Ah sleep, it’s one of those topics that I think most parents could talk at length about. We’ve had a checkered history with sleep – the first two ladies were, in general, pretty good. Then our third lady came along and I’m pleased to say that she has slept through the night consistently now for the last week so yay…she’s two and a half!! Disaster but it’s not her I’m here to talk about, it’s the smallest lady! Last night she slept through the night for the first time and she’s 7.5 months so I am thrilled. Sure look she may not sleep through again for another month, at this age between teething and leaps and milestones it’s important we, as parents, manage our sleep expectations, sure some babies sleep all night from the start etc but lots of babies go through phases where they’ll sleep really well and then they get sick or get teeth and sleep is broken for a while. Anyway, this is a long post so I’ll get straight into it!
Right so lets start at the start. The small lady was exclusively breastfed for the first 7 months, which was great, I did it on demand every hour of the day and night as required and this was perfect, suited us both, she was quick to feed both day and night and at night quick to go back to sleep (usually in bed with me!). From about 3 months onwards we started swaddling her because she kept jumping or hitting herself in the face and waking herself up. In terms of naps, really she just slept when she slept, looking back I honestly couldn’t say if she had 2 naps or 5 naps in a day or for how long overall she slept during the day. Around 5 months I got to breaking point, the longest the small lady would do at night was 2 hours and often times in the space of those two hours the toddler would wake so when Lucy Wolfe offered her services (ha that sounds dodgy, for those that don’t know who she is she is a sleep consultant, I’ll link her book here, it’s very good) I literally JUMPED at the chance! I felt we were beyond the help of the book, I was so entrenched in tiredness I just couldn’t see the wood from the trees and I didn’t have the energy to go it alone because sleep training isn’t easy and you need support.
Lucy Wolfe doesn’t generally work with babies under 6 months so we spoke first when Alice was about 5.5 months and from there on I started to make small changes, like being more routine with the breastfeeding and also introducing a more structured approach to napping during the day.
From 6 months onwards then we unswaddled Alice and started with a kind of rolling routine which means that you focus on a set amount of awake time between naps rather than having fixed nap times. These awake times can vary from 1 hour 40 minutes to 2 hours and generally increase in duration as the baby starts to sleep better. I won’t lie I found this part really hard, trying to keep track of the time, trying to squeeze in solids and breastfeeds oh and not to mention the 3 other children I own who all have their own schedules!! It was really stressful but I found Lucy Wolfe a huge support, there were so many times I wanted to throw in the towel but when I spoke to her she would often reassure me that what was happening (say like frequent waking from 2am onwards) was normal.
After about 2 weeks we started to see improvements in terms of how long she starting sleeping at night, for a while she would have nights where she would sleep 7pm to around 10 or 11pm when I’d feed her, then sleep again until 2am when I’d feed her again and then after that she could be a little unsettled until 7am but sometimes not so.
Settling her was hard though, in order to help her settle herself at night when she goes through a sleep cycle she simply had to learn how to go to sleep by herself in the cot. So into the cot she’d go fully awake and Lucy Wolfe uses a stay and support approach, so you stay by the cot for a few nights, then you move to the middle of the room then out of the room. For us though we couldn’t seem to move from the ‘beside the cot’ position so eventually we decided to try just putting her in and leaving the room. Oh how I laughed when it was first suggested, I was honestly in my head thinking, there is absolutely no way in the name of god that will work she needs so much support to go to sleep….but there’s a reason Lucy is the sleep expert and not me! First night I put her down into the cot and left after a few kisses, she chatted and grumbled a little bit and after a few minutes I went back in to put in her soother again and give her a few more kisses and guess what, I never had to go in again!!!! She just went to sleep! And it continued like that every since, most nights we go in exactly 3 times to reassure her and put the soother back in and after that she’s asleep by herself. Amazing!
After about a month things stalled and she was still at a point where she was waking every few hours throughout the night so we had to look at things again and see what was the issue. I had a sneaking suspicion that she was hungry. Over the weeks preceding that she started to become increasingly easy to distract during feeds and also she was on solids and eventually my supply dwindled down to almost nothing. So I introduced a bottle at bedtime one night and within a week she was weaned onto them fully and I had finished breastfeeding. This was actually not really what I had wanted to happen, I would have loved to have stayed breastfeeding for much long but I’m not going to beat myself up about it, life with 4 small kids is very busy and I was tired and stressed so it just dried up, it is what it is and I felt I had done my bit for giving her a good start.Now we have a somewhat fixed routine, she has two to three naps a day, always in the buggy because her naps generally tie into the school runs. She goes to sleep around 7pm, gets a dream feed around 11pm, she generally stirs around then time when she’s hungry and then generally speaking she will sleep 11-6am with maybe one waking at some stage for us to put the soother back in.
There were loads of different things we had to implement to get to a good place in terms of sleeping, I don’t think any one thing made a huge difference other than establishing a good routine for naps, eventually the night looks after itself if a baby is well rested. I get asked so many questions about what we did so I hope I have answered it as best I can. I didn’t include our routine because for the first while it was specifically based on her sleep history as prescribed by Lucy Wolfe for Alice and with babies their daily routines change nearly monthly within the first year, like soon Alice will be down to two long naps in the day but it’s 2 or 3 at the moment. And she might wake (or be woken!!) from a nap early so our days are often figured out as we go to make sure she gets about 4 hours sleep during the day.
Also it’s worth noting, Alice is a really placid baby, our toddler is a different animal altogether and we have had such issues with her and sleep but she had a dairy intolerance which didn’t help etc so I know people always ask me things like ‘was it hard to stop feeding her to sleep’ or ‘was it hard to get her to self settle’ and thankfully the answer to those is no for Alice but it will be a different answer for every baby.
And finally a note on the wonderful Lucy Wolfe, she was a huge support and help during the whole process. I was gifted her services and I am so grateful. It’s probably worth explaining the process with her so firstly you fill out a pretty detailed questionnaire and also a general overview of your routine. Then you chat with her, we used Whatsapp video for all our calls and the first call is an hour long. After that once you start you communicate via shorter calls I think maybe twice the first week, and about once weekly after that for a couple of weeks and before each call you email through your sleep/feeding log and any comments on whats happening in general. We spoke about 5 times I think in total, it was really helpful and in short I cannot recommend it enough, we would undoubtedly still be bogged down in sleepless nights if it weren’t for her help and for that I am so so grateful. I know this was a gift but it’s not an ad, the success speaks for itself!