Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Sleep update - to cry or not to cry?

Warning: long post alert!

Do not read this if you are so averse to controlled crying that even reading about a vague attempt at it will upset you or if you don’t want to listen to my slight rant at being let down by someone supposedly helping us.

Do read it though if you would like to know how our sleeping debacle has changed or if you want to hear about the most amazingly wonderful/helpful/kind etcetc person I have yet to meet in babyworld.


So if anyone missed the background you can catch up here. Life continued pretty much like that until a few weeks ago when the realisation that nursery was fast approaching (and they were not going to spend ages trying to get him to sleep!) and one too many nights of hourly wakings and 5am starts finally took it’s toll. After 8 months I had completely forgotten what is was like to sleep more than 2 hours in a row :(

In between the above post and that breaking point we had dropped the dreamfeed but Doof was still waking through the night (but wasn’t hungry – he just wanted a 10 second back pat and would then go back to sleep), was up from 5am and then having his first nap of the day at 7.30 as he was already exhausted by then…

Anyway so breaking point came and we decided we needed some help as we were clearly rubbish at sorting it ourselves.

So a “sleep consultant” came to our house one afternoon. Before she came I was pretty sure I did not want to do controlled crying as we’d sort of tried it already and nothing had improved, and definitely did not want to do cry-it-out. Therefore before she came I specifically asked about her methods. Her reply: “There are lots of methods I'll use before controlled crying - that is a last resort” (the not-quite-truths someone will tell you so you hire them #1). Great I thought, so she came for the 4 hour visit.

Now don’t get me wrong, there were several things she suggested which did help, and to be impartial I will discuss everything, good and bad.

So before she arrived she said we had to get Doof out of his current sleeping routine as he was having his first nap too early in the day and so wasn’t tired enough to nap longer later and there was no incentive for him to wake up later. So we re-jigged his routine to first nap being at 9am, moved his lunch slightly earlier (to 11.30) and then his next nap at 12. This was a good step as this is much more like the schedule he will follow at nursery and is much more “age-appropriate” for him than the 3-hourly very-young-baby schedule he had been doing.

When she arrived she asked about his food (no problem), other activities (no problem) and daily routine (already changed as above). She never asked what his current “wind-down” routine was or how quickly he settled to sleep – she was more interested in the fact that he woke repeatedly.

She then instigated a new (I struggle to even call it a wind-down as it is so short!) pre-bed routine of:
-          go upstairs
-          change his nappy
-          put him in cot
-          turn light out and leave room
I’m not sure I could go from full throttle playing/eating etc to sleeping if I had a wind-down like that, especially at the end of the day. She also said to remove everything from his cot – he had a Ewan the sheep (no longer allowed to use) and a muslin as a comforter. The fact that Ewan has gone is I think good – as the noise only lasted 20 minutes when Doof would come into a light sleep I think he would wake up because the noise that had soothed him to sleep before was no longer there.

Unsurprisingly Doof went to sleep pretty quick (did 5 minutes of crying as I think he was a bit WTF where was my bedtime story) as he was knackered – by this time (12 o’clock) in a “normal” day he would have already had 2 naps! But equally unsurprisingly after 45 minutes he woke up. And cried. And cried. And cried more every time we went in, or didn’t go in. The problem was he had had enough sleep that he wasn’t completely pooped anymore and so he raged and raged and raged.

She said “don’t worry, it’s always like this on the first day, it will definitely be better by day 2 or 3 - otherwise you aren’t doing it right/as I’ve told you (nice supportive attitude for parents there!!) (the not-quite-truths someone will tell you so you hire them #2), followed swiftly by “I follow up for 5 days which is when it works for everyone - if you're still struggling I'll help for longer until you don't have any problems” (the not-quite-truths someone will tell you so you hire them #3, well actually that one was a complete and utter lie but I’ll let it go for now…) and “it has never not worked with anyone in the [insert whatever long time period you want] years I've been doing this” (the not-quite-truths someone will tell you so you hire them #4) - hmmm well it's not like we can check that with anyone is it?

Anyway so Doof cried from around 1pm to 2.15. Intermittently he stopped for a few minutes (once because he was playing with the muslin (she hadn’t taken it away at that point – she then went in and took it and I’m sure you can imagine the enraged howls that occurred…) but would always start up again. It sounds awful that I let him cry for that long but I was at my wit’s end after hardly any sleep for 8 months and as I’m going back to work in 2 months – who would want me there with so little sleep?! Anyway I was also lulled into a false sense of security by the not-quite-truth #2 and the fact that she told me about a study that had shown there were no deleterious effects if babies were left to cry as long as it was for less than 25 minutes.

At 2.15 (end of “naptime” – supposed to be 2.30 usually but even she gave up early on the first day) she got him up and he was so sad. Doof is never sad. He is the most smiley happy baby all the time and to see him shuddering with sobs was completely heart-breaking. But he came to me for a cuddle and within a few minutes he was back to his usual self.

This is what Doof usually looks like :)

So she left us with a “weaning schedule” to do over the next few days. Don’t forget – she said that after 5 days (maximum, but probably much sooner) everything would be completely fixed as long as we did what she said. The basic outline was:
Day 1: if crying go in after 5 mins, 5 mins, 10 mins, 10 mins, 15 mins, 15 mins etc
Day 2: start at 10 mins
Day 3: start at 15 mins etc

At this point I had no other choices – we had tried pick-up-put-down, gradual retreat, everything we could think of and everything other people had suggested to us – and so I thought we should try this. My husband said we could get a night nanny to come in and do it but to be honest I would rather do it myself. If my baby is going to be crying there is no way I could just “switch off” and have a good night’s sleep and would rather be the one going into him.

That evening we did the new routine (she also said we had to bath him first, then bring him back downstairs to the living room and feed him there before going upstairs and doing the steps outlined above) and he cried for 40 minutes before finally going to sleep. I think he was completely confused by having a nice relaxing bath and then going back downstairs to his “playroom” and then going back upstairs and just being dumped in bed.

But don’t forget not-quite-truth #2 and #4. This was short-term pain for long-term gain.

So I persisted for the next few days. After one lunchtime session of crying for an hour Doof clung to me so hard that I thought he was never going to let go. Even 20 minutes later he didn't want me to put him down. I have never seen him so sad-looking :(

Photo taken 20 minutes after getting him out of bed. He never normally clings to my clothes and/or looks so sad. Normally the least he would do is try and grab the iphone off me!

So on the 3rd day when he was still crying for 30-40 minutes I called her for help. She said I needed to persist for few more days but could limit the crying to 30 minutes “if that was what I was comfortable with” and just get him up after that. Also remember that study I mentioned above? Well when I asked for a reference so I could read the original paper (I’d had no luck googling it myself)….. she eventually admitted she had heard about it on a TV program about sleep. Arghhh. It was then I started to really doubt what we were doing.

It didn’t feel right.
Doof seemed completely confused and beside-himself at bedtime.
There had been no reduction in the length of time he was crying for in the evening.
And how could I have faith in her when she quoted opinion from TV as fact?

Anyway she said if I sent her our last day’s routine she would look at it and look for any patterns/changes we needed to make that might explain why it wasn’t working. She then sent a text saying “off to work now and then working tomorrow day so it may be a while before I get back to you”.

So I sent a (very long and detailed) email and waited. Bearing in mind the slightly dismissive “I’m busy so might not get back to you soon” I was not surprised. But after another 24 hours and no further support I couldn’t do it any longer. So I was resigned to going back to how things had been before – even never sleeping again was preferable to seeing Doof like this for any longer.


But then… just when it was needed the most… I got a random email from Lisa Clegg (aka theblissfulbabyexpert) asking how we were and how Doof was sleeping (we’d had some twitter chat before and I’d read her book which had helped me make the previous improvements in his sleep).

I explained what was happening, how he was still crying for long periods, how he seemed confused by no wind-down etc.

She suggested a new variation on the routine, reinstated “wind-down” in the evening and allowed him his muslin back.
At no point was I left not knowing what to do.
At no point did I feel unsupported.
At no point did I feel pressured to act a certain way, leave him to cry if I didn’t feel comfortable etc.
She would email every now and again if she hadn’t heard from me (contrast to the behaviour below of the first person…) just to see how we were doing and if everything was ok.

What a breath of fresh air.
What an amazing person.
What a help to stressed out and worn down mothers.
And she did all this because she cares about mothers and babies and wants the best for them – so they are all well-rested and happy.
Lisa spends so much time helping others and all from the goodness of her heart. She hasn’t charged for the many hours she has spent tweeting and emailing me.
I will never be able to really express how grateful I am to her for giving me back that oh-so-precious gift of sleep.

So what is Doof doing now?
He has a nap at 9 and at 12. I put him in his cot and he rolls around for a minute or two to get comfortable, maybe chats to himself briefly and then goes to sleep.
In the evening he completely chills out during his story and then calmly goes in his bag and is asleep within a minute or two. No crying at any point. And then he sleeps through til 5am. Amazing heh?!

We still need to work on the 5am wakings but in this heat I think everyone is having more disrupted sleep so will give him the benefit of the doubt for now :)


So where in all this you might be wondering was the follow-up from the first person? Well after 4 days of hearing nothing I wondered the same. So I texted her to find out.

I then discovered she had given me (inadvertently I hope!) the wrong email address and so had never received my email – but had also not thought to follow up with me when she knew we were really struggling.

Her response?
No apology for giving me the wrong email address (.com not .co.uk)
That the 5 days had expired now (I know – it expired while I was waiting for her to respond! And don’t forget her not-quite-truth #3…)
That she was very busy with clients and couldn’t possibly be expected to remember who was who and follow people up
Blamed me for not sending her the routine she asked for (well I did send it to the email address she provided! And as it was in a text message I have been able to go back and quadruple check that she did give me the wrong one)
It was not her job to “chase people up” (well I emailed you, you told me you were very busy and might not reply for a few days, I waited patiently and was then told my 5 days were up!)
That she takes weekends off (but still includes those in the “5 day” follow up – surely that is not fair?!)

And then she finished with “you sounded like you didn’t want to carry on following the plan”. So my impression? I think she gave up on us and couldn’t be bothered so she could put it down as us failing, rather than her failing. So her not-quite-truth #4 record could (in her mind…) still hold true.

So am I a bit bitter that I employed a service, was reassured beforehand that controlled crying was a “last resort” and there were “lots of other things” (note these have remained unspecified) that could be tried before restoring to that, and that I was then left high and dry with no support when really struggling? Yes. Completely.

But the real story is how amazing Lisa Clegg is. Not only knowledgeable but helpful, friendly, kind, supportive... the list could go on. They say without experiencing sadness you could never appreciate true happiness – I can say the same, without experiencing the first person I would never have realised just how one-of-a-kind Lisa was.

So to anyone having a baby, or with a baby already, I would wholeheartedly recommend Lisa and her book “The Blissful Baby Expert”. No words can actually express how grateful I am to her.

* please note unsurprisingly I would not recommend the first person at all if you would like any form of support afterwards. however if you just want someone to come to your house, teach you a new routine and show you how to do controlled crying (leaving no room for different babies having different needs etc - they must all fit the same exact pattern...) and are not fussed about any follow up then she is probably fine


  1. Oh my goodness poor Doofy and poor you!! The first person sounds totally ridiculous!! I'm glad it's all sorted now, I've heard nothing but good about the blissful baby expert x

  2. Thanks Kelly! Seems like a lifetime ago now and am so pleased that in the end I went trusted my gut, ignored the first person and got great advice from BBE. I definitely know what I will (and won't!!) be doing with Doofling when the time comes...