A fantastic thing has happened. Four weeks ago I was despairing. Penny was sleeping terribly. She had been for nearly two months and the waking and needing to be settled pretty much every hour of the night had exhausted me mentally and physically (you can read more in my post here). Despite having found that no book has all the answers in spite of many’s claims to have the authority on my baby, in desperation I had reached for “The No-Cry Sleep Solution” by Elizabeth Pantley. It didn’t promise a quick solution, but it did claim that “by day sixty, 92 percent [of her test group] were sleeping through the night” (which is five hours according to the medical definition).
A month later, the change is phenomenal. Give Penny her bedtime bottle, lay her in her cot, pop her dummy in and she is either asleep or very close to sleep, and I can leave the room. My evenings are my own again and, even though I tend to go to bed very early, I get a couple of hours to read, watch TV or do whatever I want. She still wakes in the night for one or two bottles (it varies) but, again, she drinks her milk and settles straight back down to sleep. I am back in bed within fifteen minutes. The biggest change has been that all the other times she wakes up and needs me to settle her are pretty much a thing of the past. She has learnt to self-settle. My night-time hearing, hyper-sensitised to Penny’s cries, have often heard a little cry only for it to stop again as quickly as it started. I am a happy (and much less sleep deprived) mummy. How did this happen?
Well in true ad-lib parenting fashion I didn’t follow Pantley’s instructions to the letter by any means. However, there are several new things I introduced, many taken from the book. I am not naïve enough to think that this was all my doing. Babies are changing and developing all the time and there is a fair chance that she was just ‘ready’ to sleep better. But I think the new things I tried have also made a difference. Here is what I did…
- I made sure Penny got regular, decent length daytime naps.
Pantley says six month old babies need two naps totalling 3-4 hours. I wouldn’t say Penny ever has four hours, but by making sure that she has a good length morning and afternoon nap she is more settled throughout the day and more settled at night. I also make sure her afternoon nap is relatively early. If she sleeps after about 4pm she doesn’t settle as easily at bedtime.
- I got a blackout blind fitted.
The lengthening daylight hours were starting to become a problem in the mornings, and I knew it wouldn’t be long before it was still light at her bedtime. As Penny’s bedroom curtains are paper thin I knew I had to do something. Being a historian I admit I did expect a blackout blind to cut out every last chink of light from entering the room (in the style of WW2 blackout blinds to prevent enemy aircraft knowing when they were over a populated area) so I was slightly disappointed that daylight could still come in round the edges. Nonetheless it does dim the light in Penny’s room significantly and give it more of a ‘bedtime’ ambience.
- I discovered the marvellous Sleepytot Bunny.
Pantley recommends introducing a ‘lovey’; a soft toy or comforter that baby with form an attachment to and cuddle to help them settle. Penny had not shown much interest in comforters I had tried giving her at bedtime previously, but I came across the Sleepytot Bunny and thought it sounded worth a try. What is different about Sleepytot bunny is its paws. Each one has Velcro on it so it can hold a dummy. Even before I attached dummies Penny immediately took to it. She rolled around with it like a cat with a catnip toy. With dummies added to each paw she was easily able to find and replace her dummy herself.
- I changed dummy brand.
We were using Mothercare dummies, which only went up one way. As Penny was learning to take out and replace her own dummy she often put it in the wrong way up. We changed to Advent freeflow soothers (at a time Penny was due to go up a size anyway) and it didn’t matter which way they went up, making it much easier for her.
- I fed her in her bedroom.
When her cot was in our room I sat up, nice and comfy, in bed to feed Penny. But her room is small. No room for a nice comfy chair. So when we first moved her into her own room we were reluctant to sacrifice our own comfort and sat a comfy chair (insert Monty Python joke here) just outside her room for feeding her. The problem was that she was falling asleep in my arms and then waking up as she was carried back into her own room. There was nothing for it but to give up my comfy chair and instead squeeze a much more compact, hard backed and not comfortable for feeding a baby, dining room chair beside her cot. The change definitely seemed to work though and the movement from lap to cot stirred her a lot less.
- I stopped cuddling her to sleep.
When Penny was unhappy in her cot my first instinct was to pick her up and give her a cuddle. I would sway her until she fell asleep in my arms then very very carefully place her back in the cot, trying not to wake her. If she woke up she would be unhappy and i would have to start the whole process again. Pantley recommended cuddling baby in the cot as a transition and I found that the majority of the time just putting my arms close to her sides and holding her in the cot without actually picking her up did settle her. Not the most comfortable thing to do but at least her cot base is still on the higher level. I was rather apprehensive about how this would work when we were away and she was in the travel cot as I would not be able to reach down far enough to get my forearms around her. But in the week or so since I started this approach she had made great leaps forward and settled fine without the cot cuddles. I needed to give her my hand a couple of times but that was it. I now no longer need to cuddle her in the cot. It is unusual now for her to need any help from me to resettle. I have probably only needed to pick her up in the night (other than to feed her) once in the past week.
So there you have it. One month and a few new techniques and Penny’s sleep has turned a massive corner. While every baby is different, I would certainly recommend these techniques to others. In fact, if you try them do comment to let me know how they worked for your little one. What will happen in the future? I don’t know. I know there will be bad nights, but hopefully these will just be nights, not weeks or months. A good sign of things to come is that in the past week she slept from 7pm to 5am one night without waking for a bottle and then last night she went from 7pm to 7.30am. Maybe, just maybe, she is moving towards regularly ‘sleeping through’ by my definition of the term.