One Mum’s Solution to Sleep Deprivation

My good friend Sara Whittlesea was miserable with fatigue one week and well rested and elated with a soundly sleeping baby the next. I couldn’t believe the transformation. I asked her to write about it for The Mumday Times…

I’ve a theory about child rearing – that there is a holy trinity of challenges all children present in their early years: sleeping, eating and potty training. I have yet to meet a child who breezes all three. My first born ate everything, and figured out potty training in a day (though she didn’t have much choice: I’d forgotten to buy nappies…) However, she never slept. I mean, she shut her eyes and snored from time to time. But for nearly three years I got up at least twice a night to soothe her with milk. In truth, she sleep-walked into my bed in the middle of the night for another few years after that too.

Said child is now nine and we have recently been blessed with a very chubby, bonny baby boy: Stanley. And – guess what – Stan eats everything (mud and leaves and cardboard included). Of course, he’s not at the potty training point yet. But when his three hourly sleep phase of the very early months developed into waking every single ninety minutes, I detected a desperate pattern emerging.

Whether innate in both my babies, or because of me (and let’s face it, it’s probably me) I felt myself tumbling again towards years of lost sleep with fear and dread. I knew I needed help, and fast.

A quick trawl of the Mumsnet archives offered up Andrea Grace, sleep guru. 24 hours later, she was sitting at my kitchen table, cooing at my baby nestled contentedly on her knee. We spent an intensive hour analysing Stan’s pattern; looking at his room; checking the temperature and noise levels and so forth. Andrea diagnosed our problem immediately: I was feeding my baby to sleep, so that each time he woke he was livid that he was no longer suckling. Not unreasonable, to be fair.

Andrea recommended going cold turkey on the boob-sleep combo. A bit like the dreaded controlled crying, but she recommended staying in the room with the baby. I could stroke his hair; talk; sing; and if I really felt he needed, pick him up.

I won’t deny it: it was really very upsetting. But I knew years of broken sleep would be beneficial for neither me nor the baby. This, combined with Andrea’s support (and, truthfully, having spent a couple of hundred pounds on her advice) sharpened my resolve.

Stan finally slept after half an hour. Because I was with him, I knew he was crying because he was furious rather than in pain. Still rotten, but bearable. He woke twice more that night, before finally getting up at 6am. A dramatic improvement. Of course, we didn’t sleep: my husband and I lay apprehensively awake at 3am wondering whether he was ok.

Within four days, Stan went happily to bed at 6:30 and slept for eleven hours straight. Which he has done ever since. It is a stone cold miracle.

This approach isn’t for everyone: for every Mumsnet thread wondrously advocating her methods, there is another decrying ‘crying it out’. I can only speak from experience: Andrea Grace has changed our life. While she may not have surprised me with her diagnosis of my mistakes, her encouragement and her guidance tailored to our specific scenario was invaluable. Part of her service is a twice-weekly phone surgery in which she can offer further advice, tweak her recommendations, or simply offer some virtual handholding. It was expensive, for sure. But it was significantly cheaper than the eye creams I was ogling in SpaceNK whilst staring miserably at the hideous bags under my bleary eyes. Andres has also published a clear and comprehensive book, and has some excellent case studies on her website, for anyone who wants to read about her methods. I couldn’t be more relieved.

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