(Article by Tanya Byron in the Times a few weeks ago. I’ve got photos of the whole article, let me know if you want to read them.)
I am cautious when writing this post as I know how quickly things can change with babies and sleep, and I don’t want to jinx things by telling you the ways in which our sleep has improved, so in order to avoid that let’s class this post as a “snapshot RIGHT NOW of how sleep is”. I feel like I need the disclaimer on here in case the gods of insomnia are listening and think I’m getting cocky ;-)
I posted my thoughts on sleep here and a follow-up here but in case you don’t fancy reading through those, let’s just say that sleep was bad. TTB’s sleep was bad, and therefore my sleep was bad. Awful. At the worst point, he would feed to sleep at night and then wake up within 20 minutes and not go back down again. I spent a week sleeping sat up – I propped myself up on pillows against the wall and he slept on me. This has caused damage to my wrist (side note, the doctor suggested “rest and ibuprofen”. It’s even worse now. I’m going to make another appointment.) and was just a hideous time. At the time though, sleeping with him on me was blissful because I could actually sleep! Prior to that I’d spent a week or so trying to get him to go back to bed and I don’t think I got more than an hour a night and that was only when I fell asleep holding him in the chair and woke up with my face on his head. Bad times.
Things improved when I started doing a strict 7pm bedtime and allowing him to sleep on his front. Hurrah! But he was still waking up every two hours or more during the night. Then this increased to every 45 minutes after about 2am, and he was feeding so much that he was needing one (and occasionally two) nappy changes in the night. I would have to do them before 3am because changing him after 3am woke him up so much that he wouldn’t go back to sleep and tried to have conversations with the nightlight (or the light on the baby monitor, or any chink of light through the curtains … you get the picture.)
Each time he woke in the night, he would feed. Not just a “get me back to sleep” feed but about 8 out of 10 times it was a big, full feed. People told me that he was feeding too much and I wanted to believe them but my gut feeling was that he really was hungry. I took him to be weighed every two weeks to keep an eye on this, I figured that if he was feeding too much then he would gain too much weight and I’d know that he wasn’t hungry. As it turned out, he maintained his line* beautifully and more to the point, he is still maintaining it beautifully now that I’ve reduced his feeds. I feel that I was right in assuming that he was actually hungry. Also, he wasn’t able to go more than two hours day or night without feeding at that point. He’s a big boy (not fat, very tall and quite muscly) and he is on the go all the time. He is very very active and I think he was burning a lot of calories.
I read all of your comments on those posts and I spent time emailing with Ana, and spoke to friends and read through the book that Cuckoo sent me and I did a lot of thinking about it myself and tried to apply what I’d learnt and what I’d talked about to my boy. I tried to look at him and the situation with clearer eyes (I want to say “with first sight” but unless you’ve read the Tiffany Aching books you won’t get it. But that’s what I mean!) and really think about what he was doing and how he was responding to things.
I decided that the problems were that:
1) He was feeding to sleep each time and therefore he didn’t know how to settle himself to sleep
2) He had learnt that he would get fed each time he woke up
3) Waking up every 2 hours was ok
4) He couldn’t settle himself back down when he woke in the night.
In addition to that, the nappy changing was a problem but I hoped it would be better if I fed him less.
I decided to start with one thing at a time so that the transition from bad sleeper to better sleeper wouldn’t be too traumatic for TTB. First of all, he needed to realise that he didn’t need to feed each time he woke up. I would teach him that it was no longer “I have woken therefore I will feed!” The easiest one for me to tackle was the 9-9:30 wake up, because I hadn’t gone to bed at that point and therefore had more will/reserve/motivation/ability to tackle it. It took a few nights of getting him back to sleep by any means other than feeding but he got it!
It’s a lot harder to do this in the night itself because when I’m half asleep and desperately want to go back to bed I am very weak willed but any time that I looked at the time and was able to realise that it had been less than two hours I would try to get him back to sleep just by cuddles and shushing/patting.
Then came the need for sleep training. Dun dun duhhhhh. This is a very controversial topic and not everyone agrees with it. I wasn’t happy about the idea of letting him cry back to sleep and it took me a while to come to terms with it. We started out of necessity though. The reason being that feeding to sleep stopped working. It worked sometimes, but not reliably. When I came back from visiting my mum, on the Monday night (so our 3rd night back) he woke up at 10pm and I couldn’t get him back to sleep. I tried everything. The only way he would fall asleep was on me, being held against my shoulder. (I’d like to clarify at this point that there wasn’t anything wrong: no cold, no illness, no teething, no hunger. Nothing.) Each time I tried to put him back in his cot, he would wake up and cry.
Then it sort of clicked … he wasn’t cross because I was taking him off of me. He was cross because he’d got to sleep and I was disturbing him! It wasn’t the need to be on me, it was the need to not be woken up that he was cross about! Lightbulb moment. He was very clearly not upset either, he was CROSS that I was moving him once he’d fallen to sleep.
I didn’t know what else to do. So I put him in his cot, and left him. I was helping Andy do something time critical as well, so I had no choice – I simply didn’t have time to be holding him that night! I checked on him at short intervals. He had his head down on his mattress and was crying … but it wasn’t a distressed or upset cry. It sounded different, it was like a “I am trying to get back to sleep and I don’t really know how but I’m just going to complain about it until I can sleep” cry. A bit like “Oh waily waily waily! woe is me!”
It took 40 minutes, but it worked. He settled himself back down to sleep.
We stayed in that week and I got his naps sorted and he settled himself the same way.
This was a few weeks ago and then things started to slip just slightly. He was still waking up in the night. I did some more googling about the subject because I knew something still wasn’t right despite having made so much progress.
I came across this article on the Troublesome Tots website. Mind blowing! TTB’s sleep pattern was EXACTLY THE SAME as this chart (apologies for all the links, I don’t want to hotlink their graphics as that’s not really fair). I read and read and read. The things I was doing “wrong” were as follows:
1. Not consistently putting him down to sleep awake.
2. Having a timed device (that Tomy star thing)
3. I’ll get to three shortly.
4. I thought I was sleep training well, but actually I was just “shush patting” until he was asleep. I was just pleased that he wasn’t feeding to sleep when really, I was still putting him to sleep.
I was changing the conditions from what he knew when he went to sleep and then when he woke up, it was different and he was freaking out about it.
I read all of the articles on the website, and all of the sleep training ones. All of them.
One thing for it: sleep training boot camp. Out with the star! Out with feeding to sleep! Out with shush patting! Out with changing things!
I decided to go with the extinction method because I had noticed that me going back in to shush/pat wasn’t working and was disturbing him more. Each time I went to try and soothe him, he would get distracted and try to get me to pick him up but also be annoyed with me for disturbing him.
I still feed him before bed, but I feed him and talk to him all the way through. He falls asleep feeding but does take a full feed, he sort of feeds with his eyes closed. I have the bedside lamp on during this time. When he finishes his feed, I burp him thoroughly. He’s usually floppy and asleep during this but I find that burping him while patting in time to singing “pat-a-cake” works brilliantly. I turn the light off while saying “let’s turn this light off then!” Then, and this is crucial to my routine, I put him in his growbag. It’s crucial to do this after his feed because it wakes him up a bit.
Then, I lift him up and look him in the eyes and say to him “It’s bed time now TTB! I’m going to give you a cuddle and a kiss and then I’m going to lay you down in your cot. You’re going to sleep tight all night long! And when you wake up in the morning, you call me and I will come and get you. I love you!” Cuddle him, give him a kiss, lay him down on his tummy, straighten out his growbag (it always gets tangled under his legs when I lay him down), pat his back a few times until he lays his head down and leave the room while saying night night. I pull the door to, leaving it about an inch open (it’s a noisy door.) Then I leave the room.
Then he cries for a few minutes.
I sit in the bathroom on my ipad and distract myself with emails or something while keeping an eye on the clock. I listen to his cries because he is prone to rolling himself over and I have to go and turn him over again. If he does his “Help I have rolled over like a silly boy” cry I go and pick him up, give him a cuddle and repeat the same words to him. This time I put him down and leave him and go downstairs. I’ve never had to go back to him twice yet. I listen to him cry on the baby monitor and they change from “Waah you have left me!” within 5 minutes and turn into “ok then I will go to sleep” whimpers and then he stops within 15 minutes.
I do a bit of a dance around the kitchen and start making dinner.
Now I know that he can settle himself down, and I know that he isn’t hungry, I make him settle himself back to sleep and I don’t feed him before midnight (sometimes half eleven if I’m lazy and want to go to bed). He went 5 hours once, he can do it again! The other night, he went until 2:15 with no feed. Now I know he can do that, my next goal is to get him to that point each night.
When we are letting him settle himself, we do check him if it sounds like he needs it. If he is head down, he is fine. If he is head up, he probably needs a cuddle or a bit of shush/patting. I follow his lead but try to keep my aims in mind. I’m not mean about it, if he needs a cuddle he needs a cuddle. It’s rare that he does.
Now, I mentioned point 3 above. This is the ME problem. Me sleeping in his room. Me not being there when he went to sleep, and then me sneaking in and being there when he woke up. One night I actually scared him when he woke up by getting up from the bed instead of coming from the door where he expected me to. I felt dreadful!
So I am back in mine and Andy’s room now.
We are all sleeping much better.
TTB wakes between 11 and 12, and then once more and then wakes up to get up for the day after that. Some days he wakes up at 3 and then goes until 7, somedays he wakes at 2 and then 4 and wants to get up at 5. These days I bring him into bed with me and pat him into sleep again. (I love sleeping next to him so enjoy it when it occurs but ensure that I don’t make it happen just because I like it.)
It’s only been a week since I moved out of his room, so I have fed him each time he wakes so far just to get him used to it. Also, he has had a cold and been teething badly so I do not sleep train when he is like this. He has wanted to feed a bit more for the comfort. That’s fine – who am I to take that away? But he is well again now, and he is used to me not being in the room so I aim to get him to go to at least 2am each night.
I had taught him that he should feed each time he woke, I had taught him to feed to sleep, I had taught him to need me to put him to sleep. I did these things because I didn’t really know any better, and it worked at the time, and it was easy. Then it stopped working, and something had to change. I kept telling myself that if he could learn a bad habit then I could teach him a new one. Honestly, the first time I let him settle himself to sleep it was as though he was relieved I was finally just letting him be. Then I thought about how independent he was in all other aspects of his life and realised that he wanted to be independent with his sleeping too.
I still maintain that he was hungry every two hours and that I was right to feed him, and I am glad that I waited until he was 6 months old to do sleep training. I believe that he was too young to try to change his habits prior to this. I’d also like to state that I made all my decisions based on a lot of research and what felt right for us. This isn’t an endorsement for you to leave your baby to cry, but sleep training is working (it’s an ongoing process and things will change and I will need to adapt things as I go) for us and I’m so pleased I finally tried it. Because I missed sleep. I still “only” sleep for about 5-6 hours a night now but that’s fine right now. I aspire to more than 3 hours in a row in the future though but right now it’s fine.
I made changes slowly, one thing at a time. Then when that was established I moved onto the next thing. It seems to be working so far. It’s a huge relief. Andy has even put him down for naps a few times at weekends. I used to panic that I’d never be able to leave him because he would only go to sleep for me. I’m glad that’s not the case now!
Thank you for all your comments on my last “sleep” posts, they were very supportive and helpful to read. Thank you for taking the time to write to me.
p.s I haven’t watched “Bedtime Live” because I don’t have a TV and haven’t had the chance to watch it on 4OD yet.
* “Following his line” – not sure if this is just a UK thing but we have a “red book” with growth charts in the back and when you get your baby weighed by the health visitor they plot the baby’s weight/growth on the chart and there are different percentile lines to follow. I think they are based on bottlefed babies and breastfed babies are expected to fluctuate a bit. TTB’s followed his line perfectly (with one exception when he jumped up two lines but that came back down again by the next time I had him weighed).