As mothers we are bombarded by advice from the minute we announce we are pregnant. Whether this is from relatives, friends, so called experts on television programmes or books it doesn’t matter. The fact is that we are given it, whether we ask for it or not. We are given horror stories about labour, delivery and ultimately sleep! Or the lack of it! Why is that? Why do those 8-1o hours a night we used to treasure become such a hot topic for discussion? Questions such as: “are they good?” simply mean one thing, especially I discovered to grandparents, great-grandparents and Health Visitors, do they sleep well?
I was first asked the ‘Are they good?’ question by my Health Visitor when my son was three and a half weeks old. My reply, he is waking every 1-2 hours for a feed at night and he doesn’t settle easily at night. The look of horror on this woman’s face was indescribable. Immediately I was beginning to wonder what had I said that was so wrong? Surely most babies woke that frequently? As I first time mum I had nothing to compare it too. But I was breastfeeding so I got used to it. I opted to sleeping in the day when he did. He used to sleep for 3 hour long naps so I’d do the same. Everything I’d been told before he arrived was ‘sleep when he sleeps’, so that is what I did.
But over the following few weeks I saw HV a lot as I went to the baby group at the local clinic and sleep was the constant topic of discussion. When he was about 2 months old she asked me the same question. I replied at this point that we had found he slept better but that he was now in his own room. Yes I know supposed to wait till 6months but for some reason he did not settle in our room but out of sheer desperation one night at about 2am after 4 hours of screaming we put him in his cot and instantly he was asleep. Yes for the next few months he was still waking once or twice a night for feeds but we adapted. Amazingly at 16weeks he slept through from 10pm to 8am. My husbands alarm went off at 6.25am and I don’t think my feet touched the floor but as I burst into his nursery there he was snoring his head off! Over the coming weeks the odd nights of sleep became more regular and if people asked me that good old question my reply was “yes brilliantly, feeds to sleep at 7pm, quick feed at 10pm then through till 7.30am”. Sleep became fantastic and I started to feel more like me.
But disaster! He turned 9months and he stopped sleeping! He started waking screaming, feeding for ages and refusing to go back in his cot. Every book I’d read, everyone I or my husband spoke to said “leave him, he’ll be fine”. But how? How is it fine to leave a baby crying? My mothering instincts told me it was wrong, told me to go and cuddle him, feed him, kiss him and sssh him. I would bring him into our bed and there he’d fall asleep. My darling husband didn’t want me to do this but it worked so it carried on for a few weeks. Hey we were getting sleep. But fired up on ‘chatting to people’ at work he started talking about controlled crying and letting baby ‘cry it out’ again, so reluctantly I agreed. We last 3 nights. All three of us exhausted, baby was back in with us. I set out to find a better way.
That better way came in the form of Elizabeth Pantley’s, No Cry Sleep Solution. It is impossible to give a complete account of the book in a few pages but will try to give a summary. I had been a member of Natural Mamas forum for several months and had kept seeing mentioned; now it became my bible. I read it cover to cover in 3 nights and set about implementing her methods. The ethos of the book is as the front cover describes “gentle ways to help your baby sleep through the night”. Pantley’s methods spoke to me. They were natural, they seemed to fit with what I instinctively wanted to do. The first thing that struck me about the No Cry Sleep Solution was that it wasn’t designed to any baby but your baby. You make it fit. You are given tips and suggestions but there is no trying to fit your baby to a set model or requirements. The key part of her book that made me feel better was that officially ‘sleeping through’ means a period of 5hours sleep. It didn’t mean the 7pm to 7am which most other books said it did. This bit of reassurance was sufficient to help me, my son and my husband get some sleep.
The first thing Pantley asks you to do is a safety check. Where is your baby going to sleep? To her it does not matter if this is in your bed, in a bedside crib, moses basket or cot but it has to be safe. As important as getting some sleep is, ensuring it is done safely is crucial. We wanted our son to sleep in a cot but were willing to allow him into our bed too. Yet mention the words “co-sleeping” to most people and you are told you will kill your baby. Done safely co-sleeping is safe but it is important that you follow the guidelines. UNICEF has a useful helpsheet here: http://www.mybirthbydesign.com/sharingbedleaflet.pdf. For me co-sleeping is natural, we are the only mammals who don’t do it regularly. So if it works, keep going.
From then onwards the aim of the book is to encourage you to record what sleep your child does get and record this. This means all sleep, day and night, as well as the hour immediately before bedtime. The book supplies blank sleep logs but we made our own. You need to do 3 night logs before you move on. At the end of each night add up how much sleep baby got, how many times they woke etc. How will you see improvement if you don’t have an accurate record of the problem? It is at this point that the NCSS starts to work. You have done the groundwork and the book provides suggestions for everyone: breast or bottle fed, dummies, cot (crib, moses basket) or cosleeping etc. The NCSS is not a quick plan going to get you sleep immediately. It is a plan which needs time to take effect and you do need to stick with it long enough to see if it taking effect. If you want a quick fix, this book isn’t for you. The chapter on sleep solutions is split into age groups so you can match to your childs needs. The book encourages parents to start to look for sleep cues – we’ve all been there when a baby becomes ‘over tired’, once we began to look for cues we found our son was sleeping better.
The main technique for teaching baby to fall asleep on their own is called the ‘Pantley’s Gentle Removal Plan’. Where as Controlled Crying and Cry it Out tell you to ignore you baby, this encourages you go to go and soothe your baby, to feed them if necessary etc. But instead of letting them fall completely asleep before you remove from breast, bottle or dummy, let them suck but when showing signs of tiredness in that sucking is slowing to remove them from breast. Instinctively baby will potentially start rooting for the nipple again but the book suggest that’s you gently hold their mouth closed while rocking etc. Again it isn’t an immediate tip but the number of times that they have to be taken on and off breast will reduce and gradually they will fall asleep. It took us 2 weeks. The book describes a breastfed baby but can be adapted to fit with bottle fed.
I know this book won’t agree with everyone. It probably worked with me as I am quite ‘natural’ in my thinking. But it proved to me that there were other options, that I didn’t have to do what everyone else said and that my instincts were probably right, so go with them. As one mama I spoke to put it, the NCSS “makes you feel better about the sleep you’re [still] not getting”. It isn’t a quick fix but nothing worthwhile in life ever is, is it? Another mother said “that it reminded me of things I knew in my deepest unconscious motherness but just could not reach in my sleep deprived and generally addled state. It was not a miracle cure but was a great tool to get me back on the straight and narrow”. And for me this is the point, it gave me time to remember what I wanted and to assess what I thought I should be doing. I definitely intend on using this book when baby number 2 arrives in April, and if I get asked the question: “Are they good?” again I might just have to lie to begin with.
No Cry Sleep Solution’ is written by Elizabeth Pantley. It was published in 2002 by McGrawHill.
I'm Rachel, an experienced babywearer and consultant. In July 2011 I decided to establish the NESL to help the NE to carry their babies big and small. I'm mama to Henry (5yrs) and Isaac (2yr).