'People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one'

To sleep: perchance to dream. It would be some time before my wife and I had the chance to dream after the birth of our little girl! Most people know that they aren't going to get much sleep after the birth of a child, and we were no different. We expected sleepless nights, but didn't quite expect it to be as extreme as it turned out with our little girl Evie! She was an unsettled sleeper from the start. You might have described her as a 'bad' sleeper, however she didn't seem to have any problem with her sleep patterns! She was always bright, alert and happy when awake, showing no signs of fatigue.

We started initially with no fixed routines, and wanted to follow her sleep and feeding patterns. She wasn't able to put herself to sleep and was fed to sleep for naps, at bed time, and when she woke in the night. She was reluctant to sleep in her own cot for naps, so ended up sleeping on our laps or shoulders. In hindsight this was a wonderful experience having our little baby sleep snuggled up on us. It did however mean that we couldn't get on with anything else whilst she napped (so much for the housework). We do however have some great pictures of me playing on my Xbox with Evie sound asleep on my lap completely oblivious.

Her night time sleeping was as unsettled. She didn't want to sleep in her moses basket so we ended up moving her into a 'co-sleeper' cot that was attached to our bed. She was happy to sleep there (nice and close to mummy), but still would wake very frequently in the night, and would wake very easily at any noises. She was waking in the early weeks/months from hunger which was fair enough, but as time went on it became clear that she was simply unable to put herself back to sleep when she woke up and needed feeding to sleep (this had become her sleeping 'crutch'). We kept logs of the night wakings to attempt to track our progress. Looking back to the early months show how she commonly woke up more than 5 times a night, with some nights peaking at 10-11 wakings. There were a number of completely sleepless nights for us, and most other nights we managed a handful of hours split into 30-40 minute chunks! It was clear that feeding her to sleep was obviously a big problem for us, but at the time when you are completely exhausted you just want to take the easy option!

We started reading into ways to train her to go to sleep without the need to be fed. A 'lovey' was introduced to try and help her get to sleep and feel more comfortable on her own in bed. Unfortunately MooMoo the cow couldn't quite tackle the situation on his own! A bedtime routine was introduced with little effect. We had decided that we didn't want her to cry it out, so we started to look for alternatives. We read 'The No-Cry Sleep Solution' (Elizabeth Pantley) which we found very useful, although the techniques presented didn't work with Evie.

More reading led us to 'The Baby Whisperer' books, which included an interesting technique called 'pick up put down' (PUPD). The basic premise is that you pick up and reassure the baby when she cries until she stops, then you put her down again. If she starts to cry again, you repeat the process (there are variations depending on the child's age). I thought that it was much kinder on the child than crying it out as you are constantly there reassuring and cuddling your baby, rather than what can feel like you're abandoning her. At this time Evie was still sleeping in her co-sleeper in our room with us. We decided to try the PUPD on her one evening at around 4 ½ months after a particularly bad night before. The first night took over a hundred PUPDs, which was pretty exhausting. It was very rewarding however knowing that we weren't feeding her to sleep for once. The next night was very surprising. The PUPD count was down to around 15. The next day we were down to around 4, and the day after she didn't need picking up at all. It was an unbelievable change in just a few days. Not only did we notice the difference whilst putting her down to sleep, but we also noticed in the night that she was able to put herself back to sleep after waking.

The night wakings dropped massively after this breakthrough, although she was still waking for feeding occasionally. For the first time we were able to put her down for sleep in the evening, and have the rest of the evening to ourselves. Previously she'd refuse to sleep without us, and without feeding to sleep first. Shortly afterwards we were able to start putting her down in her cot for naps, without fuss from Evie. Finally we could get that mountain of washing up tackled!

We continued for a few months with 1-2 night wakings for feeding. We moved Evie to her own room at 7 months. We thought that Evie would stop the night feeding in her own time, although was showing no interest in doing so. In the end we decided to try and stop her night feeds, replacing them with a sip of water and a cuddle. At first Evie resisted and would cry, however would then settle after a drink and a song or two (she particularly enjoys old Rat Pack classics!). It didn't take long for Evie to decide that this wasn't worth waking up for, and a few days later we were finally treated to our first full sleep through at 10 months old. After this point she slept through the majority of the time. We slipped back into night feedings during a couple of illnesses, although were able to stop these again with little resistance. Retrospectively it is very clear to see what we were doing wrong. We knew some of the things we were doing wrong at the time, but found it extremely difficult to make any changes due to exhaustion. Evie is now a very good sleeper, and is also very flexible with the timing of her naps (which helps fit in her various classes and social appointments!). Finally we sleep long enough to dream (dreaming about the day she wakes later than 7am that is!).

Paul, dad to Evie 20 months

Extra resources about babies' sleep patterns:
Babycalming by Caroline Deacon
Help Your Baby to Sleep – Penney Hames

This article was first printed in Sticky Fingers, Summer 2011.

Local activities and meetups

NCT Membership
Support NCT Charity by becoming a member

Courses & workshops

NCT Antenatal course

Find out more

NCT Online Antenatal refresher course

Find out more