Let me begin with a bang of controversiality, I follow Gina Ford’s “Contented Little Baby” routine, and I thank her from the bottom of my heart for making motherhood easier for me. Ever since baby was 2 months and a friend said, “go and get that book, it works and it changed our life!”, I have been a fairly strict follower of the routine.
For those who don’t yet know what this supposed near-Satanic routine is, it goes something like this:
7am open baby up and allow him to wake naturally
7:10 Feed full milk feed
8:00 bath and massage then play
9:00 put down in darkened room, fully swaddled for no longer than 45min
9:45 allow baby to wake naturally
12:00 put down in darkened room, fully swaddled for no longer than 2 hours
This is by no means an accurate routine, just a guideline so you understand what all the hype is about.
For those of us who thrive on point form instructions, its a bible. The times of feeding and periods of sleep and methods of swaddling etc all change depending on your baby’s age, and there is room for change if your baby isn’t responding how she wants. The key to remember is that the intention is not only for a full night’s sleep eventually, but also for a baby who will essentially want for nothing, because all her needs are being met before. My experience was that baby was indeed more content after the routine was ingrained and that I was a lot more relaxed.
The biggest critics of Gina Ford argue that its cruel to wake a sleeping baby and its unfair to expect a mom to follow such a strict routine everyday. Again I feel, ‘to each his own’, but I feel her method is a guide and I certainly did not follow it to the letter and allowed myself to follow my instinct when I felt something needed to change. What it did do was allow for the OCD part of my personality to regain some ‘control’ and I could once again make plans with my day and have some sort of expectation of life again. For example, at 8 months, I know that between 1 and 2:30 I can have a afternoon nap with baby. I know that I can study or blog from 8pm because baby is fast asleep by 7:30 and I know that if we’re out I have to pack lunch for 12 and I can breastfeed at 2:30. By 4 months my daughter was sleeping through the night, sometimes even for 12 hours at a time and you could almost set your clock to her waking up at 7am and going to sleep all on her own in her bed at 7:30pm… it was bliss. Like most moms who have not experienced the pain of a sleepless baby, I was soooo anti sleep-training!
6 months is where it suddenly all went wrong
*Cue scary horror music*
Suddenly no matter what I did, my child would wake up screaming randomly almost 5 times a night. I spent a few nights applying teething ointments, homeopathic powders and once even giving her a ml of Paracetomol. (The latter was advised by my GP, and given in desperation against my better judgement. It had the disasterous effect of making her miserable and hyperactive and we didn’t sleep at all that night… serves me right) I took her to my homeopath who prescribed some Chamomilla granules. This magically, and almost immediately settled her screaming and instead of waking up angry and aggressive 5 times a night she started waking whiny and needy 3 times a night. Still a far cry from the angel who slept 12 hours straight just a few days earlier. So on the first night she woke in the middle of the night crying “mmmamma” I swept her up from her cot and carted her into my bed for a comfort feed… thus began the spiralling nightmare of baby-in-the-bed syndrome…
Daddy started sleeping on the couch, mommy would wake up everyday with a stiff shoulder and tension headache from holding a baby in my sleep, I developed ginormous dark rings under my eyes from being woken 3-4 times a night so I could be my baby’s giant dummy and baby was less and less contented.
Something had to be done. We were at 9months and there was no sign of abating. Teething had come and gone, but I was still waking up 2-3hourly to comfort my baby with a boob and the minute she sensed she wasn’t in my arms, she woke up screaming “NANA!” At my wits end I decided to try sleep training.
*Cue dramatic music where action hero enters the scene*
The most common method people try first is called Ferberising, named after its founder, Dr Ferber. The method entails putting baby down to sleep in her bed (after a rigorous bedtime routine) then leaving the room, letting her cry it out for a minute, going in to reassure, leaving for 2min, then 3 etc, till baby learns that crying won’t work and she goes to sleep. The temptation in this method lies in the fact that its almost guaranteed to work by 5 days… forever. When my paediatrician suggested this method, her recommendation was “very simple” (I should have been suspicious from the very moment I heard that, I hear you say)
What they don’t tell you…
When you go back to “reassure” (what the hell does this mean anyway?), most babies scream louder than they did when they started.
When your baby can pull itself to standing… the entire time is spent at the edge of the cot crying hysterically.
It sometimes takes 40min of non stop crying before your child falls asleep.
You have to do this all night long, whenever the baby wakes up… who can walk in and out of the room of a screaming child at 3am??
I was starting to relate to Adam Mansbach’s poem “Go the F**k to Sleep”, an excerpt of which goes:
Nevertheless, I persisted, amidst endless support and advice and endless criticism and alternatives. Night one was easy, she was exhausted from a busy day, so just about passed out in her cot with no fuss, only to awake at 12am. I halfheartedly tried to pat her back to sleep, gave up after she let out the first yelp, and dragged her off to my bed for a drink and a cuddle. She woke twice again in the night… (Epic fail)
Night two was horrible, though I had increased the time increments to 5min, then 10, then 15. She cried for 15 min before eventually passing out. This time she slept til about 2am before I took her to my bed. she woke again at 5am then slept till 7.
Night 3 was hellish. She cried for quite literally 45min straight before passing out from exhaustion and possibly dehydration by tears. The only way I kept at it was by keeping a constant dialogue with facebook mommy (and daddy) friends, till she finally gave up. That night however, she only woke once at 3:30am, and for once, I fed her in a chair and put her back down in her cot. The problem was that I could see her becoming more clingy and needy during the day. It was almost as though she was afraid I was going to leave her again. That could not be a coincidence.
At this point a dear friend suggested that instead of going into the room and patting while she was hysterical, I should go in before the point of becoming hysterical. Another friend suggested that instead of patting, I should pick her up and let her calm down on my shoulder before putting her down. Still another suggested that I stay in the room while she cried, so she would be reassured by my presence, this friend suggested I read “Sleep Sense” for further advice. I took a 3 day ‘break’ and went back to being the human dummy, waking up all night with tiny toes in my nose or tiny knees in my ribs, usually to the sound of “Nana!” At my wits end again, I sat down with all the information I’d been given and came up with my own form of sleep training, tailored especially to my munchkin.
Our bathtime ritual begins at 7:00pm with a warm bath and massage. We then both climb into my bed with dolly and read a story with the lights dimmed. After story the lights go out, I switch on the cot-light and start playing bedtime music. (Her cot is in my room, because I believe that babies should be close to their mothers when they sleep) If baby isn’t tired yet, I hold her with her head on my shoulder and sing a lullaby. When I feel her start to drift off, I put her in her cot and keep my hands on her, assuring her that I’m not going anywhere. She does not like being put down in the cot and will inevitably cry, but I keep rubbing her back and reassuring her till she gets up or becomes hysterical. At that point I pick her up again, let her lie on my shoulder till she starts to drift off, then put her down and do the whole process over again till she falls asleep. When she wakes up at night, I first try to calm her by holding her while she lies down or if that doesn’t work, I feed her in the chair and put her back down in her cot the same way.
Its been 2 days and I feel a whole lot better about sleep training. I don’t have that tense knot at bedtime anymore and my baby certainly doesn’t behave as though she ‘s terrified I might leave her at any moment. I am yet to learn whether this will have any effect on the number of times she wakes up at night, but at least I feel good about what I’m doing, knowing that I’m doing something and knowing that I can emotionally handle doing it this way. After 2 days it takes about 10min before she goes to sleep quietly on her own, if that doesn’t get any better, I’d still be a happy mum.
The lesson I learnt is that different things work for different people. You have to have the presence of mind to figure out what your child’s needs are and to know how far you will go to make life a little easier. Parenting is really trial and error, there is no time to beat yourself up about steps you’ve mislaid or to allow anyone else to beat you up either! There is no substitute for other parent’s advice and anecdotes… every single word is a pearl in the chain that leads you to your own truth.
Happy traveling dear friends.