If you had told me a few weeks before my littlest’s first birthday that by the second week of January I’d be getting 8 hours of (mostly) uninterrupted sleep a night, feeling fresh and rested, and able to run 5km three mornings a week, I would have laughed at you. I would have laughed hard.
Because I was a wreck. Every time I switched off my light at night I felt like I was going into battle, never knowing quite when my adversary would strike, or how many times – but knowing it was coming. A good night was the baby screaming twice. A bad night was us getting up every hour or having her tossing about in the bed between us. I spent my days in a haze of exhaustion – cranky, miserable, and certainly not being the best mother I could be.
So how has it all turned around?
It is at this point that I’m tempted to knock on wood, cross my fingers and turn around three times because I don’t want to jinx my new-found well-rested-ness. But then I look back on the changes we’ve consciously made in the last month or so and I know we’ve put in the work that has led us to this point.
If you’re in the thick of the night-time battle right now, know that all things end and you will see the light eventually. Any advice people give you, however well-intentioned, is really just background noise while your own situation looms loudly and uniquely in front of your sleep deprived eyes.
But, having been a voracious consumer of any and all information that might help me improve the number of hours sleep I was getting, I thought I’d share the changes we’ve made and the steps we’ve taken to get to a place where we can function more happily as a family. This was our journey to sleep:
Accept that if a change is gonna come, you might have to bring it
I never needed to sleep train my first baby, so I had little experience in the sleep training department and thought my second would just start sleeping through the night when she was ready. So I let her fall asleep in my arms every night, I got up for her as many times as she needed me in the night, I brought her into our bed if she wouldn’t settle – I did everything I could think of to comfort her and keep her happy – but the more I did, the worse her sleep seemed to get. The simple truth was that our situation was not working for us – particularly the co-sleeping. Having the baby in our bed meant both of us lay there terrified to go to sleep in case we rolled on to her; we hated tip-toeing around at bed time, not being able to talk to each other in our own room at the end of the day, and every time we turned over in the bed we would lie there rigidly for minutes afterwards, knowing that even the slightest rustling of the sheets would probably wake her up. I know that co-sleeping is something many couples choose to do and I have huge respect for that – but it wasn’t working for us. And it was on a morning just before her first birthday, as I stumbled down the stairs in the direction of the kettle after the worst night in a long time, that I finally accepted this. That very day, I spoke to our neighbours and warned them that they were going to be hearing some noise through the walls. A change was gonna come.
Do nothing if baby isn’t completely healthy
Unfortunately, just as I made the decision that sleep training was my only option, Ruby caught a cold. Obviously, if baby is unwell, sleep training is going to be a disaster – so I waited until she was 100% better.
Read, read, read – then choose a method that makes sense to you and stick with it
I went, as usual, first to my oracle of mummy friends to ask them what had worked for them, and then I cracked open all the books I have on my shelf and read as much as I could about sleep training. The advice that made the most sense to me was by Kathryn Mewes – the Three Day Nanny (have you watched her show?! I love her!). Her book, The 3-Day Nanny: Simple 3-Day Solutions for Sleeping, Eating, Potty Training and Behaviour Challenges, became my go-to, and I would recommend her advice to anyone battling with sleep problems – or any kind of parenting challenges really.
Her take on sleep training helped me to get over the philosophical problem I have with the cry it out method – it seems so cruel and I’m definitely not the only mother who feels like her heart is being torn out, thrown on the ground and stomped on with stilettos when my baby is crying behind a closed door. Mewes identifies different levels of crying, which I found really helpful, and as long as I kept chanting to myself the mantra, “I am teaching my baby a skill”, I found the confidence to keep going.
Put her in her own room
For me, this one was the hardest. The baby had been in our room with us from the day she was born and I had major separation anxiety at the thought of putting her somewhere on her own for so many hours in a row. Now I look back and wonder why on earth it took me so long! Of course she wasn’t going to settle if she could see us there! Of course our moving around disturbed her! Putting her into her own room was really the key to the success of our journey to getting a better night’s sleep. Oh, hindsight…
Consistency, consistency, consistency
In much the same way babies feel secure when their days consist of a routine they can depend on, I think they respond the same way to our approach to sleep training. Whichever method you choose, the over-arching principal in all of them is to be consistent – and not to give up. Three days really does seem to be the magic number. On our first night Ruby screamed for an hour and refused to lie down, eventually falling asleep standing up with her little arms wedging her up in the corner of her cot. The following night it took 20 minutes, and the following night less than 5 minutes, and she slept through the night. Since then she has gone happily off to sleep as soon as I put her down – both at night and for her day time naps. This is something I genuinely believed would never, ever happen, and I almost can’t believe the words when I see them on the page.
Feel it as you go
Middle of the night wake ups have been less straight-forward for me. I have relied on the fact that teaching my baby to fall asleep on her own will mean that she’ll cry less often in the night – which has mostly been true. However, we live in the tropics, so sometimes Ruby wakes in the night because she’s hot, or thirsty, or has a mosquito bite. I can tell by looking at the baby monitor (which is a video monitor – which I love) whether she is just a bit restless and will go back to sleep on her own, or if she really needs me to go in, give her something to drink, hold her under the fan – whatever. It’s happening less and less, and never more than once a night.
The magic sleep pod
At the same time as starting sleep training, I started using what I now think of as my secret weapon in the war against sleeplessness. We bought a Dock-a-Tot Grand (or if you’re in the UK, a Sleepyhead Grand Pod). When Ruby was a newborn a friend gave me her Sleepyhead Deluxe Pod, for infants from birth. When Ruby grew out of it at about 6 months, she stopped sleeping well. So I’ve always wanted to buy the next size up (for littles from 8-36 months) but was put off by the cost (amplified here where we have delivery and import duty fees to contend with as well). But I obsessed over it, read the reviews, followed the pictures on Instagram and eventually my husband said, “Oh for goodness sake, just order it.” The day the Dock-a-Tot Grand arrived was a big day. I truly, truly cannot rave about this product enough. In conjunction with the sleep training we did, I believe this is what makes Ruby feel so secure and cosy in her bed. For me, this sleep pod is magic, and I wish I had bought it months ago.
So that is our sleep training story.
Every baby is different and no matter what advice you read in books or get from your fellow mothers-in-arms at the school gates and baby groups, you are the only true expert on your own baby. Have confidence in your decisions and you will find what works best for your family – these days of sleeplessness will one day be in the past. I hope that reading about some of the things I did will help you if you’re looking to take the leap and sleep train your baby. Please let me know if you’ve already done it and share any tricks you picked up – or, indeed, if you don’t agree with sleep training and why co-sleeping works for you. We’re all taking different paths on this amazing ride that is motherhood, but we’re all in it together.
PS – I loved this article – makes me feel like my baby has forgiven me for making her cry it out.
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