Sunday, 5 August 2012

Operation Sleep Rule Change

We are going to start some sleep training at our house (and I use the term 'sleep training' very, very loosely). The current situation isn't really working for us at this point in time. We have been looking at ideas and strategies to change things a little bit, but haven't yet come across a plan that we were comfortable with or that we thought would work for Chubs. It seems that we now have a plan, so I will share with you all how it goes; perhaps it might be helpful for others.

What we have done in terms of sleep (where and when) has changes as Chubs has needed to since she was born. The current situation (and it has been this way for a few months) is to have dinner/ shower at 5:30 - 6:00 ish depending on when we get home from daycare. After shower and PJs we turn the big light off in the living room and play with toys, watch TV or video clips until 7:30. Chubs then brushes her teeth with Dear Husband then has three stories with me in the living room. After that it's goodnight cuddle for Daddy, then Chubs and I go to our bed and she feeds/ cuddles to sleep there. She's usually asleep by 8pm and then I move her to her cot where she happily sleeps until 10 or 11pm ish. If she wakes before then then I can usually resettle her in her cot. She also happily sleeps in her cot for day naps and in the cot at daycare. After the 10 or 11pm wake up, however, she comes into our bed. She has a small feed but mostly wants cuddles.

We don't mind having her in our bed in principle, and she's been in there for various parts of the day or night since she was a little baby. This has had numerous benefits for all three of us. Our bed is set up for safe cosleeping, so there are no safety worries. I also realise that baby waking for comfort and reassurance that Mum and Dad are still there is totally normal behaviour, and is a sign that she has a strong connection to her father and me - that is a good thing. I'm happy to provide that comfort and reassurance over night, I'm also happy to keep feeding her overnight since she still seems to want that. However, what isn't working is having her in our bed from 11pm on, since it is impossible for Dear Husband and I to get a good (or even a satisfactory) night's sleep.

Chubs usually ends up sleeping with her head next to mine and her feet next to Dear Husband's head. She's also a fan of bed angels, and the 'H is for Hell' position. Dear Husband has neck/ back issues at the best of times due to whiplash many years ago. I'm pretty flexible when is comes to sleeping positions but when I can't carry my school books during the day because my arms are so sore - and this happens repeatedly, then the situation isn't working.

I said above that the situations isn't working for us at this time in our circumstance. When Chubs was younger she was happy for me to transfer her back to the cot once she'd come into our bed for a bit, so this wan't a problem. When the tiny child had one adult balanced on the edge of the bed and the other curled up in a ball at the foot of the bed, then we would transfer her back to the cot for another few hours. That worked well. Some people play 'musical beds' during the night, and I think that would work for us, but we don't have a spare bed to go to. (Both Dear Husband and I tried the couch at various times, but the sleep there was worse than with an oh-so-cute chubby foot in the ear.) Some babies are happy to sleep in a cot next to the bed but since I did a lot of child proofing in the living room a lot of the nin child friendly furniture (my desk, some bookshelves etc) were moved into our bedroom (since Chubs isn't ever in there alone) so there isn't any room for a cot in there now,and my Mummy instinct tells me that Chubs wouldn't be happy with that, anyway.

Chubs is happy to sleep in her cot for day naps and until 11pm, so she knows it as a comfortable, safe place. It's just that in her head from 11pm or so on, the 'Rule' is that she's allowed into Mummy and Daddy's bed. I don't regret teaching her this by accident - bringing her into bed for that first feed when I was so tired (this only started at 8 months or so?) had many advantages for all of us. The problem is that this isn't working any more. What we would like to do is just to shift the 'Rules' as Chubs understands them to say that instead of staying in her cot until 10 or 11pm, she needs to stay there until 2 - 3am ish or ideally, 5 - 6 am ish.

Two nights ago I moved her back into her cot at about 2:30am to try and encourage her to be in the cot later, but she work up straight away and I had trouble getting her back to sleep. I brough her back to bed with us but she wouldn't properly go back to sleep for an hour and wanted to feed/ comfort suck for all of that time. She wouldn't let me slip the dummy in, she only wanted me. This tells me that she was upset and uncomfortable about me changing the rules - why was I putting her in the cot at 2:30, whcih was clearly in the 'Mummy and Daddy's bed' timeslot? I must admit that I was worried here - if that left her anxious for one hour, then how will we ever get her in the cot for a few more hours?

I didn't want to do anything that would make her feel anxious, or that she's wasn't cared for. I want her to know that when she wants a cuddle, that I will be there. It's normal for children to need comfort and reassurance during the night until about three or four years of age. I'm very aware that she will grow out of this, sooner or later. She won't always want to sleep in our bed, and there will be plenty of time for Dear Husband and me to catch up when she's a teenager. (Although, a dear friend of mine is often called by her adult daughter in the wee hours to drive in and pick her up when she finishes her restaurant job in the city, so manybe I'm hoping in vain...)

However, there are three people in this bed, and two of us aren't happy. I think that it is reasonable to expect a toddler to sleep a few more hours in her cot, in which she is already comfortable, when her loving mother and father are in the next room and will come in to resettle and/or breastfeed as required. I think that this is a resonable expectation and I wanted to find a technique which was respectful of Chubs' needs to help her to 'reset' the Rules so that Mummy and Daddy's bed isn't 'open' until a few hours later.

I struggled to find a suggestion that might work. I was cautious to only ask for advice from people and places who I knew would be supportive of our 'frame of reference'for sleep. I didn't want to be told to put her on a strict routine dictated by someone who had never met her. I didn't want to be told off for cosleeping and forming 'bad habits'. None the less, it took me a while to find a suggestion which would actually be do-able for our circumstances. I did find lots of 'no idea, but we're in the same situation, so let me know what happens' comments though! I did put a comment on Pinky McKay's Facebook page which she very kindly reposted on her status, and I was overwhelmed with support, reassurance and possible strategies we could try. Thanks to all who commented, I really do appreciate it!

So, now we have a plan. We are going to try and 'reset' the sleeping rules in a gentle, workable and respectful way. Most of the sleeping procedures and changes that we have done to date have definately been on the 'baby led' end of the spectrum, this is the first time we've done anything on the 'parent led' end. The plan - Operation Change Sleep Rules - begins tonight.

The plan is to hold off moving Chubs into our bed for an hour at a time. So, for this week, Chubs won't be coming into our bed before midnight. If (or more likely when) she wakes before that we will try to resettle her, pat, rock, feed and do whatever we need to do, but it will be in her room. We will keep doing this until she falls asleep in her cot, or until midnight comes. If she's still awake at midnight then she can come in with us. Once she's learned that she can't come in until midnight (I'm hoping that this will take a week or so but it may take longer) then we'll do the same thing to move back the time to 1am, then 2am etc. Depending on how it goes we might keep pushing it back to 5 or 6 am, or we might leave it at 3am.

Of course, there's a million reasons why this might not work. Chubs might not like it at all, she might get sick, we might get too exhausted. However, this is the best plan that seems the most workable that we've come up with. I have confidence that it at least has a reasonable chance of working.

And so, I will keep you posted. It sounds like lots of people are in the same boat, so perhaps you can blog along too? Of course every baby is different and will respond differently, but I'm really hoping that this will work for Chubs.


  1. If there are 'three people in this bed, and two of us aren't happy' I think it's time for a change, no matter how difficult it is. I hope this week goes well and bub is able to settle into a new routine.

    1. Thanks, I hope that some gentle encouragment is all that will be needed.

  2. All the best as you embark on the plan! I love that you are being completely respectful of your daughter in this and have realistic expectations (unlike some of our cultural expectations of children and sleep which seem to ignore biological realities). I really hope it works out for you. If you're looking for any other ideas, I can recommend Elizabeth Pantley's "The No-cry Sleep Solution" (or the toddler and preschooler edition) as a great help in coming up with a plan for your individual family situation.

    1. Thanks Neri for your kind words. I really believe that ngith waking for reassurance is normal and healthy. Chubs is happy to sleep in her cot, I would just like her to stay there fore a few more hours. I'm still happy to get up to her and cuddle or feed as she needs. I love Elizabeth Pantley's stuff too - her separation anxiety book is very reassuring, gentle, affirming and useful.


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