I’m not kidding, we did try all of these things. In a desperate attempt to get our baby girl to sleep through the night this is the list of things that we tried…
1.Banana and cinnamon. I cooked banana and cinnamon and tried to spoon it to her before bedtime (she was over a year at this point, so on solids!) The idea was that you boiled up some banana, added some cinnamon and together this magical concoction was meant to send them off to dreamland. It did not work. I don’t even remember how I found out about this as an idea, but clearly I was in such a state of desperation I was open to anything!
2. The pick up put down method. A well-meaning friend, obviously sensing my desperation, said that when her young children didn’t sleep, she tried an approach of more gentle sleep training; the pick up put down method where you go in, pick them up, cuddle them, put them down. And then the next time you go in, you don’t pick them up, you just put your hands on them, saying mummy can’t pick you up. You look at them through their cot bars, settle them, and walk away. Sounded good in theory. Didn’t work. I tried it for probably half an hour and I just couldn’t continue. And I’m not saying couldn’t because I’m weak. I’m saying couldn’t because every bone in my body told me that it was not the right thing to do, to just look at my crying baby and not pick her up. It did not work.
3. Next thing we did, was to try and wean her from the boob, several times in the hope that this would help – after all, so many ‘experts’ said breastfeeding to sleep causes your baby to wake up more. I breastfed on demand from day one, and the idea was that after we spoke with a lactation consultant (when Miss A was about 15 months), I would feed her at bedtime then J would take her and do stories and bedtime. I left the house completely and walked the dog so I wasn’t around to hear any crying (there wasn’t much anyway, she’s a daddy’s girl). This did work in the sense that when we stopped breastfeeding, she was happy for daddy to put her to sleep, and there was no association with me; that that was all good. But it didn’t work in the sense that she was still waking up through the night. So not breastfeeding at nigh and night weaning, for us did not work.
4. The next thing we tried was canceling our whole life having a really strict schedule. So when she was around nine months, everyone around me had just always kept saying it’s a routine or a strict schedule you need.
So looking at the schedules meant for a baby of that age (around 9 months at that point) meant that I had to get up at a certain time, do everything in the morning, put her down for a nap mid morning, get her up again an hour or so later, have lunch then another nap, then up in the afternoon then another nap before dinner time. Almost all schedules suggested I do all of these naps at home. I wasn’t working at the time so I could be at home, but these strict schedules left little time for actually getting out and doing much else.
We had just moved to a new country (UAE) and we wanted to meet people and make friends, not easy when you only have an hour’s window in which to do that. Plus cooking, cleaning, shopping, anything else and any other errands meant I was just going to be back and forth to the house all day.
But everyone said how amazing these schedules are and once you’re into them then it makes everything else so much easier. So I decided for a week to get her into a routine and cancel everything. So we did no baby swimming, no outings except short walks to the local park, and we got shopping delivered.
Three days in. She was still awake when she was meant to be asleep. She didn’t nap to the schedule and we were all miserable and still tired, because she wasn’t sleeping. And it was super lonely because we weren’t really getting out of the house (not great for mental wellbeing!)
Schedules didn’t work for us. I recognise and appreciate that they can for some families, and I am a believer in some sort of routine, but such rigid timings just made me feel like an awful mother because, again, my baby wasn’t doing what the schedule said she ‘should’ be. This was such a low point for me.
5. Next thing we tried was a dummy/pacifier. Admittedly we probably started this way too late (10 months), but it did not work. She just wasn’t interested at all.
Side note with our second baby, as soon as she was born, I gave her a dummy because I didn’t want to be the human dummy this time around. And now she’s nearly three, and we’re still trying to get it off her (but that’s another story). So for some babies a dummy can work, for our first baby, it did not work.
6. The next thing that we tried was looking into proper sleep training. And I say looking into because I did an intense amount of research, but never actually followed through with any of it. And for good reason.
When I was pregnant, I was given a certain well known book by a certain well known person who suggested a very rigid sleep training schedule (I won’t even mention their name because I don’t want to give any credit to them at all).
And sure, before the baby arrived, it made perfect sense to have your baby on a schedule and strictly follow everything. I know for some friends this approach helped them to settle into motherhood. Not for me.
When the baby came, it all went out the window; it just did not feel right, not one inch of it. My whole body was shouting ‘noooo’ at some of the suggestions by these so-called experts to get your baby to sleep.
But, fast forward a few months, 8 months of sleep deprivation kicked in, severely. So we looked into it again, I researched and I found an amazing group called the Beyond Sleep Training Project on Facebook.
And, just like with The Gentle Sleep Book I recommend, joining this group was such a game changer. For me, it was again, a validation that I was not doing anything wrong. My baby was normal. I was normal, that this was normal biological sleep for a baby of this age, nine months, 10 months, whatever. And in doing all this research (the group has some incredible resources that show the psychology behind baby sleep and brain development), it just reaffirmed that sleep training was not for me, not for us, not for our family.
I fully appreciate for some it’s a last resort or maybe a first resort. And that’s fine. I get it. I don’t necessarily agree with it. But everyone has their own situation and needs. And I was fortunate in that I didn’t have to go back to work and I could rest during the day; a luxury I fully appreciate so many mums don’t get. But for us sleep training did not work (because we were proudly unwilling to try it).
7. Another thing we tried was co-sleeping. I had a single mattress next to her cot (at this point we had converted it to a toddler bed). And that just meant she would just roll out and sleep on me. So we were both squashed up on an uncomfortable single mattress on the floor. The cuddles were nice, but she didn’t sleep any longer. That didn’t didn’t work.
8. We tried putting her to bed early and following sleep cues. Well, she rarely showed any signs of sleepiness, and even now as a 5 year old she could happily stay up until 10pm and still be wide awake and raring to go at 6am. I’ve now learnt that we are all so different in our sleep needs and one size most definitely does not fit all.
9. We tried putting her to bed later. Instead of struggling for two hours to get her to sleep, we thought why not adopt the approach of going out or staying up a bit later in the hope it would tire her out? Did not work.
Neither early or late bedtime had much impact on how well she slept. She dropped all daytime naps at 15 months (unless we were in the car), but this still didn’t change her overnight sleep pattern.
As a side note, it’s really different with my second, again proving how different we all are.
10. The other thing we tried was lots and lots of fresh air at night. So before bedtime we would go outside, have lots of fresh air, run around, swim, take the scooter etc.. I think it helped to do that kind of thing before bath and bedtime anyway, but it definitely was no magic solution.
11. We tried magnesium spray lotion after the bath. This helped me feel better physically, and it helped my sleep quality, but it didn’t impact her sleep whatsoever.
12. We bought the coveted Lula doll. It did not work. Enough said.
13. We put lavender bedtime balm on. It smelt nice but didn’t work. And when she realised it meant bedtime, she would try and hide it or run away before I could put any on.
14. We inadvertently tried medication because she was having allergies at the time and she was prescribed some medication, which I later found out was something that people sometimes give to their children to get them to sleep. Anyway for us, this did not work. In fact, it had the opposite effect. It actually gave her night terrors. So she was awake more and it was awful to witness. That didn’t work.
[I am most definitely not recommending medication to help your child to sleep, our baby was prescribed this for another reason and as soon as it started to cause night terrors, we immediately stopped and sought alternatives.]
15. We tried lots of lavender essential oil in the bath. She smelled lovely when I cuddled her a few hours after bedtime, but it didn’t help her to sleep.
16. We tried a slightly warmer bath, she was a bit older that so she could take a little bit more of a warmer bath. It didn’t make any difference.
17. We tried having a water bottle in her cot and later in her bed. Because the idea was that she was waking up wanting milk. Would she be happy with bottled water instead? We tried numerous bottles, sippy cups, etc. Nothing worked. She would help herself to water just fine, but wanted to wake the house up to tell us!
18. We tried on demand breastfeeding throughout the night (with me co-sleeping), in an attempt to have her sleep longer stretches rather than fully waking up, and standing up. It worked in the sense that she was settled and easily soothed but it made no difference to her sleep. And I slept less too.
19. We tried a diffuser in the room with lavender, which is nice, but didn’t have any impact on her sleep.
20. We tried a sleeping bag so that she was warm enough as she kept kicking the blankets off (and living in a hot climate we had to have air con on most of the time). Made no difference. We missed the early days where she was happy (and a great sleeper!) in her little angel suit from Love to Dream. They worked a treat… until 6 months!
21. We tried a red light, which we still to this day use, as recommended in The Gentle Sleep Book. And the idea is that red is like the primitive fire we would have been used to back when we were all living in caves; fire would be on at night and it was soothing to sleep near.
(And I’m sure anybody that’s had a nice cozy fire in their house, you can appreciate how nice it is; it probably makes you feel sleepy.)
Sarah Ockwell-Smith suggests that when babies wake up with a red light near them they’re not totally in the dark but they’re also not in a bright light either. While we still use it as a nice night light, it didn’t impact the baby’s sleep at all. The biggest thing it helps with is being able to easily see in the kids’ room at night without needing to use any bright lights.
(We love the red light so much though that when we were on holiday in the UK one summer and left it behind in our hotel, I made my husband do a 100km round trip to retrieve it!)
22. We tried the Gro Clock when she was around 15 months, so that she knew it was still bedtime and time to get back to sleep (because the moon on the clock says so). What happened? She soon figured out how to switch it to daytime mode. And even when she didn’t do that, she didn’t let a clock stop her from getting up! It didn’t work.
23. I tried blackout curtains. This was more for me, but I thought it might help having a darker room for naps and bedtime. It did not work.
24. In an absolutely desperate attempt to get her to sleep better I bought an organic baby sleep special formula. It is thicker than regular formula and meant to fill their tummies (because hunger is why they are waking up at night according to the experts). I don’t know why I thought this would work because a) she had never had any formula before, b) she didn’t like any kind of milk drink anyway. It most definitely did not work. She didn’t even have a mouthful.
25. We’d heard a healthy snack before bed can often induce sleep; cottage cheese, rice cracker, avocado, peanut butter etc. can all be great apparently. Miss A enjoyed the extra snack but woke up the same amount.
So What Did Work to Get Our Baby to Sleep Through the Night?
Basically the two things that had any impact on our baby’s sleep were:
- Acceptance and surrender to the situation. (I know that’s not what you wanted to hear, but hear me out). I just accepted it, and instead of trying to fix it, I just managed the situation better. I wasn’t working at the time, so I would just try and rest when she did go to bed early.
2. Montessori-inspired floor mattress.
And those two things were really the only things that worked for us.
And I don’t share these things to scare or worry or frustrate anyone because some of the things may work for you and your baby. But I just remember how hard it was in the early days of it when it seems that everyone else’s child was happily sleeping and going to bed when they were meant to and napping when they were meant to. And mine weren’t.
I remember how frustrating it was and how tiring it was. And I just found it really hard to manage that situation.
And as a final bonus tip: find your tribe, whether that’s in person or online, find the people who have a similar approach to parenting as you. If you’re surrounded by people who constantly say that you should sleep train and you’re against that, like I was, then it’s time to find people who are supportive of your parenting choices. And they are out there. In fact, that’s why I started my own blog. And that’s why I wrote about baby sleep, because I just wanted to help anyone else that was in that situation, to know that you’re not alone. Definitely not alone. And as I’m writing this, five and a half years on, sleep does happen, but it can also still be a problem. So what I’m saying is it does pass, but there’s always something else. So try and manage it in the best way you can.
Try and rest when you can. And instead of trying to fix the problem, because unless you’ve had a doctor and you know that there is definitely a medical problem, chances are there’s nothing wrong with your baby. They’re actually perfectly normal. And it’s society that needs a change in perspective.
Much love to you fellow parents!