Sleep training – the follow up

Back in February I wrote a post about how we had begun to try and ‘sleep train’ Millie, a process where we aimed to be able to put her to bed and then walk out of her room at night and leave her to fall asleep by herself, and then stay in her room all night.

At the time of writing it we had gotten twelve nights in to a routine where we were having a cuddle, putting her down, saying goodnight and leaving the room, to cries that were lessening but still pretty strong, and we were making progress.

We carried on with this and the bedtime bit was going well – we never got to a stage where there was no crying at all but she would stop crying after around 10 seconds and lay down. During the night however, something shifted and Millie began waking more and more often, eventually to five or six times a night.

Initially we were determined to stick to our plan and we would stay in her room, give her a cuddle and then leave the room again, but we quickly became very exhausted doing this again and again, at different time through the night, and Millie would not settle back to sleep even after an hour or two being with her or going in and out.

We were becoming desperate again, and were at a bit of a loss. The sleep training/controlled crying method was a last resort and was supposed to work for everyone in a relatively short space of time with some commitment, which we had done, so why was Millie still waking so much after almost a month?

One night when my husband was working I took Millie to our bed with me after she had woken up again, and she slept soundly all night, so that became our new tactic. David took to sleeping on the sofa (which is very comfy and apparently better for his back anyway), and I swapped my sleeping partner for a small starfish shaped child.


Although this was working in terms of getting more sleep, and I adore sleeping next to her, it certainly wasn’t a long term option, but we weren’t sure where to go next. Then for my birthday David booked a night away for us all and the hotel had put a child’s camp bed directly alongside the double. Millie liked it, and slept really well, and I realised how much I missed sleeping next to my husband. So we tried it at home!

We had removed the side from the cot a few months earlier in one of our many efforts to solve the sleep conundrum, so we switched our room around a little and put Millie’s bed in our room, alongside our own bed.

Things are quite different, though it’s still been a bit of a journey. Initially we saw very quick improvements, with Millie sleeping through the night, and walking without crying because she could see us next to her. One night I saw her wake up and roll over in a panic, then see us and just lie back down again. After everything we’d been through, all she wanted was to be near us – so simple!

Now of course sleeping in a room with a giant comfy adult bed to climb onto is pretty tempting. Over a couple of weeks we started with Millie getting into our bed for her story, being all cute, snuggling in with her toys, and then she would join us in the middle of the night, and because we were lazy we ended up with her never in her own bed, just always in ours. Sometimes this worked and sometimes, on the sideways sleeping nights, it really didn’t, and that brings us up to this week when I became overtired and really fed up, and after I spent a night sleeping in Millie’s (very short) bed because I’d had enough of trying to fit around her, I knew I had to sort things out.


The last three nights, I’ve gone back to basics. I’ve read before that, although one of a toddler’s purposes is to test boundaries, explore, and push whatever they can, they also need to have the rules they are testing. Not only do they like to know where the lines lie, but they need to, because without this they don’t have any guide for behaviour. We were seeing this is action because Millie, although clearly tired, was pushing and pushing herself and not going to sleep until 9.30-10pm, which was only adding to my exhaustion, and I think it’s because she had no boundaries. She could go in the bedroom, lay where she wanted and we’d accommodate it, play until late and we’d try and curb it but weren’t strong enough about it in honesty. She had no lines to operate within, and just didn’t know what to do.

So – we’re now on night three of Operation Mummy’s Sorting Her Bedtime Shit Out, and so far so good! She sleeps in her own bed, and there’s been a bit of predictable protest, but it’s steadily reduced every night. And last night Millie spent the whole night in her own bed, whoop! There’s a clear lesson here – although I get worn down to the point of strength and commitment to sort things out, I’m not consistent, and take the easy option and give in after a while, which just doesn’t cut it, and confuses Millie. She needs me, and Dave, to be clear and strong in our boundary setting.

So tonight she was asleep by 8.30pm, which feels like a luxury right now, and I’m having a glass of bubbly to celebrate, and raise a glass to the future. She turns two in a fortnight so here’s a to a less lazy mother and finally cracking this sleep shiz!

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The sleep rage

Like everyone, there are some things in life that annoy me. People who don’t turn their indicators off after making a turn, or who bump into you and don’t say sorry. The usual. But there’s one thing that really gives me the rage, and it’s anything that disturbs my daughter’s sleep.

For example, I’ve never been particularly bothered by fireworks before, and luckily our dog hasn’t either, but since having Millie I hate them. We live in a pretty well populated area and there are lots of people locally to set off their own on bonfire night, new year etc. Once I’ve heard them I spend the whole evening on edge, and it’s a bit ridiculous because Millie mostly sleeps through them, but they still leave me waiting for the potential wake up to occur. That’s the nub of the issue, it’s the threat of the wake up that winds me up.

Squeaky floorboards. Bloody hell our house never squeaked so much before I had a baby. I have a theory that housebuilders make the upstairs of a property with extra squeaky floorboards knowing that you’ll curse them if you ever have kids. Those ‘comedy’ videos online of people creeping out of the room like ninjas are not lying!

Loud engines get me too. There are a couple of particularly throaty motorbikes and cars that pass our house on a daily basis and I’m pretty sure they know how I feel because they seem to deliberately rev the engines as the pass the house and my hands automatically go into fists. Why is there a need for them to do that?!

Millie’s never been one for sleeping much at home and a lot of car sleeping gets done during the day. Many times I’ve pulled up somewhere to read a bit or waited before going in the house because the transfer out of the car seat wasn’t often successful, but I guarantee there’s always some knobhead out to ruin it for me.

Shouting loudly near the car, letting dogs bark, car horns, anything they can do to wake Millie, and they’ll do it. Every. Single. Time.

It’s like people just don’t know babies might be sleeping during the day (liars) or that they may not have considered there’s a sleeping child in their general vicinity (rude). During these incidents I’ve genuinely come close to telling the offender where to stick their noisiness. I’ve also thought about making a sign that says ‘child sleeping nearby, shut your cake hole!’ or something equally as direct. I’ve never done either of these, but still. I’d love to make some kind of public announcement and have the world stand still to make sure Millie can rest properly.

I know that it’s irrational really, but honestly it can take so much to get a baby to sleep sometimes, that when you finally make it your mental energy is long gone and any mother trucker who comes along to ruin your efforts is going to induce nap rage. It’s a biological fact.* (*I can’t prove that)

I hope I’m not the only person who suffers with this. I know I’m basically asking the world to give a shit about my daughter’s sleep needs…..so yeah, that’s it! Just shhh. Please.


 

Sleep training

A couple of weeks ago we embarked on a pretty scary new venture – teaching Millie how to self settle.

We had reached a situation that we just couldn’t continue with, where she was waking a number of times every night, with no pattern to the times or frequency, sometimes going straight back down and sometimes up for hours. Having an extra bottle most nights, and also getting to the point where she ended up in our bed most nights too.

We were getting to be very sleep deprived, and also very achey from sleeping awkwardly around her. She’s been getting endless bugs or teething all winter so we constantly made excuses for her poor sleeping patterns but after five or so months we realised there was something more to it.

I did a lot of research and spoke to people in search of answers and a solution, and I was pointed to an article about children sleeping through the night which was really informative. There’s a time window which is ideal for babies to learn how to settle themselves to sleep, and we’d missed it. We’d always had a fairly relaxed attitude towards Millie’s sleep, doing whatever she needed to get her down. From very early on she protested if we tried to leave the room while she was awake, and she liked to cuddle to sleep, so we did it. Despite the wakings she was down for around 12 hours a night and her bedtime routine was pretty solid so we counted those as our positives.

In actual fact we’d misjudged the whole routine thing. By doing whatever we had to in order to get her to sleep at bedtime and through the night, we were confusing her. Children like predictability, and though they will of course test their boundaries, they need to know what those boundaries are in  the first place. We were shifting the goalposts ever so slightly each night, sometimes lots of cuddles, sometimes in with us, sometimes sitting there for hours.

I have a friend who, at bedtime and nap time, puts her son in his cot and walks out of the room. No drama, no fuss, and he goes off to sleep in his own time. This is a completely alien concept to us and has literally never happened, and it’s where we want to be. For a long time I argued that I love the cuddles, because they’re delicious, and I love co sleeping, because it’s also quite delicious, but equally I can’t keep up the lack of sleep and lack of predictability. It had begun to seriously affect my wellbeing and I think was also affecting hers, so we needed a change.

When I reached this point a few weeks ago, I initially spoke to a health visitor. She explained how whatever we were giving her at bedtime, she would expect every time she woke, and because there was no set pattern to that, we were making it harder for her to settle. This is echoed in the article I linked to above, and makes perfect sense. If whatever happened when she fell asleep was not there or happening when she woke, of course she’s going to protest.

In an effort to figure out what to do, I also asked advice from a parenting group I’m part of on Facebook, that focuses on respect for children as individuals, and promotes better understanding of and response to their emotions and needs. I often find that in times of stress this group provides really sound perspective and ideas on how to handle difficult situations. I have always been dead against ‘crying it out’, because it seemed so harsh, but through discussion with this group I began to realise that, although not the answer, a form of this was the best way forward.

The bottom line was that we were going to change a habit we had been setting in place since day one, which is hard, and there was going to be a natural period of protest while we all adjusted. Our plan was to follow our normal bath, milk, cuddle routine, and then to tell Millie it was time for bed, put her in her cot, tell her we love her and then leave the room. If she really cried hard, we’d go back in, cuddle and settle her, repeat that it was time for bed and we love her, and then leave again. If she was just shouting or moaning, we’d stay out. I volunteered for the first couple of nights because I had been mentally preparing myself – I knew consistency was the key to our success, that it would take real determination, and I was committed to making it work. I couldn’t face the idea of continuing any longer without sleep, so I put all my energy into it.

I should also add at this stage that we were keen to remove any crutches to sleep we had put in place to allow Millie to fully learn how to settle herself, and also to save us all further problems down the line, so we also decided that this was the time to stop her using a dummy, cold turkey.

So night one, armed with the monitor on silent so I could watch Millie while I was out of her room. In the first hour after bedtime I went in ten times, with the gaps in between lengthening and the intensity of her cries lessening until she went to sleep by herself, which I was heartened by because I’d anticipated a longer effort. She woke three times in the night but went back down very easily, and between 5 and 6am was awake a lot but overall we were pleased with a solid start.

Night two and Millie went down at bedtime with minimum fuss, which I was astounded by. She woke a couple of times in the night and then from 3am was up for three hours, solidly shouting while we continued to follow our pattern. This was without doubt the hardest night, because no matter how strong your resolve, having to listen to your tiny daughter shout your name for hours on end is heartbreaking. At 6am we caved and brought her into our bed, where she promptly fell asleep, exhausted.

Since then we’ve seen progress every night, and we are now at the point where, after twelve nights, we can put Millie to bed and leave the room and she shouts for around 10 seconds before laying down to go to sleep. She still wakes two or three times in the night, and occasionally wants a bottle, or a cuddle, but often will call out and then go straight back to sleep herself.

Bizarrely the easiest part has been taking away the dummy. I dreaded doing that for so long but somehow she’s accepted it really well. Initially she would ask for it repeatedly when we went in to settle her but that stopped fairly quickly, and during the day now and again she asks but I say it’s gone and that’s it.

We are beginning to get more sleep, and better sleep, but we still have a way to go. My hope is that one day we can put her down without any crying out at all, but I know it’s a slow process. A side effect has also been that Millie refuses a bottle before she goes to bed now. Perhaps she’s reached the point where she no longer wants it, or she’s trying to exert some control where we’ve waded in and made such a huge change, but she’s never drunk a lot anyway and losing 7oz of milk a night means she’s been a little dehydrated, but we can work on that.

It’s been tough but I wholeheartedly believe we’ve been doing the right thing, and long term it’s what’s best for all three of us. Kids and sleep – way trickier than we ever thought!

 

 

 

New baby love

One of my closest friends had a baby a couple of days ago, and another is ready to drop any day now, and I’m feeling pretty emotional about it. For both of them it’s their first child and it’s bringing back all the memories of the heady, exciting (scary, despairing) first days I had with Millie.

In fact when I was putting Millie to bed last night she drifted off as we had a little cuddle and I got a bit weepy thinking about her as a newborn, and the many hours I spent with her on my chest, just feeling the warmth of her and watching her sleep.

It’s unbelievable to think that was 15 months ago already, and how our daily routines have changed so much – what I need to prepare for each day now is very different!

I’ve been trying to decide what I might want to get as a little ‘welcome to the world’ gift for my friend, and I’d like it to be something useful. In trying to remember what we found vital with a tiny baby to care for, I’ve made a list of my newborn essentials:

  • All-in-one baby grows – Millie lived in these for months. We had bought or were given some other clothes but I found it so much more practical to have her in a baby grow, especially when you have to undress them so often. They’re warm, comfy and somehow babies just look extra cute in a onesie.
  • Bottle warmer – it was a couple of months before we got one of these. I breastfed initially but used to express too, and quite soon had to move to combination feeding because I couldn’t produce enough, so warming a bottle while out was a daily requirement. In M&S cafe one day they provided a Tommy Tippee one for us and it was brilliant so we bought one right away and used it constantly, it was so easy!
  • Dummy – this is a contentious one and I know not every one supports use of a dummy, but for us it was a game changer. When Millie wouldn’t sleep for longer than an hour at a time we began to go mad, and a midwife suggested using a dummy. I was always against them (I don’t know why!) but advice from a healthcare professional was like a green light, and Millie loved it. It’s helped with sleeping, teething, and is her all round comforter really. She still has it now and removing it is something we need to think about, but maybe not today…
  • Jelly babies – or any sugary sweets really. Millie spent her first 17 hours (or so) of life in the neonatal unit, and though I was hand expressing colostrum for her it wasn’t much, so she was fed with formula. She then struggled with a nipple and used to fall asleep immediately on the breast. I ended up using nipple shields to get her to latch on, but the process of figuring it out was over a good week or so and in hospital we developed a routine where I would try and feed, then get her down, express, clean everything and sleep myself, and it was about 30 minutes before it all started again. I’d bought jelly babies for the labour but used them for the night of breastfeeding to keep myself awake, and I recommend them to everyone now, fab for while you’re trying to adjust to waking up so often!
  • Electric breast pump – I expressed from fairly early on to allow my husband to get in on the feeding action (and give me some extra sleep!), and we bought a hand pump that proved itself redundant almost immediately – I needed hand muscles of steel and a good hour or so to get any decent amount out, and we needed an alternative. During my stay in hospital we’d been lucky to have use of an electric pump that sounded awful but expressed a full bottle in minutes, so we invested in one at home and never regretted it!
  • Friends! – I know some people spend days on end at home with their babies, but I am not one of them. I needed to get out and do something pretty much every day because a) having a goal of getting out of the house gave me something to work towards and b) it kept me sane! I had six weeks without driving after my c-section and the restriction I felt was enormous.What’s app chats, Facebook  groups and seeing friends or going to baby groups made such a difference for me. I needed the interaction, reassurance and change of scenery, and can’t stress the importance of getting out and about enough to new parents.

And here’s the most useful bit of advice that you eventually learn, but no one tells you: sometimes babies just want to cry. We seem to be programmed to want to stop the crying and take away whatever’s bothering them, but sometimes they just need to get it all out, and that’s ok. If they’re fed, watered, burped, clean and warm then there’s little else you can practically do but be there. Hold them, talk to them, and be there. If you’re knackered and it’s a long crying session it can be so wearing, but the world is so overwhelming for babies, and crying is the only outlet they have! We all have shit days, and babies are no exception. Sounds pretty obvious reading it back now but it wasn’t at the time!

All this thinking of what we did or used in the early days has led me on to a list of what wasn’t essential at all, but that’s for another day!

 

Disturbed sleep

I’ve developed a pretty odd problem of late, and it’s starting to really upset the Mr.

It’s not every night, but a number of times recently when he rolls over in bed at night, I wake up, reach out and grab him. I can’t control it, and though I’m awake I wake quite suddenly and move before I know it, apparently it’s getting a bit annoying.

When I wake up I’m consumed by a fear that he’s rolling off the side of the bed, and I’m trying to stop him by grabbing him. We’ve theorised that it might come from a fear of Millie falling off the bed, but she’s not slept with me for a long while now (sob!) so I’m not so sure.

Although it’s irritating I’ve started to find it quite funny, but when I did it last night Mr P got pretty cross and is apparently losing his patience. I really am convinced he’s falling and somehow I must stop him. In reality if he did fall it wouldn’t be the end of the world, and I really wouldn’t be able to stop him just by grabbing an arm, but it seems I’m trying in any case.

With a one year old who’s been ill this week we need all the shut eye we can get, and this isn’t helping but I’m arguing that it’s not my fault. The feeling that he’s falling is quite overwhelming and not in my control, so I take no responsibility.
Let’s hope it resolves itself soon or I could be at risk of retaliation!

The sleep issue

Millie loves sleeping in our bed. What baby doesn’t like the big, warm, smells-like-my-parent bed?! Except I think I’ve allowed her in so much it’s now expected, and it may* be an issue.

* I’ll come back to that later

So how did I get here? There’s a list:

  • Millie’s room is tiny and there’s no room for a chair, so on the nights when she needs long cuddles or doesn’t want to go back to sleep, my back will only hold out so long without support so I’ve ended up nipping next door to sit on my bed, then it would be easy just to lay her down 
  • I quickly realised that when I was struggling to stay awake for night feeds/cries/whatever and just needed to get some sleep, she would settle very quickly laid next to me (she’s even mastered a cheeky grin that definitely says ‘I won!’ When I lay her in my bed). Sleep always wins so this has become my answer to getting a little more shut eye
  • For daytime sleep particularly, I absolutely love laying next to her and playing or cuddling a bit until she drifts off, and you can’t really do that in her cot

So now, she goes down at night in her room, and if she wakes for a feed it’s very hard getting her back into her cot so she often ends up in with us til morning. Also, literally all her naps at home are on our bed. 

So is this actually an issue? On one hand I think no, it’s not what most other parents I know do but if we’re happy isn’t that enough? She’s sleeping well so that’s fine really. But she’s getting bigger and I would like my bed back during the night sometimes, and it would be good if she were more comfortable staying in her own room after a night feed. 

The naps could pose more of a problem, because she never naps at home without one of us there laid next to her. This feels like an issue because it’s drilled into us that they should be able to self settle but I don’t know if I agree. It’s more inconvenient sometimes, and there’s a pretty serious risk I will end up asleep too, but for the most part it’s just how we do it. What is definitely an issue is that she doesn’t crawl yet but she’s trying, and when she does there’s no protection around our bed. Though it’s going to be hard moving her to sleeping alone during the day it’s a necessity for her safety (plus she does it at nursery without a problem, which means it’s not impossible and I guess also means it’s me being too indulgent 😁).

Part of me thinks I should fall in line, do what my friends do and get her in her cot all the time. It would definitely be easier. But there’s also a foot stamping part of me that thinks ‘no!’. Co-sleeping is wonderful, good for bonding, means we’re both getting better quality sleep (OK, she is at least), and really I’m just enjoying it. She’s so beautiful when she sleeps, and she’s growing too fast already, I should enjoy this shouldn’t I?! 

So there you go, I don’t have an answer but at least I’ve been honest as a lazy parent who defaults to the easy option. She’s napping on my bed right now actually, with pillow bumpers just in case. I might stop typing and sneak a cuddle, while I can. Here’s a bed selfie as a sign off 😍