Monday, 11 September 2017

how we did sleep training with our 18 month old toddler (the long story)

this is purely the story of what worked for us, how we did it and what we do now. it's for anyone who thinks it's too late to sleep train, but who need more time for themselves and want to help their child learn how to sleep by themselves. so let's start with some background, because every baby is different, and i really feel the foundations for good sleep need to be laid down to begin with.

since he came home from the hospital at 3 weeks old we've rocked him to sleep, in a swaddle and then in his sleeping bag and then the Ergobaby carrier. he's slept long stretches from pretty early on this way, because he was taught in the hospital to go 3-4 hours between feeds and that seems to have stuck with him, also Daddy had this sense to know hunger cries from "why have I woken up, help me sleep" cries, so would put a blanket over and cuddle him instead and that helped him sleep through the night from about 10 weeks old. in fact, between the ages of about 5 months old and 9 months old, he would rub his eyes and daddy would take him up to his bed and put him down and he'd go off to sleep.

when he reached 9 months old and started teething he forgot how to go down to bed himself and we've been putting him to sleep in the carrier since that point (which is tricky with my arthyalgia and the fact he weighs in a pretty high percentile). in fact, we never really have minded using the carrier to put him to sleep, my husband and i quite like it actually, because who wouldn't want be cuddled to sleep or cuddle someone else to sleep?!

then things started to get worse. when the clocks went back in april, his bedtime started getting later. at first it was just the hour, and then it became later and later until he was keeping us up past our bedtime, it was like he had so much to learn and he didn't want to stop learning.

then in June he began really protesting being put in the carrier and was also experiencing night wakings (once lasting 5 hours between midnight and 5am!). we are pretty sure this was the 18 month old sleep regression caused by teething and a growth spurt AND his understanding of language really starting to emerge...

so, come Saturday 19th August at my mums house - i'd not been on a date with my husband for months, and our evenings had been hugely disturbed and we were both exhausted looking after a boy that wakes up during the night.

mum and i chat about how i need sleep and i wanted to try sleep training if we were at home and she was with us in Belgium (which we were not because of the two funerals we'd had to go back to England for). i was sure that i didn't have the energy to "do" sleep training, so i assumed if a third person were around then they could deal with the night wakings and lack of sleep.

anyhow, we weren't in belgium, we were in a different house, so i said to mum, "it would be great if you could just try one night to see if you can get him to sleep without the Ergo carrier" - she agreed and said she'd do it that night and see how it goes (he'd already slept one night in the room and was familiar with it), so that evening we spend time trying to wind him down (impossible) and get him "ready for bed". so, when he was displaying tired signals (rubbing his eyes and touching his ears) mum tried to cuddle him tightly, sway him, sing to him, all her usual grandmother tricks... but nothing worked...  so eventually, she popped him in the cot and covered him over with a blanket and then left the room.

he cried for an hour that first night.

and i cried too.

Gran went in on her hands and knees when his screams started to escalate to sound distressed instead of just angry and she said "snuggle down, go to sleep", so he knew someone was nearby and then he basically went straight to sleep, she didn't touch him, just used her voice without him seeing her there.

the next night Gran tried to get him to sleep in the pushchair and transfer him (i think we were both a little traumatized by the sleeping that first night), which partly worked - he fell asleep in the chair but didn't transfer, instead he woke up and then i breastfed him and then put him down and rubbed his back whilst he fell to sleep. it was 10pm.

the following night we were in a different place, so my husband put him to sleep in the carrier and then he woke screaming in the night - he was inconsolable being held by anyone, but i was adamant i wouldn't breastfeed in the night as i was sure that the nightfeeds and the food in the night hadn't helped his sleep patterns - eventually after 45mins of crying and us all trying to calm him I said "if he's arching his back then maybe he just wants to go to bed and practice going to sleep" - so we put him down and he seemed to settle more in the cot than with cuddles, even though he continued to cry for another 45 minutes he did eventually go to sleep by himself. that night we also went in every 5 minutes or so to say "snuggle down now, it's time to go to sleep" and to lay him back down and put the sheet over him (a little bit of the ferber method ideas going in there).

the following night my husband and i had to go out for dinner and he'd already been crying for half an hour before we arrived home (due to it being late and his being in a new place), so i breastfed him and he went straight to sleep and slept all the way through.

the following night, the Wednesday, i went upstairs to put him to bed and left him in the cot to go to sleep, and it took 35 minutes for him to go to sleep that night.

by the Friday we managed to get him worn out by 8:30 and i did his new bedtime routine and put him down and then he stood up, but i still left the room and 4 minutes of screaming later he was quiet - i was so nervous something had happened to him!

the Saturday i did the same thing - but this time it was just 2 minutes of screaming - he was really getting the hang of what was going on, and he wasn't protesting that he didn't know what was happening, he was just angry that i'd left.

the Sunday, i put him down and he literally only cried from the moment I walked away from the cot, to the moment that I shut the door and then he snuggled down - that was also the first time that when i put him down he didn't start crying immediately, he actually seemed contented in the bed.

now, two  weeks on, he's been consistently sleeping, without the need for a dream feed, and for almost 12 hours straight. it's a different world we live in! we've slept in 2 different beds, as well as his own room, and he's been fine (with a day of adjustment) in every bed.

some very important notes:
• each day we've made sure to physically exhaust him, take him for walks and go to the park, and do a lot of playing (not just mentally stimulating, but physically stimulating too). if we haven't had enough exercise by dinnertime we have a game of softball inside the house until he starts looking tired!
• each day we make sure he eats enough - a lot of breast milk and water and food, and often a snack before bedtime (we have fruit and cereal in the morning, protein and veggies for lunch, and veggies and carbs for dinner, then for a snack more carbs or some soy yoghurt)
• the bedtime routine is very simple: snack, teeth, nappy/diaper, jammies, breastfeed, nursery rhyme, book(s), tell him about his day, say the "phrase" (snuggle down now, it's time to go to sleep), put him down with a cuddly toy and put his muslin over him - our previous routine was a mess because the bath would excite him too much and he wasn't physically tired enough to relax his body, now we do the bath much earlier in the evening and his "routine" is pretty quick so we can do it anywhere too
• to begin with there were days when my breasts were too full to not give him a quick dreamfeed before i went to sleep, but i haven't done that for a week now and i hope not to do that again!
• if we plan travel, we plan when his sleep will be in the day, but we don't worry about always getting the midday nap, because if we go out for the day he will have two "power" naps in the car and that seems to work well, so long as we get back for dinner and haven't spent all day in the pushchair

for more info, check out my YouTube video where i talk about it - there's so much info in this, it's almost impossible to cover everything in one blog post or one 10 minute video, but hopefully it helps:

i'd love to hear your experiences, and please comment to ask any questions, i know how confusing it can seem to sleep train as there's lots of different ways of doing it!

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