While, with Big D, I had the energy to let baby sleep issues run their course and by 6 months she was sleeping nicely through the night, when Little D came along the lack of power naps really took its toll. At 5 months, and despite being a good weight, Little D would wake up every night in the small hours, feed for a few minutes and fall asleep before I decanted her back into her cot. I knew I was being used for comfort and not because of hunger – but I didn’t have the energy to break the cycle.
I spoke to friends – many of whom offered advice. Some suggested ‘controlled crying’ (ie let baby cry it out, popping in intermittently to demonstrate it’s not been abandoned) – the idea being that eventually it would realise that it wasn’t worth the effort and might as well pass out. It’s a war of attrition, however, and can take a while – if it works at all. Having gotten myself sufficiently frazzled over several months, I decided to call up an expert.
I’d been discussing with a great friend of mine who mentioned she used an amazing baby sleep therapist who had worked wonders. She gave me her number, and I explained in detail Little D’s sleeping habits (the fact that she was waking up religiously at 5am, feeding, and then not taking her morning feed at 7am – putting her out of kilter for the whole of the next day). I explained that I wasn’t a fan of letting my baby cry and so she suggested a more subtle approach which promised to leave Little D with a lasting healthy relationship with her bed, sleep and bedtime routine.
I have set out below my understanding of the plan as she explained it to me. I am not personally a sleep therapist, nor qualified in any way, just sharing the advice that I received from an expert which worked wonders for me. Hopefully, it will do the same for you.
Step 1. 6pm – Bedtime Routine
Bath followed by quiet time and feed at 6.45pm.
While baby is having its bottle, dim the lights and make sure it’s nice and quiet. It is important that baby gets to know that it is time for bed. If you have a second child, it’s important that they do not disturb the peace during this time. So starting the routine on a Friday night and having your partner (or other family member) around to support the routine will help greatly.
To prepare for the night ahead, you should make a comfortable area for you to lie on next to the cot, with a pillow and little blanket. You’ll be thankful for this later on in the night (see Step 3 below).
Once baby has finished its feed, lay it in the cot, and remain in the room at their level gently shushing and patting until they are asleep. It sounds really simple, but the patting and the shushing is really important and make sure that it is consistently rhythmic and gentle.
At the time when baby is sleep training, the expert told me that it’s important that it is mummy that takes on the role of chief comforter – especially during any nighttime waking (Daddy B was pleased to hear this). Should you get bored of using your own voice to shush, there are some great baby apps that let you take a recording of your own voice that you could use as an alternative. I also found putting so-called ‘white noise’ on my baby monitor (and keeping it on through the night) really helped.
Don’t try to leave the room until you absolutely know they are fully sound asleep.
Step 2. 11pm Feed
You’ve probably heard of this being called the “dreamfeed” and that is exactly how it should be. If you can administer this feed without disturbing baby from its slumber then I would recommend doing so – feeding baby while it’s asleep in the cot. If this is not practical (eg because your baby suffers with reflux), try to make it as peaceful as possible. If baby doesn’t go down very well, repeat the shushing and patting and comforting (staying always at their level), as per Step 1 above.
Don’t forget, this should be baby’s last feed before 7am (or as close to it as you can get). The whole point of this routine is that we are cutting out the little comfort feeds and not using the controlled crying approach.
Step 3. Nighttime Waking
Go to baby and start the patting/shushing at their level. Expect to have an almighty reaction to them not being fed (assuming like me you have historically used feeding as comfort). Stay strong and accept that this calming process may take up to two hours. Remember, you are ultimately doing this so that your baby can have a solid night’s sleep – which is the best thing for it at this stage and in the years to come. Also take comfort from the fact that you are physically with your baby – you are just using a different method to comfort them (ie the tapping and shushing at their level rather than breast or bottle).
That first night don’t leave the room when baby’s asleep. Slip into the little bed you’ve made as quietly as a mouse and stay by their bedside until morning. You may wish to keep a shushing app or music going as the repetitive nature of that sound will be reassuring. The womb is a noisy place, and so silence in the first few weeks and months is actually quite alarming for little ones. It will also help to keep them in slumber as they work through their 40 minute sleep cycles – and blur the noise of any passing aircraft (a real issue in South West London!)).
On each subsequent night until baby has pulled it off, repeat the above. Even as soon as the second night, it may be that baby will cry or be upset for considerably less time. Little D settled after 20 minutes on night 2, and I decided to retreat to my bedroom at this point. But if you can handle another night in the makeshift bed it wouldn’t be a bad thing. By night 3, Little D went through the night: we’d cracked it! Some babies may take a little bit longer than this, but the point is to be consistent so that you give baby the same message – on repeat. Its need to know that it is loved. Comfort it, stay with it, but you’re not going to feed it back to sleep.
Step 4 – 7am – Good Morning
Make sure baby’s awake by 7am, takes a good feed and starts its day. You will no doubt be emotionally and physically exhausted, so here’s where Daddy or other family member who’s had a cruisy old night in their bed can pick up the slack. Make sure you get some rest, otherwise you won’t feel physically strong enough for the night ahead.
It’s worth mentioning that Baby O had sleep problems where he was waking up every 2o minutes due to his dummy falling out. Auntie H removed the dummy from the equation and worked through the above method. Like Little D, Baby O started swiftly going through the night. I genuinely believe this approach works – or that it is at least worth giving a try if you’ve reached that point.
Little D now has wonderful associations with her bed. I never have any issues with night waking unless she’s suffering with fever or teething. I am so pleased for the advice that I received and I do hope that you too will find it helpful. Whatever stage of sleep training you’re at with your little one, stick with it and remember, they’re only little babies for such a short time. You’re dedication is a sign of your devotion.
Please do share among your mummy baby network if you think this could help other mummies in need of a good night’s rest.
Love Mummy B