When I’m meeting clients and their babies for the first time and they find out I’m a mum too the first thing they naturally want to know is how old my daughter was when she “slept through the night” and how I did it.
Missy was 8 weeks old when she slept through the night for the first time, and she has slept through the night, every night ever since. She’s now 12 years old but I remember those first few months with her at home as if they were literally yesterday.
I had my daughter in my early 20s and I had been a night nanny for about 3 years, so had no fears or worries when I found out I was expecting a baby as you........ would expect I was really confident with babies but as my pregnancy drew to a conclusion I did begin to have mild concerns about what type of sleeper my baby was going to be. I worked as a night nanny right until I was eight months pregnant so I didn’t need to rush back to working after missy was born. The father of my daughter and I had split up so I moved back home with my parents for support as I had to raise my daughter as a single parent
At the time in the baby world Gina Ford’s Contented Little Baby Book was the book that most new mums were reading. Many of mothers I was working with were reading her book and trying to implement routines to get babies sleeping through ASAP. I had read The Contented Little Baby Book so I knew what mums were expecting from me when I helped them with routines etc. at work. I hadn’t formed any real opinion on her I did think her controlled crying method was harsh on a new-born so was always reluctant to implement it at work if a client asked me to. And I often wondered why certain mums were so hell bent in getting their babies into routines and sleeping through when they didn’t have to rush back to work after 3 months. When I became pregnant I gave serious thought to whether or not I wanted to implement a Gina ford style routine. I would eventually need to go back to work and that in order for my mum to cope with my daughter when I did, my baby would indeed need to be able to sleep well at night. My mum was and still is a full time health visitor. My plan was to eventually go back to work part time but it was unfair of me to go back to working if my daughter wasn’t sleeping well and my mum could potentially be up with her during the night. Outside of working I’m a much laid back and relaxed character. I didn’t want to feel like I was at work with my own baby.
I reread Gina Ford and thought back to what I had done with the babies I’d worked with. Re-evaluated the things that had worked well (bedtime routines and dream feeds) what hadn’t worked well so well (controlled crying & late afternoon napping) and decided to be completely relaxed about the whole thing didn’t want to add any stress to the situation as I’d had enough stress emotionally during the pregnancy. I wasn’t about to add to that once my bundle arrived by trying to implement routines and sleep training methods. I wanted to enjoy every moment I had with her. I decided to use what I knew worked and ignore anything else Gina had to say (Sorry Gina please don’t sue me loll)
My plan was to Start every day at the same time (7am) with a feed and follow her cues after that. I had a bedtime routine that I followed every day, and was going to bottle feed. Breastfeeding to me was a nice idea in theory but not something I was particularly precious about. I wasn’t sure I even wanted to breastfeed after seeing what it had done to my friend’s boobs. I was being vain I didn’t want sagging boobs or stretch marks (in hindsight so immature!) and thought formula was a perfectly acceptable way to feed my baby.( I now know better) Everything else I was going to make up as I went along. I figured if I did those things I could just follow Missy’s cues and see what happened! I’ve always noticed that stressed out tense mums equals a stressed out tense baby. I’m a laid back character so I wanted to be a laid back calm mum too, I wasn’t going to give myself any unnecessary stress like I’d seen so many mums do that I was working with. After all the madness id been through with her dad in my pregnancy I was going to enjoy my baby, that was non-negotiable.
My little princess was born in spring of 2002 and I instantly fell in love with her. I immediately attempted to put her to my breast. I always said I wouldn’t, but at the time it just felt like the natural thing to do. That first night missy fed from me the whole night! I was knackered, it hurt and I wanted to go home. ‘Shit!! This better not be how every night goes’ I thought.
I admit I came home from hospital with my mum and my little bundle in her car seat and felt completely and utterly inadequate. I literally didn’t know what to do with myself or her. I think my mum saw the panic on my face as she just told me to go have a nap and she’d call me when missy needed feeding. Thank God for mums! I knew what to do, just needed pointing in the right directions That night I gave missy her fist bath (she screamed the whole way through it) moisturised/massaged her, fed her swaddled her and put her in her moss basket right beside my bed luckily she went right to sleep. She slept soundly till 3am, I got her out of her Moses basket, brought her into bed with me put her on my breast and we stayed like that till the morning. I did this for about a month, and then began to put her back into her Moses basket after her feed. She would always breast feed for about 15 mins then nod off and sleep well in my arms in bed with me till I woke her at 7. I didn’t know it at the time but I was a co sleeper. I wanted to see if shed sleep as well in her Moses basket or if she only slept well because I was close by. After 3 weeks of co sleeping with me Missy was happy to be asleep in her Moses basket after a feed. Was I lucky? Maybe. I personally think that because she was close to me and had access to food whenever she wanted Missy was secure and comfortable enough to just sleep and after 4 weeks had become used to being asleep for longer periods overnight.
During the day I followed her cues, I let her feed with me or sleep as much and I confess a lot of the time I let her sleep on me during the day. Usually the morning nap I’d let her lay on my chest for about 45 mins and then put her in her Moses basket for the rest of the nap. Frowned upon by the experts perhaps but why the hell not. I enjoyed nothing more when she was that age. She was my first baby so I had the time. I can still remember what her hair smelt like when she was asleep on my chest and kissing her little hands.
I found after about 6 weeks of feeding on demand*, bedtime routine at 8.30 and starting the day at 7 every day I had a baby who was indeed very contented. The timings varied slightly day to day but Missy was feeding at 7am napping for an hour in the morning, having a big sleep over lunch a cat nap in the afternoon/evening and was only waking once at night for 15 mins for a feed. I slowly taught Missy to self-settle at bedtime from about 3 weeks old by 6 weeks she was happily falling asleep by herself in her Moses basket at around 10 pm.
We discovered Missy preferred tummy sleeping on the one night in her whole baby hood that I couldn’t settle her. This particular night I took it for granted that I could skip bedtime routine and stay out late with Missy when I visited friend in North London for the day I got home with Missy around half ten severely told off by my mum for skipping her routine I was blasé and told mum it was no biggie but Missy had other ideas she was asleep in her car seat on the journey home but immediately woke up when I got home. I tried to feed her, cuddle her, rock her etc. but missy was having none of it she was inconsolable!! After an hour of ‘I told you so’ facial expressions from my mum I handed her over. Mum laid her tummy down across her knees and rocked her, rubbing her back; missy was out for the count. Maybe she’d worn herself out after crying so long I don’t know but we settled her in her Moses basket tummy down to sleep. After all the fuss I wasn’t going to disturb her till she was hungry again. So I figured I’d turn her to her back after her next feed. That was the first night Missy slept through the night. She was 8 weeks old.
I didn’t sleep a wink though.
I wasn’t comfortable with her sleeping tummy. SIDS guidelines recommend babies sleep on their backs. But to me tummy sleeping made sense. I always sleep way better on my side or my chest. And she was clearly very happy sleeping on her tummy. So I bought a sleep sensor monitor for extra reassurance. For those unfamiliar it’s a monitor with a flat pad that goes under baby’s mattress and sounds an alarm after approx. 20 secs if it isn’t able to detect baby’s breathing.
I don’t feel like I can really take full credit for getting missy to sleep through the night. We discovered her tummy sleeping preference by accident, and clearly she was ready to sleep for longer periods at night.
But I do believe that by creating positive sleep associations for her, like bath time and massage during her bedtime routine to help her wind down. Teaching her to self-settle without there being any tears or upset, definitely helped her feel secure and comfortable enough to go to sleep and not fight it when she was tired. I did a mixture of co sleeping, breastfeeding and following her cues during the day. Thinking back now it all seemed so easy and to be honest it was. But then I’m very fortunate as to have had a lot of contact with babies before having missy. There was a lot of trial and error but missy and I quickly got to know each other, even though it felt like I was permanently breastfeeding throughout the day. She slept so well at night she was clearly tanking up for it all day.
I wasn’t left feeling inadequate as a mum and I think many baby care books unintentionally do this. The amount of mums I meet who feel like failures because their babies don’t adhere to times specified in routines in these books. Or sleep through when these books promise that they should be. I will often say to the mums who are reading up on routines to do exactly what I did. Take that from the book that helps and supports you and anything else that doesn’t suit you, ignore! For me that was all the above mentioned. For you and your baby it may be something else. A bit of trial and error, maybe get advice from books, relatives or the experts but ultimately….. Do what works for you and your baby. You may not have your baby sleeping through the night straight away but I promise you will both be happier, and that will definitely help you both in your journey to that night when they eventually do sleep through.
*Please note I say feeding on demand to clarify what I mean. I fed her when I knew she was genuinely hungry she was a greedy baby and would often want to snack at the boob so I let her suckle on her dummy. She fed roughly every 2-3 hours throughout the day.