So, here it is, the blog post I have been desperate to be able to write and after 13 long months of very little sleep, I am at the point where I can actually say, he is sleeping through the night! It has been a long time coming and it’s certainly not that we haven’t tried in the past, it’s just, well, life gets in the way, doesn’t it? From attachment issues to teething, then illnesses and growth spurts, not having the energy to try again… All of these things have had an impact and as a parent, I have done what I have needed to get through the night, which has usually resulted in co-sleeping. And, to an extent, that has been great for us. It has been a solution at that moment in time but it wasn’t a long term one due to him becoming bigger, becoming more mobile and his ability to understand that he could make demands.
His needs had changed into wants and that was our turning point, that and I simply couldn’t give it all to him anymore. The boob on demand which usually resulted in every couple of hours, uncontrollable screams if I didn’t give him it which would wake our other child too, making bedtime an hours nap and then taking advantage of the fact he had me in his room so then refusing to go back to sleep and protesting until he got exactly what he wanted.
And so, the change was made and I wanted to document what we did, how we did it and why we did so I could help others like you, who may be as sleep deprived as I have been. However, disclaimer time!! I want to say from the off that I am by no means a sleep expert (if only, maybe then I wouldn’t have spent the entirety of 2018 saying how tired I was!), I am a Mum muddling through just like the rest of you and the lack of sleep had taken its toll and a change was desperately needed. This is what has worked for us but it may not work for everybody and you need to do what is right for you and your own baby etc etc. (you know the blurb).
So, let’s start at the beginning…
What Was Our Situation?
If you haven’t been following me I will give you the quick lowdown of what happened with William.
Ok, so he was born prematurely at 32 weeks (so yes he is now 13 months but he should really be 11 months). He was in NICU for 3 weeks and then came home with no issues. However, colic and reflux very quickly began to cause problems and his sleep became extremely disrupted, he became reliant on me, he co-slept, he used the breast as a major comforter (not ever really liking a dummy) and I was the only person who could ever settle him or get him to go to sleep.
Yet, even after we solved his colic and reflux problem he still continued with these habits and then developed a very bizarre one of waking exactly an hour after bedtime every single night. He was like clockwork!
However, one thing we have never had a problem with is getting him to want to go to sleep in the first place. He actually likes going to sleep. I haven’t had to battle a nap or rock until my arms hurt, he has always understood that part of the process and we have always stuck to a really good routine of dinner, bath, sometimes a massage, pyjamas, chill out time, breastmilk and 7 pm bedtime. It was getting him to stay asleep that was the issue at hand.
What We Tried
What didn’t we try?!
Change in bed, we tried the travel cot because it was larger, no late naps, made underneath more comfortable for him, a reflux cushion for a bit of lift, a sleepyhead, items of clothing that smelt like me, a toy comforter, persisted with a dummy… Nothing worked. Yet we continued to try and fathom it out because we were so desperate for sleep.
But everyone has their breaking point…
Enough Was Enough
Having one child who had just started school and dealing with those changes on top of the sleep deprivation, no time to rest, no time for myself led to my breaking point. I should have dealt with things sooner but I was doing what I could to survive each night and day and just the thought of sleep training filled me with dread. However, if you find yourself sat on the sofa sobbing your heart out because you simply cannot carry on, well, there’s your cue right there to make a change.
So, what did we do?…
Step one was to move everything of William’s out of our room and into his. Our house is over 3 floors and his room is upstairs so for ease of getting ready we still had drawers full of his clothes, nappies and wipes in our bedroom. Plus, it made sense as he always ended up in our room each night anyway.
This was more of a psychological change and not just for him but one for all of us. It meant that we were physically ‘moving him out’. We made sure that we did all this in front of William so he could see the process unfolding (which may sound silly but we wanted it all to be open and acknowledged). I reorganised his chest of drawers, I found a place to keep his reusable nappies, I put more toys in his room and I just made it feel a bit more homely. I mean, it is a gorgeous nursery, I spent a lot of time and effort making it lovely but it needed to be made perfect for him and his needs.
Step two was to get him to enjoy his room. We started going up there to play, we encouraged him to explore both of the upstairs rooms, we had fun up there as the whole family and would tell him it was William’s room. Because he was at an age of beginning to understand these things I felt it was a significant part of the process. It was also good fun!
Jake had his own methods!
Step three would have been to get him to nap in his bed as we wanted this to be a gentle approach but because we hit a breaking point and his sleep had completely gone to pot we had to go ahead and fix that immediately.
After an evening of waking, of staring up at us, of screaming each time we put him down, of struggling, pushing, kicking his legs out and pointing at the bedroom door we both knew that was the night to do it. When he woke again before midnight I went upstairs and tried to comfort him. I gave him breastmilk, I cuddled, rocked and soothed him with my voice but he just wasn’t going off. So, I had to do what I had been dreading and I laid him down in his bed. Of course, he jumped up as quickly as he could and stood there screaming at me. I simply laid him back down again and again and again and again… William is a very determined baby, far more than Jake ever was which I think is why I had held back on doing this for so long. I knew it would take hours and it did!
I used a combination of telling him it was bedtime, I used touch to reassure him by stroking his face and head and at the same time, laid him back down. As this continued on for a while and I could see we weren’t making progress I decided to change tactics. I laid in the bed with him. I wanted to show him it was ok. I wanted to demonstrate that it was a safe place to be and a nice place to sleep. Each time he dozed off I tried to make my exit but as soon as I lifted myself up to go, he would wake!
Back to the starting point then. I did this for about an hour and a half because I wanted it to be as gentle as I could make it. I knew crying it out would be extremely stressful for him because he didn’t have that ability to stop (pure determination!) and I didn’t want the whole process to become negative.
After trying for so long, I had to give up. He wasn’t going off and I was shattered. I went down to Rob and said ‘you are on the next shift‘. So, after a small period of crying, Rob went up to soothe him. Cue absolute meltdown because it wasn’t Mummy!! Nothing Rob did worked. That proved to me how bad it had all become. William was having none of it and because he was so distraught Rob left him to see if he would calm better without him there.
He continued to cry but not as badly as he had done so we waited to see if he would settle… he didn’t. I went back in and didn’t make a fuss. I just did all I had done previously. I then left him again. I got back to my room and he began to cry again. I decided to go back up to show him that he wasn’t alone, he wasn’t being deserted and that we were right there if he needed us.
I calmed him by telling him it was ok, I stroked his head and body and I laid him down again. By this point, he was extremely tired which worked in my favour because he gave up with the standing. He allowed me to continue to stroke his head and arms and I placed my other hand onto his chest as reassurance. I must have stood there for ages because my legs eventually went dead. So, I carefully moved to a crouch. He flinched a little, probably expecting me to walk out the door but when he saw I was staying he settled again. I just continued with this gentle touch. I moved to sitting and managed to take my hands away for a moment and then sit with one hand holding his through the bars of his cot. I’m not sure how long I spent like this but I am pretty sure I dozed off with my head on my knees at one point!
He still wasn’t giving in!
So, at that point, I decided that he was calm enough for me to leave. He let out a bit of a cry for a few minutes but then he went to sleep… On his own! And the bonus? He stayed asleep!
Step four was to move the naps to his bed too which we started the very next day. It worked! Honestly, after one awful night, it was like he realised.
The next steps were to carry all of this on. The bedtime routine, soothing, the patience, the reassurance and making his bed a positive place to be. I also ensured that there were no naps after 3 pm.
As each night passed I was left shocked. He was getting it! He was enjoying his sleep, he wasn’t resisting quite so much and in that first week, he wasn’t even waking!!
His naps very naturally changed to 11 am – 1 pm and he knew that going upstairs to bed meant that. The sleep had promoted more sleep. It was a transformation.
Where Are We Now?
Almost 2 weeks have passed and the most William has woken during the night is twice. We have had 2 wakings at 8 pm which has most definitely been due to teething and a few in the middle of the night. I have made my own judgement calls on how to best soothe him at these times and most of the time a simple cuddle, rock and soothe was all that was required and he has gone back down perfectly. If he needs breastmilk, I have given it, but I really do think that he was in a very bad habit of using this as a quick way to go back to sleep.
What is even more amazing is that I am now usually putting him down in his cot awake and he is going off to sleep all by himself! Yes, we sometimes still have some tears for maybe 2-3 minutes but it is a quick protest or a small whimper. It isn’t the distress, the screaming or getting mad at us as he was doing in the past. He now clearly understands what he needs to do and he knows this routine and he knows it is good for him because he is waking so cheery.
I cannot say that I have done anything magical here, I have stuck to seeing to his needs, I have made decisions based on how he has reacted and I have tried my best to make bedtime a nice time and a positive activity by using plenty of gentle methods.
Timing and consistency are mostly definitely key here. You don’t want to start to make changes when your little one is teething badly or is ill. It isn’t fair on them and it probably won’t stick anyway. Once you choose the right time you need to be prepared to go all in and not look back. You need to be able to stick to a routine every single night, you need everyone in the household to be on the same page and you cannot let yourself slide back into old bad habits when you are really tired. It is tiring and it may well be for over a week but it will be so worth it in the end for everyone.
I just hope this is here to stay because I want to wave goodbye to sleep deprivation and begin to enjoy myself again, start being a happier person and the best parent I can be.
For more information and tips please take a look at some of my other articles:
To find out about the bath, book and bed method and to see how many hours per night we should all be getting I have this post here.
For tips on getting a good routine when a baby is teething please see this post.
To see how we helped Jake to sleep better as a toddler I have this post on music.
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