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Sleepless in South London

Labour ward never ever closes. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year we are always there providing care to women and their babies, so it’s not unusual to pick up the phone in the middle of your night shift and receive calls like the one I had last week.

‘Hello labour ward, midwife speaking how can I help?’ (maybe less excited more I need another NHS coffee it’s 4am actually make that a vodka and Red Bull)

‘Oh god I hope you can help we’re at our wits end here’ (this wakes me up). My wife gave birth 2 weeks ago and our baby won’t settle, I mean she sleeps all day and cries all evening we just don’t know what to do’.

This is good, I feel very qualified to give all sorts of advice on sleep or lack of issue. I’ve got two small children both who were very different babies when it came down to sleep my brain is almost bursting with knowledge on routines, feeding swaddling blankets and beyond. I search around the office, fellows colleagues scamper off to various delivery rooms like timid mice and shut the doors behind them not wanting to take this what could be very lengthy call. I’m ready all ears listening ‘go on’ I say.

‘She just won’t settle especially between the hours of 7 and midnight my sister calls it witching hour whatever that means my wife is exhausted she’s breastfeeding and every time the baby cries she offers her the breast but it’s like she’s fussing, not really wanting it.’

I really felt for this guy, he was obviously completely sleep deprived and my god anyone who has had a baby knows exactly how hideous this is.

When I had my first baby I had only been a midwife for a year and my now husband and I moved to South London where I knew no one (I was the over enthusiastic new mother queuing at the post office smiling like a loon and making small talk to any poor sod who happened to catch my eye ‘hello yes me again more jiffy bags please’.) Any way an amazing health visitor at my local doctor’s surgery once gave me the best advice on settling my new-born daughter through the infamous ‘witching hour’, the three S’s, suck, swaddle and sling. As a midwife I kind of thought I knew what I was doing when it came to babies, well yes in theory for the first few days but a 2 week old fractious baby, I was bloody clueless and to be honest a little afraid to ask. So I googled something like ‘help me my baby won’t stop crying I need an amazing sling’ and bought this I also bit the bullet and bought a dummy which is a bit of a no go area as a midwife as there a lot of research to suggest that introducing a dummy can interfere with breastfeeding. But to be honest I was so knackered I was beyond caring, I then bought a pack of these and my screaming, unsettled, fractious new-born turned into a (very tightly) swaddled settled baby! Really those 3 magic S’s changed my life and not only did I reinforce this rule of thumb when I went onto to have my second baby, I spread the word like it is the gospel to anyone who would listen when I hear of unsettled and disrupted evenings.

So this poor bloke at the end of the phone got to hear of my ramblings (I could hear him scribbling down the name of the sling and swaddling blanket) and I put down the receiver feeling happy and hopeful that his evening will be transformed. What I did forget to mention to the new father was a book which my Aunt gave me for Christmas one year, profane, affectionate and refreshingly honest, it captures the familiar and unspoken tribulations of getting your baby to sleep, but I think I would forget the golden rule of this book stated on the back ‘You should probably not read this to your children’.

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