Sleepy Update (Longer than I intended it to be, sorry.)

(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.

I despaired.

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).

21 thoughts on “Sleepy Update (Longer than I intended it to be, sorry.)

  1. Thanks for sharing this Heather. It’s given me a bit of motivation to tackle my 9 month old. I was really strict with my now 5 year old and NEVER fed him to sleep and he self settled well. But with this one, I feed him to sleep every time (sort of necessary at first otherwise 5 yr old not a happy chat if I never had time to play with him), but now it’s getting ridiculous. On the plus side he does sleep from 8ish to 7ish sometimes (other times is up 3 times), but when he’s not hungry he does exactly what you described TTB does – falls asleep on shoulder and then gets cranky when I put him down. Boot camp time for me I think. Well done to you!

  2. Heather says:

    Hi Pip,
    Have a read of that Troublesome Tots website, there are some really good articles on there. I kept the tabs open in my browser all week and re-read them all the time for reassurance/encouragement :-)

  3. Hi Heather. I read your blog regularly but rarely leave a comment. I have been feeling your troubles with you sweet boy’s sleep. My son is 21 but I remember those days as if it were yesterday. I also ended up with the sleep training at about 6 months. I didn’t leave you any advice before because you really have to work through this issue yourself. I think you have expressed it beautifully and hopefully no one will have any negative comments. This was such a BIG issue for me and I just want to send you words of encouragement. You WILL have sleep again. I think your heading in the right direction!

    I really enjoy seeing your beautiful crochet and small peeks at your life. Thanks for sharing!

  4. You are a smart mother who is atuned to your child. I think you are doing all the right things and I’m very proud of you. It’s hard to let our little ones cry (and my little ones are 36 and 33)but sometimes it’s better for all including them. I thoroughly agree that TTB needs this space and you are a good mother for providing him with it. Hang in there.


  5. Wahoo!!!!! Well done you! I can’t tell you how proud I am of you (even tho we’ve never met!)! I went through exactly the same thing with my oldest son and finally did what you’ve done and my life changed forever. I used Gina Ford’s book The Contented Little Baby and it was a revelation! Keep going with your new bedtime routine and I’m sure that TTB will continue to thrive! Love and hugs. x

  6. Liz says:

    Whoop!! Congratulations!! We had to do something similar with DS1. I realised he cried whether I was there or not and being there stressed me so much. He cried for up to 20 minutes. Once I realised this it was so much easier. DS2 has been a lot harder. He’s a bigun too. Did it all wrong. So scared of him waking DS1 and I was just so tired and consequently we’re still trying to get him sorted at the age of 2! We’re much stricter now so I’m hoping he’ll keep getting better :)

    Enjoy your less tired life! Everything is so much more enjoyable when you’ve had enough sleep.

  7. Sue says:

    I am so pleased that you have managed to work out the sleep problem. I knew from experience that in some ways you were making life harder for yourself but did not offer any advice as I felt you needed to work it out for yourself. I did not want to upset you :-) I also understand the need for sleep. My eldest was a nightmare day and night but I thought I could cope with anything if I had some sleep at night.

    To be fair my eldest was ill from birth but the GP and the hospital never worked out what was wrong with her. I was labelled a neurotic mother :-( She had inherited lactose intolerance. It did go away but came back in her 20s. I am so pleased that my second baby did not have the same problem and she was so easy to look after in comparison to her sister.

    Babies like routine but the routines change as they get older. The trick is to keep up with their changes :-) At least you have fun with TTB during the day and he is clearly happy and healthy.

  8. MsZeb says:

    Yay for sleep! All of the above was a revelation for me too – 12 years ago! It was having her own room that sealed the deal; her cot was in our bedroom and even when she slept well I didn’t because I was forever poised to karate chop my snoring partner (think motorbike brmm brmm brmming, that just won’t start). Babies need different things at different stages and books don’t always recognise that. And if they did I always felt my babies were saying, “Sorry, I’m not following that book.” And why make a two month old bend to your will? I was seduced into thinking I could and felt a failure when I couldn’t. Back then solids started at 4 months so at 5 and a half months I knew she wasn’t hungry and the sleep training worked in 2/3 nights BECAUSE IT WAS THE RIGHT TIME FOR HER and the right time for me. By the way, this weekend would be a good time to try sending Andy in to ALL the night wakings as TTB will think, “Oh, it’s the hairy one without the milk…” and hopefully stop bothering waking up at all. If he thinks, “Oh, time for a play with daddy!” feel free to send me abusive emails….

  9. Victoria says:

    Oh how I wish my son’s partner would a)read this and b)act on it. Our gorgeous grandson is 19months old, is still being breastfed on demand (and he demands!) snd sleeps with them every night and won’t go to sleep without someone in the bed with him. His mum tells me she is waiting for him to seperate from her but I don’t think he will she will have to make him. Whole situation drives my son MAD.

  10. Brenda says:

    Good on you heather, great to hear you feeling so positive and in control. I think moving out of ttb’s room was a great idea, no disturbing him and you are nearby if he needs you. May your sleep continue to improve xxBrenda

  11. Helen says:

    I think the major problem is that midwives and health visitors tell you to feed your baby whenever they cry. I only lasted 8 weeks with my oldest (now 5.5) before I couldn’t cope with the lack of sleep. I went to a fairly strict routine of 3 hourly feeds during the day, bed at 7 then fed on waking in the night if it had been at least 2 hours since the last feed. It was hard at the beginning but it paid off in the end. I think in hindsight a lot of his crying was because he was tired and needed to be left alone to go to sleep. He cried before falling asleep until he was over a year old. As he got older I began to stretch out the night feeds.
    My second and third sons were far easier sleepwise – a combination of character and me being more relaxed. Eventually TTB will sleep for 12 hours at a stretch.
    I think you are doing the right thing – listen to all advice but only act on stuff that makes sense to you and your boy. You know your own children far, far better than any one else.

  12. I never expected sleep to be so complicated, you’d think babies would just sleep wouldn’t you? I’ve got a feeling one day if we have one I’ll be looking back at this post for some help :)

  13. Claire says:

    Very wise words heather. I have 2 boys (5 & 3) and breastfed both of them. Neither were good sleepers and in hindsight the areas you have just explained were probably the answer! You are very lucky to have sussed this out so early. I still feel like I don’t have all the answers. Sometimes you just never know the reason for a bad night. You sound really in tune to your wee man’s needs though so I’m sure, absolutely sure, you’ll crack this. In Aberdeenshire we call it leave them to greet method (cry) and as awful as it is controlled crying definitely works eventually. One thing I did do was express a full bottle of milk for bedtime so I could “see” exactly what they were having so I didn’t fall into the trap of wondering if they were hungry. ( bear in mind mine were prob 8 / 9 months by then and properly weaned. Best of luck with it all xxxx

  14. Claire says:

    Very wise words heather. I have 2 boys (5 & 3) and breastfed both of them. Neither were good sleepers and in hindsight the areas you have just explained were probably the answer! You are very lucky to have sussed this out so early. I still feel like I don\’t have all the answers. Sometimes you just never know the reason for a bad night. You sound really in tune to your wee man\’s needs though so I\’m sure, absolutely sure, you\’ll crack this. In Aberdeenshire we call it leave them to greet method (cry) and as awful as it is controlled crying definitely works eventually. One thing I did do was express a full bottle of milk for bedtime so I could \"see\" exactly what they were having so I didn\’t fall into the trap of wondering if they were hungry. ( bear in mind mine were prob 8 / 9 months by then and properly weaned. Best of luck with it all xxxx

  15. Glad I was some help and you are both having a better time now. I think you were right to go with your gut. Different things work for different mums and babies so don’t feel you have to apologies for the crying to sleep method (which by the way, I think is misleadingly named anyway) – I can’t remember where I read it, but some babies need to have a bit of a cry before they sleep but it’s more of a settling down grumble than a waily waily (unless of course there are any Feegles under the cot…) ana x

  16. penelope says:

    Heather, I really enjoyed reading all about this, my Grandbabygirl is 2 months older, but I can sure relate to the sleeping/feeding bit.
    She is like clockwork now, but it does take trial and error and some advice.

  17. Carrie says:

    A brilliant post Heather, I am sure any new Mum will find your experience and learning useful. I think you are a wonderful Mum, and also I am glad you are back in your own bed. xxx

  18. I’m sure you’ll get loads more replies on this post, but it’s very informative. Over the last 6 or 7 months you have started to follow your instincts much more, have you noticed that?
    I found with my two that it wasn’t till they were about 7 or 8 months that they started to follow a very predictable routine. Before that I’d know they’d have a nap morning and afternoon, but would never really know when it would be. Then they found themselves a routine and I could tweak it a little to suit them, but their sleep patterns would become much more predictable, and I’ve heard from other people that they had the same experience.
    I’ve now got to the stage where my 14yo (14 as of today :-) is happily awake way past my bedtime – it doesn’t help she’s an evening person and I’m very much a morning person. It’s a very odd experience!

  19. I\’m sure you\’ll get loads more replies on this post, but it\’s very informative. Over the last 6 or 7 months you have started to follow your instincts much more, have you noticed that?
    I found with my two that it wasn\’t till they were about 7 or 8 months that they started to follow a very predictable routine. Before that I\’d know they\’d have a nap morning and afternoon, but would never really know when it would be. Then they found themselves a routine and I could tweak it a little to suit them, but their sleep patterns would become much more predictable, and I\’ve heard from other people that they had the same experience.
    I\’ve now got to the stage where my 14yo (14 as of today :-) is happily awake way past my bedtime – it doesn\’t help she\’s an evening person and I\’m very much a morning person. It\’s a very odd experience!

  20. Rike says:

    Dear Heather, I´m a mum of three cute boys (1, 4 and 7 years). I read your post and could feel with you. I felt for a while totally tired with our first son, we tried to make him sleep in his bed…. We were not really successfull. In this phase I read lots of books and articles about how to get your baby to sleep. What I really learned was that babies are very different and the best thing was to follow our instinct. In our case it was to accept that he needed little sleep, that he didn´t have a fixed sleeping rhythm (10 min nap after 5p.m. and he was up till 9 p.m.) and he slept best in our bed. No chance to get him asleep before he had big jawns otherwise he just rolled around in bed. With experiencing that this same boy being three years told us, that he is big now, and will sleep in his own room and bed, we got really relaxed. Our second son is going the same way, after a long while falling asleep in his own bed but still changing over to our bed during night, he now wants to sleep the whole night in the childrens room. Our little one still gets breastfed until he falls asleep, sometimes he manages to sleep in his baby-bay till I go to bed, sometimes he sleeps next to me on the sofa. I am sure he is going to learn to fall asleep on his own like his brothers did. Step by step. Even our second one managed that after I finally could stop breastfeeding him during night when he was two years, I needed to take antibiotics. That was another hard lecture, I realised, changes just can happen when I really want and need them. Another thing we experienced was, that the boys were doing fine, when I was not there. I always worked as a teacher when they were little (my husband still studied, now he is in parents time) and I had to do parents evenings, meetings… The foreseen tantrums didn´t come (babysitters had quite evenings).
    I wish you and your familiy, that you find your own good way to sleep peacefully. I just allowed myself to send our story to show, that sometimes being relaxed about things helps a lot. Listen deep inside you and answers will come.
    From some people I heard, that our boys will never sleep in their own beds, we bind them to much to us, how long I want to breastfeed… But we are glad, that we followed our way, knowing, that we know the needs of our babies.
    Good luck and lots of fun with you son!

  21. Hi there Heather,
    You are a brave lady to write this post! If there’s one thing to separate parents (especially mothers) it’s how to respond to sleep issues. Personally, I have had different experiences with each child and I think that it’s fair to say that my tolerance for lack of sleep has increased with each child too. I get quite upset when parents are attacked for ‘sleep training’ because I think some people respond to the term ‘training’ in such a negative way. Training a child is not a bad thing, we do it consciously and unconsciously all the time. I’m not a fan of strict ‘cry it out’ routines that are unresponsive to a child’s needs, especially at a very young age but gradually and gently introducing changes that help your child to become independent are not a bad thing. Sounds to me like you have done what all parents should do (in my opinion): read lots/seek information, be ‘with’ your child so that you feel you understand them, make the right decision for you and be confident in it, knowing that you might have to make changes in the future as your child changes. Good luck, enjoy the sleep when you can!

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