As there is only about a month to go until we are back in the newborn sleep deprivation trenches, I thought I would write about sleep (or lack thereof) in our first year of parenting.
This is another topic that can be tricky to talk about – everyone has different experiences, different opinions on self soothing and cry-it-out, co-sleeping and most importantly we all have completely different babies. I know from experience it’s so hard to hear someone tell you (brag) all about how their baby has been sleeping through the night pretty much since birth, while you’re 8 months into broken sleep every night. I thought I’d share with you our experience with a “sleep-fighter” and how we ended up with a baby who now sleeps through the night, most nights, since about 1 year old. You might find some handy hints here, but as I said – every baby is different. My aim is to show how we found a middle ground in sleep training – training your baby to self settle without using cry-it-out, and ultimately getting our sleep (and sanity) back.
Milla fought sleep right from the beginning. You could be rocking her to sleep and her eyes would be nearly closed then she’d open them wide again as if to say “What? I wasn’t asleep!”. Up until 4 months she napped either on us or in her swing for every nap. We moved her to her cot at 4 months to try and get into a sleep routine for naps and night sleep. This still required us to rock her (or put her in the carrier or pram) to sleep until about 9 months old. As she never took to breastfeeding or a dummy, this took away a lot of our options for soothing her to sleep. So movement was it (this did wonders for my arm/back muscles and losing baby weight with all the walking I was doing just to get her to sleep!).
Settling her for naps 3 times a day was getting so draining and night times could take forever. We got to a point where she was waking probably only once or twice a night and would settle relatively easily with a bottle which wasn’t actually too bad (especially hearing from some other parents who clearly were in a worse state of sleep deprivation). But then the 8 month sleep regression hit and I’d be up for 2 hours in the middle of the night just trying to get her to resettle. Rock her back to sleep and she’d wake as soon as she hit the cot. This is when we contacted the Baby Sleep Consultants.
Our main goal was to teach Milla to settle herself for naps and sleep, and to get her overnight wake-ups to just one per night with an easy resettle. I know a lot of people swear by cry-it-out and I think it does work for some babies. I’m not sure if it has an optimal age where it works? Either way, it wasn’t something that I thought I could do. I felt like I couldn’t go from gently rocking Milla to sleep for every nap for 9 months to suddenly go to just leaving her to cry. So I spoke with my consultant (via phone chats) about gentle methods for sleep training.
We settled on a technique called gradual withdrawal where you slowly remove yourself from the settling situation. You start by patting and shushing bubs in the cot for a few nights, then you settle just with your voice and no touch for the next few nights. You slowly move away from the cot each few nights until you are out the door and your little one is pretty much settling themselves with the knowledge that you are still there. There will be some crying but you are there to settle them with your voice, and if they become really upset you can give them a cuddle and start again. This method can take 2-3 weeks to work so it is a lot longer than cry-it-out, but it’s really not that bad.
We were also given a routine to follow in terms of when to nap, how long each nap should be, when food/bottles should be given. It sounds quite constraining but it doesn’t last forever.
The most important things which helped us:
A strict daytime routine – this might not be possible for everyone if you have different work commitments, older kids and a busy schedule. But if you can try and stick to a routine for the few weeks while you’re training it definitely helps. I would contact the Sleep Consultants to see what is best for your baby.
A comforter – Milla did not get comfort from a dummy and I had given her a comforter before but she didn’t seem interested. What I didn’t realise is that you have to build the comfort association with it. Whenever you are feeding your baby, ensure the comforter is in bubs’ hands. Play games like peekaboo with it. We pretty much took the comforter (affectionately known as Snoop Dog) everywhere with us so it became a favourite toy. There is now a gang of 3 toys that always have to go in her cot and I definitely think they help bring her comfort when we are not there. Note: I believe the experts say don’t introduce a comforter until at least 4 months so that baby is able to move it if it goes over their head. A good way to test is to put the comforter over their head when they are playing and see if they can get it off. We didn’t introduce the comforter until 9 months so we had no issues.
Dark room – This is really important because darkness allows the body to produce melatonin which is a hormone which regulates sleep. Especially for day naps, we found putting up black-out blinds really important for allowing Milla to fall asleep and stay asleep
White noise – I’m sure you’ve probably heard that newborns sleep best around loud white noise as it is similar to the level of noise in the womb. This also works for older babies – it blocks out ambient noises in the house which can be distracting and we found it is also just works as another sleep cue.
Night time routine – for us this involves dinner around 5pm, bath with daddy around 6pm, a bottle of milk at around 615pm with mumma, a cuddle and song then into cot by 630pm. The bottle is in the dark with white noise app on, lights off (except for her night light), in her sleeping bag and with her three toys which go to bed with her. We’ve been doing this routine for so long now she knows what’s happening and she almost can’t wait to get into her cot. She goes into her cot awake and can sometimes take 15 minutes to fall asleep, but she almost always does this by herself. She’s quite happy in there.
So I think that’s about it. Everyone will have a different story, but this is ours and hopefully you might find some helpful advice in it. We would have happily tried co-sleeping and she did come into our bed on the odd occasion as a baby when we just needed to get a bit of sleep. But for the most part, she didn’t sleep well in our bed and now she thinks it’s play time if she’s in our bed so that’s definitely not happening. She actually loves her cot, so even though I’d love snuggles in our bed, it’s just not the kind of baby that she is. And really, it’s probably for the best with a newborn arriving in a little over a month.
I can’t even guess what the next baby is going to be like, I’m hoping we got trial by fire with the first baby and the next one will be a breeze. At least we’ll have some idea of what’s to come this time! Or maybe this will all go out the window?!