Monday, 17 June 2013

Our sleeping debacle

Caveat - I am writing this post mainly for me, so I can see just how far we've come and how much has changed and improved. There is still a long way to go though but hopefully in another month I’ll be able to post a much more positive update! However if you are a Gina-Ford-routine-from-day-one kind of person I suggest you don't read any further... It may upset you!

I never planned to be a routine-type person. I didn’t read any books before Doof was born and thought I would just make it up as I went along. The result has been a lot of positives, some negatives but overall, although I would love to be getting more sleep, I don’t think I would change what we did at the beginning. I am glad I didn't leave Doof to cry when he was 2 months old like some friends did, I don't regret feeding him several times overnight til he was 6 months as I think he needed it. But more sleep? Oh yes please!


As a tiny baby Doof would sleep for an hour, wake to feed and then sleep again (I think – those early days have disappeared into a fog of forgetfulness). The first 8 weeks were complicated by severe tongue tie which was unrecognised and so poor Doof slowly starved, dropping from the 50th to 2nd centile before anything was done. So feeding dominated our whole lives as he was never satisfied and so wanted to feed constantly. As a result during the day he would nap on my lap if we were at home, then feed for a bit, then nap for a bit etc etc. Occasionally I would put him down in his moses basket or reclining chair but only when he was asleep so he was only used to going to sleep being cuddled.

At around 8 weeks two things changed. Firstly we started to introduce a bedtime routine with bath, massage, feed and bed. Secondly Doof decided he wanted to cluster feed. And cluster feed he did. He would feed constantly from 6.30 to 10.30, going from one side to the other and then back to the first side, back to second side etc. Usually he would go to each side 3 times before falling asleep. If I tried to stop the feed or put him down any earlier he would just scream non-stop until the next feed (we tried it once before we realised he was cluster-feeding!) – no amount of cuddling, holding, rocking, you-name-it-we-tried-it would help.

By 4 months Doof had nights sorted though. He was in his own room, sleeping in a cot, going to bed at 7 and sleeping through til 2 or 3 when he would wake for a feed and then sleep til 6. Those nights were bliss! I was still feeding to sleep but otherwise all was good.

So what did we do?

Here is a breakdown of what we did, right or wrong, in all its glory and whether it did or didn’t work…


We swaddled Doof from day 1. The one criticism I have is, maybe because of my job, we were too good at it and as a result he found it very difficult when we tried to stop swaddling him. He got so used to having his arms nicely contained that if he ever managed to free himself then his arms would go into crazy mode and wallop him in the face repeatedly until he woke up. We tried several times to transition him from swaddle to sleeping bag but didn’t actually managed it successfully until he was nearly 6 months old – the final straw that made me go swaddle-cold-turkey was when he started rolling as I did not want him to roll over onto his face in the night, whilst swaddled, and then not being able to roll back.

Doof loved being swaddled and if I had another baby I would definitely swaddle them again. I think I might swaddle them a bit less effectively though and try to transition them to a sleeping bag earlier. Between the ages of 4-6 months at least twice a night Doof would manage to Houdini out of his swaddle and we would have to get up to re-swaddle him before he would go back to sleep.

Feeding to sleep:

As mentioned in the background section this started from when he was tiny. It got to the point that if I wanted him to sleep in his cot I had to feed him beforehand and could only put him down once asleep. Cue ridiculous scenes of me carefully carrying him across the room, creeping like a bomb defusal expert with the most sensitive of parcels… At the time I didn’t mind – I was exclusively BF, it was easy, on tap and not a problem. However I knew it wasn’t a long-term solution, especially with weaning starting and me thinking about going back to work.

There is something so super peaceful about a baby falling asleep as they feed though and the completely relaxed chilled out expression on their face. Bliss.

Sleep “crutches”:

Apart from the whole feeding-to-sleep issue I think we got off quite lightly – Doof liked to have his back stroked if he was unsettled but you could often do that without taking him out of his cot/moses basket and we never got into the nightmare some parents do of having to drive round in the middle of the night or do other funny things. Unfortunately, even though, it is not a big crutch it has been very difficult to shake and now Doof will often just fuss and fuss in his bed (for any length of time) until you stroke his back, and then he is out like a light straight away.

Lack of day routine:

I think this is the area which I am most uncertain about. Doof and I have had quite a busy social life with swimming, music classes, sensory play, coffee dates etc from very early on. So it was very easy to coincide his “nap times” for when we were travelling to different places. This then turned into often having to walk Doof around in his pram to get him to go to sleep and an inability to get him to sleep in his cot (unless feeding him to sleep).

Clearly not sustainable forever and not ideal when it’s pouring with rain BUT I actually don’t think I would change what we did in the early months. I had friends who were following Gina or EASY and they were slaves to their schedules. They couldn’t do this or that because it interfered with naptime whereas Doof and I could happily slot into anywhere anytime and he would just nap on demand. I do recognise though that maybe if he had had more structure early on then maybe his night sleeping would have been better (although his night sleeping did used to be pretty good!).

And then it all changed…

We went on holiday and a combination of jet lag, being ill, having a growth spurt and a developmental leap (if you believe in the ‘wonder weeks’) meant everything changed :(

And looking back here I have suddenly realised that this new-style-waking-all-the-time has been going on for over a month now…

In the last 4 weeks I think there have been a total of 2 nights when Doof has slept from 12-6 (woohoo celebration!!!). His usual night-time “routine” (in the loosest possible sense of the word!) involves a wakening at least once every 2 hours (average about 6/night) and being very unsettled from 5am. From then he will usually only sleep if his back is continually rubbed. Try and step away when you think he is asleep at your own peril – within 5 minutes (i.e. just as you’ve eased your way back into the lovely inviting warm environment of your bed) the crying will start again. By 6.15 I have usually given up and so our day begins!


Believe it or not, there have been some positives in the last month. Mainly as a result of me being happy that he is old enough for me not to rush to him the second he cries if it is a ragey-why-aren't-you-playing-with-me-cry and also because of the information in a book I read.

  1. No more feeding to sleep – this involved a bit of crying and a lot of ssshh-patting but within about 2 days he had it cracked. He still has a long way to go before I would describe him as able to self-settle but it’s a start…
  2. No more 3am feed – I was all prepared to reduce the length of time he spent feeding etc over a few days before dropping it but the night I was planning to start was one of the ones when he slept 12-6 and so he never woke for it. That helped me realise he didn’t actually need the feed at all and was just using it as a crutch to get back to sleep and so since then I haven’t had to feed him after his dreamfeed and even though he wakes up a lot he never actually looks for food (believe me – when he wants food it is very very obvious as he is very adept at pulling my top out of the way!)
  3. All day sleeps in his cot – yay! Helped by number 5
  4. Long(ish) nap after lunch – bit of a double-edged sword. Some days he will sleep for 90 minutes straight through (never ever more) but usually he will wake up after 45 minutes and need resettling (takes anything between 2-20 minutes) before going down for another 45
  5. Have established a good wind-down routine which we use before day naps and evening bed, with lullaby CD, dim lights, story, cuddle, night-night phrase and Ewan the dreamsheep

I do wonder if the long lunchtime nap is what has ruined his night-sleeping though as there is now no time for him to “fit in” a 4pm nap so by the time bath/bedtime happens he is really pooped and getting into over-tired territory. But which is more important? A long post-lunch nap or a late afternoon nap? Everyone says a long lunch one but I am really beginning to wonder if Doof prefers having the late afternoon one instead.

Bottom line

So there we are. Our sleep debacle. Right now it is 10pm and he has already woken up 3 times since going to bed. Not so bad when we are up and awake anyway but a lot worse when it’s 4am and we’re trying to sleep.

I feel more tired than I ever imagined possible. Doing 7 night shifts in a row only left me about a tenth as tired as I feel now. But really all I care about is what is best for Doof. This is only a temporary phase for me – at some point I will get more sleep again, I will stop doing a dreamfeed, I will even restart doing nightshifts and so get uninterrupted sleep in the day when Doof is at nursery! But people scaremonger – they say your child’s development will be negatively impacted if they don’t get enough sleep, at the right time, in the right place, for the right length of time. All I want is what is best for Doof. So I am stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Do I persevere with our current routine, even though I am not convinced it is working for either of us, and hope it gets better? Who knows? I certainly don’t!!

Update - almost as if Doof knew I was writing this... he upped the ante last night by waking up at least once an hour. Bring on the cocktail sticks to prop my eyelids open today!


  1. Re: daytime naps - I have often thought that babies naturally prefer having a long morning nap and an afternoon nap, though I haven't let either of mine do that! I went for a routine, but friends who didn't would always report that their kids slept in the morning and the afternoon, and I always need to wake my baby from her morning nap, then struggle to get her to sleep for longer at lunchtime. I'm persevering, as her brother still has a nap after lunch and I work from home, so need them to sleep at the same time, but if you only have one it might be worth doing the two sleeps, early and late?

  2. How long does yours sleep for at each nap? I've often heard people say that good daytime naps set the scene for a good nights sleep. Doof catnaps during the day - having 3 or 4 x 45 minute naps (a remnant of napping in his buggy when younger I think?) and only sleeps past one sleep cycle if really really tired.

  3. I've noticed that Jack is sleeping a lot better now we've done some of the things you've already mentioned (i.e. day time naps in his cot/no more feeding to sleep - oh how I recognised all of that paragraph! and having other sleep crutches - lullabies etc)

    What I've started doing though is the 2-3-4 sleep schedule and it seems to naturally coincide to how he sleeps anyway, he'd dropped his naps down to 2. It's basically 2 hours after he first works up I put him down for a nap. When he wakes up from that he's then down for his next nap 3 hours after that time. When he's awake from that it's then roughly 4 hours until bedtime. When we are out for the day he tends to delay and shorten his nap but when we are back at home for naps he sleeps for approx 1.5 hours for each then is sleeping between 10-11 hours at night. Might be worth a go?

    1. Thanks - what times roughly does be sleep on that 2-3-4 schedule? Problem is Doof usually wakes at 5.30 so should then be back in bed at 7.30 (which is when most normal babies are getting up!!) and then the whole day is thrown out of kilter. Current nap times are around 8.45/9, 12/12.30 and then 3.30 (if only short lunchtime nap) or catnap at 4.30 if long lunch sleep...