A gentle approach can still be effective
Mum Crystal and her little dude Elliot were happily in the swing of things, but were having some challenges around sleep.
Bedtime was taking over an hour or more of cuddling and vigorous rocking or bouncing.
“In the 98th percentile, Elliot was a relatively big baby, so it was getting to be a fairly difficult physical undertaking!
Add to that the fact that he was still waking multiple times overnight and I was too exhausted to keep going how we were,” recalls Crystal.
One-on-one over the book approach
Crystal had read all the books she could find about sleep, but she didn’t know what sort of approach to pick and really wanted someone to talk it through with someone – and to get reassurance that she was doing the right things.
She booked a phone consult with baby sleep consultant Kellie.
“Kellie was awesome and spent time asking what I wanted and what I thought in order to suggest a settling technique that would suit me – and that I could keep doing!” Crystal explains.
“I knew that I didn’t want Elliot to be left to cry at all, so Kellie suggested a very gentle approach.
She did warn me that it would take longer, but that we would still get to the end result. And she helped me with what to expect along the way, which definitely helped me to stick with it.”
Starting with food before settling
The first suggestion Kellie made was around diet – moving Elliot’s main protein meal to lunchtime.
“Kellie asked lots of questions about what we were doing but this came about when I told her how he was waking up – always with his knees underneath him and his bum sticking up, which could have pointed to the fact that he had a sore tummy.”
Moving Elliot’s main protein meal earlier in the day gave his system more time to digest it, which started to abate the sore tummy waking him.
However, the other challenge was that he was waking in bed when he’d gone to sleep in his mum’s arms – how confusing!
For Crystal, the priority at that stage was teaching him how to go to sleep in his bed – and the approach they took for this was very gradual.
“I started with putting him in the cot and I would sit right beside it – leaning over and holding him, talking to him. When he cried, I would pick him up until he was calm and closer to sleep – then repeat.
There was a lot of picking up and putting down to start with, as he always objected to being put down,” Crystal says.
Although this process could take a couple of hours initially, as they neared the end of the first week, Elliot started getting it. “He knew he was going to be put down and he’d lie there while I stayed sitting beside the cot.
I did that for quite a while – until I knew he was really asleep – but I was happy being in the room, holding his hand or his shoulder as, for me, I had taken the really physical exertion out of getting him to sleep. The times he woke up in the night became so much easier too as it would be 15 or 20 minutes to help him back to sleep instead of over an hour bouncing around!”
Time brought a turnaround
Eventually, Crystal’s hard work paid off and Elliot slept through the night almost three weeks after they had started with Kellie. “I think I had got a bit tougher too and wouldn’t rush in to cuddle him quite so quickly.”
“The days of marathon efforts to get him to sleep – and eating cold dinner at 10pm before collapsing into bed ourselves feel, thankfully, like a distant memory now. It was amazing how much better I felt; my husband and I could spend some time together and I’m not cranky – I have more energy to put into Elliot during the day,” Crystal muses.
“He seems more settled now too and has gone from grazing to eating better meals. I’m not really a ‘routine’ person, but I think keeping things more consistent through the day helps Elliot know what’s coming.”
Sometimes a regression warrants a reset
Fast-forward 10 months and Crystal and Elliot’s lives are very different. Pregnant with her second baby and selling their house, Crystal noticed that all those changes had led to a sleep regression.
“I was having to virtually hold Elliot in the cot for him to go to sleep and now that my tummy had popped out, this was getting really hard work – so I called Kellie for another phone consult.”
This time Kellie’s aim was to get to the point where Elliot could put himself to sleep – so that they could put him down and leave the room. “We didn’t know what our evenings might look like soon, when our other baby arrived, so we wanted to prepare Elliot for this.”
Crystal still wanted to use a really gentle approach, so Kellie suggested a ‘gradual withdrawal’ technique – starting still in the room.
“I started by sitting on the chair next to the cot still touching Elliot but not holding him on his terms, and then eventually got to the floor not touching him, and the bed further over in the room.
Each time he’d stand up, I would lie him back down and say the same phrase over and over again.”
This time, Elliot responded more quickly. “I was surprised by how quickly the changes happened; there were huge differences even after only 3-4 days.
Eventually we got to the point where we could just say the phrase and leave the room. Now I finally feel like we’re a bit more ready to cope with bedtime when this new addition arrives.”
Finding what works
Initially when Elliot’s sleep regressed, Crystal attempted some further training with a local sleep consultant offering a deal.
“After a short time I was told that sleep training and attachment parenting don’t work. I knew this wasn’t true from my previous success with Kellie.
Kellie wasn’t so prescriptive.
She took the time to find out what would work for my style, family, and situation and I knew I had to contact her again.
If you feel involved in creating the solution, and feel comfortable with the task ahead, it makes it so much easier to stick to.
When you engage in sleep training, you’re tired – and it’s quite an emotional thing, so you need good support. Kellie made a world of difference!”
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