For as long as I can remember, I have always dreamed of being a mum. Maybe from an idealistic point of view, I longed for the newborn baby cuddles, the giggles and the “mum lifestyle”, taking my baby to classes, playing together and creating my own little family unit. I knew, of course, that babies were hard work but ultimately babies sleep a lot, right? I reasoned that when the baby was sleeping soundly in his Moses basket, I would have plenty of time to keep up with housework, take a shower, care about what I wore and do my make-up. Wrong!
When my baby boy arrived in September 2017, I quickly realised that although he very much liked to snooze, he knew his own mind and to him, his bed was mummy or daddy. Being put down was a form of torture in his mind and his little eyes would spring open as soon as he detected any slight movement towards his cot. The sofa became my camp for the day as for every nap, I was stuck to the couch with a baby on my chest. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the cuddles. But by the time three months had passed, I was really starting to worry that this had become my life and that I would never again have any time to myself. Nights were even more problematic as my husband and I took shifts to hold him. At first, he would sleep in his Sleepyhead for a three to four hour stretch which gave us a bit of a break but as he got older, he became even more dependent on being held to fall asleep. And not just holding either; his sleep habits progressed to the point where he had to be rocked, often for up to an hour in order for him to get to the land of nod.
Exhausted and both with painful joints from all the rocking, we turned to Google for help. You can find so much information on the internet about helping your baby sleep and learn to self settle but it is a minefield. One website’s advice is another ones ‘absolutely don’t do this’ so we were at a loss for where to start. I did find reassurance that our situation was not rare – there are so many parents in the exact same position, searching desperately on multiple forums for that magic answer. In fact, a little research revealed that a third of parents have a significant problem with their child’s sleep behaviour (source: Armstrong, Quinn & Dadds, 1994). Perhaps it was because we were first time parents that we couldn’t tell if our baby boy’s sleeping patterns were normal. Having spoken to a few family members and also turning to the health visitor for advice and coming up blank, we were in need of some expert help.
During one late night Google session, one website in particular caught my attention. Karen Bramall is a Child Sleep Consultant based locally to me in Romsey, Hampshire and her website, www.BabySleepTheNight.com offered a free 15 minute consultation to discuss how we could solve our sleep problems. I reasoned that I had nothing to lose. By this point, I felt so unsure how to resolve our situation, that taking any advice I could find online and attempting to implement it myself just felt incredibly overwhelming. I needed the guiding hand of someone who had seen and dealt with it all before to support me.
Enter Karen. The initial phone consultation we had seemed like a glimmer of hope. Karen was confident she could help us with getting three solid naps a day and a full night’s sleep in his cot within two weeks. We went ahead and booked a full consultation for the following week. Karen spent almost two hours outlining the basic science of sleep and using our baby as an example, explained in detail how we could start to see remarkable improvements. It sounded too good to be true but my husband and I committed to embracing Karen’s guidance and following it to the letter.
I was very against the idea of leaving my baby to just cry but Karen’s techniques involved sitting beside the cot to provide reassurance at regular intervals until our little boy was asleep. We had tried the softly-softly techniques with no success so I felt that an in-between method was worth a go. I was going to be right there with him and he would know that mummy was just a couple of feet away.
The first night was tough. I am not going to pretend that there was no crying. Of course there was. It was a brand new learning experience for him and he had no self-settling skills to be able to fall asleep without a bit of protest. But armed with our sleeping plan, we persevered. Every time he woke up in the night, I went back to sit beside his cot to reassure him until he fell asleep again. The first night, there were four or five wake-ups, including one for a feed. Overall, I think we were expecting to be awake all night with a traumatised child but our baby boy surprised us, even giving us a solid five hour stretch of sleep.
From there, things just got better and better. Every three or four nights, we moved the chair further away from the cot, slowly teaching him that he didn’t need us there for him to fall asleep. By the tenth night, we didn’t sit in his room at all. And he didn’t care one bit. In fact, he settled quicker. Now, a month or so later, he hardly protests at all. We very rarely have to go in and soothe him and he sleeps through the night consistently! It is clear that he is benefitting too. He is so much more content as he is getting restorative sleep. The biggest reward is his gorgeous gummy grin which greets us when we go in in the morning.
Without sounding like a bragging mama, he’s nailed his naps too. Three lovely naps during the day, in his cot, allowing me to have some downtime too. I have managed to do my make-up, start reading a new book, do the ironing and the washing up. It really doesn’t sound like much (who gets excited about being able to iron?!) but it has made me feel a little bit human again which undoubtedly enables me to be a better mum.
That’s my perspective. To complete the picture, I thought it would be interesting to get Karen’s viewpoint too. Karen commented:
“Healthy sleep is so fundamental to our survival, not only in the case of your own health and happiness but for your baby too. It was an absolute pleasure to guide this lovely young family through the transformation that took place, and seeing how well rested and thriving they all are now. If there was one bit of advice I could go back and give myself as a young mum, it would be to ask for help, not just from relatives and friends, (who’ll all have their advice to offer – much of it differing!) but from a professional who has been through this process many times, and who can teach you how to do it once and do it right. This family followed my plan to the letter and the results say it all!”
If someone had told me at the start of this year that we would have a baby who slept as well as this, I would have laughed in their face. Well, the joke’s on me. And I couldn’t be happier about it.
If you’ve enjoyed this article, you can follow my parenting experience and discover a mixture of food, travel and lifestyle posts on my blog at www.livelovesavour.com.