What really happens when sleep settling your baby

Flickr c/o mrjohncummings

Flickr c/o mrjohncummings

At 13 months my daughter was still waking around 4-5 times a night. It didn’t take long to re-settle her, but she’d never got the knack of doing it on her own.

I’d either breastfeed her back to sleep, pop her dummy back in, pat her bottom for a few minutes or just stand in the room so she knew I was there. We had tried (half-heartedly) getting her to self-settle a few times but would always cave after about the third night and go back to our old ways.

But at 13 months I decided enough was enough. I was ready to try and help her self-settle. I was committed. I was pumped. It was time to reclaim the night.

Like any good 21st century mum, I did my research. I trawled the internet for advice, hounded friends for their stories and ate at least three blocks of chocolate (it’s the rules).

There’s loads of info about different methods(controlled crying, camping out, co-sleeping etc). But what I really wanted to know was: How would she react? What sorts of things could we expect? What was considered normal? How bad could it really get? Nobody seemed willing to share the gory details.

I read lots of calm, rational tips like, “After 5, 10, and 15 minute intervals go back in and reassure your baby in a soft voice or pat him in the cot until he’s calm.” What they don’t say is that by the 10-minute interval your baby will be kicking, thrashing, crying until he vomits and desperately trying to grab at your boobs.

It was a rough process and I was filled with self-doubt and nearly quit so many times. But after about a week she successfully stopped wanting to feed in the night. And now, a month down the track, she has pretty much got the hang of self-settling.

We didn’t stick to a particular method, just took bits and pieces from each and combined it with our own intuition. Things might go down differently in your house, and no two journeys will be the same. But without further ado…

Here’s what happened when we tried to get our baby to self-settle:

  • Screaming. Loud, ugly, eardrum shattering, heart breaking screaming
  • Thrashing. Contorting her body into twisted, awful positions that made me scared for her neck and spine (but hopeful for a future in gymnastics)
  • Banging her head against the cot rails and mattress
  • Mucking around, singing, chatting and reaching through the cot to try and play with me
  • Sitting up. Just when I thought she was about to drift off to sleep she would spring up into sitting position for no good reason
  • Whimpering. Endless, monotonous whimpering. She would lie there half-asleep and softly moaning for what seemed like hours

Handy hints from someone who has been in the trenches:

  • Plan ahead. Every time you enter the room, prepare to be there for at least an hour. Bring tissues, a bottle of water and your phone (once I hid under a blanket, dimmed the brightness levels and checked Instagram)
  • Have a mattress, doona and pillow set up in the corner of the nursery in case you need to camp out. Sometimes it’s easier to lie down and gently “sssssh” until you both fall asleep
  • Take care of your back. Bending over a cot and patting a baby can take its toll. Sit on the floor and put your hand through the rails if you can
  • Don’t lock yourself into a single technique. Take bits and pieces from each, or just do whatever works at the time. If that means drinking a cup of tea while softly patting your baby’s bottom with a rolled up magazine, then go for it.

Some things that I believe are inevitable:

  • “They” say you’re not supposed to keep going back into the room every two minutes (“They” have a lot to say on the topic), but trust me – you will. Don’t beat yourself up about it
  • You and your partner won’t always be on the same team. A screaming baby can bring a grown man to his knees. Once he decides he can’t take it anymore, no amount of hissing, “Don’t you go in there” through gritted teeth can stop him
  • Your baby will fight you. She hates change and she’s not afraid to let you know
  • You will feel hopeless and directionless and desperate to quit and you’ll wonder if it’s ever going to end (spoiler alert: it will)
  • You will get the hang of it. After the first few nights you’ll feel like you’ve come too far to slip back into old habits (breastfeeding back to sleep, rocking to sleep in your arms etc). You’ll get your second wind and feel ready to see it through
  • You will wake up one morning and it will be 4am and you’ll realise your baby has slept almost a full night. You will possibly cry. You will definitely be too excited to go back to sleep

So there you go. A few things you can expect. Or perhaps your child is perfect and you won’t need any of my advice. In which case, best of luck and I hope I never run into you at a school fete. Also, I’m not kidding about the tissues. One time I had to blow my nose on a muslin wrap. Bring. Tissues.

Got any advice for other parents who are ready to start the sleep-settling journey? Perhaps you’ve got some stories of your own. I’d love to hear them. Jump into the comments section below to share…


2 thoughts on “What really happens when sleep settling your baby

  1. Nice one Kellie. Did you ever get that scared feeling the first time bubs actually DID sleep through the night, or go a bit longer without waking, and you rush to their room to see what’s wrong? I’ve done that on more than one occassion when my kids were still being breastfed, and they’d ‘normally’ wake me every couple of hours. Then occasionally they’d go a bit longer for whatever reason and I’d wake with sore boobs & realise they didn’t wake me … & in a panic race to their room to check if they’re breathing. Funny thinking back now but it was a very real terror at the time.

    • Thanks Cathy!Oh my god, yes that has happened to me as well. Just the other night she slept right through and I woke up at 4am and lay there thinking “Why isn’t she up?” Plus, at 4am you’re already a bit delirious so the most ridiculous things go through your brain. I ended up having to go check on her…and she was snoring her little head off haha.

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