For those of you who missed my recent post, we decided that it was time to make a few changes to our night time parenting in order to ease the pressure on myself. Poppy is essentially being taught to self settle. It is tiring, but it is a gentle approach designed to respect Poppy, it is not a quick fix. We had a couple of wobbly nights but things are back on track. I said I would post about exactly what we have done to change Poppy’s sleeping habits so here goes (the “sleep training” element is at the end):
Routine: I know it is the oldest trick in the book, and considering the number of books I scanned through during pregnancy I really should have been a bit stricter with this one. I am talking about the bedtime routine; bath, massage, book, breastfeed, bed. We started off well, but gradually we dropped one thing at a time until it was just bath and feed to sleep. No wonder she was still pretty wired and wouldn’t instantly go to sleep! No more skipping steps. It has been amazing how quickly this took effect, and even when she still seems wide awake during the story, as soon as she is in my arms feeding she starts dropping off. Sometimes it takes longer than others, but she isn’t getting that second wind just as I think she is falling asleep, which seemed to be happening so often before.
Black out blinds: I told myself this was the reason for her difficulty in realising it was bedtime, and maybe it played a part, but I think the routine was more important. The blinds have helped, but they don’t quite cover our windows!! Even so, there is enough of a transition from lights on to lights off that helps reinforce that routine.
Introducing a lovely: Poppy now sleeps with the same teddy (cat actually) every night. I put it in her arms as she feeds, and she has started to grasp it, so I think it is working. The cat is currently nameless – ideas on a postcard please!
Moving her into her own room: This was the saddest change, as it came way before I thought it would. But realistically I knew that I was unlikely to make the other changes, like reducing her feeds, without it. We wanted her to learn to settle with Tim, and eventually alone, but when she is at arms length and we are half asleep I act on auto pilot. Tim wouldn’t have had the chance to even try to settle her, he probably would never have woken up at all. Amazingly she didn’t seem to protest to the move, I think she realised very quickly that we were still there for her, all she needed to do was ask.
Cutting down the feeds: This was my main aim of the transition. I didn’t make a plan, not really. I told myself I would see how she reacted if I just didn’t feed her, and to my surprise it was really not that bad. She grizzled a little but then dropped back off. So I tried to resist a few times. I realised her cry was different when she was really hungry…more about that in a minute. I found she needed a feed at around 3am every morning, sometimes earlier, sometimes later, I am still being led by her in that regard. At the moment we are down to a feed to sleep at 6pm, a top up ‘dream feed’ before I go to bed (although I am sure she wakes up for this) and then the 3am fed.
Listening to the cry NOT cry it out!: You know that study about how stress hormones wash over a crying baby’s brain? The one that makes us AP mums feel guilty every time we hear our pumpkins sob? Well did you know that when they are being held or even if they are next to you that the stress hormones could be almost non existent? Just being there through the tears makes your baby feel safe and by the end of that crying session they could have even learned a thing or two; that they are able to regulate their emotions and that their feelings valid because you stuck around and showed them love when they felt sad. That is very different to leaving them to cry themselves to exhaustion on their own and eventually give up on anyone coming to them. We knew that Poppy would cry to start with. She had no idea why she was suddenly not getting what she had been used to for 8 months! But I honestly thought it would be much worse than it was. We agreed to be with her when she cried and try to comfort her but not desperately try to fix it immediately. First we would listen to the type of cry and ask ourselves what Poppy really needs. Just like other stages in development learning to fall asleep on your own can be frustrating, and we would be there to support her through that. If this was the sort of emotion she was expressing, what does feeding really do? I am all for comfort feeding, but I can’t do it whenever Poppy faces something challenging or when things don’t go quite the way she had planned or hoped. We quickly learnt the difference between her cries and when it was frustration we lay with her, stroke her head and talk to her calmly and lovingly. She falls asleep within minutes. And if she doesn’t, we know that she really needs me instead of Tim or she needs a feed. If it is getting towards 3am and her cry is intense and builds I feed her straight away, and some nights she does still refuse to settle without feeding, but those nights have been few and far between. She is sometimes able to fall back to sleep during the night with no more than a quick rub on the back to know we are there, or even a ‘shh’ at the door. There are still times when she needs more and we are with her for 20 minutes or so, but the point is we know that she can do it. She is only waking once or twice, tops before her early morning feed, which is an improvement, and Tim is able to share the responsibility. I think this is good for their bond as well, although not so good for the dark circles under Tim’s eyes!
There have been a few downsides to this change. The biggest being that for some reason she is waking up earlier, 5am most days, and I don’t really know why. I have even tried to feed her back to sleep despite my better judgement in a desperate plea for a lie in, but she enjoys the feed and then wakes up anyway! It means we have all started napping at about 7.30am, which is a nice way to make up for the lack of cosleeping. I am also finding it harder to switch off knowing that I might have to get up at any moment to go into her room. But it is getting easier to relax as time goes on. We are quite tired from going back and forth to her room, but it has lessened. Even if things stay as they are for the time being, it means I have my evenings without interruption, the nights are becoming more predictable, I probably have longer chunks of sleep even if the waking up is more effort, and Poppy has come a long way which is great. I have loose aims of what will happen as we go forward, but I am not going to put any pressure on Poppy or get my hopes up too much. I might try this weekend to drop the dream feed before my bedtime, because I don’t really know how long she would go into the night if I didn’t give it her. If it turns out she doesn’t really need it then that would be ideal because it would free up my entire evenings! (oops I said I wasn’t going to get my hopes up!) If that doesn’t work and she wakes up at midnight each night, hungry, then I will revert back to the original plan and perhaps aim to gradually push the 3am feed later and later, until she is going through from our bedtime until her ridiculously early waking up time. That sounds wonderful! Of course the biggest bonus would be if she decides that other than the hungry feeds, she doesn’t need us at all to help her settle, and we could go to sleep every night knowing that we will get ‘x’ amount of hours In before she wakes. But that sounds far too structured for otherwise chaotic lives, and I am sure those babies don’t really exist.