I’m pretty sure this is one of those topics that strikes fear into the heart of those who discuss it. As soon as you announce your pregnancy until the sweet release of death you’ll be asked how your kids sleep.
When they are tiny, it’s how often and for how long. When they start toddling it’ll be the ‘do they sleep through the night?’ one and, I imagine, when they hit those smelly teenage years everyone will wanna know if they’re: ‘still asleep?’
Why are we SO freaking obsessed with how other people’s kids sleep? I find it annoying now, and mine actually does sleep through the night.
I hesitated to write this because I don’t think there’s a one size fits all method that works for all babies. If there was, we would’ve been given the manual at the birth along with a creep Bounty photoshoot and the red book. Sorry to my non-UK readers, that’s an annoying in-joke.
But then I remembered those sleep-deprived days when I searched for the ‘answer’ and blamed my shit parenting for why Anaïs woke up every few hours. I listened to those who insisted one thing or another and wondered if I’d ever sleep again. I even started to think I never would and that my life was simply going to be a series of awake moments punctuated by snippets of sleep and grumpiness.
The first helpful thing I did was get myself a serious coffee habit. I didn’t really drink coffee before Anaïs and hadn’t had caffeine throughout pregnancy really so the hit was aggressive and welcomed. That aside, I also read voraciously….from ‘proper’ books professing they had the answer to YouTube videos of mama vloggers right through to endless blog posts. I tried things, I failed, I cried, she cried and none of us slept.
But then something happened….I stopped listening to everyone else and tuned into my own intuition. THE END.
Jokes. Obvs that’s not the end of the story because that would be MIND-BLOWINGLY IRRITATING OF ME. But genuinely, listening to my own intuition as a parent is probably my only hard and fast ‘rule’ and honestly, the quicker you start listening to yours, the better.
It certainly makes for some interesting kitchen ‘chats’ with yourself while making another coffee.
I’ll start with how we were pre Anaïs sleeping through the night so you can get a bit of context, but PLEASE lord don’t compare yourselves because every child is different and don’t start despairing if yours sleeps ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than mine did.
I breastfed Anaïs from birth until about seven months with some formula top-ups so Oli could take night feeds on occasion, and because I was never able to pump enough breastmilk for a bottle.
She actually slept ‘through the night’ fairly quickly…..about a month in, but obviously that was just to fox me and she then didn’t do it again until she was 10 months old. But anyway, we co-slept so I didn’t wake up every time she needed milk as she just latched herself on and fell asleep feeding most nights…….so I never really knew how many times she was waking up in the night, and, to be honest, I wasn’t fussed.
In those early days, I firmly felt that co-sleeping and feeding on demand was best for us both. Easy to say as I was getting plenty of sleep, but I’d probably do the same again.
The real bugger came when we kicked her out of our room at seven months, when I stopped breastfeeding. She started waking every few hours, to which we’d go in with a bottle, she’d fall straight back to sleep and the cycle would begin again. Some weeks it would be once a night, often much more than that.
I was SO confused and desperate I was ready to sell her for scrap.
I am obviously joking, she is the best thing in the universe and I’d claw the eyes off anyone who said different.
On the edge
So, with shaking, overcaffeinated hands and quivering lips we signed up for a sleep class at our local children’s centre.
‘What are you doing, how much does she eat, when does she go to bed, what’s her ROUTINE?’ were all asked and I felt like lying because, erm, NO ROUTINE. ‘Ah…..that’s the issue. You need a routine and you need to break her sleep association.’
HOLY CRAP, what have I done? I’ve traumatised her with milk so she can’t sleep?
We left, felt hopeful we knew exactly what we’d been doing wrong (everything and what we need to change (everything)
Only guess what? It stayed the same. Probably for another two months. Until I’d had enough and decided WE ARE SLEEP TRAINING THIS TYRANT.
I remember hearing about the dreaded ‘sleep training’ and ‘cry it out’ when I was pregnant and thinking how mean it sounded. But to be honest, I think it’s just very misunderstoof (ahem, protests too much?!)
We’ve never left Anaïs to cry for endless amounts of time until she slept from exhaustion……..and nor would we. But we did employ some sleep training and structure. Do you know how long it took to work? TWO DAYS. How did I find this method? A combination of gut, intuition and advice from people I trusted.
We implemented a routine
Boy did I resist this! i never wanted to be in a situation where I had to say ‘Ooooh 2 pm? Can’t meet because Anaïs naps then’ but guess what? I REALLY LIKE IT WHEN SHE NAPS. I don’t really like anyone, or anything as much as getting a full night sleep so I sucked it up and implemented a pretty strict routine.
Anaïs wakes up around 6.30am and plays for a bit. She has some breakfast with me/Oli and has water too. CBeebies saves my life at this time because I am NOT a morning person.
She starts getting tired about 8.30/9 so goes straight down for a nap. Blinds closed, same elephant teddy.
11-2 = playtime/lunch.
2-4 = nap following the same rules as before.
4-6 = playtime
5.30 = tea…..and me getting giddy for imminent freedom!
6-6.30 = bath/bedtime routine, which consists of a little baby massage, blinds down and her elephant teddy.
This might not look the same for you and as we’ve done it for so long now it’s easy for me to spot her cues and vice versa. But at first, we were really regimented because it made our life a lot easier if we both followed the exact same rules.
It takes the guesswork out of it, you know? I know when she’s getting sleepy now but at the start, I could just go by the clock. 9am? Nap time. And even if she didn’t seem tired, she would always sleep.
We broke a ‘sleep association’
When Anaïs was waking up every few hours we would automatically give her a bottle. Which, to be quite honest, she really didn’t need! We looked at the guidelines on the back of the formula tin and she was drinking twice the recommended amount so I knew that had to stop.
We didn’t do anything fancy with the milk, although I read about people watering it down, because the next step we followed meant we cut out those extra bottles……
‘Cry it out’
I’m not gonna go into the usual here and justify why cry it out is super misunderstood because it’s really a gut decision to do it, so there’s no point trying to explain the pros and cons.
What I will say is this. This phase lasted two days, and we implemented the ‘5 minute cry’ after which we went in, gave her a cuddle and popped her back down. Then 10 minutes, then 15 minutes…….but she never went past 7 minutes and that was only on day one anyway.
After day three, she cried for about 3 minutes before falling asleep and by the end of day four she went to sleep with no complaining at all.
There has been a couple of times she’s cried in the night when we’ve known it’s a ‘different cry’ and gone in straight away and we were right both times; once she got her head stuck under the Sleepyhead stuffing (I know, I am such a div for leaving it in the cot) and another she was teething really badly, so needed some Calpol.
But I can hand on heart say that now, when we pop her down for a nap and at bedtime she goes down happily and with no tears at all. And the best bit is that she sleeps solidly for twelve hours.
So there you have it. Everything we did to get our little creep to sleep like a legend. Was it a bit tough? Hmmmm once I’d decided to pick and choose the advice that made sense to me, leaving the bits that didn’t aside, nope, not really. I can’t speak for anyone else but when we left Anaïs to cry for two minutes, we knew she wasn’t hungry or in any imminent danger (you actually do get to know those cries eventually!) so it didn’t stress me out too much.
Would I do it again? Erm, hells yeah.
Sending the most energetic, and soothing vibes to your babies and to you.