How did I come to the decision to sleep train Archie?
As far as I can remember, I didn’t have any problems with sleep with Charlotte. I’m pretty certain she went to having just one feed at around 3 or 4am at an early age and didn’t experience any four month sleep regression. From memory, I got a good night’s sleep, well at least enough hours under my belt to be able to function and string a sentence together.
Archie, on the other hand, just about broke me. At about three months old he fed approximately every three hours. I found this manageable as that was what I expected. However, a week before he was four months old, he hit the sleep regression stage hard. Heavily sleep deprived, I Googled multiple times how long the four month sleep regression lasts for – anywhere between 2-6 weeks. I kept everything crossed that this “phase” would last only two weeks and he’d then start to sleep through the night.
Oh, how wrong was I?! Six weeks passed and Archie continued to wake frequently throughout the night; 9pm, 11pm, midnight, 1:30am, 2:30am, 3:30am, 5am. It felt ridiculous. It got to a point where I stopped looking at my phone to see what time he woke as it would just irritate me that I was getting no sleep at all. However, I decided it was “just a phase”, he would grow out of it soon and to just hang on in there.
At five months old, I didn’t mind feeding him before midnight, as he took a full feed, but between 12-5am he would wake every one to two hours. There was very little time between waking up, stirring and then crying loudly and not stopping until he was fed.
At five and half months, Archie started to show a lot of interest in food. He was constantly putting things in his mouth and would watch with great interest when Charlotte and I had our meals. I tried him with a food pouch and he wolfed it down. He has loved his food ever since.
As Archie got closer to six months of age, the night feeds turned to comfort feeds and he would wake, become very unsettled, cry and show no signs of settling back to sleep. I presumed he must be hungry, so would feed him. However, he fed for only a minute or two and fall back to sleep. He would stay asleep when I lifted him into his cot but would then wake in the next hour or so and demand another comfort feed.
It was a vicious cycle, as I knew he was only using me for comfort, but how on earth did I get him past those cries? I was utterly exhausted. I could feel my mental health plummeting. My anxiety was always worse at night and my mind felt on overdrive. Every time he woke up, it took me longer and longer to get back to sleep. I would just about manage to fall asleep but then get woken by him crying. I began to dread nights and could feel myself getting angry as I lifted him up to feed, knowing I would be returning him to his cot in a matter of minutes and be left with the struggle of returning to sleep myself. I often wondered if there was any point trying to sleep at all.
I have never suffered from sleep deprivation like I did with Archie. My mood was constantly low, on edge with anxiety and I became very irritable and angry with Connor for no apparent reason. I’ve never been one for set routines and always trusted and gone with what my baby wanted or needed. However, this time I felt at rock bottom and knew I needed to do something about it.
A close friend suggested sleep training.
Over the first three days, I collected advice from friends and researched existing sleep training programmes to begin to put a plan into place for Archie. Ideally, I would have done the sleep training when Archie moved into his own room but as we were refurbishing the loft for him, we had to do it in our bedroom with him next to us in his Sleepyhead (a sleeping pod).
The main aim of sleep training was to remove the prop (breast feeding) to encourage Archie to learn to self settle. Archie had been using me to self settle back to sleep by feeding for only a minute or two. I knew that he could self settle by sucking on his finger and holding a muslin cloth. He had done this for many months when he went to sleep for his naps and at bedtime. He was about three months old when he no longer wanted a dummy and decided that his finger was far better.
The first night of sleep training was utter hell, I’m certain I got next to no sleep at all and felt very frazzled and stressed come morning. Archie woke three times and cried, a lot. It pulled on my every heart string but I knew, for my own sanity, that I needed to at least give it a go and trust that he wasn’t actually hungry. The following night he stirred and cried a few times but remained asleep until after 7am. The third night, he woke a few times but self settled each time. I hoped with all my might that he would sleep through and he did! The fourth night, I repeated the third night and he stayed asleep and self-settled from 6.30pm to 6.00am.
By the fourth day, everything began to feel that bit more manageable. My breasts became engorged, which I didn’t expect to get from sleep training, so that it was a relief when my milk supply finally adjusted to his new feeding pattern. I had a good sense of when Archie needed feeding, the good times to give him his solids and when he needed sleep. I couldn’t believe how quickly he went from waking up hourly to sleeping until morning.
Here is a diary of my first three days of sleep training.
Sleep Training Diary
Day 1, 04/12/18
Feed (lights on), story, into sleeping bag, muslin cloth and went to sleep
Archie: Crying very angrily and very loudly
Me: I kept going into his room every five minutes and saying, “Archie, time to sleep” and patted and stroked him.
My head went into a spin. Every maternal bone in my body wanted to pick him up and give in to the two minute comfort feed just to stop him crying and because he was so upset. I couldn’t concentrate or enjoy putting up the Christmas decorations as his crying was playing havoc with me.
Eventually self settled to sleep by sucking on his finger and waving muslin cloth over his face
Archie woke, left him for 10 minutes (supposedly the magic number for self settling unless poorly) but he continued to cry. I fed him with lights on and he then he went back to sleep
Archie woke (left for 10 min before saying anything)
Archie: Very angry, upset cries
Me: “Archie, time to sleep”. Tried picking him up and cuddling him for a little bit but he became even more cross. Tried stroking and shushing him but this only made his cries louder. In the end I just kept on saying, “Archie, time to sleep.”
I found this time even harder than when he woke at 7:30pm. I had an ongoing debate in my head, wondering whether he was hungry or whether he just wanted to use me for comfort. I didn’t know what to do. I knew he couldn’t be that hungry because he’d had a full feed at 11pm. I hated that he was so upset, his cries pierced my head but I knew I had to persevere, for my own mental health. I went under the covers, stuck my fingers in my ears and kept saying “Archie, time to sleep.”
Self soothed to sleep
Archie woke (left for 10 min before saying anything)
Archie: Very angry, upset cries
Me: constantly saying “Archie, time to sleep” and saying “shhhhhhhh”
His crying seemed even louder. I disappeared under the covers again and put my hands over my ears. Maybe he was hungry this time? I didn’t know. The crying hurt my head so much. After 20 long minutes he was still crying and I had no idea if I was doing the right thing or not. I felt awful. I wanted the crying to stop so badly. My arms ached from holding my fingers in my ears so tightly. It was hell.
Started to calm down after 1/2 hour
5:18am – 6:00am
Tried to sleep but snotty nose kept waking him up
No idea what the time was and daren’t check but at some point Archie went to sleep
I had to wake him as boob was about to explode. It was morning. We had survived and somehow got through the night. I was utterly exhausted and phoned my Mum to see if she could come and help me.
During the day I stayed in. I tried my hardest to get Archie into some routine of wake, milk feed, solids, sleep. I aimed to have his naps at around 9:30am, 12pm and 4pm. What I wasn’t expecting from this sleep training was for my breasts to feel so engorged and painful. I had no idea that this sleep training would be so stressful, that I would continuously doubt myself and wonder if I was doing the right thing at all.
Day 2, 05/12/18
Felt a bit less apprehensive about the night as I knew he could get through to the morning without needing to be fed. I kept everything crossed it wouldn’t be a repeat of the first night as that felt like torture for all of us.
Feed (lights on), story, into sleeping bag, muslin cloth and went to sleep
Dream feed – the only reason I did this feed was because I was so engorged and in a lot of pain.
I braced myself for horrendous crying but self settled back to sleep within 10 minutes, not needing any input from me
Archie woke and self settled to sleep within the 10 minutes
Archie woke briefly and self settled to sleep within the 10 minutes
Archie started to stir
Despite Archie having an amazing night, I barely slept. I continued to wake hourly and felt I had to prepare myself for him crying like he did on the first night. I was also extremely uncomfortable from being so engorged.
Day 3, 06/12/18
I felt even more hopeful that tonight would be ok but still nervous that the previous night was a fluke. As much as I didn’t want to, but knew I’d never know unless I tried, I didn’t give him a dream feed but instead fed him from both breasts at bedtime.
Gave Archie a feed from both breasts, story between each feed, I said “time to sleep” standing at the door a few times, went straight to sleep
Stirred a bit, settled himself back to sleep (sucking on hand and waving muslin cloth over his face)
Woke, was trying his hardest to self settle
Cried a bit, I said “time to sleep” twice
Woke, settled himself back to sleep
Nappy changed & feed (lights on)
I slept a bit better and felt incredibly proud of both of us. I didn’t feel as engorged and my milk supply was adjusting to his demands.
By the fourth day, I still hadn’t really got the grip of daytime naps, when Archie wanted to sleep and for how long for but I felt like I had made great progress with night times. I still felt like I was winging it and never fully sure I knew what I was doing. I did, however, feel I had accomplished something and noticed a change in my mental health as a result of getting more sleep. That, in itself, was a huge bonus.
Battling with routines
The following week, I watched Archie closely to try and grasp what his own routine was. He would often wake at 5:30am very hungry but also still tired. I spent a week trying to get him to wait until 6am (as this is what I had read) and then would get him up, lights on, nappy changed and downstairs for a feed. I was knackered from the early starts and Archie was cranky because he was still tired and not ready for the day.
Eventually, I had had enough of trying to work out his routine according to the literature and I gave up. I found it tiresome, stressful, exhausting and it seemed way much more effort than it should have been. The literature (books, websites and Instagram) I found conflicted one another and the more I read the more anxious I became. I lost confidence that I knew what I was doing and increased my guilt that I wasn’t being fair on Archie.
I frequently felt I was winging it as each day was different. I constantly checked the time, read and reread routines and then looked at Archie and he rarely matched what the plan said he should be doing. “Routine, what even is a bloody ROUTINE??” I often felt like screaming. I started to doubt my parenting skills and my ability as his mother to know what he wanted.
At the same time, I felt so nervous about Archie going back to waking all the time, my mental health deteriorating and sleep deprivation returning.
I ended up with going what he wanted throughout the day, not minding too much whether he has his breastfeed before, after or during his nap but being mindful that Archie’s routine roughly goes, sleep, breastfeed, play, solids, repeat. I soon became much more relaxed and less stressed when I was led by Archie.
When you throw Christmas into the mix
When Christmas arrived, we stayed at my parents house for a couple of nights. Archie was full of cold and on the first night he woke at 1am and cried. This was the first time he’d woken and cried before 3am since I started the sleep training. I could feel myself getting worked up as I didn’t want to feed him for comfort but I was also aware that he had been unwell and his crying was getting louder and louder and likely to be waking everyone in the house.
I worried, and debated whether he was hungry or wanting comfort feeding, and after thirty minutes of trying to encourage him to self settle, I gave in to his cries and fed him. Archie went on to sleep past half 7 and woke happy. The following night he woke at 3am and after hearing him cry my mum came in to see if we were ok. I explained the sleep training to my Mum, my worries that he was comfort feeding, my stressful thoughts that I didn’t know if he was actually hungry and thirsty or if he was using me for comfort feeding. I had become so worked up. My Mum kindly said “He’s a baby Amy.” I immediately felt guilty, knowing my Mum was right and I was fighting a losing battle. I fed him and he went on to sleep until 7am.
During my third night in Northern Ireland, I couldn’t do it anymore. I felt knackered and utterly deflated that I was almost back to square one. Despite all four of us being in the same room, I decided I needed to do some sleep training with him again. Somehow, Charlotte managed to sleep through all of it.
When he cries during the night, I feel as if every hair in my body is standing on end, my senses seem to go through the roof and I’m unable to concentrate on anything but the crying and Archie. I was determined not to revert to feeding him anytime before 4am as I knew it was just for comfort. When he woke after 4am I fed him. The following night, he slept through until half 3, I decided to feed him then and he went on to sleep until after 8am.
When we returned from Northern Ireland, Archie’s bedroom in the loft was ready. He had got used to sleeping in the travel cots without his Sleepyhead so it never went back in his bed.
I guess, after all this waffling, what I’m trying to say is, motherhood is bloody hard work.
Where sleep is concerned, Archie and I have been on some journey.
What I have taken from this sleep training is the importance of trusting Archie and no matter how much literature is out there, no one knows him like I do, his mother. There were times when I should have just ignored what the book says, had a good look at my son, trusted my gut instinct and realised “You need a feed before you go for your nap” or “You need to go to sleep” despite the book saying that if he woke up only thirty minutes ago then he shouldn’t sleep for another two hours. Everything is trial and error and I guess I shouldn’t be too harsh on myself, as I will never know unless I try.
I have learnt that it is ok to realise when “enough is enough”. When my mental health deteriorated due to sleep deprivation, then I knew something needed to change. Now that Archie is sleeping, able to settle himself and continuing to put on weight, I am proud of myself for doing something about it and making a difference. Not only am I happier for getting more sleep but so is Archie for not waking up every hour or so and wanting to be comforted.
I have to remember to trust my own gut instinct, my mothering skills and my son and not try and compare or dwell on literature. I am learning that there are no hard and fast rules and to do what works best at that moment in time. I am understanding the importance of being flexible and to not question myself in the way that puts doubt into my mind that I’m doing the wrong thing. Every night is different. Some nights he wakes, cries and needs his back rubbed or a cuddle to help him self settle back to sleep, other nights he needs a feed at 4am, other nights he doesn’t wake until after 6am. On the mornings he wakes at 4am, I feed him and then put him back in his cot to sleep. But when he wakes at 6am, I bring him into my bed, feed him and have a lovely cuddle and morning snooze. I try to let him have at least one nap in his bed during the day (mid morning or after lunch) but sometimes it doesn’t work out and I can’t live every day confined to the house.
I have also realised the importance of everything taking its time and not putting pressure on either of us by wanting things to happen there and then. It has taken a month to learn and realise that Archie loves to sleep on his left side. So when he becomes unsettled during the night and starts crying, I or Connor go in and gently roll him onto his left side, stroke his back and say “Archie, time to sleep.” He’s probably thinking “I’ve been trying to tell you this obvious sign for bloody ages” but Archie Bear, I’m afraid that there are a lot things to think about and learn with this mothering business and you have to give me time too.
We will keep learning together son.