along with that, is that self soothing to sleep is a delicate skill that some do but most don't acquire so easily …
And the gentle weaning off the holding and cuddling to sleep that I work with, does exactly that: it gives baby (and his body) the time to really learn to do this.
I think what happened for you is that the combination of lying him down awake with transitioning to the cot was a bit too much, and that is the 'trauma' you feel you are experiencing. It's all very recent though right, just in the past week or so? So it's not going to be a very bad trauma yet.
But you are absolutely right, you will want to go back to a no-stress routine again before starting the weaning techniques.
So ideally, you want to go back to exactly what you had before, even back to the bassinet. He may not have much room left there but I'm guessing it would still be OK for a couple of weeks?
Put the bassinet back in the same place where it was, feed, hold and cuddle him to sleep again, as before, … You may need to hold him for a longer (possible really long) at first, so that he is deeply enough asleep not to wake when you put him down.
For yourself, allow to let go and not worry about what happened, or the stress it caused. You tried, and it did not work out, and that's that. It could have worked, or even the transition to the cot alone could have caused enough distress to get him out of the routine, … who knows. But what matters now is that you put it behind you and now confidently concentrate on helping him get all the sleep he can get.
He's still so young, there is more than plenty of time later to wean from your helping him. Right now you want him to sleep and re-gain his confidence. So just go about cuddling and putting him down asleep, guilt-free, until all quiets down again.
After that and when you feel ready, the first transition will be to the cot, and you'' do that without changing anything else. To start pre-preparing for that transition now, make sure he does see his cot every day and comes to love it (decorate it with some fun colors, let his favorite toy 'sleep' in it during the day, …).
Then when that works well, you will be able to start working with the gentle self soothing methods to wean from the holding to sleep.
Hope this helps!