Thanks for Sara for sharing her amazing gentle sleep training story with us! I'm sure you'll find it inspiring and may be just what you need to start a gently journey towards better sleep for your family.
Since birth Jackson always preferred to sleep on me. He rarely slept in his bassinet for long and as he was my first child I was happy to keep him close. Once he grew out of the bassinet we moved him into a cot with the side removed up against the bed. I would feed him during the night and then very carefully move him over into his cot. A lot of the time we co-slept because it was easier to breastfeed and get some sleep. As he got older we moved the cot to the end of the bedroom. Up to around 6 months of age he never slept for more than 4 hours in a row. As he got past 6 months it got worse, to the point where he was waking every 1 ½ hours or less. I was getting rather sleep deprived!!
Previous sleep training attempts:
At around 5 months we tried the verbal reassurance techniques. I was the hardest thing I’d had to do as a mother so far, but it did work… for about a week… until Christmas hit, patterns were changed and Jackson started teething. We were back to square one and when we tried to get back to normal and use the VR technique it seemed even harder the second time. Neither my husband or I could listen to our son cry, we would cry along with him and even though I was at a loss as to what to do, I knew this wasn’t it. So we gave it all up! I continued to wake up to my son every couple hours or so through the night, with help from my husband.
Other sleep aids:
Jackson used a dummy for a couple months between around 3-5 months of age. He actually didn’t like it that much and when we decided to start VR we got rid of it ‘cold-turkey’. He didn’t miss it at all.
We also tried swaddling for a very long time, and white noise, neither of which seemed to help.
Jackson was exclusively breastfed until around 10 months, when he weaned onto formula from a bottle.
Around 9 or 10 months old I decided I’d reached my breaking point again. I had read The No Cry Sleep Solution as well as Sleeping Like a Baby and although I agreed with everything they had to say I never felt like they gave me a solution as such. No definite plan to follow. In the end I decided to create my own ‘sleep training program’ based on what I knew worked for me and for Jackson.
Phase 1: No more co-sleeping + started bedtime routine
Jackson’s cot was placed at the end of our bedroom and instead of sleeping all night next to me, he was always put back into his cot. This wasn’t always easy, often he would wake when transferred to the cot, but eventually he realized that the cot was where he slept. We also cemented a bedtime routine for him. This wasn’t on a time schedule, rather just a pattern we followed every night, and still do. Dinner, playtime, bath time with Dad, bottle with Mum, into a Grobag and into his cot. Every night, without fail. We don’t go out in the evenings a lot!
Phase 2: Night weaning
Once Jackson was used to sleeping in his cot we decided to night wean. At 9 months of age I was confident he wasn’t waking to feed so I felt okay with night weaning completely (although to be fair if he slept through to around 5 or so I would give him an early morning feed). It was hard – at first Jackson cried like crazy when he was denied his feed – but we comforted him in other ways, usually rocking and back patting, walking etc and eventually he got used to this too.
Phase 3: No more rocking!
Since sleeping the night in his cot and being night weaned we had been relying on rocking Jackson to sleep in our arms, or holding him and bouncing on the bed. Awful for the back (and the bed)!! Eventually we had to give this up and so we started to only pat him gently on the back while he lay in his cot. At first he didn’t want to lie down, and stood up to cry. But we would gently lay him back down and tell him “sleep time now, you need to lie down” and pat his back. Eventually he got the message and knew to lay down and we would pat him on the back until he fell asleep. Also not great for the back!! But it worked..
Phase 4: No more patting
Once Jackson got used to the patting, we gradually moved to only having a firm hand placed on his back as he lay down so he knew we were still there and had a physical connection with us. Eventually he was happy with us just standing by the cot.
Phase 5: Own bedroom
We moved Jackson to his own bedroom at around 11 months old. We continued to keep a hand on his back to help him back to sleep for a couple days while he got used to his surroundings in the new bedroom. After a few nights we decided to finally go cold turkey and let him cry it out when we put him to bed. He cried for about 45 mins – it was so hard for us – and eventually I said I couldn’t do it, and helped him to fall asleep by patting his back. That night he slept, and slept, and slept till morning! I couldn’t believe it, he slept the next night, and the one after that, and the one after that. After about a week or so of sleeping through the night I finally allowed myself to celebrate and believed he was finally sleeping through the night! Just a couple weeks shy of his first birthday…
Jackson is now 18 months old and sleeps through the night still. He occasionally wakes and I never let him ‘cry it out’ when he does. I believe that now he knows how to sleep, when he does wake it is for a reason. Whether it be an earthquake, thirsty for a sip of water, needs a cuddle, nightmare etc, I always go to him to see what’s wrong. Most of the time all he needs is a sip of water, or to be tucked in again.
I truly believe that if we hadn’t helped Jackson to learn to sleep on his own, he would still be waking through the night as a toddler. He was not a natural born sleeper, and still isn’t, but has been taught gently how to do it. He is happy and comfortable in his cot and now points to his bed after having his night time bottle because he wants to get in.
I’m glad we used this gentle technique in the end. Even though it was tough each time we started a new phase, we knew it was working and we were gradually getting closer to our goal. I think it was easier on Jackson also because even though he got upset at the start, we were always close and able to reassure him in some other way.
We have another baby due in April and will be doing our best to keep Jackson’s routine as close to normal as possible. And when the time comes, implement the same strategy should this new baby prove to be similar to Jackson with regards to sleep. I think we will be less stressed about it this time knowing we can do something, and that it WILL work. I think the first baby is so hard because you have no idea what you are doing, and if what you are doing is ACTUALLY going to work!.