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Sleep training real experiences: Part two

Contentedly going to sleep alone and sleeping through the night?

Posted: 14 November 2007
by Maria Muennich

Sleep training experiences: part two

Sleep training theories can often sound deceptively easy, but how to real mums get on with adapting them to their own needs? Having managed successfully (once again) to wean her son off his dependency on the breast for sleeping, in our second installment Maria tries to teach her son to (happily) go to sleep on his own.

Why sleep train?
There were two reasons for getting our 12-month-old to sleep without needing us with him. Firstly because if he had us with him in the room when he fell asleep he was far more likely to be disturbed by us not being there when he woke up during the night. This meant he'd call out for us and need us with him to resettle, and trying to sneak away again without him waking up has never been easy. Secondly we wanted other people, like grandparents and perhaps even a babysitter to be able to put him to bed at some stage.

The method
Controlled crying wasn't an option as far as I was concerned, there was no way I wanted my son to cry himself to sleep. What I needed was a way that would have him falling to sleep alone, but quite happily. After a lot of reading I'd decided on the gradual withdrawal method, where you move further and further away from your baby as he settles each night until eventually you're out of the room, then across the hall and finally, getting on with whatever it is you need to do - in my case get to my desk - while your baby drifts off to sleep.

So how did it go?
Given that Florian's room is so tiny, I figured that it probably wouldn't take all that long until I was out of the door at least, but I had no idea that the whole experience would be so quick and smooth. With phase one, over the course of a week or so we'd got him to go from needing to fall asleep on, or right after, the breast and in our arms, to sleeping with us right by his cot but not actually saying or doing anything. As it turned out, that was by far the hardest part. Here's what happened in phase two.

Night 1 - After the usual nighttime routine, ending with a lullaby and goodnight kiss, I take a couple of steps back from the cot to the accompaniment of very loud creaking from the floorboards.
"Maaam?" Comes the little bleat and he looks up forlornly to see where I've got to. I reassure him that I'm right there and haven't left him, and to my surprise he lowers his head again. I have to wait a good fifteen minutes at least before he's properly asleep and I can leave. He wakes up in the early hours but quickly resettles when I go in and rest my hand on his back.

Night 2 - We do the goodnight routine and I settle on the stool by the door - still only a few paces from his cot - and read a book by the light from the hall (joy!). He calls out for me once and makes to stand up in his cot, but he isn't too bothered when I tell him that I'm just going to sit over here on the stool. Quite quickly he lies back down and babbles himself to sleep.He wakes again in the night and resettles ok, though I have the common problem of disturbing him as I try to sneak away over the tell-tale floorboards.

Night 3 - I'm a bit nervous of stepping out of the room as he's already asking 'Maaam?' as I sneak backwards. We settle for a repeat of the night before with me sitting by the door. All goes well and he goes to sleep after about fifteen minutes of rolling around and chatting to himself.

Night 4 - Tonight is the night for leaving the room. I'm nervous, of course, though sitting just inside the door and just outside it is really only a matter of a foot and a half. I set up a stool by the door with a book and my watch, hoping that I last at least a couple of minutes out there before he starts crying for me. After settling him in with the usual I start to leave the room and he takes notice, questioning where I'm going with his 'Maaam?!'. I tell him I'm just going to sit over here with my book where we can see each other while he closes his eyes and dreams a lovely dream, telling he can do anything he wants as soon as he closes his eyes and starts to dream.

He doesn't look convinced by my attempts at soothing and jumps up up to peer over the top rail of the cot, demanding 'Mam? Mama?" I tell him again where I'm going to sit while he goes to sleep and decide to elaborate a bit on all the things he can do when he's asleep: Flying in a helicopter to the zoo, going for a walk in the mountains with Papi, going up into the sky in a rocket. After about a minute of me talking to him like this in a soft voice and suggesting that he lies back down again to go to sleep, he does lie back down and goes quiet. But then he stands up and starts shouting for me again. He isn't distressed, so I don't go back in the room and talk softly instead about what he can dream about until he quiets. This goes on with the pauses of quiet getting longer between shouting for me and then he lies back down again and starts making the noises I by now recognise as putting himself to sleep. I look at my watch and am astounded to see that it's been only four minutes since I left the room.

I still have to wait another fifteen minutes before he finally drifts off, but that night he doesn't wake up in the night and it feels as though we've passed an important milestone. I can't quite believe that the first time he settles to sleep without me in the room he doesn't need me during the night.

Night 5 - As I don't want to push things too fast and upset the smooth sailing we've had so far, and also as I'm a bit worried last night was a fluke, I go for sitting just outside the door again where he can see me. It goes pretty much the same as the night before, but he takes even less persuasion before he lies back down in the cot to sleep. No night waking!

Night 6 - This time I move the stool to the other side of the narrow hallway, still clearly in his line of vision when he stands up and peers over the cot rail, as he of course does when he sees me leaving the room. I explain where I'm going to sit again and talk to him about the dreams he can have. He gets up and down a few times to check I'm still there but he settles completely to sleep after about 20 minutes. Again, he sleeps through the night.

Night 7 - One week in and I'm sitting on the sofa in the lounge, where he can still hear me and see me if he sticks his head out of the cot, which of course he does, several times. But he seems to accept that I'm just a bit further away reading my book and settles much the same as the last three nights. I meanwhile, am revelling in sitting on the sofa poring over Alastair Campbell's (disappointing) Diaries while every now and then saying a few soft words to reassure Florian.

We seem to have cracked it and have settled into a groove, and with no teary bedtimes. Over the next few days Florian needs less and less reassurance and accepts that I'm in the other room reading more quickly. It's not long before I realise that I can go and get on with a few other things as he goes to sleep, as long as I stay quite quiet. But am I about to give up my new-found twenty-minute reading session? Not likely!

And then?
So the sleep training went smoothly and two weeks of effort made a huge difference to our lives, most of all mine. Six months on and we're well aware that there are ups and downs: After a wonderful stint of several months we've had a couple of chinks in the road where, after an illness or unsettling trip, we've had to re-do or adapt elements of the sleep training in order to get back to a good night's sleep. Of course there will always be nights when he needs extra cuddles and reassurance, when he's unsettled and wakeful and just needs mum. In fact I've just spent the last ten minutes resettling a little boy with congestion, so it could be a long night.

And as for granny or a babysitter putting him to bed instead of mummy and daddy, we still haven't tried it!

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