Professor Gregory Stores rang me earlier this week. Don't worry, he's not a random caller. He's one of the experts at The Pampers Village. I won the lovely A Modern Mother's Pampers Golden Sleep Train competition and this was my prize. I had an hour on the phone with a sleep professor. Would he be able to help my family get a good night's sleep?
Cash, who has just turned one, used to sleep for twelve hours per night, only rarely waking up. Over the last few months he's started waking at random times throughout the night, about once a week. All he wants to do is play, so one of us (usually me) takes him downstairs to play.
I can hear you shouting at your screens. Clearly this isn't helping him learn to sleep at night. For the sake of peace and quiet for the sleeping partner (Andy, who has to work the next day) we go and play. As I'm typing this I know how silly it sounds. Anyway, this is the problem I put to the Prof.
A few of you had questions for the Prof too. If anyone would like to read them, they are in the comments here. They follow a similar pattern to our little problem: babies who in the past have been capable of sleeping through, but now wake up at inconvenient times, or too early in the morning.
Drum roll please.....
Here is the advice:
First a little disclaimer. The advice given here is in the form of general principles. It is not intended to replace the advice of health care professionals. If you believe your child is unwell you should seek advice from your GP or HV. These principles only apply to children that are in good health. Oh, and all babies are different.
Okay, here is the advice, coming up.... now:
At around six months a baby develops its biological clock. They learn the difference between day and night. At around six months most babies no longer need a night feed, particularly as they move onto solid food.
To encourage proper day/night associations, try to make night feeds and nappy changes as quiet and calm as possible. Keep the lighting minimal, avoid talking and eye contact.
Sleeping though the night is a habit. If this habit becomes disrupted the baby may need help to get back into the habit. The disruption could be a heatwave, teething, a cold, too much light in the baby's room, loud noises, a change in routine, a holiday or any kind of upset.
It's important for your baby to learn to settle themselves. If you're at home, daytime naps are best taken in the night-time cot. Follow the same routine every day where you can. Put the baby in the cot and give a dummy and/or comforter and leave the room.
Daytime naps are important. If the baby has too little sleep in the day they will become over-tired and may not sleep well at night. The acid test to find out whether the baby has had the right amount of sleep during day is how easily they settle at night. If they have had too much sleep during the day they won't settle so well at night.
Waking up in the night is normal, but the baby needs to learn to self sooth.
Try not to go to your baby straightaway during the night, certainly not at the first sign they are waking.
When you go in, check for all the usual 'baby can't sleep because...' issues. You know, dirty nappy, leaking nappy, too hot, too cold, teething etc. Once you have eliminated all of the above, say goodnight and leave the room.
You shouldn't reward the baby who should be asleep with cuddles, a sneaky feed or playing downstairs with mummy.
You can see where this is heading, can't you?
That's right. CONTROLLED CRYING.
Anyway, back to the advice...
If the baby is well, you leave them to cry. You can go in to check on them, but once it is clear they are otherwise okay you leave the room. They may cry for a long time the first night, but the crying will reduce each night. After a few nights they usually stop crying as they have learnt to settle themselves, or self-sooth.
Babies do not feel abandoned during controlled crying.
Controlled crying is a quick solution to what can be a long-term problem. It's in the whole family's interests to get a good night's sleep.
If, as a parent, you find this difficult, try getting support from your health visitor. Make sure you and your partner are both consistent in your approach to controlled crying.
The controlled crying technique can also be used for daytime naps and early wakers. If your baby wakes at 5 every morning and you have done the usual checks, let them stay in their cot until you are ready to get up.
Your baby won't come to any harm in their cot.
Controlled crying definitely works.
So, there you have it.
I found the Prof easy to talk to. We had a chuckle about my horrified reaction to controlled crying. I believe I said 'you mean you leave them to cry? Oh no!'.
I've never left a baby to cry in my two years as a mother. It goes against every maternal bone in my body. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a co-sleeping, continuum mum - our bed isn't big enough for a start. Both my boys slept better once they were moved into their own rooms at seven months.
We do have a sleep problem though. I'm getting on a bit (it's the big 40, or the big-four-oh-dear next year) and Andy and I both feel pretty shattered most of the time. So what do we do?
This is a head verses heart dilemma.
Do I follow my head and take the Prof's advice? Or do I follow my heart and go to my baby when he cries?
If I go with the former, I'm going to follow the controlled crying technique as explained by the fabulous Rachel at Really Rachel. I can see from the comments on this post that controlled crying seems to work, but I'm not sure I've got it in me to try.
If I go with the latter, I can guarantee Andy will never agree to baby number three, we're just too tired.
What will we do? Watch this space...