After months of sleepless nights, Wendy White decided that she had to be cruel to be kind, both for her baby's sake and her own
The nightmare began when Rory, our nine-month-old son, decided he was going to stay awake, although desperately overtired and fractious, until about 10 every evening. Even then, he would go off to sleep only while breastfeeding. One of us would then place him gingerly in his cot, hoping he wouldn't wake again. Inevitably, he would when we went to bed - his cot was in our bedroom - and cry until we took him into bed with us. There he stayed, usually for the night.

Rory had started life sleeping in a carrycot but, when he was three months old, my husband and I thought it would make life easier if he slept in our bed. That way, when he woke in the night for a feed, I could simply turn over, feed him and go straight back to sleep. This worked well for a while and was less tiring for me than getting up to breastfeed.

What we hadn't bargained for was the change in Rory's sleeping habits. First, he started to stay awake in the evenings - until we went to bed. In bed with us, he started to wake for more feeds during the night. As he got bigger, we were also subjected to early morning assaults - hairpulling, pinching and kicking - when he woke ready for play between 5.30 and 6.30 am. We came to dread the disrupted nights and the early awakenings and ended up feeling permanently drained and irritable.

Our health visitor suggested a new regime that seems to have worked for other parents. This involved putting Rory in his cot at 7pm when he was awake, but obviously tired. She advised us to say goodnight, and then leave, returning at intervals of five, 10 and then 15 minutes to reassure him that he had not been abandoned. We should not pick him up out of the cot.

This was a complete disaster. We had expected Rory to cry when we left, which he duly did; but a reappearance by one of us after a few minutes provoked unbearable and heart-rending screams. Rory's stamina was considerable and he would continue this pattern unrelentingly. After an hour or so, we usually took him back in our bed, feeling guilty because he seemed so upset, and anxious in case he should suffer any long-term psychological damage.

At a loss and still sleepless, we visited some friends who had successfully adopted a more radical bedtime routine with their baby, of the same age and similar temperament to ours. When they told us about their "sleep regime", recommended by their doctor, we recoiled, convinced something so extreme was wrong for our son.

Quite simply, they put their baby to bed in his own room at a set time every evening, after following a bedtime routine of bath, supper and story. Having said goodnight, they left him until the next morning: there were no reassuring visits.

More in desperation than hope, we decided to give it a try. We gave Rory a bath and a feed before putting him, awake, into his cot, which we had moved into another room. We said goodnight and closed the door.

The first night Rory cried persistently for about 30 minutes before going to sleep. We found it upsetting - but not as distressing as the screams provoked by visiting him had been. During the night he woke up once, cried for a few minutes and went back to sleep. The next morning he woke at about 7 am, very hungry but otherwise happy.

The second and third nights he cried, when we put him to bed, for about 25 and 20 minutes respectively. He didn't wake in the night at all - or if he did, we didn't hear him. As we continued with the new regime, one of us would check on him before going to bed - but at a time when he was sound asleep rather than when he was still awake.

Rory is now 16 months old. He goes to bed quite happily between 6.30 and 7pm and wakes at about 6.30 am. Neither of us mind the early waking since we have had an uninterrupted night's sleep. The only time he has woken at night is when he has been unwell.

Our conversation these days has progressed beyond sleep, or the lack of it, to other topics and we enjoy having the evenings to ourselves. And if I win the lottery, those friends who recommended Rory's new sleep regime will be in for a big fat present.

Comments