OK so I’m going to – tentatively – put it out there that my baby sleep-inducing methods might actually be working. We’ve had five nights in a row of solid sleep from 11pm-7am, which is simply unheard of until now. It’s a revelation. (So long as you ignore the night before last, which was a total disaster and had me up from 5am. Just to be completely transparent about the whole thing. I’m ruling that night out as an anomaly!)
If you want to recap on some of the things I’ve been doing in an attempt to get Ted to sleep through the night then read my previous sleep post here – if you want to get straight to the nitty-gritty and find out what’s working for us then keep on reading.
If you’re new to the blog then here’s a quick overview of the sleep issues we were having with Ted, who is eleven months old: he was waking up numerous times throughout the night (for example 10.30pm, 12.30pm, 3am-4am, up at 6.30am for good) and we were feeding him back to sleep with formula because otherwise he would scream the house down. He was eating okay during the day, but not as much as I would have liked. Health good, generally a very happy and chilled baby, napping during the day but at random times.
When I look back over that paragraph, the problems are absolutely glaring – in fact, if you are having sleep issues with a baby then I would urge you to sit down and write a few sentences as I have above, outlining what the issues actually are. When you sit back and read your own words, it may all suddenly seem rather obvious as to what the problem is and what you should do. I mean, the situation above was little more than a week ago and already I’m gobsmacked that I spent so many weeks feeding Ted back to sleep with formula, multiple times a night. What an earth was I thinking?
The thing is, when you are absolutely at breaking point with tiredness and frustration, it’s incredibly difficult to take a step back from what you’re doing and realise that – really – you’re sometimes creating the issues yourself. (Not everyone, obviously, but we most definitely were, and the more I read things online the more I see thousands and thousands of parents with identical issues.) All you want is for the baby to go to bloody sleep and you’ll do anything to make it happen, even if it means making a rod for your own back. And, if you’re anything like me, you probably hate the sound of your baby crying and will do anything to placate them and soothe them back to sleep.
Ted didn’t need the formula through the night (he was sometimes having a whopping three bottles), as he’s proven himself over the past week by sleeping through without it. (He doesn’t even wake up hungry – we go down to breakfast in a very relaxed fashion, he sits and waits quite patiently whilst crumpets are toasted and yoghurt is fetched from the fridge and so on – and he’s eating far more solids throughout the day.) We didn’t just go “cold turkey” and take the formula away, though. One of the first changes we made, a couple of weeks ago, was to start reducing the night feeds by slightly watering down the formula each time. This was a good call – it only took a night or two before he could be soothed back to sleep with cuddling and rocking instead of a bottle.
Devising a routine and sticking to it (you can read more about that here) was also a good call as Ted was less fraught and overtired when 6.30pm/7pm came around. It also meant that we got both Angelica and Ted to sleep during the day for two hours at the same time, which helped us to have a breather and regain our sanity and do things like have a proper lunch or get house admin done without having to constantly negotiate our whole day around their various nap times.
But the biggest – and most profound – change has been altering the way we respond to Ted’s crying throughout the night. Now I know that the “Controlled Crying” method is a little controversial, but a) I’m not sure that’s what we’ve actually been doing and b) I think (from reading lots online) that the method itself is widely misunderstood. From what I gather, Controlled Crying is allowing the (older, not tiny!) baby to cry for a certain amount of time, say a few minutes, before comforting them. So rather than jumping straight to it as soon as they wail, or picking them up and spending three hours (not even joking) rocking them back to sleep, you wait a while and see what happens.
Now if this sounds even remotely cruel, then please consider what happens when you’re driving and your baby is crying and you can’t pull over – surely this has happened to most of you on the motorway? The baby has woken up hungry and is screaming and there is literally nothing you can do. The next services is twenty-odd miles away. You listen to the baby go batshit crazy for about twenty minutes (depending on how fast you’re going!) and do that fruitless rocking thing on their car seat, which almost dislocates your shoulder. And that’s if you’re the passenger. If you’re driving, you’re even more stuck because you can’t do anything other than sh-sh-shhhhh yourself towards total madness.
Anyway, my point here is that the baby is crying for quite a while – much longer than you would EVER leave them through the night – and there’s also a difference in that the baby in the car needs something. It’s hungry. With the controlled crying thing, I think the assumption is that the baby is fed, dry, well and warm – this is for babies who are crying because they are used to being constantly comforted rather than crying out of discomfort or distress. For example Ted, who was being fed formula and then cuddled for ages – at least half an hour – each time he woke up. Of course he was going to cry if he didn’t get these things, we had virtually trained him to need them!
(And you might argue that he did need these things, but please show me a human who can survive for almost a year on snippets of sleep, never more than three hours at a time? If you can rock your baby back to sleep multiple times a night for more than a eleven months and not lose your mind then you are a better, more energetic person than me. I’d say that I’m pretty soft when it comes to babies, as are the majority of people – I can’t bear to hear them cry, see them upset – but there’s a very real and definite limit to the amount of sleep deprivation a person – or couple – can endure.)
So on to my mixed-up, thrown-together, trial-and-error sleep method. On the first night, I left Ted – after a lovely, cosy nighttime routine – for a couple of minutes to have a cry. And he got really really cross. But then I went back in, sshhd him, put my hand on his head or his chest, reassured him and he went quiet and smiled. In a way, leaving him again was actually worse after doing this because he was even more cross, but gradually I extended the amount of time I left him for, from two to three to four minutes, and by the time we’d done around six minutes (which – I warn you – feels like six hours) of annoyed crying, he was done. Asleep.
And actually, we only had to do this whole routine TWICE. By the time – on the first night we tried it – we’d done it to get him back to sleep after the 7pm feed and the 11pm feed (haven’t managed to drop that one yet!) he slept through the night. On the second night he cried for a minute or so each time and then was fast asleep. On the third night, no crying really – perhaps twenty seconds? – and on the fourth, nothing. Just a happy baby. (You know I’ll jinx myself here, as usual! In fact I did, because I wrote this and then had the terrible fifth night before I could hit the publish button.)
Now let’s picture the alternative to my random mixed-up method, which is what we had been doing for months and months. (I don’t know why it took us so long to address the sleep situation properly. Maybe I thought that thinks would just “iron themselves out”. Maybe we were too caught up with moving. Perhaps because we were renting a terrace house and – I think, subconsciously – were worried about waking the neighbours, as well as Angelica. But probably it was because we were just too worn-out to contemplate changing our routine – we’d become accustomed to doing the nighttime relay, grunting at each other over whose turn it was to go and do the feed and the rocking. Being like zombies throughout the day, just waiting for the moment Ted might nap so that one of us could also have a rest.) The alternative here is not allowing Ted to cry at all, picking him up and rocking him. For hours. Making him completely attached to the sensation of rocking so that was what he needed to be able to fall asleep, and giving him formula to send him off into a lull. Him crying again anyway as soon as he was put back down, repeating the whole process again, with the addition of two/three nappy changes a night because he was drinking so much…
When I look at that situation it seems absolutely ludicrous.
Now each to their own and I would never tell someone else what to do with their baby, but if you’re in the same boat as I was and want to try the same thing then here’s what I did, for easy reference:
Feed at 7pm (7oz of formula, in case that’s relevant.)
Lovely cuddle, kiss and then gently placing him into the cot, at which point he has always cried until picked back up again.
Resisting the urge to pick him back up, instead shushhing and gently rocking his chest with my hand/stroking his hair, but only for about twenty seconds or so.
Retreating from the room, waiting for any breaks in the crying and shushing in the silences so that he can hear that I’m there. Gradually closing the door and waiting for a few minutes before going back in to repeat the hand on chest/head and gradual retreat.
For me, the crying simply stopped after a few short goes when Ted knew that he wasn’t being picked back up again. The reassuring hand/noise seemed to – well – reassure him, and even though he’d cry again, it didn’t take long for him to work out that crying wasn’t going to get him hours and hours of cuddles.
God, in an ideal world, I’d bloody well cuddle him all day. If I wasn’t knackered, didn’t have another child to consider, tea to make, washing to do, a dog to pet, a cat to feed, a husband to spend time with, a job. But when you think about it, what good would cuddling all night do either of us? It just meant that Ted woke up every time he was (necessarily!) put back in the cot, we were all exhausted and the crying was simply delayed rather than stopped. Because there was no actual discomfort to address to stop the crying, was there? No wet nappy to change or hunger to feed or pain to soothe or what have you. So how do you stop crying, practically, when there’s no real reason for it? I feel as though all we were doing was creating a sort of cause-and-effect situation where Ted knew that if he cried, he got endless cuddles. By taking away the endless cuddles, which were – apparently! – only missed for the few minutes he cried for them before dropping off to sleep, we very easily broke the cycle.
And he still gets the lovely cuddles and the special, warm times and the nice milky feeds, just not at ridiculous hours in the middle of the night. In fact, the cuddles are actually better because I’m not like the walking dead and he’s a happier baby.
So just to emphasise, this isn’t a sad, ongoing regime of relentless crying sessions; it’s a couple of slightly uncomfortable nights after which you’re hopefully in the land of normality once again, with a baby who sleeps properly, eats at the right time and doesn’t drive you (and everyone who can hear them through the night) to the brink of insanity! To be quite honest, I really can’t deal with the sorrowful sound of crying and so if it hadn’t worked so quickly and easily, I don’t think I’d have kept on going, but I do think that it’s worth a try if you too have a similar sleep situation.
And now that I’ve done it, I remember quite clearly having to do something similar with Angelica. In this post, when she was a baby, I wrote that I didn’t ever have to let her cry, but I was reminded recently by a friend that actually I did. I didn’t actively have to go and reassure her, retreat from the room (repeat to fade) but I do remember having a bit of an epiphany when I simply failed to go to her when I heard her cry on the baby monitor. Usually I’d jump straight out of bed, run over to her room, cuddle her, latch her on, lull her back to sleep, and I was doing that three or four times a night until she slept through. But one night I just waited to see if she carried on crying or went back to sleep, and after a minute or so she went back to sleep. Who knew? So simple. Wait a while, see what happens, don’t be too quick to react…
What are your (constructive) thoughts on baby sleep routines or methods? Did you have any issues with your baby, or are you currently struggling to get them to sleep through? I’m talking about older babies here, by the way, not newborns or younger babies. I have no idea when they stop needing feeds through the night – is it four months? Five? I get the idea that breastfed babies seem to continue waking up for feeds for longer – is that a fair assessment? That’s just from friends, family and readers’ comments here on the blog – Angelica was nine months when she stopped her night feeds for good, Ted is eleven months and still has one.
Oh by the way, I finally stopped breastfeeding this week. We were feeding at random times, in dribs and drabs, and it just didn’t seem to be that beneficial at all for either of us. Ted never seemed to feed for long but then would soon after guzzle down a whole bottle of formula – had I been more rational and less tired I’m sure I could have sat down and worked out when to feed and how to slot everything together, but I just decided to draw a line under it. Also I had a milk blister – OW – and it wouldn’t go away, it was painful to feed and I needed to address it, which I did by manually expressing and lots of hot compresses. But anyway, it seemed like the right time to stop. I’m slightly sad and do miss it, but I don’t miss how haphazard our feeding schedule was – it’s much easier working out a routine now, with formula.
Right, fire away in the comments! And wish me continued luck with the sleeping – so far so good, eh?