If your baby won’t sleep through the night, I’d like to offer a virtual hug and a round-up of tips I hope might help, from the dark, recent days of my own baby-induced sleep deprivation.
At a few weeks old, LP would often sleep 6 hours a night, from 12am to 6am. “I can handle this”, I thought to myself.
But at 3 months old, he began waking every 2-3 hours, or less. It felt like torture. So I tried almost every idea I could find: consulting books, internet forums, other parents and health visitors.
At 9 months old, LP started sleeping through and now happily sleeps 12-13 hours a night, with one 1.5 hour nap during the day.
All babies are different and many say that they’ll just sleep through when they’re ready, but there was one tip that I felt made a difference for us. Read on to find out what that was. Here are the results of everything I tried.
1. Breastfeeding back to sleep
Sleeping in the baby wrap…but not at night
What do you do when your newborn wakes in the middle of the night? You feed them. During a feed, LP would drift back to sleep and I could gently place him back in bed. When he started waking up all night, I worried it was my fault he wasn’t sleeping, that I’d created too much of a “sleep association” between breastfeeding and him going to sleep. That he didn’t know “how” to go back to sleep without the boob. Some websites have coined this awful term: sleep “crutch” – doesn’t sound very nice does it?
Doctors recommend not sleep-training until children are at least 6 months old. Between growth spurts, cluster feeds and it just having been a while since they ate dinner, my health advisor confirmed that it’s entirely likely they are genuinely hungry again in the early hours.
Plus, breastfeeding (or cuddling up with mommy or daddy and a bottle) is a huge comfort to babies. And it was a choice between trying different ways to get him back to sleep in the middle of the night or a quick, ten minute feed. So this is one that I kept up until he slept through.
2. A dummy
If only there really was a volume control
Dummies are a controversial choice. Some people think it wrong to give babies unlimited access to a fake nipple, while others think you crazy if baby doesn’t have one. I was happy to try LP with one if it would bring him comfort, provided it was taken away by age one, to avoid any crowding of his teeth.
I thought that if he was using the boob as a “sleep crutch” maybe this could be a (continuous) replacement to keep him snoozing through the night. Wrong! I tried all kinds and couldn’t get him to keep it in his mouth – he’d just spit it out. I know that other babies love to sleep with dummies and it helps them get back to sleep by themselves – as soon as you have taught them to put the dummy back in their own mouth. It didn’t work for us though.
3. White noise
So calming, so peaceful…so annoying
Loads of places recommend using white noise to recreate the constant, muffled sounds that babies hear in utero. I remember lying in bed, as he slept in the moses basket beside me, listening to free white noise website, noisli, thinking that we had cracked it. Unfortunately, the noise was keeping my husband and I awake. It didn’t work anyway. In that particular instance he woke up again after about ten minutes.
Loads of people swear by white noise and there are loads of toys for young babies that now include it (Ewan the Dream Sheep, baby swings, mobiles). It’s supposed to work for a large percentage of children, so it may be worth a go for your little night owl.
4. A t-shirt that smells like mommy
Basically what I said every time he woke us
You don’t have to look far to read that newborns have a good sense of smell and they are drawn to the scent of their mother. As advised by other mums trying the technique, I carefully tucked a t-shirt I had slept in, into the moses basket with LP, to provide my reassuring smell (lol). I think he was too concerned with what was in the t-shirt (the milk) when I was wearing it to fall for a decoy, so it didn’t work. Besides, I was too worried he would cover his face with the shirt in the night. But this is not so much of a risk with older babies and toddlers who have “peepo” down pat, so if you are struggling with night wakings at that stage, it can’t hurt to give it a go.
5. Bath and bedtime routine
Ducks are a vital ingredient in the routine
Every parenting website under the sun insists on a good bedtime routine. During the initial newborn / sleeping pretty well at night period, he slept and fed on and off downstairs with my husband and I, and then we all went to bed together. So that was another thing for me to feel guilty about when the sleeping stopped – why hadn’t I worked harder to put a routine in place?!
The theory is that a strong bedtime routine helps children learn to fall asleep by themselves because they feel relaxed by the familiarity in an otherwise confusing world. Unfortunately, baths seemed to be the most exciting thing in the world to LP and gave him more energy, not less! He wasn’t keen on bedtime stories until he was old enough to turn the page himself.
Our bedtime routine now works really well and I’d definitely recommend one. It’s just that during the no-sleep phase, it was disheartening to finally get him down after wrestling with him in the bath, only to have him wake up an hour later… I believe it laid the foundations for sleeping through though.
6. The pick-up, put-down method and the no-cry sleep solution
Me, going up and down the stairs
The pick-up, put down method comes from The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems, by Tracy Hogg and Melinda Blau. The best source of info on the method is the book but, loosely, it states that when trying to get your baby to bed, you should pick your them up when they’re crying then put them down when they stop, over and over, until they start settling themselves (i.e. they’ve got the message). All this gave me were tired arms, an achy back and a hysterical child, but maybe trying the technique with a younger baby would work. The best thing I learnt from Tracey Hogg was the EASY routine, which is a topic for another post.
The No-Cry Sleep Solution is by Elizabeth Pantley. I borrowed a book from friend and it advocates taking a long time to gradually reduce the amount of night wakings, using a few different methods to gently lull baby to sleep, including some of the ideas above, such as a strong bedtime routine. I felt like we were doing all of the things suggested already, but there were some interesting points, like asking whether you are really ready to give up the night wakings and night feeds, that special time in the middle of the night that was just for you and your child.
Yes…yes I was ready. I was so tired I couldn’t think straight and all my thoughts had a negative slant. Neither of these methods were the silver bullet I was looking for (spoiler: there is no silver bullet – it’s a combination of things and learning what works best for your baby).
7. A strict schedule and cry it out (let cry for a bit)
I only want to see this sight if it’s lunch time
I was seduced by this website, The Practically Perfect Baby, and the idea of doing things by numbers – a set schedule that would help me take back some control and meet all my baby’s needs to allow him to sleep through the night! Apparently, this was an exact science, if I just controlled the amounts that my baby ate, when he ate and gave him more towards the end of the day, he would be so full that he’d just sleep through!
Except…this doesn’t work when you are breastfeeding, because who knows how many ounces they are getting each time? There are no markings on the containers… Plus if baby is hungry, they’re hungry – there’s no arguing.
If baby didn’t sleep through, you could ignore him for up to 15 minutes before going to check if there were any reasons for him to be awake (too cold, noise, needs a change, etc.) This is a bit like “cry it out”, popularised by Richard Ferber, where you set a short amount of time and let them cry before going in to comfort them. If you see the Three Day Nanny, it’s pretty much all letting toddlers cry until they learn to go back to sleep by themselves (oversimplification – watch the program – I don’t want to be done for libel).
The strict routine thing was no good for us, although I did manage to get LP into a schedule based on his cues when he was established on solid food. And when he was older, we were better able to tell when his cries were just because he was tired or wanted to play vs. when he was hungry or poorly and really needed us, so letting him cry a little bit did work when he was older.
When we did try letting him cry at night during the no-sleep period – for 20 minutes at most – even if he did fall back to sleep it wasn’t long until he woke up again. Yet 5-10 minutes on the boob and it was back to dreamland. For a couple of hours. So it just wasn’t worth listening to him cry.
I would say it is important not to rush in at the slightest peep and there are occasions when babies will cry before going to sleep because they are so tired. Having a video baby monitor has helped us judge when he really needs us.
8. Sending Daddy in
This is what baby thinks of you sending in “the big guns”
After LP turned 6 months old, the age when most experts believe it’s safe to start sleep training because babies are generally capable of sleeping through, I was still hung up on the idea that he was using breast feeding as a crutch. But maybe if it wasn’t me going in, he wouldn’t smell the milk, so he wouldn’t want the milk and the cycle would be broken! So I sent daddy into deal with the nightwakings.
What actually happened was me lying awake as Daddy tried to comfort squalling child. We were both even more tired and I just gave up and went back to breastfeeding back to sleep.
9. Dream feeds
So peaceful…at the moment (this is not LP or my boob by the way)
Image credit: http://www.analyticalarmadillo.co.uk/2010/10/breastfeedingnursing-strike-top-tips.html
“Dream feed” is another term from my favourite, Tracy Hogg. It’s something that I explained I was trying to my health advisor who made the mistake of asking how we were sleeping – she nodded along that it might work. Ha!
Essentially, this is a method where you put baby to bed at about 7pm – normal baby bedtime – and then at about 10.30pm, just before you turn in yourself, you gently give them a breastfeed or bottle while they are still asleep. This will help keep them full and encourage them to sleep past 2am and then later.
The trouble I found with this is that sometimes it seemed to work to give me a bit longer before he woke up next and sometimes it didn’t. But it didn’t get him sleeping through. And sometimes giving him a feed would necessitate a change, which would wake him up completely.
10. Co-sleeping when baby won’t sleep
How can someone so tiny take up so much space?
We only flirted with co-sleeping briefly. It is a lovely idea but my husband and I were terrified we were going to roll onto him (my husband especially) or that the covers would smother him. At the end of the day, I need my own space in bed. And I didn’t want to end up with an older child who wouldn’t sleep in their own bed, which does sometimes happen.
One thing I did find brilliant was learning to breastfeed lying down. Anything that means you have to wake up less helps with the sleep deprivation. I could just roll over, get him out of the moses basket and pop him on. Definitely starting breastfeeding lying down earlier with the next one.
11. A sleep bag in case they are too hot / cold
Shark design optional
“Well, of course he’s waking up, if he’s too hot or cold”, I said to myself. We were still swaddling him in a blanket, but he was getting bigger and more able to work himself free. So, off I went to by a baby sleep bag, which have a helpful guide telling you exactly what clothes baby needs to wear depending on the tog and the temperature of the bedroom.
I do believe that the sleep bag helped LP to know that it was time to sleep. I felt it helped him settle down better at naps too and still use a lightweight one at nap time now, at 16 months. Plus it was great peace of mind to know he wouldn’t be kicking the bedcovers off. Yes – I’m pretty sure the sleep bag was a contributing factor to baby sleeping through.
12. Moving them to a different room in case you are waking them
This child is clearly attempting to gnaw his way out
Sheer desperation at this point, after three months of not sleeping. I know, some people have it much worse, but I need my sleep or I’m just not right. It was just before LP was 6 months, which is the recommended age to move babies from your room. I was convinced that something about the way we were going to bed or sleeping was disturbing him – possibly just the knowledge that we were right there was causing him to wake up.
We moved him into his own, lovingly decorated room and gladly reclaimed our bedroom. Unfortunately, the night wakings continued for another 3 months.
13. Grim acceptance
Early motherhood, when baby won’t sleep, is a time to rediscover caffeine
The realisation was dawning on me that it really was going to take as long as it took. LP would sleep through when he was ready and not before. I just had to suck it up, try to embrace it, sleep during the day and drink back to back coffees when I needed to be awake. Everyone was lying about children sleeping through. This was it. Forever.
14. Water at nightfeeds
Blissful, uninterrupted sleep… good to see you, old friend
And then I tried one thing that seemed to coincide with the start of the sleeping through of the last 7 months. The one thing that made a difference for us. I’d come across this idea on forums and spoken to my health visitor about it.
When LP woke in the middle of the night, I offered him water from his cup before offering him the breast. The first couple of nights he would noisily slurp the water for several gulps, then look at me in puzzlement and have some milk. But it was less milk each night. And then we realised that he hadn’t woken us in the night for a few days.
The thinking goes that this helped to quench any thirst, gradually replace nighttime calories with daytime ones and gently break the night waking habit.
I’m not so naive as to think that he won’t wake up again or that we’ll have an easy ride through the toddler years. I’m sure he’ll be coming downstairs asking us to chase monsters out of his room or for one more drink. But for now, we are enjoying the rest very much, thank you.
I hope that one or two of the ideas above might work for your family if your baby won’t sleep through the night. If you have any other suggestions, please share in the comments below.
I’ve linked this post up with Twinkly Tuesday at MummasScribbles for the first time! Please go check out the great posts there…