Prior to having Evelyn, I knew very little about babies sleep. In fact, even after a few months into motherhood, I still didn’t have a clue! I winged it and hoped for the best but achieved very little success. I knew about the newborn sleepless nights, but I hadn’t expected the night wakes to last quite so long. I knew about needing a routine, but I didn’t know what or how to do it. I’d heard that usually formula fed babies slept through the night sooner than breastfed babies, but I wasn’t aware of anything else that affected their sleep. I’d basically thought that a lot of babies sleep was down to luck. Although some babies do naturally sleep better than others, there is a lot that can affect babies sleep. Their sleep is certainly a fine balance and you need to keep up with their ever changing sleep requirements. Needless to say, realising and understanding babies sleep has been a very steep and exhausting learning curve. There has been a lot of trial and error, a lot of desperation and a lot of tears, from both Evelyn and me.
The 10 main things that I’ve learnt about improving a baby’s sleep
- Create the optimal sleep environment – a pitch black room (blackout blind plus blackout curtains), room temperature ideally 20/21 degrees with baby wearing temperature appropriate clothing and sleeping bag (advice on the Gro website), swaddle (Groswaddle or Love to dream swaddle) until around 4 months/starts to roll then use a sleeping bag (Gro bag). Note it’s useful to have a few different tog sleeping bags for different temperatures/seasons and a Gro travel sleeping bag or Groromper for travelling. Add in additional comforts if needed i.e. comforter smelling of you.
- Keep white noise playing all night long and for all naps. I found the My Hummy teddy with the Bluetooth app the best. Note you need to change the batteries often so opt for rechargeable batteries.
- Use a monitor so that you know when the baby falls asleep which is important for not letting them sleep too long during naps. We used to have the Powerextra video monitor which was fine but we have just bought the Lollipop baby monitor and I would definitely recommend it. The picture quality is amazing, it has a white noise feature and the app feedbacks information about their sleep.
- Factor in a wind down period and a short routine before their nap/bedtime. We would go up to her room 20 mins before she was supposed to be asleep, put the white noise teddy on, change her nappy, read a book and sing a lullaby before putting her down in the cot. Note I’d recommend this book as Evelyn loves it and I still like it despite having read it a million times.
- Aim to stick to the awake times for their age so to avoid overtiredness and under tiredness.
- Aim to stick to the nap lengths for their age, which may mean waking them, to ensure that they have the right balance of sleep throughout the day and to make sure that they sleep for the restorative long lunch nap.
- Be consistent. Routine, settling method and environment. Be consistent even when they’re not. We are all creatures of habit and babies love their routine, they feel safer and happier as they know what is coming.
- Self settling training. This is a controversial subject and each parents’ opinion, choice and breaking point is unique to them. Ultimately self settling training doesn’t have to mean ‘cry it out’.
- Sometimes it’s best to just do whatever you can in order to get them to sleep. In particular this is needed during illness, on travel days and in new temporary sleep environments. Just revert back to normal self settling afterwards so to try and not to let the habit stick.
- And I can’t recommend the Little Ones Sleep Programme enough
In the first 2 weeks I remember thinking “if only I had lack of sleep to content with, then I could cope”. The physical and emotional trauma of childbirth, the breastfeeding, the ongoing pain, bleeding and fevers, were all overwhelming. So the lack of sleep seemed to be just the tip of the iceberg. However, when all of those things did improve and I was left with just the lack of sleep, I definitely struggled to cope. Adrenaline got me through the beginning weeks, but as time went on I ran on empty. The lack of sleep has been what I have struggled with the most in motherhood and the lack of it has pushed me to physical and mental breaking point. Ultimately, sleep is a basic human function and not a luxury. Lack of sleep affects your memory and your ability to concentrate and communicate. I remember feeling so tired that I often forgot what I was doing or saying. I even lost my purse twice in the first few months after having Evelyn, actually, including pregnancy, I lost it three times. You can imagine how embarrassing it was having to ring up my bank to request a new card for the third time. Aside from making you feel generally unwell, sleep deprivation also puts you at higher risk of catching infections and developing certain medical problems. From around 6 months I seemed to be getting unwell all the time and I think that the chronic lack of sleep was playing a big part in this as it was starting to take its tole on my body. During this time I also required treatment for an abnormal post natal smear and I was worried that as I was so run down I was going to struggle to fight the HPV off. I plan on writing another blog on smear tests soon. Importantly, lack of sleep also has a huge impact on your mental wellbeing. Affecting your ability to rationalise and regulate your emotions and worries. “A night without sleep is a day without perspective”. I couldn’t agree more with this statement, as for me the lack of sleep certainly drove my mood down and my anxiety up. Although a shower and a coffee would help me start the day, I soon wouldn’t be able to imagine how I would get through the day. I dreaded the battle that I faced at naps, often failing and letting her sleep on me, and the hours that we spent trying to settle her for bedtime, let alone what the night would actually have in store. Each situation and problem I faced was catastrophised. When your days are spent trying to get a baby to sleep and your nights are spent with broken sleep, it’s easy to lose sight of reality. I struggled to switch off and sleep when I had the opportunity to as I would often experience ‘phantom baby cries’ which would keep me on edge needing to frequently check on Evelyn.
I didn’t want to just ‘put up with it’, ‘battle on’ and wait for time to improve her sleep. I was really struggling and knew that my chronic sleep deprivation was unsustainable as sooner or later I was going to become physically or mentally ill. As a doctor working in general practice, I spend my days solving other people’s problems, so then when I was a new mum at home on maternity leave, sleep deprivation was a huge problem for me. Because lack of sleep is expected for a new mum, it’s impact can be underestimated. No matter what is ‘normal’ or ‘expected’, if you are struggling, don’t suffer in silence. Acknowledging, seeking and asking for help is such a brave thing for any mother to do. Someone or something will help you. For me it was the “Little Ones Sleep Programme” that helped the most. Without exaggeration, their guide and advice has significantly improved both of our mental and physical well beings by giving us back a structure to our days, time in the evenings and sleep at night! Most importantly the Little Ones have helped us make Evelyn as happy as she can be because shes sleeping better and getting more restorative sleep.
Our Sleep Journey
I have purposely waited to write this blog until Evelyn was consistently sleeping through (consistently being the key word) so that I could at least have some sort of ‘happy ending’ to the post. However, note that a full nights sleep is never a given for a parent and one must never get too smug! Sleeping through the night is certainly the holy grail that all parents aspire towards. But don’t be too disheartened to hear that everyone else’s baby is ‘sleeping through’ whilst yours isn’t, as people’s definition of sleeping through can vary. How long is the stretch of sleep? When do you class night time to start and when does morning begin? The 2 big milestones in Evelyn’s journey to sleeping through was at 4.5 months when she slept for 10 hours straight (8pm-6am) and then at 9.5 months when she slept for 12 hours straight (7pm-7am). However between those 2 milestones, her sleep didn’t just increasing in length as I’d thought and hoped that it would. No, over those 5 months her sleep went up and down, varying from 1-3 wakes at different times between 7pm-7am. Her ability to self settle and her daytime naps and nights would significantly deteriorate as we hit sleep regressions, developmental periods, teething bouts and episodes of illness.
0-2 months – The sleepy but sleepless newborn!
Looking back on the first 2 months, it was a sleepless blur that is hard to remember exactly what the days and nights were like. However, I kept a breastfeeding diary which basically coincides with her sleep so I’ve been able to refer to that when writing this blog, as well as the messages that I sent to my family and friends. Looking back at my diary, it’s no surprise that I struggled to function on such little sleep. Although in most of the photos of Evelyn at this time she was asleep, it certainly wasn’t the case, it was just a good opportunity to take a photo! Ultimately Evelyn was a sleepy newborn but didn’t sleep well. This was expected. Her sleep was sporadic and certainly had no pattern or routine. She slept for no more than 2 hour stretches day or night and sometimes wouldn’t settle to sleep until midnight and sometimes barely slept before 6am. I expected the multiple night wakes, but I hadn’t expected the night feeding to take quite so long (usually an hour) and I also hadn’t realised that ‘cluster feeding sessions’ involved hours of on/off feeding in the evenings or nights. Note newborns should be feeding in the nights at least until they have regained their birth weight and are continuing to gain weight well. It is also very important for babies with jaundice to feed frequently. Worried that Evelyn wouldn’t wake to feed at night, I would set my alarm for every 4 hours after she started her last feed to ensure that she fed frequently enough, but without fail, she always woke well before my alarm. It wasn’t until at 6 weeks old when Evelyn had gone from the 25th to 91st centile and her jaundice has almost gone, that I finally relaxed and stop setting my alarm.
In terms of getting Evelyn to sleep, it was pretty easy at this stage. I remember even naively thinking that we were pretty lucky. It was usually breastfeeding and rocking that would send her off to sleep. The pram and car weren’t that reliable, it was always a gamble whether she would actually sleep or just scream for the whole walk/drive. Even though she would fall asleep easily breastfeeding, she would soon wake hungry. It was hard to ensure that she had fed enough before falling asleep and also it was hard to figure out whether she was still feeding or actually asleep. Feeding from both sides, even if it meant changing her nappy to wake her back up, helped her sleep longer stretches. Also as Evelyn had reflux, we would keep her upright for 20mins after feeds before putting her down in the Moses, so if she hadn’t fallen asleep breastfeeding, she certainly would have done by the time we’d held her for that amount of time. We would further try to help reduce her discomfort from the reflux buy tilting her sleeping position in the Moses by raising the head of the Moses basket. Fortunately as Rob and I had the same big medical books from medical school we could equally prop up each side! Though a lot of the time we would just continue to hold Evelyn for the duration of her sleep. We were besotted with her and didn’t want to put her down. We would take it in turns to cwtch her and would only put her down if our arms ached or if we needed to do something like eat or sleep ourselves. It also seemed like a good opportunity for other people to hold Evelyn when she was asleep, as she wasn’t feeding or crying. Sometimes she would wake back up as soon as we put her down, but repeating the process a couple of times usually ensured that she stayed asleep in the Moses for at least a period of time. When we put her down we would attempt to swaddle Evelyn in a blanket, though she usually easily wriggled out of it, and we would put the Ewan the sheep ‘womb sounds’ on. Generally in the beginning, once Evelyn was asleep, she would sleep through anything, so we wouldn’t try and be quiet in the day when she was sleeping. I was aware that we should keep daytime noisy and bright to avoid ‘day/night confusion’, although that did still occur despite this.
2-3 months: No longer a sleepy newborn
At 8 weeks we started a bedtime routine in the hope that it would help improve Evelyn’s nighttime sleep. Our routine was a bath followed by a massage, lullaby and a feed which hopefully ended with Evelyn having fallen asleep breastfeeding. We hadn’t started a routine before then as we’d been told that it was unlikely to work as she would have been too young. We initially didn’t get round to doing the routine until quite late in the evening, at around 9pm, usually because we would have spent the last few hours trying to settle a colicky baby. However, probably a lot of her colic was due to overtiredness, because as we brought the routine forward over a few weeks to 7pm, she settled better in the evenings. Although Evelyn still woke twice to feed before midnight, she did start to sleep longer stretches of around 4-5 hours after starting the bedtime routine. Nevertheless these longer stretches didn’t last very long and after a week or 2, despite keeping up with the bedtime routine, she was back to sleeping no longer than 3 hours at a time. I was getting more exhausted as time went on and found it a real struggle not to fall asleep myself when I was breastfeeding Evelyn in bed at night. I needed to use my mobile for the whole time that I was up to keep me awake, you’d think that with all of those hours spent on my phone I would have done something useful with my time, but no I wasted it on mindless scrolling! Unfortunately sometimes I would nod off , I’d then wake up in a panic, feeling guilty and beating myself up. It’s so hard dragging yourself out of bed over and over again each night to breastfeed, but I made the decision that I had to get out of bed to feed in order to stay awake and to ensure that I put Evelyn back down to sleep in her Moses afterwards. Getting out and sitting in a chair for me was more comfortable and in sleeping separately, we both slept better and ultimately it was safer.
From 8 weeks old, it started to get more difficult to get Evelyn off to sleep and keep her asleep. No matter how many times we repeated the process of putting her down asleep in her Moses and no matter what ninja style moves we did as we backed away, she would wake screaming immediately. Keeping her asleep in our arms for 20mins, so that she was in a deep sleep, usually meant that we could put her down asleep, albeit only for her to sleep for a further 10-25 mins. I didn’t realise until a while later, but this short napping was the start of the dreaded 4 month regression, when babies sleep cycles began to mature to 30-45 mins in the day and 2 hours at night. Babies begin to wake fully at the end of each sleep cycle and may rely on you to get them back to sleep.
The advice is that you should put babies down to sleep when they are awake, as otherwise they can easily become dependent on the way that you get them off to sleep, developing a ‘sleep association’. However putting Evelyn down awake never seemed to work, she either cried or coo’d but definitely didn’t fall asleep. So not appreciating that it could cause a big problem, we just continued to put her down asleep, as at least she was asleep then. The sling was a god send as it would get Evelyn off to sleep easily and freed me up, allowing me to actually move and do things around the house. I also discovered that if she was still resisting sleep, the noise of the hoover really helped. With no exaggeration, as soon as I would put Evelyn in the sling and turned the hoover on, she went from screaming to quiet and asleep in seconds. It was like magic. I was so relieved that I could get her to sleep easily without feeding and could keep her asleep longer than 45 mins. Weeks then followed with Evelyn sleeping in the sling whilst I hoovered the house…multiple times a day. My carpets and tiles had never been so clean. I became so reliant on it that embarrassingly I once even had to leave our friends’ bbq to return our cranky overtired baby who couldn’t be settled to the sling and hoover haven of home.
The advice is that for the first 6 months babies should sleep in their own sleep space in the same room as you, day and night. We did do this as much as possible for a while, Evelyn would sleep next to us at all times in her Moses, occasionally doing some naps in the sleepyhead deluxe. But from around 10 weeks old, Evelyn was getting too big for her Moses so we either had to buy a bigger ‘next-to-me’ style crib, another expense, or move her into the big cot in her own room. Despite her only actually being a few meters away from me, I was nervous about her sleeping in her own room before 6 months old. I found it really hard not being in the same room as her, so with the monitor turned so loud that I could hear each breath that she made, we slowly eased her into her own room. To get her used to it, we started off by put her to sleep in the Moses basket within the cot for some naps and at the start of the night. We would then bring her back into our room in the Moses when we later went to bed ourselves. Evelyn did start to sleep better by doing this so we decided to make the full transition of her sleeping in the cot without the Moses for the whole night in her own room at around 12 weeks. I’m glad that we made the transition when we did, however ultimately this decision is very personal and down to when you feel ready to do so.
I was finding the ongoing multiple night wakes and lack of any day routine exhausting and frustrating. It was really hard leaving Evelyn to cry in order for me to eat or shower and it was stressful going to baby groups just for Evelyn to spend the whole time either crying, feeding or sleeping. My family and friends were a great support during this time, giving me a break when I was struggling, but I wanted to know how I could improve things, though I didn’t know where to start. A friend recommended “The Sensational Baby Sleep Plan” book as a routine to follow and theres a lot of useful information in there about sleep, breastfeeding and medical reasons for poor sleep such as silent reflux. It wasn’t until I read the book that I realised just how much Evelyn’s silent reflux was impacting on her sleep, once this was managed with medication she did seem to settle to sleep better. However I found the routine in the book quite hard to stick to as Evelyn couldn’t last as long between her feeds, she wouldn’t settle to sleep at the specific times and she was certainly waking and feeding much more at night that the guide suggested. The advise was to leave her to cry after putting her down awake and to only go in when she reached a 6/10 on the ‘crying scale’. However, Evelyn would get so upset so quickly, reaching a 10/10 within minutes, a blood curdling cry that babies should never reach apparently. Needless to say I stopped doing this after not very long. Ultimately though, at 10 weeks old Evelyn was too young to be able to respond to this sort of sleep training.
After a week of following the book we weren’t getting anywhere and I started to feel more anxious and stressed as we were ‘failing’ to be able to follow the plan. I constantly worried about missing the overtiredness signs and would panic that she was suffering from sleep deprivation and the impact that this would have on her development. I got myself so worked up, stressed and miserable, which in turn probably made Evelyn more grumpy as well. As I mentioned earlier, the quote “a night without sleep is a day without perspective” was very apt for me. Another friend told me about hiring a sleep consultant and at that stage I was prepared to pay anything to sort out her sleep, or even just for a nights sleep. However I couldn’t convince Rob that we should part with the hefty fees and now I’m glad that we didn’t as it was shortly after that another friend recommended the Little Ones Sleep Programme.
3-4.5 months – The Little Ones baby!
The Little Ones Sleep Programme has definitely been a turning point in our sleep journey and although it isn’t an overnight fix, it has, and continues to, shape our whole routine and approach to Evelyn’s sleep. It provides a clear, realistic and age appropriate guide for your baby’s sleeping and feeding, a ‘troubleshooting’ section for when days don’t go to plan and an invaluable ‘village’ app for asking specific questions to their sleep consultants. The guides are evidence and science based and their approach is non judgemental, offering a range of settling methods depending on what you feel comfortable to do. We started the programme when Evelyn was around 11 weeks old and at the same time employed a pitch black room, white noise and a sleeping bag as they advised. Evelyn took to the routine well, feeding 2-3 hourly and having 3 naps a day – a shorter morning and afternoon nap, and a longer 2 hour lunch nap, which we would need to settle her back to sleep half way through. The longer nap in the middle of the day is really important for reducing the build up of cortisol which contributes to overtiredness. We used the ‘side settling’ technique to get her to sleep, which involved laying her on her side in the cot and patting her bum (to mimic the maternal heart beat when they were in the womb) until she fell asleep. We would then turn her onto her back to continue sleeping, as this is the safest position for babies to sleep in.
As Evelyn got older though, she started to resist the side settling and we needed to rock her or I breastfed her to sleep. The more overtired she got, the more she cried, clinged, fought her sleep and relied on us to help her sleep. She was unable to sleep for the solid 2 hours at lunchtime and was taking an hour or more to settle to sleep at bedtime, only to wake overtired after 1 sleep cycle, then 2 hourly after midnight. We had hit the dreaded and all too real 4 month regression. At this age it is common for babies to sleep relatively well until midnight (the restorative sleep period) if nothing is bothering them, due to high levels of the sleep hormone Melantonin at this time, but then wake 2 hourly after midnight (at the end of each night sleep cycle) as the Melatonin wears off and is completely gone by 5am.
Evelyn needed to be able to self settle in order to sleep better day and night but I couldn’t face her crying so kept putting off the self settling training. Consequently, I would spend my days trying to get her to sleep – hours spent walking, driving, hoovering…whatever it took to get her to sleep. White noise followed us whereever we went and as it was the heatwave, I often would sit in the house with a fan on me whilst Evelyn slept in the sling. This was tough for a sun-worshiper like me! As it got to be such a struggle to get her to sleep and as her overtiredness worsened, I started to fear going places or having a few days out as I knew that her sleep would get even worse and me get even more exhausted. I was obsessive and uptight about it. But sometimes no matter how much the day will go to pot and how tired you know you’re going to be, you just have to get out of the house to keep hold of your sanity. So then when Rob would come home from work, we would take it in turns spending hours in Evelyn’s boiling dark room during the long summers evenings rocking and shushing her to sleep. For Rob’s 30th Birthday, we barely spent any time together that evening as it was spent trying to get her to sleep. Once she was asleep, every night wake I would feed her back to sleep. This would then impact on the day’s feeding, creating a vicious cycle of feeding a lot at night but poorly in the day. During this time I felt as though all I talked about was her sleep, but it’s hard not to talk about it when your whole day (and life) is revolved around their sleep. We were both exhausted, but I got to my breaking point when Evelyn would only fall asleep breastfeeding. Consequently I would let her sleep on me or in bed with us which caused my back to get really painful. Along with the constant picking her up and putting her back down trying to put her back into her cot at night, my back was stiff, spasming and I relied on painkillers to get me through the day. So this is when we decided to do the self settling training.
4.5 months – The self settling baby!
After just 2 tough days of teaching Evelyn to self settle using the ‘rock to sleep’ method, she actually managed to fall asleep by herself! Hallelujah! We decided to do the self settling training on a weekend as it meant that Rob and I could take it in turns. When one of us couldn’t take it any longer and felt like giving up, the other would take over. We would basically put her in the cot awake but not pick her back up for 6 minutes at a time. When we picked her up, we would rock her to soothe her but not to sleep. We would then put her back down awake. During the intervals, we would try and soothe her by stroking her head but wouldn’t pick her up. If it got to 45 minutes past her nap or bedtime and she still wasn’t asleep, then we would rock her completely to sleep so to avoid overtiredness. Note it is advised to wait to tackle night wakes until they can already self settle in the day. It was a really hard 2 days as she cried and resisted each nap and bedtime for the whole 45 minuets. I asked for advice from the ‘village’ during the weekend as I was worried that it wasn’t working as she was getting so worked up. They recommended a comforter smelling of me, which definitely did help and she continues to use it now. However for some reason Evelyn always used to put the comforter over her face and would fall asleep with it there, causing me a lot of stress worrying that she would suffocate! The advice is that a baby’s cot should be kept completely free for the first year of life, however we made the decision to keep the comforter as ultimately she was able to pull the comforter on and off her face with ease and the material is light and breathable, making the risk to her very low. Another stress was once Evelyn could roll, she always rolled onto her front when she was asleep and during night. Initially I kept rolling her back onto her back as this is best sleeping position, but no matter how many times I did it she would always end up back on her front.
So at the end of that weekend, I put Evelyn down in her cot for bedtime, and 5 minutes later she fell asleep, all by herself, no crying! I couldn’t believe it and couldn’t have been more relieved. That night she woke twice before 7am, which was a big improvement from the previous 4 times a night and early morning wake. It then took another week of continuing to stick to the routine and self settling method, before she linked her sleep cycles at lunchtime (this 2 hour period to yourself is invaluable! A chance to eat, sleep, clean, relax, do life admin or just do nothing!) and then a few more days before she managed to sleep a 10 hour stretch at night. Although we had ‘cracked’ the self settling, we took Evelyn to a wedding a few days later and everything went out the window. Despite buying a Snoozeshade, a breathable blackout cover for the pram, and taking her white noise teddy and comforter to help her sleep, she just screamed and barely slept all day until 5pm. The whole routine and self settling went out the window that day. Thankfully though when we got home that evening she reverted back to self settling and slept well that night. The biggest things that I’ve learnt about babies sleep is if you stand any chance, try to keep their routine and sleep environment always the same as possible. As just when you think you’ve cracked it, another sleep regression, teething episode or bout of illness comes along and their sleep goes to pot. But if you stay consistent then they will come out the other end without a new (or return of their old) sleep association.
5-7 months – The hungry baby!
At 5 months old, and after 2 weeks of improved sleep, Evelyn’s sleep started to deteriorate again. She started to wake 4 hourly again and would only settle with feeding. As I was able to rule out other causes for night wakes such as not being able to self settle and naps not being spot on, I felt that this increased waking was most likely due to an increase in her calorie requirement as she was still just on breastmilk. Although milk alone is nutritionally all that a baby requires until 6 months of age, personally from 5 months old it didn’t seemed to be keeping her full for more than 3-4 hours at a time overnight. Although I wanted to wait until as close to 6 months as possible before weaning, for the reason of worsening sleep, we decided to start Evelyn on solids at 5 and half months old. It is important to note that although solids can help ‘fill the baby up’, there is also the risk that their sleep may become more unsettled by it. Starting solids before the baby is ready, giving the wrong types of food or giving the food at the wrong times of day can all potentially cause problems like tummy upset at night as they struggle to digest the food or make them poo during the night or in the early morning. It’s best to go slow and at the pace of the baby, lunch time is the ideal place to start with solids, and protein should be avoid at dinner time until they are a bit older. When Evelyn did start to take on a good amount of solids, she thankfully began to sleep for longer periods at night again. Nevertheless it did take a good 5-6 weeks to do this and to become established on 3 meals a day. It was also from 5 and a half months that we started to hit the 6 month regression and another growth spurt. During this regression, Evelyn was reducing from 3 to 2 naps and would resist the 3rd nap in the afternoon but she still needed it until she was 6 months old to get her through to bedtime without getting overtired. This regression also mainly resulted in early morning wakes (6am) and lasted a long 4 weeks.
Although through the 6 month regression and weaning, we went on to have some very low times in terms of nights sleep. Both were whilst away travelling which again emphases the point that babies love their usual routine and familiarity. Our first night away with Evelyn was for another friends’ wedding, it saw us have what can only be described as sleep hell. We already started the night on a back foot, putting Evelyn down to bed late, in a bright noisy room and in an uncomfortable travel cot as we had forgotten the mattress for it! A school boy error! Evelyn woke every 45 minutes until midnight and then alternated between being awake for 2 hours screaming and then having 2 hours sleep until starting the day at 7:30am. The night seemed to never end! Needless to say, we were both exhausted all day at the wedding and made the decision to drive 3 hours back home after the wedding so to avoid a repeat of the night before. The next sleep low was when we went on holiday to Ibiza. Again we started the holiday on a back foot, having an early morning flight threw Evelyn off so she barely slept during the travel day, to then arrive with still hours to go until our room was ready. Evelyn resisted our attempts to get her to sleep in the stroller and we even ended up taking her to the doctors out there, as we had thought she had burst her ear drum from all the screaming! Then instead of the party-fuelled-sleepless nights that you imagine when you think of a week away in Ibiza, we barely slept as Evelyn refused to sleep in her travel cot that night, she instead screamed. In order to survive the week we co-slept. We barricaded her in between us, leaving only a foot of the bed to each of us. It was less than ideal but ultimately we were on holiday and wanted sleep!
8-9.5 months – The developing and mobile baby!
A lot goes on developmentally during this time, all of which can cause babies sleep to deteoriate. At 8 months old Evelyn was rolling back and forth well, able to push herself up to a sitting position and would rock on all fours preparing to crawl, all of which she wanted to continue practicing in her cot when she should have been sleeping. At 8 and half months she began crawling and then only 2 weeks later she was pulling herself up to stand and cruising around, again both of which she continued to practice in her cot when she should have been sleeping! Also during this time Evelyn had a bit of an explosion of language, she began saying her first ‘words’ – “Go”, “Ga” and “DaDa”. Throughout all of these developmental stages there were hiccups in her ability to self settle and stay asleep. All that we could do was be consistent and stick to the routine riding the stage out but being mindful not to slip into old habits or create any of the old sleep associations.
From 8 months old most babies should be capable of sleeping through the night without the need for a feed if they are established on solids. So it was my goal to get Evelyn sleeping through by 8 months. Although Evelyn was established on solids, generally from 8-9.5 months she woke once each night between 7-7 to feed, usually between 2-4. However the time at which she woke always varied, which goes against a ‘habit wake’ and supports genuine hunger. Evelyn has always been a hungry baby, she had doubled her birth weight by 12 weeks old, whereas the average baby doesn’t double their birth weight until 5 or 6 months old, and she trebled her birth weight at 7 months whereas most babies don’t until they are 1 year old! Although Evelyn was usually only waking once a night, it was still wearing me down. I was getting more sleep than before but there was an accumulated back log of fatigue. I felt chronically sleep deprived and seemed to be getting unwell all the time. My plan was to slowly reduce the night feed by cutting it short by 3 mins a night (total feed was usually 10 mins each side) with the goal of stopping the feed altogether by 5/6 nights. However whenever I started this, a day later Evelyn seemed to develop a cough/cold or cut a new tooth (she cut 8 teeth in just over 3 months) and we would go back to square one.
9.5 months – The sleeping through baby!
We finally reached the most sought after sleep milestone, sleeping through! Evelyn slept straight through 12 hours from 7pm to 7am! I couldn’t believe it and thought that it was a fluke. But as we continued to stick to the Little Ones day time routine she continued to sleep through. We never actually had to do the self settling training during the night, just being consistent, focusing on her naps and adjusting them as she got older worked. It may have been a coincidence, but it was at 9.5months when we introduced protein at dinner time did she stop waking. After a few weeks of Evelyn sleeping through I started to feel so much better for it. It was then once I was getting uninterrupted sleep that it made me realise just how I tired I must have been before. But the end of the day, even when your child is sleeping through it is still exhausting looking after a baby/toddler.
10-11 months – The nursery baby!
It has been tough and a big adjustment for us all with Evelyn starting nursery as I returned to work. Thankfully as Evelyn had been sleeping through for the 3 weeks prior, we started off in a good place. Although having a routine can be restrictive, in my opinion it is so worth it. I am now more relaxed and get less worked up if her day sleep goes wrong, as generally she can cope and compensate better now. On the whole, Evelyn has managed the transition to nursery well, but there have been some hiccups. There has been some separation anxiety (both Evelyn and me), some resistance, shortened and complete refusal of her nap, some refusal of milk/food in nursery, some waking in the night and a lot of illness! Literally every week there is a new cold. Now though Evelyn is settling well and things have improved. However as always lurking around the corner are the signs of the next thing to affect her sleep, the 12 month regression. We are seeing a lot of crying when being put down for sleeps and some early morning wakes again. Ah well it’s almost a happy ending!