Gentle ‘no cry’ sleep training for toddlers

Yes, it is possible!

I recently wrote about co-sleeping with my 16 month old daughter, an arrangement that has worked for us for over a year now –  an arrangement that I love and hate in equal measure – so it is with mixed feelings that I have taken the first steps in transitioning Little Chop out of my bed.

A month or so ago, as I moved into my second trimester of pregnancy with baby number two, I decided that it was time to begin some gentle sleep training with my snuggly little bedfellow. This has coincided with attempted weaning so it’s been an emotional, anxious and frustrating time for both of us. I say attempted weaning because although Little Chop’s daytime breastfeeds have been successfully replaced with cow’s milk, her overnight comfort feed has proven much harder to shake.

To set up our new sleep arrangement, I had my partner remove the infant side from the cot and replace it with the toddler side, then position the cot like a sidecar by my bed. I didn’t want Little Chop to feel imprisoned in her cot and I wanted to be able to reach into the cot to comfort her without getting out of my own adjoining bed.

We established a loose bedtime routine – dinner between 5.30 & 6, a few books, an episode of The Night Garden, into jammies, kiss Daddy goodnight, change nappy then cow’s milk bottle in bed at 7pm.

I sit on the end of the cot while Little Chop has her bottle. When she’s finished, she always sits up, burps, occasionally stands up, and will come to my lap. We cuddle, I rub her back, talk to her in a calming voice and shoosh her gently if she becomes too animated. When she is calm, I say ‘time to lie down’ and I lay her down on her back. She will usually sit up again a few more times. Each time I repeat ‘time to lie down’, I lay her back down and rub her belly or feet while continuing with the gentle ‘sh sh sh’ sound. If she gets up repeatedly, I say a little more firmly, ‘lie down now’. If this upsets her, I distract her by singing a lullaby or a soothing song – I like ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ from The Wizard of Oz. She often turns onto her tummy when she is ready to go to sleep and when she does, I rub her back a little bit then take my hand away so that she can try to go to sleep without my help.

This isn’t a quick process. At first, it took about 45 minutes to an hour, but as Little Chop got used to the new routine it became faster and easier. She now climbs up into the cot herself and is usually asleep in about 20 minutes, sometimes less. When she wakes up later in the evening, as she inevitably does, I go in and comfort her, lay her back down and stay with her until she’s gone back to sleep. She also still wakes during the night and if I can’t settle her with shooshing and patting I bring her into bed with me. If she still doesn’t settle, I offer a breastfeed – but this is now my last resort.

I am flexible with the new routine and if Little Chop needs her mummy because she is sick or teething I put her to sleep in my bed where she feels the most secure and comforted, then back to the cot in a day or two when she is feeling better.

I don’t believe in using ‘controlled crying/comforting’ or ‘cry it out’ sleep training techniques – any method that causes distress or anxiety to my child isn’t an option – I’d much rather transition Little Chop slowly than risk damaging the strong bond that we have established.

If you’re after a quick fix sleep training method, this isn’t for you, but if you have time and patience, it may be an option. As with everything, the sleep training method that’s best, if you decide to use one, will depend on your child and what you feel comfortable doing – it’s personal choice. But whatever you choose to do, good luck!

 

* I am not a medical professional or sleep coach, I’m just a parent, sharing my experience with other parents who may be in a similar situation.

Co-sleeping – the ultimate parenting taboo?

Our mostly ornamental cot.

Our mostly ornamental cot.

I make no secret of the fact that I co-sleep with my daughter. It’s not something we’ve done since birth, nor was it a conscious parenting decision, but here we are, co-sleeping.

When I found out I was pregnant, I already had some ideas about how I wanted to parent my baby. I knew that I wanted to breastfeed and that I wanted her to be surrounded by books and music. I knew that I wanted to be a stay at home mum until she reached school age and that I didn’t want to leave her in the care of strangers at daycare.

I had been told at birth classes that co-sleeping was dangerous and not recommended due to increased risk of SIDS, so I never considered that my baby would sleep anywhere other than her bassinet and then cot. What my birth coach failed to mention, due to hospital policy I’m sure, is that there are many benefits of co-sleeping, which I would soon work out for myself.

Initially, Little Chop slept swaddled and warm in her bassinet in the lounge room by day and by my side of the bed at night. Night time feedings were in the lounge room – she would feed and drift back to sleep and we would return to our close but separate beds. The temperate summer climate made leaving the warmth of the bed easier, and I was an eager new mum, doing things by the book.

Four months later the temperature had dropped, Little Chop no longer wanted to be swaddled, and her night time feeding schedule had left me feeling beyond exhausted. My ‘getting baby to sleep’ technique had gone out the window and she was wriggling and writhing, fussing and screaming, and definitely not napping in her cot. So during the day, I would lay down with her in my bed and she would drift quietly off to sleep. Hallelujah!

During the cold Winter nights, I would bring Little Chop into the bed to feed, then return her to the cot when she had fallen back to sleep. Until one night, out of sheer exhaustion, I fell asleep with her still in the bed. I woke up in a panic, “Shit! What have I done? Is she breathing? How could I let myself fall asleep with my precious daughter in the bed!” – she was warm, comfortable and sleeping soundly. Once I had crossed that bridge, it became a regular occurrence. Little Chop would begin the night in her bed and wake up in mine. After a month or so, Hubby moved into the spare room and Little Chop moved in with me. She was happy, I was getting more sleep and we weren’t trudging to the cold lounge room for nightly feeds.

In the end, co-sleeping, was something that happened organically for us because it complemented other parenting decisions I had made – to have my baby sleep in my bedroom, to breastfeed on demand, to practise attachment parenting. I am now in the process of weaning Little Chop as I am pregnant again, but we continue to co-sleep because I don’t believe in ‘cry it out’ or ‘controlled crying’ sleep training methods.

It’s widely reported that co-sleeping is unsafe, but I have never felt that I was putting my daughter in danger. I don’t drink and don’t smoke, I’m not overweight and not a heavy sleeper. If you don’t meet all these conditions, co-sleeping is definitely not the safest sleeping arrangement for your baby.

Since opening up to my friends and family about co-sleeping with my daughter, I have found that EVERY breastfeeding mum I know, plus one bottle feeding mum, has co-slept or currently co-sleeps with her baby, making up more than half the mums I know! Co-sleeping is a common practise around the world, especially in Asian countries, and in recent studies, about two thirds of the American and English families who participated said that they had co-slept with their children.

So next time you feel judged for co-sleeping with your child, remember, it’s not taboo, its normal.

Just once…

“Just once in my life, I’d like to sleep until I woke up natural.”  Anna, Downton Abbey

I can’t remember the last time I slept ’til I ‘woke up natural.’ I think it was in a past life.

For the moment, I’m woken by my 15 month old co-sleeping toddler (lets call her Little Chop) kissing my face and patting my hair – and by kissing I mean big, wet open mouth snogging. This is followed by the usual chorus…

LC: MUM!

Me: Hello…

LC: Mum mum mum mum mum

Me: Yes, Darling?

LC: Pooh. Pooh.

Me: Yes, that’s Pooh Bear.

LC: Boob.

Me: You already had booby.

LC: BOOB!

Me: All gone!

LC: BOO!

Me: Would you like some water?

LC: Aaaaah. Boo.

Me: OK, lets get up…

When was the last time you slept ’til you ‘woke up natural’?