My toddler Rebecca is 16 months old and she’s cheerful, easy to parent, healthy, curious, willful and strong (12 teeth sprouted without an issue). The one challenge we have had with her, and I’m not complaining, has been her sleep.
She used to go to sleep whenever she wanted – sometimes around 10pm (I have several Facebook pics to show for this – Rebecca running around happily, and me looking exhausted). She would generally only go down in her cot after we had held her in our arms (no rocking), and she’d wake around 2am for quite a big bottle of milk.
In December, we arranged a consultation with Una van Staden of Pikanini as she’d come highly recommended, and I knew of her from various events and parenting platforms. Una came over, asked lots of questions, and gave gentle tips to getting Rebecca to go to sleep at a decent hour, sleep on her own, and sleep through the night.
We had made good headway with the bedtime routine, but then went on holiday where sleep conditions weren’t ideal, so we went a few steps back, and then resumed the routine when we were back, at the beginning of January. Right now (and I can only hope that this blog post doesn’t jinx it) we have achieved three out of three – Rebecca goes to sleep around 7.15pm, in her cot without help from us to fall asleep, and is sleeping through.
Here are some things we did under Una’s guidance (every child is different, so this is not meant to be a formula for you. I’ll mention here that we paid for our consultation, and this is not a post on “How to get your child to sleep”, but rather just a share of our sleep experience).
- Get into a proper nighttime routine – create a calm and quiet environment, and serve supper before bathtime, followed by some gentle and quiet play
- Feed Rebecca more protein during the day, to help her from being so hungry in the middle of the night. (Since Rebecca was waking for food and not comfort, we never let her cry it out. She’s not a fussy eater at all, but eats tiny portions, so woke up for a feed because she hadn’t eaten enough during the day – just one of those things. We tried to add protein to all meals and hoped she would eat it – we couldn’t force feed her, obviously.
- To break the habit of Rebecca not being able to fall asleep by herself, we did a five-day gentle “controlled crying” stint. On the first night for example, I put Rebecca in her cot. She cried, and I sat next to her with my hand on her, frequently saying “shhhhh”. This took about five minutes (woohoo – I was expecting much longer). The next night, we would sit next to her without touching and say “shhhh”, and then for the next three nights we’d continue, each time changing it a bit – for example moving away from the cot, and then waiting outside and coming in if necessary.This system worked brilliantly, and now when we put Rebecca in her cot, we can just walk out (I still anticipate howling each time I gingerly walk away).
- We ensured Rebecca’s naps didn’t exceed about 1 hour and 45 minutes, and more than twice a day.
- We also started giving Rebecca iron drops, as a shortage of iron can sometimes cause sleep issues.
We also tried to get Rebecca to use her taglet so that she could have another sleep association together with her dummy, but she hasn’t taken to it, so the dummy remains her only sleep association, which is okay (we don’t give her the dummy any other time).
I’m grateful for the changes and new sleep patterns. Sweet dreams truly are made of these…
If you’re looking for your own sleep tips, have a look at this useful guide to sleep for children.