The Sleepy Chair Approach

We contacted Linda to see if she could help with our 14 month old’s sleep.  He had only ever slept through the night a couple of times and had always needed feeding or rocking to sleep.  More recently he had started to wake up more often and it was taking longer and longer to settle him – I was back at work part-time and we were really exhausted and just felt at a loss what to do.  We have always felt strongly that we didn’t want to leave him to cry and wanted to take as gentle an approach as possible.  I was also ready to gradually stop breastfeeding. We arranged for 30 days telephone support from Linda.

During the initial telephone consultation Linda thought that perhaps our son still had some underlying issues with reflux (which he’d suffered with until around 6 months old). She recommended we went back to see our doctor and discuss reflux with him and see if it was worth putting him back on gaviscon for a month, he agreed and we then started to give him infant Gaviscon again. Linda also suggested we cut out certain foods, tomatoes, citrus fruits, apples and as I was breast feeding chocolate, which she feels can all aggravate reflux.

We were really anxious about implementing any form of controlled crying, Linda said it was important that he learn how to settle and fall asleep on his own. She chatted through various methods she used and we decided to go for the gradual retreat approach. We introduced the ‘sleepy chair’ which we would sit in and read until our son was asleep so that he wouldn’t feel abandoned at bedtime.  The first night, after his bedtime breastfeed, I put him in his cot and sat beside it reading.  At first he was happy enough but when he realised that I wasn’t going to play with or talk to him he started to get upset.  He cried for about half an hour, every 5 minutes I was able to reassure him and lie him down if he was standing up.  Eventually he lay down and went to sleep.  I found that first night really hard and the next day my husband and I talked about whether to continue. We had a chat to Linda and she stressed the importance of consistency and asked if we felt we could do the same approach for the next four days, if we felt he was getting more upset as the nights went on we would reassess. Linda asked us to talk to her each morning so we cold chat about the night, we found this very reassuring. We also reminded ourselves that Linda had said he was upset because he was probably a bit angry and confused about the change in a long-standing routine but that he wasn’t scared or alone as we were there right next to his cot.  We stuck with the plan and the second night he barely cried at all.  Every few nights we moved the sleepy chair away from his cot, then onto the landing, then sat on the stairs and there were only one or two occasions when he cried – and every night he put himself to sleep.  When he woke in the night he would still get a breastfeed but we gradually made it later and later, and I would still put him down awake and sit in the sleep chair afterwards.  After a few weeks we had stopped the night-time breastfeeds and if he woke once or twice in the night, it wasn’t for very long, and he always settled himself.

In not much over a month, we have gone from feeding and rocking our son to sleep, with very disrupted nights, to putting him down in his cot awake at and him happily settling himself to sleep, and sleeping through the night until around .  I have also been able to completely end breastfeeding in a gradual way that has been comfortable for both of us, and we have a ‘magic light’ which comes on in the morning to help my son to learn when it’s time to get up or when he needs to wait quietly in his cot for us to come through.

We are now gradually introducing the foods we cut out and ending the Gaviscon, so we will easily be able to identify if he is going through a spell of reflux which is disrupting his sleep.  We also feel more confident that if we are away from home we know what approach to take to help him sleep.  Finally, we have switched from naps in his pushchair to naps in his cot, again with him settling himself.

It has been hard work but in a relatively short space of time we have completely changed our nights – and improved our energy levels!