I want to preface this post by saying I am not a sleep consultant, this is not advice given by a professional. It is just what worked for my nap refuser. Everything I have read suggests that it is best to do any sleep training after six months so please bear that in mind too.
Getting Freddie to sleep during the day has been horrendously hard and it’s fair to say that at times, it has really affected me emotionally. Freddie had silent reflux so from around five weeks old all of his naps would either take place in a baby carrier on upright on his Dad or I. My hallway must be worn out from the many hours I have spent just walking back and forth every single day. This continued until nearly six months when he started to refuse to nap in the carrier too. I got no break at all during the day, physically or mentally and it took it’s toll. At six months Freddie would nap whilst breastfeeding as long as he was latched on. My nipples hurt and it started to effect our breastfeeding relationship because I was ‘touched out’ and finding it hard having no physical space. Occasionally he would get my hopes up and nap next to me on the bed but that was rare. I was sore, fed up and mentally exhausted. Freddie was permanently overtired and I felt like a failure. This post gives an bit more insight into some of the emotions I had Bad Days, Baby Blues & Being Honest. It was rough and I was insanely jealous when I saw pictures of other babies sleeping peacefully in their cots or their prams or even on the floor! I just couldn’t relate to that and I felt it must be something I was doing wrong.
When Freddie turned six months old started to research sleep training. I halfheartedly attempted the ‘Pick Up/Put Down’ method but quickly realised that Freddie just found it confusing and irritating so I stopped. I couldn’t bear to listen to him cry. At almost seven months old, we went on our first family holiday and having booked only one room we had to be creative about finding a way to enjoy our evenings whilst still getting Freddie to sleep at night. His travel cot ended up in a little nook at the back of the room and I was convinced that as he couldn’t see us he just wouldn’t sleep. Well I was wrong, he did sleep. In fact he woke up for one feed which was a lot better than at home. It gave me a little glimmer of hope that perhaps both he and I were ready for a change. After our holiday, we moved him into his own room and he slept so much better though naps were still a disaster. We muddled on for a while longer until he was seven months old when I felt we both needed something to change. I downloaded and read various sleep guides and worked out what I felt comfortable with and what Freddie would respond to best. Randomly, one Monday I decided to just give it a go. Within a day, Freddie was napping in his cot at least two times a day. Some naps lasted an hour and a half, some only twenty minutes but the point was he was in his own room, napping in his own cot. He self settled from wide awake to asleep a few times and in the evening he was going to bed earlier with less crying. I couldn’t believe it- I still can’t! We are by no means finished with our sleep training journey and everyday is different but I thought I would share what I did in the hope that it might help you too.
Where your baby sleeps
Before we started sleep training there were a few changes we made to Freddie’s nursery which seemed to really help.
- The room needs to be dark and by dark I mean ‘Can’t see your hand in front of your face’ dark. If you have a baby that can nap in a light room then skip this step, but if you are struggling with naps I would give it a go. The Gro Company Gro Blind is a good portable option but we have found good old tin foil to be most effective so far. Dampen the window and then add the tin foil and hey presto, instant dark room.
- Check the temperature. I have always been paranoid about Freddie getting too hot in line with the SIDS prevention advice but upon checking Freddie’s chest I realised he was actually on the chillier side. We upped the tog of his sleeping bag (I like the M & S ones) and he stopped waking up around 4am which is when your baby enters a lighter sleep and is more sensitive to temperature.
- White noise playing throughout the nap. We have always used the Sound Sleeper white noise app on the hairdryer setting at night and I continued this in his nursery during nap time. It is a positive sleep association for Freddie and as well as signalling that it is time to sleep it blocks out any noise during the day.
- Introduce a comforter. I used these Mamas & Papas muslins and a JellyCat Puppy (similar sized JellyCat animal here). The JellyCat is small enough for Freddie to grip and the muslin is breathable so gave me peace of mind about putting it in his cot. I introduced this a few weeks before we started sleep training and made sure it was snuggled with us during feeds, cuddles and at naps/bedtime. At first he showed no interest in it at all- in fact he would often grab it and throw it… But over time he has become much more interested and now will play with it during his feeds and has used it to self soothe on occasion too.*The Lullaby Trust do not recommend having any loose bedding or items where your baby sleeps. More information here.
After looking at various different sleep plans and routines it was consistently mentioned that the following things were really important:
- Starting the day at the same time- We start the day between 6:45 and 7:00am. By doing this it helps to create more of a routine for naps and ensures that your baby is ready to nap and not catching up on sleep by having a lie in.
- Following awake times for baby’s age- Freddie is seven months old so he should be able to do two hours of awake time before he needs a nap. You can use this guide to see what your baby’s awake time should be. Obviously every baby is different and some days they may need more or less.
- No catnapping (on the boob- or anywhere else!)- Freddie would often fall asleep for short periods whilst feeding and because he was such a bad napper I would let him because I knew he needed to sleep. The problem was that he was using these little cat naps to get just enough sleep to feel refreshed for a little while before crashing and becoming really overtired. Hence why when I tried to get him to nap he rarely would.
- Last period of awake time should be the longest- After the six month developmental leap, Freddie became really difficult to get to sleep at bedtime. I didn’t understand why until after a bit of reading it became clear that he was sleeping on the boob too near to bedtime. Now he doesn’t nap after half three ish which means when we start the bedtime routine at six he is very tired and is usually asleep by half past.
- Feed, feed. feed- This seems like an obvious one but as Freddie was constantly snacking it was hard to tell how hungry he actually was. Now that he is on three meals a day and we have a rough nap schedule he is taking a full feed rather than snacking. Some sleep consultants recommend a protein heavy meal around lunch time and a carbohydrate based meal at dinner time as apparently protein can cause night wakings. I haven’t researched that myself though!
Once I had put in place all of the above, it was time to put it in to practise. Roughly two hours after Freddie wakes up, once he has had breakfast and a full milk feed, it is time for a nap. This is usually around 9:00am. We go upstairs and do nappy, sleeping bag and a song. Then the white noise goes on and I do a quick top up feed, making sure that he does not fall asleep during this. Once it’s clear he is done (usually within five minutes or so), he goes into his cot with his comforter and I leave the room. If he cries, which he does do around half of the time, I set a timer for six minutes. If at any time during that period he sounds hysterical (shrieking, coughing etc) then I go in immediately. If he is whinging or crying then after six minutes I go in, pick him up and feed him to soothe. If you are not breastfeeding then you use whatever method you would usually use to get your baby to sleep (e.g. rocking, patting, shushing). As soon as he is calm I put him back in his cot and leave the room again. If he cries then this time the timer is set to eight minutes. You then would go back in and repeat the soothing. It is up to you to decide what length of time you would be comfortable with. Freddie has never gone past eight minutes without falling asleep but I had decided in my head that 16 minutes would the maximum I would be comfortable with. Everyone is different, do what feels right for you and your baby. We then repeat the same routine at around half 11/twelve o clock. If he hasn’t slept for an hour or more at his lunch nap then I offer a short nap of around twenty to thirty minutes at three but he usually doesn’t take it.
Six minutes may seem like ages at first but a week in, Freddie has already self settled a few times which is unbelievable to me. He just needed a bit of space and time to work it out on his own. Since starting the sleep training he has learnt to roll on his side and snuggle into his sleepyhead which seems to be his preferred way to soothe himself and he would never have learnt that had we not started this. At night you can still use your soothing method so at the moment we still feed to sleep. Over time I will stop feeding to soothe during the day and replace feeding to sleep at night with feeding to soothe instead.
Sleep training has had such a positive impact on Freddie and I. He is no longer overtired so is much more settled and content during the day. I like having a clear plan to follow and I really look forward to being able to grab a coffee and have a bit of ‘Me Time’ during the day. When we do have a bad day where he refuses to nap it demonstrates to me that for both of us, Sleep Training was the best decision. Although we started this to teach Freddie to nap, it has improved his night sleep too! He goes down with less crying, only wakes for one feed most nights and sleeps until later in the morning (we have had to wake him a few times which we have never done before!). Babies are unpredictable and we are only a week and a bit in so I anticipate that it won’t all be smooth sailing. Teething, developmental leaps, growth spurts and illness are likely to disrupt things at some time or another. Of course if he needs me and only my cuddles will do I will be led by him as I always have done. If you have a nap refuser, I get how stressful it can be. I’ve been there and that’s why I wanted to write this post. Of course, you know your baby best so trust your instincts and do your own research but I really hope this helps you if you are struggling right now!
If you have any questions please comment below or message me on Instagram! I am always happy to lend an ear and although I definitely do not have all the answers, I can always empathise.
Thanks for reading