Getting Your Own Bed Back

We contacted Linda when my daughter Milly was 15 months old. I had returned to work part-time when she turned one, and the strains of waking 4-5 times a night with Milly, getting up at 6am to get ready for work before Milly awoke, getting her to childcare, commuting and doing a full day’s work very quickly took its toll on me.

Linda had helped my sister with her daughter’s sleep from about 6 months and my sister absolutely swore by her. I must admit to having been somewhat sceptical about someone’s ability to get a child they had never met to sleep through (particularly since in my case Linda would be giving advice by email and phone). I was also a little worried that Linda’s approach might not sit well with how we had raised Milly.

After an incredibly upsetting breastfeeding “failure” and diagnosis of tongue tie, Milly was bottle fed from 4 weeks old. I had a huge number of complex emotions about bottle feeding, and wanted to continue to feed on demand with the bottle as I had with the breast. I was also convinced that Milly would cut out night feeds gradually on her own. This was combined with baby wearing (she was carried in a sling and still is to this day) and co-sleeping.

Milly slept between me and my husband until she was 10 months old, when her wriggling and sleeping diagonally across the bed meant we placed a single mattress alongside our super-king and Milly began to sleep there. While we adored the co-sleeping, by the time we decided to contact Linda, we had reached the conclusion that we were perhaps no longer helping Milly’s sleep by sharing a bed. I am a light sleeper and would awake at the lightest wriggle or murmur from Milly. I would also try to “help” her go back to sleep, whether by stroking, cuddling or by the bottle. I was fast realising that it was perhaps I who had the problem rather than Milly. This was reinforced by Milly’s ability to sleep brilliantly in the day for her daytime naps, all taken when I wasn’t in the room.

I finally decided to ring Linda. We had a long and very detailed discussion about Milly’s birth, our feeding trials when she was newborn, Milly’s typical day, how weaning had gone, her food intake, her milk intake. Linda asked me to keep a diary for 5-7 days, listing Milly’s diet, what she was drinking, activities, sleep in the day, bedtime routine and night-time waking. Once I had done this, we spoke again. We were both amazed that during the day Milly was actually an incredibly consistent child. Her meals, her daytime sleep- all of this was almost like clockwork! It was the night where it fell apart.

It came as absolutely no surprise that Linda’s first suggestion was that Milly move into her own room. It was a step we had anticipated and would probably have got round to independently in a few months. We had already ordered the furniture and curtains! Linda just made it seem like the sensible next step, and it was something we could embrace without regret or concern. We were ready for Milly to move out, and felt she was ready for it too. Linda’s approach was at all times kind.

We started off with Milly having her lunchtime sleep in her own room for the first three days. We spent a lot of time talking about Milly’s new room, her special bed (given her age we went straight to a mattress on the floor and bypassed a cot) and how Mummy and Daddy were just next door.

After making this change, we then changed Milly’s bedtime routine. We had been giving Milly a bath at 6pm and bringing her downstairs afterwards to watch “In the Night Garden” before she went to sleep. Linda explained that television before bed was just too stimulating an activity and that Milly’s brain would find it hard to wind down instantly when we put her to bed. Instead, we were to introduce a “bedtime box” of educational toys to play with in a quiet environment in her room before her bath and move the bath later. We were then to move straight to Milly’s room after the bath and begin books and bed when she was warm and relaxed from the bath.

Milly was also used to having her night-time milk lying down in her darkened room to go to sleep. Linda made us see that this set up sleep associations, so that when Milly entered periods of very light sleep or awakened in the night, a bottle of warm milk was the obvious quick fix for her to get back to sleep. Linda advised that we move the milk feed to before Milly’s bath, and that it be in a beaker rather than in a bottle.

Linda suggested that these be our first changes and that we leave any night-time feeds as they were for the first few days- Milly had enough changes to deal with.

We began the new routine with some trepidation. I particularly feared the lack of bedtime milk. Milly refused to drink her milk from a beaker the first two nights, but when it became clear she would not be getting milk lying down, she adapted quickly and with a minimum of fuss. We all enjoyed the bedtime box and the quiet time it introduced into all of our days. Milly went down to sleep in her own room very easily and calmly. It was to our great astonishment that the normal 10pm wake up went by with a small murmur and a few wriggles on the monitor and Milly resettling herself to sleep. We went to bed expecting mayhem at some point in the night.

To our surprise we heard nothing until, as usual, Milly awoke at 4am and demanded milk. We gave this to her and she went straight back to sleep until 5.30am. It was amazing.

After a few nights like this, Linda suggested we reduce the amount of milk Milly received at 4am. Instead of offering her 200ml+ we cut down to 120ml, 80ml and then a paltry 40ml over the course of a week. Linda warned us that Milly might be upset and find it difficult to get back to sleep when we took her crutch away. I had expressed how anxious I was to avoid long periods of controlled crying and Linda reassured me that I could go back into the room every 2 minutes if I needed to. In reality, this was never necessary. After two nights with only a dribble of milk in the bottom of the bottle, Milly obviously reached the conclusion that it simply was not worth waking up for. That first night she “slept through” was truly amazing. Then she repeated it. And repeated it. She was sleeping from 7pm-5.30am.

Then Linda moved on to tackle the early waking by using the Gro Clock. A gradual shift in the time the clock showed the sun from 5.30-6.35am gradually pushed Milly’s wake-ups later and later.

Some 9 months on, I can happily state that Milly is an excellent sleeper now. I have had to go into her room about 3 times in the past 5 months (one being for a nightmare and twice when she had a cold). The first 3 months or so after she began to sleep through were a revelation, and both my husband and I felt levels of exhaustion (no doubt recovering from 15 months of sleep deprivation) we have never before experienced.

I firmly believe that our decision to move Milly into her own room and drop the night feeds came at a time when the whole family was ready for it. I had expected the process to be painful and emotionally draining. In reality, it was calm, ordered and felt absolutely right.

Thank you Linda for all your help, encouragement and support. We will no doubt be in touch about our second baby, due at the end of the year – we will not be going 15 months without sleep this time round!