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.