Welcome to my favourite sentence of all time: My baby is sleeping through the night. I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to say that any time soon and that I would go round the twist before it happened. How did we finally get there? Using a technique I never thought I’d use, and one that was a little bit heartbreaking to be honest.
I’ve demand fed my babies and have never used a sleep training technique or followed a sleep schedule. I don’t judge people who parent ‘by the book’ and have even admired them at times, often wishing I had the heart to do the same. But demand feeding suited us and and I believed that losing sleep was worth it to give my babies what they wanted, when they wanted it. Until recently.
Four weeks ago the lack of sleep hit the Burnie whanau like a bag of bricks. I was finding it harder to stay positive during the day and was losing patience with Henry. Getting up at night felt like torture and the simplest tasks during the day seemed tedious and just too hard. When I really thought about it, giving Annie her two-hourly feeds at the expense of the rest of the family, and particularly the very energetic toddler who was high on life, didn’t seem right anymore.
A friend sent me an article by Dr Jay Gordon, who helps co-sleeping parents wean their babies off night feeding*. We don’t co-sleep but we liked his gradual approach and thought it would suit Annie. The good doctor suggests starting with shorter night feeds but because Annie was already feeding so quickly, we skipped straight to the following plan:
If Annie woke between midnight and 5am, Tim would pat her back to sleep. She would not get fed. If it was before or after that period, I’d keep feeding her. As she got used to the new way of life, we would expand the hours out.
The first week was rough and Tim got no sleep. Annie cried a fair bit. I wore ear plugs but lay awake lots anyway wanting to cry myself. I knew deep down that we were doing the best thing for everyone, but that didn’t make listening to the crying any easier.
The second week saw Tim waiting longer to intervene. If Annie was really upset, he’d go in and talk to her but otherwise he let her settle herself. Tim was doing the hard yards but I was suddenly getting a lot of sleep. My body was saying ‘Sleep? I’ll take it!’ and I was barely even waking up at this stage.
The night waking decreased to once or twice a night and Annie started settling quicker and quicker. We had one shocking night where we tag teamed trying to settle her until 4am and I ended up a crying mess wanting to just feed her. Tim could see we were almost there and convinced me to wait one more night.
And he was right. After that night, she has been a different baby – one who goes to bed at 7pm and sleeps for 11 or 12 hours. If she wakes at all, it’s to cry out, roll over and pop back off to sleep. I am dumbfounded by how successful this approach has been and just how quickly Annie adjusted to new forms of settling after nine months of being fed back to sleep all night.
It’s been two wonderful weeks now. I wake up feeling like Richard Simmons every day. I have so much energy and have halved my coffee intake. Henry has ‘happy mum’ back, who he likes a lot more than ‘shouty mum’. Tim can go to work without feeling like a zombie and Annie gets a big solid block of sleep for the first time in her life.
Everyone always told me sleep training would be hard and it was a bit of a nightmare, but I’m so glad we did it. If I ever feel bad about it, I tell myself that I’ll love that little girl like crazy for the rest of my life and hopefully that will make up for the two weeks when I flaked out on her.
*It should be noted that Dr Jay Gordon believes his technique should never be used before a baby is one year old. Unfortunately, I didn’t want to wait the extra three months to see what sort of mess I’d be by then.