Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Transitioning From Co-sleeping To Sleeping in The Cot In The Nursery

If you told me four months ago that Philip would sleep in his cot, in his own room, with no tears or drama, I would've laughed. Hard. Coming out of the 4 month sleep regression I felt as tired and broken as I ever did. Philip napped for 20 minutes at the time and would rarely sleep without a sling or a pram. He woke up between every 45 minutes and 2 hours each night, and wouldn't fall asleep until 10pm at the earliest. We were co-sleeping to make the night feeds easier and I did what I could to get him to nap in the day. In any 24 hour period, I don't think I spent more than 10 minutes away from him.

At the same time, Philip breastfed hourly through the day so I felt like there was no hope in getting him to last any longer without milk, and therefore, sleep. I realised that he was most likely 'snacking'  through the day rather than having a full feed, purely because breastmilk was available on demand for him so he had no reason not to have it whenever he felt peckish. During the night though, he would often wake up to suck for comfort and not to feed. He would pinch and pull my skin and hair to get my attention. If he could smell the boob, he wanted to be on it and got upset and cried when his latch broke. I was tired and not looking forward to going to bed at all. I started to think that we needed a plan to slowly move away from co-sleeping and try moving Philip to his own room. I knew that this would be a huge step for him so we needed a long-term, gentle plan to make it happen slowly.

The BIG plan:
  1. Encourage full feeds and reduce snacking
  2. Get used to sleeping in the cot
  3. Fall asleep (and fall back asleep) without feeding

We set no hard deadline so that we could take a gentle, baby-led approach to achieving those steps. We didn't want to sleep train Philip, so instead we were just making small adjustments to the routine until he was ready to do it on his own. They key for me is gentle guidance and no forcing - we always had a fall back plan that if things didn't work out, we would go back to co-sleeping and try again in 4-5 weeks.

There are no hard rules here - if I'm tired I will have a nap together with him in our bed. If he's teething or ill or upset, I'll bring him to bed at night and not put him back in the cot. We both have emotional needs and those are far more important to me than sticking to a sleep routine.

Step 1: Encourage full feeds and reduce snacking

I started simply by writing out a plan to begin introducing a gap between feeds for 2 hours for the first 3 days. I planned to increase it by 15 mins every 3 days, depending on how Philip did on the plan - I didn't want him to be hungry so if he cried, I fed him regardless of how much time has passed. Other times, I tried to distract him by playing with him or taking him outside to give another 15-30 mins before the feed. Our routine worked like this:

  • start timer
  • feed
  • play/activity/walk
  • timer finished - meal time: either breakfast, lunch or afternoon snack
  • breastfeed after the meal
  • nap
I was still feeding Philip straight before and after a nap. This is an example of gaps between feeds that we were able to achieve - after about a week Philip started going without breast milk for long stretches of time on his own and after about 3 weeks he started feeding only for naps and to sleep.

Ignore the night gaps - I didn't record the night feeds.

Currently our day routine looks like this:
wake up
play for about 30-60 mins

repeated as many times as necessary, with either 2 or 3 naps.

Step 2: Get Munchkin used to sleeping in the cot

I had a three step plan for this - first I wanted Philip to get used to daytime naps in the cot, then evening sleep and eventually night sleep. I started this at 4 months.

Napping on the bed

I started with the naps by following the sleep routine of white noise, sleeping bag, curtains and blinds shut, night light on. Before this (4 months) Philip usually really struggled with day naps and I think it probably resulted from a complete mish-mash of a routine that we had where he would either sleep in the sling, in the pram or a rocker - no consistency whatsoever. So I started by trying to move (most of) his naps into one room - I fed him on our bed and left him there to sleep while I sat on the bed next to him or did some quiet chores in the bedroom. When Philip outgrew his Next to Me (which he never actually went in before he was too heavy for it!) we put his cot in the sidecar arrangement with our bed.
Once he was happily napping on the bed following the nap routine for a couple of weeks, I wanted to transition him to the cot with a baby monitor on so that I could leave him to nap on his own.

Sidecar cot arrangement

I would follow the same sleep routine, then put Philip in the cot, lean over into the cot or lie down on the edge and feed him to sleep, then gently roll away. At this point he started to roll onto his tummy to sleep so I let him do it (after the initial worrying obviously!). This worked well within a few days so we carried on.

Asleep in the cot after I rolled away

Then next step was the most difficult - putting him to sleep for the night in the cot without me next to him.  The plan was that I would feed Philip in the cot to sleep as usual, but then I would roll away exactly like I did for daytime naps. I think because we've been doing daytime naps like this he took to it straight away and would usually sleep for at least an hour or two before waking up to feed. At that point we would come up to bed. This was the most life-changing thing we ever did - for the first time since Philip was born, we had a few hours each evening to ourselves without Munchkin hanging off my boob cluster-feeding or snoozing on me!

The next step was to try not bringing Philip to bed at night and instead feed him in the cot - this was a struggle for me, because it's just so much easier to slide him over to me, latch him on and go back to sleep. Instead I had to stay hovering over him, and then gently roll away. This stage probably took the longest purely because of my laziness. Eventually Philip would stay in his cot the whole night, with me leaning in to feed him. 

Even though he stayed in the cot most of the nights, he would still come in to our bed every now and again when nothing would settle him - we had a few periods of a day or two when he just wanted to be snuggled in - again, I just followed what he needed while remembering to keep trying to put him in the cot every night. I think that building that trust in him so that he knows I will be there when he needs me is crucial in teaching him independence - he knows he's safe to sleep on his own because when he cries or wants snuggles, he will get them.

Philip asleep in the cot in the evening

The last and final phase was to move Munchkin to his own nursery. After 3.5 months of getting him used to sleeping in the cot with less and less contact from me, we moved the cot to the nursery. I still followed the same sleep routine and then fed him in the nursing chair before putting him down in the cot. The first night he only woke up once at 4am. The second night he woke up again at 4am but I was really tired so I brought him to bed and fell asleep before I remembered to put him back in his cot. Since then, he wakes up once most nights and we rarely get more than two wake ups. This is a huge improvement from waking up every two hours (max) when he slept in our bedroom. I miss my little snugglebun he was clearly ready to sleep on his own and he sleeps deeper and better without the distraction of me.

First night in his nursery

All through this, I let Philip grizzle and complain for a couple of minutes after I put him down in the cot. If he starts crying or isn't settling, I pick him up and run through the routine again. If that doesn't work I usually put him in the sling or feed him on our bed and lie with him cuddling him until he falls asleep.

Step 3: Help Munchkin fall asleep (and fall back asleep) without feeding

Our next step has been trying to reduce the number of nighttime feeds. Philip would often wake up, latch on, suckle for a few seconds and drift back to sleep - this made me realise that he wasn't actually feeding but suckling for comfort so we could try offering him just the comfort and not the milk.
I got great advice from a local La Leche League meeting that the easiest way to do this is to to swap sides so that the dad or the partner sleeps next to the baby and offers the comfort first when the baby wakes up. We tried this for a few days but as James suffers from epilepsy we didn't feel safe with the two of them sleeping next to each other so we ruled this option out.

Instead, I would wake up and cuddle and stroke Munchkin's back  or rhythmically pat him bum when he woke up in the night. We had mixed success with this - sometimes it worked amazingly and other nights he still wanted boob. I think the fact that he could smell me and the milk made him not be fooled by just the cuddles and he wanted the real thing! We adapted this routine to include milk - so when Philip wakes up, we do the following:

  • Philip wakes up
  • James goes to cuddle him and stroke his back/hair
  • James offer Philip milk from a sippy cup and Philip is not settling
  • If Philip is still grizzling, I come to the nursery to feed him

Again, we have mixed success with it - sometimes Philip clearly just needs a cuddle and that's all he wants, sometimes he drinks from the sippy cup and goes to sleep, sometimes he won't take the cup and only boob will do. The key is consistency and trying to do it every night while remembering that he has different needs on different nights. The fact that he still downs the milk at 4am tells me that he is most definitely hungry/thirsty when he wakes up so I'm not going to think about night weaning him for at least a good few months.

Our next step is to try to remove the feeding-to-sleep element of the routine. I'm having good success with this plan but it's not a huge priority for me so I don't actually do this often, once a week perhaps. Anyway, my plan is following:
  • feed Munchkin in the nursing chair (next to the cot)
  • gently cuddle him 
  • read a book or have a nice long cuddle (this often requires gently waking him up)
  • offer sippy cup of milk if still hungry/thirsty
  • put him down in the cot to sleep
Eventually I'm going to work on extending the time between the feeding and going to sleep by including more activities in-between such as feed, play quietly, read book, put sleeping bag on, put in cot but it's all small steps to start with.

Philip still co-sleeps with us when he won't settle in the cot - either due to teething, having a cold or just wanting snuggles. When he went through the 8 month sleep regression, we co-slept (and co-napped) for better part of the 3 weeks. It took just a couple of days for him to get back to sleeping in the cot with just two wake ups and hopefully soon he will return to just one wake up a night. I really don't think 'giving in' and co-sleeping is teaching him the bad habits - I believe that we're teaching him that if he needs us, we will be there for him. That hopefully gives him the confidence to be able to sleep on his own at other times.

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