Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Sleep - what worked for us when the sleepless nights became too much

I feel a bit of a hypocrite for writing this due to my 'anti-sleep-training' stance but I honestly feel that sometimes there needs to be a compromise between controlled crying/cry it out and burning yourself out.

Where my family were at when something needed to change...

I was almost 7 months pregnant, waking up to 10 times a night to breastfeed my daughter (then 20 months) back to sleep. My nipples were sensitive so falling back to sleep whilst feeding was not an option and often breastfeeding was not getting her back to sleep either. After an exhausting night where I fed my daughter from midnight until 5am after she had not settled down to sleep until 11pm I decided there was no way I could cope any longer and something needed to change before my baby was born.

I had tried cranial osteopathy, chiropractic and also herbal remedies. Even resorted to paracetamol to see if it was pain waking her but nothing worked, she was not poorly, she napped in the day - often twice! - she had just got herself into a very inconvenient routine which was affecting our whole family.

My full-time stepson needed to be able to function in the day for school, my husband needed to function for work and as I run a business from home and I am studying a diploma in breastfeeding counseling I also needed to be able to function - plus pregnancy is tiring in itself!

When not to try this 

  • When baby is less than 18 months old (night feeds are so important)
  • When baby is not well
  • When a big change has happened in their life within the last 2 months (i.e moving house, starting new childcare, parent returning, new family pet/baby to work etc)
  • When sleep is not an issue and you are actually coping - this should be an absolute last resort
  • Before a baby is walking
  • If it doesn't feel 'right'
When you might like to try this (and none of the above are a factor)

  • When your sleep deprivation is making you unable to function and meet the needs of your child/children 
  • When you are finding it hard to meet your own needs or starting to feel depressed or exhausted (signs can include crying a lot, feeling like you cannot perform tasks such as washing/dressing, lack of or increase in appetite causing you to gain or loose weight very quickly)
  • When other families members are becoming affected by the lack of sleep
These lists are not exhaustive so if something doesn't seem right, please do not try this. I cannot guarantee this is right, I cannot guarantee it is without risk but it worked in our case & for the better with no crying.

I am not a child psychologist but I am very aware of the risks of controlled crying and cry it out I also feel that Dr Jay Gordon's night weaning method was a little to harsh for us and as we do not co-sleep, I did not feel it was fair to replicate a similar tactic with a cot.

So this is what we did...

Starting with daytime naps

My daughter had got into a habit of sleeping for 2 hours in the later part of the afternoon. She would wake up about 530 then be full of beans. So I spent a week of having really busy mornings to tire her out. Whether that be going to the park, a toddler group or whatever I made sure our primary activity was in the morning.

I would try to give her lunch out and about or at least a substantial snack then head home for about 12. She would then fall asleep in the car/buggy on the way home & I would let her sleep for as long as she needed (I am lucky in that she will allow me to put her to bed once asleep even if she fell asleep elsewhere.

After doing this for a few days we noticed that she was tired earlier and naturally would fall asleep on the breast around 9pm. However, from 6pm-9pm she was over tired & it was obvious she was falling asleep at 9pm due to exhaustion and she was still waking up every few hours to feed & often was not going back to sleep.

The second week - starting our new evening routine

Now I decided that I wanted to find a way to help my little girl fall asleep without boob. I am not saying this is right or wrong but I felt that with a newborn on the way it was going to be tough tandem feeding without having to contend to a newborns cluster feeds along with a toddlers 3 hour stretch of on off feeding. I did not want to wean her fully from the breast so needed a compromise.

We decided that a whole new routine was in order and that my husband was to take over the care for our daughter after dinner to try and break the habit of her falling asleep on me. 

This was the routine we decided on:
  • 6pm dinner for all the family
  • 630pm husband to take daughter & stepson for a 15 minute walk with the dogs
  • 645pm play with toys for 15 minutes with Mum
  • 7pm start bath time with daughter helping husband prepare it
  • 710pm in bath
  • 730pm out of bath, dried/dressed etc
  • 745pm Mum to go upstairs to say goodnight whilst husband prepares warm milk
  • 750pm daughter in bed with warm milk whilst husband reads stories
  • 8pm lights out
 How did it go?

Day 1

I had been talking to my daughter for a good week about her new bedtime routine. Preparing her that Daddy would be putting her to bed and she seemed fine with it.

We had decided I would go into her and settle her in her room with a breastfeed if she did not settle within 5-10 minutes with my husband and that he would not leave her room until we knew she was either asleep or happy to drift off on her own (ie. not crying and had said goodnight).

The first night, she was happy to go into her bed with the milk and have stories, when my husband turned the light off she did get a bit upset so he turned the light back on and read her another story but explained to her it was time to go to sleep. After this story, he turned her light off again and she did get a little fussy but it was not tears, it was her going to sleep 'cry' she often did if out and about & she did not have access to boob.

She did wake a few times that night so my husband brought her warm milk. Again we decided if she was distressed I would go in but otherwise it made sense for him to settle her. She was happy to settle for him and did settle much faster than normal (about 20 minutes) and was not left alone to cry.

Day 2

Very similar to day 1 only she settled without having the extra story but insisted on taking her 'doggy' to bed. She again did her little going to sleep cry but was asleep by 803pm!

She woke once that night and settled in 15 minutes with some warm milk.

Day 3 

My daughter started to settle into bed whilst husband was reading and said 'night' before he had finished the second story and pointed to the light! No going to sleep cry just cuddled up and drifted off on her own.

Again she woke for 15 minutes - this we could cope with.

Did it stay a success?

Most nights she was more than happy to go to bed and from about 2 weeks in started to 'sleep through' as in, if she woke she would settle herself back to sleep. It really helped us as a family and she did seem more settled in the day for having a better nights sleep and I was happier for not being awake for hours on end.

We had the occasional night where she woke or was not tired but these were few and far between.

I do think my daughter was ready for this and that is why it was so successful, if she had been really distressed at all I would have re thought the whole process or maybe put it off for another month or so. I do think toddlers need to have an understanding of what is expected of them so I do not think this would be suitable for a child under 18 months.

I have mainly blogged this as so many Mum's are sleep deprived and need a balance. A burned out Mum is not good for anyone and although there are other things you can do such as co sleeping/bed sharing but for me personally, with a newborn on the way and the fact she was not settling after a feed this was not an option for us.

Now my newborn is here she is still sleeping through the night and settling down for 8pm. I am so glad I did implement this routine as I forgot how tiring newborn babies can be!     



  1. Very well written! I do not think what you did and how you achieved it, can resemble baby training in any form, you merely had to gently persuade and alter sleeping arrangements to enable everyone to get the most out of it! I did a similar process when pregnant with my second son, however my youngest was 10 months and feeding every hour through the night. And exhausted and feeling my son would benefit more from uninterrupted sleep, I offered milk from a bottle instead of me and the results were amazing, he began to sleep longer and longer until he was going 12 hrs regularly and on the few nights he did wake was feeding and going straight back off. He was happy, I was happy and so were the other children! He never cried or fussed it was as though it was EXACTLY what he had needed. I think sometimes that burned out feeling is our intuition knowing baby needs things to change.

  2. At first I thought you were going to say you CIO, but it sounds like it was done in a respectful and gentle way. What more could you do.

  3. My dd 10mnth cosleep booby fed to sleep until 4days ago. She was fussy and nothing would satisfy her. I got angry and thort being angry would help neither party. So I plopped her in her cot layer her down ed her arms around 'crocadilli' and rubbed her leg thinking she would start hollering (few weeks ago I trued CIO she spewed I felt horrible and awful about it and vowed never again to distress her) within seconds she fell asleep with. Minimal sleep cry. Score! She still comes to feed in my bed but won't settle into a sleep until she back in her bed. Im sad about no longer cosleeping but im happy she is the one who decided it was tome and I didn't have to force her with tears!


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