The Baby Sleep Situation: Patience and Perseverance

baby sleep tips

I’ve just been reading a post I wrote when Angelica was tiny; How I Got My Baby To Sleep Through The Night.

Goodness, she was a piece of cake in comparison to Ted! And I was at the end of my tether then, feeding every couple of hours through the night. Luckily Angelica was an easier fix – once she was in her own room and in more of a routine, the sleeping just started to happen. Not so this time around – we’ve had to employ harder tactics.

It’s funny how quickly you forget things that you did with one baby when you have another – things that would actually be rather useful to reflect upon, so that you didn’t do them again. (Maybe that’s a whole other post?) Really, I should have known that getting Ted into a routine earlier would have been handy, and addressing the fact that he was eating half of his calories through the night could have been done a lot earlier, to save all of this hassle now…

Anyway, too late now – here we are, eleven months in, and Ted is still pretty random with his night wakings, sometimes up three or four times for a feed, other times wide awake for an hour or more, which is perhaps the more frustrating type of sleep interruption. We’ve never had a whole night of sleep with Ted – not even from, say, 11pm until 6am. But I have to say that since I instigated the changes listed below, things have started to dramatically improve.

I’m loathe to say that they’ve worked, because a) they haven’t and b) I always jinx myself when I write about minor successes, but there’s definitely a sort of positive trend going on, despite a few terrible nights dotted about, including the one in which Ted wet through his nappy and his sleeping bag and threw up formula on the spare sleeping bag, all in the space of around three hours.

Here’s what I’ve been doing.

The Routine

Cribbed from a Mumsnet thread about Gina Ford, though I have no idea what the rest of the Gina Ford routine entails. It was just a way of getting some timings down on paper and feeling as though they had some credibility or success behind them. We follow them pretty loosely, to be honest – too loosely, probably, and the timings that we’ve ended up adopting (below) aren’t even the ones I originally wrote down. I’m sure we’d have more luck if we were a bit stricter and followed the timings religiously, but we’re simply not that organised and never will be. So it’s wake up at 7/7.30am (ideally, though now and then Ted wakes up at 6.30, which is basically not on – who the hell needs to be up at that sort of hour?!) and then breakfast at 7.45am until about 9am, because it takes so bloody long for them both to pour cereal over the floor and rub jam in their hair. Milk and a nap for Ted at around 10am, but a SHORT nap, say 30 minutes, and then lunch for both of them at about 12.30pm.

The most marvellous thing about this routine is that both Angelica and Ted have the same main nap. From 1-3pm. It was supposed to be 12.30-2.30, but we never manage to get lunch done in time. Whatever: two hours of complete freedom to get things done! It’s amazing!

Then snack, play, dinner, bath, reading, milk, bedtime at 7pm. Angelica mostly sleeps right through until around 7.30am/8am (and always has done) and Ted has started, gradually, to wake less and less. Perhaps because of…

The Milk Deprivation

We realised that Ted was drinking far too much formula at night. He shouldn’t really have been drinking any formula at night, but when I stopped breastfeeding him during the night, because I was so knackered, we stupidly swapped it for the bottle. Big mistake. HUGE! He was never really taking much of a breastfeed at night, it was more for comfort (hello! Rod for own back, anyone?) and so we basically began rewarding his night wakings by giving him a hugely calorific meal! Idiots. The things you do when you’re totally sleep deprived and desperate to get back to bed…

To cut back on the formula, we started making the bottles weaker – by the time we were putting only four scoops of powder into 7oz of water, he just didn’t want to know, and gradually he seemed to stop being so hungry throughout the night. I think if we’d try to go cold turkey then it would have been really stressful, but this way seemed to just confuse him a little whilst giving him at least something in his tummy to get him back to sleep.

Now we’re aiming at NO formula through the night at all. Last feed, if he wakes for it, at around 11pm, but Angelica wasn’t having that at his age, so I feel as though he can make it through without it! Yes, he screams, but we have started to address the crying too, with…

The Controlled (?) Crying

OK, I’m going to admit that I haven’t actually researched this controlled crying thing properly. I saw a few things on Google when Angelica was a baby, and I’ve added to this mountain of dubious knowledge with various bits of anecdotal material, both from the comments here on the blog and experiences of friends and colleagues and so on. The gist of it seems to be that if you always give in to a baby crying, when they have no reason to cry other than they’re not getting their own way, you’re basically rewarding them for crying. With cuddles, with whispers, with a breastfeed or a bottle or whatever it is that you do to get them back to sleep. They need to be able to get themselves back to sleep without you, so that you don’t have to get up five bazillion times a night and almost walk into the doorframe because you’re so tired.

It’s absolutely awful having to listen to a baby cry, but this is what we did: crying for ten minutes, then into the room to put a hand on the baby’s chest and rock him slightly to reassure him, then leaving him to cry again for ten minutes. We’ve given in quite a few times on this one, mainly because I can’t cope and break to easily, but if you pick him up then he laughs and immediately stops crying, so he is definitely playing us! Out of all of the changes, this is the one that I am most ready to persevere with, despite it being the most difficult.

And perseverance is key with all of these things, isn’t it – so far nothing has provided a magic fix, and a couple of nights have been more terrible than ever, but I know that these changes all make sense and together they HAVE TO WORK. (Positive thinking! I’m doing a sort of Jedi mind-trick with this. It will work. Use the force.) With Angelica, I found that creating the right atmosphere worked – her own room, a bedtime routine, etc – but I think things have been stepped up a gear for Ted. Perhaps because we left it for too long, and I do think that multiple house moves and unsettling events have affected matters, but it’s definitely more challenging. As ever, I shall keep you updated!

May The Sleep Be With You.

Sidenote: the chunky, plumpy sleeping bag in the top photo was sent from Jojo Maman Bebe and it’s amazing. A 3.5 Tog, for those of you with old, cold houses! It has arms, but you can detach them. Personally I think that the arms are brilliant – Ted is just so toasty warm in this and I’m sure he’s sleeping a little better now that he’s more snug. I’m going to do a separate post on his room and cot set-up, so stay tuned for that – you can find the Cosy Sleeping Bag here online. It’s £35.)

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  1. January 8, 2018 / 2:40 pm

    A routine and seeing to the fact that they take their calories throughout the day did it for us, but I never managed to do even a bit of “controlled crying”. I just couldn´t get my head around the fact that my child needed to learn that when he cries out for me, I won´t come! They are so helpless and little at that age and crying is the only way they can make sure you´ll look after them.
    Good thing that didn´t lead to my kids being bad sleepers. Both of them had weeks where they wouldn´t go to sleep without us, but that was during growth spurs, at unsettling times (move, me getting back to work…), and stopped after three weeks at max.
    But each child is different and I firmly believe that the parents know best what works for their special situation and their children, so that was just how I decided to go on. Whatever works for you is the best way to go!

    • January 9, 2018 / 3:39 pm

      I feel fine with leaving him for the same amount of time that I would, say, in the daytime if he was crying but I was otherwise engaged. And if he was crying FOR something, rather than just because he didn’t want to be put down, it would be different, but he was crying after feeds, with a dry nappy, and he was SO TIRED. Within two days he is a different baby and he’s sleeping through the night. Longest I had to leave him was about fifteen minutes, but that was because I had a boiling pan situation downstairs, not because I wanted to let him cry. Ha. I do wonder how long babies cried for pre-baby-monitors when you might not have heard them for ages. I must ask my mum.. x

      • January 15, 2018 / 7:54 am

        I sometimes wonder that too, and if that is the reason why my sisters and I did sleep through the night after two months as my mother tells me.
        I really didn´t want to criticise your choices, I hope that didn´t come across that way. Even if my kids cried in the car I was going nuts if I couldn´t pull over to comfort them.
        Maybe there is a lot of mum guilt mixed in there because I work full time at the office and am away so much throughout the day.

  2. Jemma
    January 8, 2018 / 3:42 pm

    Hi Ruth!
    I’m think I saw you in my Drs surgery in Frome today 8th Jan. If it was you and you’ve moved to the area, I thought I’d share a bit of local knowledge. I worked in the fashion industry for a long time and I remember when I moved from London a few years ago I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz!!!

    Best Dr’s at Frome Medical practice-Dr Jess Jones and Dr Rebecca Hall.
    Best Dentist’s-Catherine Court Dr Neil Shand Frome
    Best garage-Ricky Fenby Frome
    Best pre-school Tall Trees Kindergarten Frome.
    Best state primary-Beckington First School.
    Best private school-Beckington Springmead.
    Pubs aren’t great in Frome, but The Talbot in Mells is great.
    Catherine Hill is great for a potter and gifty things.
    Sam’s Kitchen is good for coffee/brunch/pizza.
    Roth Bar and Grill in Bruton is good for art and food/drinks.
    At The Chapel Bruton is great for food/amazing pizza/homemade breads.
    Best soft play (aaaaaarrrrggghhh!!!!) is either Writhlington leisure centre or there’s a little one at Frome leisure centre.
    Longleat is obviously great for littlies.
    Victoria Park in Bath is great for swings etc.
    Can’t think of anything else off the top of my head, but good luck!
    Happy new adventures!

    • Rachael Lye
      January 9, 2018 / 9:25 am

      Ooh thanks! That’s really useful. I’m so glad you saw me with wet hair and no makeup wearing my dog-walking coat! Haha. All the glamour.. (love Ruth x)

  3. Lucie
    January 9, 2018 / 9:12 am

    With controlled crying we did, 3 mins then in to say ‘sleepy time’ stayed in the room for no longer than a minute, then 5 minutes, back in with the same phrase ‘sleepy time’ then 7 mins etc. The first night it took around 45 minutes, the next night less and within about 5 nights she was going to bed happily and falling asleep without assistance. There is a lovely lady on Facebook called Mary, who runs Sleepy Lambs consultancy, she is a baby sleep expert. I am sure she would help you if you needed guidance with it all. My daughter is now 2.5 and going through a sleep regression, gets herself to sleep, but is waking in the middle of the night upset.. 3 nights in a row now. It gets better, then there is a blip and then it gets better again! Good luck! x

    • January 9, 2018 / 3:36 pm

      Oh God, you think you’ve cracked it and then…. Ted has slept straight through for the past two nights now. What a relief. I’m going to give it a week and then do a post, just so that I don’t jinx myself! x

  4. Ciara
    January 9, 2018 / 10:56 am

    Your child is not “playing you”. He is 11 months old and doesn’t have the cognitive ability to do so. Also, how can you advocate leaving your child in a distressed state until exhaustion and upset finally gets the better of them?! Controlled crying challenges the trust a child has in their parents to respond to their emotional needs and goes against the natural inclination of a parent to soothe and comfort their little one. There are gentle ways to encourage a child to sleep independently, at an appropriate age. Disgusted by this article.

    This is not an opinion but widely documented scientific fact that cortisol levels become so high in distressed infants that it can leave lasting neurological damage and babies showing symptoms akin to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:

    • January 9, 2018 / 2:29 pm

      I don’t advocate leaving them in a distressed state at all, he would cry for longer than that in the back of the car if we were on the motorway and couldn’t stop! And going back in regularly to comfort him and reassure him is pretty gentle, I’d say. At any rate, it has worked after just two nights, he’s happier in the daytime and sleeping straight through.

    • FloJo
      January 9, 2018 / 2:55 pm

      I have an 11 month old son and I am pretty confident he knows exactly what he is doing when he behaves a certain way.
      I find the linked article and website very biased and unhelpful.
      Personally I’m very grateful to Ruth for her insights. She knows Ted is fine as he stops crying when she goes in. You miss the massive point about the mother and wider family well being. Sleep deprivation is utterly miserable and a miserable mummy is no good to anyone.
      Thanks Ruth for your honesty. I hope Ted’s sleep continues to improve.
      F x

      • January 9, 2018 / 3:32 pm

        Thanks! He’s slept through for the last two nights from 7pm until 7am with a short feed at 11pm. Nothing short of miraculous! xx

        • Laura
          January 9, 2018 / 8:23 pm

          We’ve fortunately not had to do any controlled crying as our 9 month old’s sleep got a lot better once I stopped breastfeeding, but i completely understand why you might need to. Sleep deprivation is awful and makes you miserable. My mum had to resort to it with me when i was a little older than Ted because i was still waking up hourly all night. It worked well with me, and I can honestly say my mother is the most loving and caring woman you’re likely to meet. It never damaged our relationship and i obviously have no recollection of it and I’m glad she was able to get some sleep finally and be happier as a result. I echo previous comments that you being miserable and exhausted won’t benefit your children. You’re doing great.

      • Jo
        January 9, 2018 / 9:19 pm

        I’ve seen research on both sides of the argument around controlled crying (one research study does not equate to fact I’m afraid – hence why systems like the Cochrane Reviews exist). No one can say for sure what the impact is, if any, and while chronic stress is undeniably terrible for babies, it doesn’t appear that controlled crying is a cause of chronic stress, assuming all else is well in the family environment. Not all baby cries are identical either and your baby’s ‘I really need you’ cry sounds a lot difference from a general complaint cry.

        You don’t have to like Ruth’s article, but her approach is obviously a world away from the “lock them in their room and leave them to it all night” model. Claiming something is disgusting basically shames parents for trying to find a way of managing an untenable situation (I’ve been there! Bloody hell if I responded to every cry, I’d still be up 8 times a night with my 11 month old!)

    • Elarien
      January 9, 2018 / 7:59 pm

      Parents are the ones who take decisions about their kids and no one should meddle, or express disgust, if not asked, it’s not helpful nor polite. Ruth and Mr. AMR are doing their best, which is quite good, and that’s what anybody should mind.

  5. Hayley Keating
    January 9, 2018 / 11:16 am

    Apparently routine is key and good daytime sleep feeds into good night time sleep. I am trying to get into a routine now with my 5 month old Wilfred.
    My 8 year old didn’t sleep through the night until she was 2. She had a dummy and I was up millions of times a night putting it back in her mouth for her. We had no routine and I had no clue what I was doing. This time I swore it would be different. Better. We would have a routine. That’s okay though if you’re getting enough sleep at night and can pull yourself out of bed to start the day at 7am.
    With Wilf, he slept through the night from about 7 weeks old. I thought I was just very lucky with this one. Everyone told me it would be easier with a boy. Then he turned 4 months old.. the dredded sleep regression happened. I hadn’t noticed it with grace as she’d never slept through at all..
    I’d given Wilf a dummy for the daytime, as he could be a bit winey and it would help with his daytime naps. Then it crept into night time. Nightmare! I have been trying to go cold turkey with him not having it and having to try to self settle at night time which is completely hit and miss. I think it might have been better but his nappies started leaking waking him at around 2-3am. 3 nights now out of 4.

    I’ve been using white noise on an app on my phone then switched to the radio and just untuning in fm mode. It’s good for morning naps although he still often just doesn’t sleep at lunchtime for longer than 45 mins. During the night he still really struggles to get back to sleep independently. Last night I almost gave his dummy back to him.
    It’s a complete bloody minefield and I don’t think it’s at all easy. Or if it is you’re either very lucky or lying!
    Good luck with it all.

    • January 9, 2018 / 3:34 pm

      Ah, I avoided the dummy even though so many friends and family recommended it! I just couldn’t handle replacing one crutch with another, ha! So right about the routine – fine if you’re not totally battered half to death and need every second of sleep you can get… I’ve never been a believer in waking a sleeping baby, which is probably why I could never get on with a Gina Ford-y sort of routine!

  6. Meg
    January 9, 2018 / 9:40 pm

    Hi Ruth,

    We did something similar with our little boy. We firmed up the rhythm to our day and did some controlled crying/responsive settling with him. Previously, naps could take up to 45mins of rocking then carefully putting into bed only to get a 30min cat nap. Bedtime was sometimes a two hour ordeal with many tears (from the baby too!) and at 5 months old was waking up 4-8 times per night and wanting milk to settle. (He’s breast feed, I was dying due to the sleep deprivation.)

    Our crying times are 5mins, 5mins, 10mins, 10mins etc and we go in and pick up to soothe. The first night was tough, though overall was less crying than usual. Only two nights later and he cries for maybe 3mins and it’s just a protest cry (not at all distress).

    OMG we have a different baby! He is so much happier, chattier and active. And just as importantly I am feeling more human. We realised how bad things had got when one night I was feeding at 1am and I looked over at the cot and didn’t see my baby. I panicked, woke up my husband and was asking him where the baby was. The baby was attached to my breast…

    Cortisol can also be raised in stressed and anxious babies who aren’t sleeping, plenty of sleep coaching methods can be achieved without abandoning the baby. I think we ‘normalise’ night waking with babies to the point that we ignore the health implications for the mum. If we can improve our baby’s sleep (within practicable reason) then I think we should. Mum’s health is just as important, and quiet frankly I’m a better mum for it.

  7. Laura
    January 10, 2018 / 1:38 pm

    It’s amazing how having a bit of a routine during the day seems to sort out issues at night, isn’t it! Recently I heard some advice from a nanny who said that whenever a baby sleeps poorly at night, the first thing she looks at is what’s happening during the day. After I heard this, I decided to get a bit more consistent with my eight month old baby’s day routine, and miraculously I saw improvements in her sleep almost straight away, without changing anything else. She’s gone from waking almost every hour through the night, to sleeping for at least a five hour stretch at first, and then waking a couple of times after that. And I haven’t changed anything else at all. Amazing.

  8. Anja
    January 14, 2018 / 9:29 pm

    Oh good luck to you! I like that you’re being honest about what you’re trying and what is working for you. That’s what we Mummys do, isn’t it? Trying to survive and being able to look ourselves in the mirror. We currently have tough nights trying to get our 24-month-old to sleep since it’s the second night without his beloved dummies. Oh well, survive ^^

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