A Sleep Training Journey – By Helen Clarke

Here is Helen’s story about her experience of sleep training her son. It didn’t happen in a few days but over several months – because sometimes sleep training isn’t easy, it’s really tough! And you have to be ready to do it…

“For the first few weeks of our second son’s life, we thought we’d hit the baby sleep jackpot again. He woke during the night, but only once or twice, and went easily back into his Moses basket after a feeding. Occasionally he’d even sleep 8 hours straight.

Then it all changed.

At about 16 weeks, he began to wake during the evening and 2 or 3 times after that. If we put him back into his Moses basket, he’d wake within 10 mins or less. So we started co-sleeping. It didn’t help that he got his first teeth at 4 months. By 5 months, he was waking even more frequently. There was no discernible pattern to it. Most commonly, he’d wake around 9pm and end up sleeping on me in the living room, then wake every 1-2 hours once we’d gone to bed (with him in bed with me). It got to the ridiculous point where I was telling my mum I was “fine” as long as he only woke every 2 hours and not every hour. But I was shattered, anxious and impatient with my older son. To add to it, he was refusing a bottle (still does).  At the time, I thought we’d never get him to sleep through if he was solely breastfed.

We contacted Dee when he was 5 months. I’d reached (what I thought was) breaking point. She gave us a daily routine and a plan for gradually reducing the amount of help we gave him going to sleep (he had been feeding to sleep). I was uncomfortable with controlled crying as when we’d tried to leave him it was flat out wailing, shaking and sweating within minutes of putting him in his cot. So we decided on a more gradual approach. The idea was that we’d never feed him to sleep, and we’d stay with him each time he woke but not feed him apart from at set times during the night. I have no doubt it would have worked, but I couldn’t do it. So much of sleep training depends on whether the parents are fully committed. He cried so much that I couldn’t not feed him, and we went back to co-sleeping.

A few weeks later (I think he was about 7 months) we decided to try again. However, I felt exactly the same and he cried just as insistently. Dee was great and recognised that I wasn’t ready for the approach we’d planned. So we decided to just focus on naps and bedtime to start with, and really try to work on him learning to go to sleep by himself (but with me in the room). After a few days of never putting him down asleep for naps and at bedtime, his sleep did improve. He slept 4-5 hour stretches. But still ended up in bed with me. I felt positive about the improvement, but then he began teething again and it all went out of the window – I caved again and he ended up attached to me all night.

It went on like this from 7 to 10 months – waking every 1-2 hours or often more if he was teething. Then one night I got 20 minutes sleep the whole night. He’d been latched on to me all night and had cried within minutes of me delatching him. This was the newest thing – he cried a lot in the night rather than just feeding then sleeping. Neither of us could cope anymore. We decided that from then on he was never being put down asleep and that he was going back in his cot. We decided to try to let him cry. For his first nap the following day I just put him in his cot awake and patted him and shushed him and sang to him. He screamed and screamed. After 20 minutes I lost patience and left the room to call my husband. I think I was actually crying, saying we’d never get any sleep. I intended to go back in to settle him having let off steam, but then realised that the crying had stopped. I was out of the room about 8 minutes. He napped for an hour. For his next nap I put him down awake and just left the room. He was asleep in 2 minutes. Then at bedtime he went to sleep with no crying…I was gobsmacked.

That night he woke at 10pm, 2am and 4am. So not great, but a vast improvement on what we’d had. The following day and night I did the same – always down awake. The main difference was that we decided to sleep in the other room, so for the first time he was alone in the room. That night he woke at 10pm and 2am. Then the following night the same. The 2 nights after that, he dropped the 10pm feed and only woke at 2am. Then…he slept 7pm-7.30am. That was about 3 weeks ago and he’s slept 11-12 hours straight (sometimes more) every night since. I fully expect him to need assistance during the night when teething or ill (as does my elder son very occasionally), but it feels like he’s learnt how to sleep now. We’re sleeping in the living room, as we have two bedrooms, but soon he’ll go in with our older son.”

Sometimes our babies need to be given some time and space to calm themselves down, but as parents, we need to be ready to give them that chance.

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