Sleep strategies (again…)

To recap, for those who haven’t been paying much attention:

Daisy has always been a pretty good sleeper. She slept through the night from very early on (the second night in the hospital doesn’t, apparently, count, but she started sleeping through at a fortnight old, and just extended the length and frequency of the unbroken nights from there). Once she’s asleep, she’s pretty reliable. The problem we’ve always had has been in getting her to sleep.

When she was very little we jumped through endless hoops, which always started with feeding and hoping she’d drop off, and not notice when we moved to put her in the crib. Extensive Daddy Pacing Up and Down was also an old stalwart, and in three or four dire emergencies, I put her in the car and drove the full length of Queen’s Drive (the Liverpool Ring Road) at four o’clock in the morning. At least once, I then carried the car-seat up to our bedroom, and dumped on the armchair in the corner, rather than disturb her by lifting her out of it, but I don’t feel too guilty – it was an odd time, and in any case, the night only had four hours left to it by then.

When she was four months old, she got a little more savvy to the idea that as soon as she dropped of, Daddy would put her down. We had a fairly long evening of her appearing to be asleep, and just as Kevin bent over the crib to lay her in it, she would start up screaming again. After he’d done this three times, we looked at one another with the hard-faced look of determined parenting, and said, “This can’t go on.”

So we set up this detailed strategy of sitting with her, but refusing to pick her up (unless she worked herself into a state of absolute hysteria, in which case you have to pick her up and calm her down, because she appears to be capable of escalating such hysteria indefinitely, if she gets onto that track). I sat touching her, at first, so that however cross she was with me, she knew she wasn’t abandoned, I was just playing the game by my own rules. Then, as she got used to the idea of falling asleep in bed, I stepped back – sat next to her without touching her; sat on the other side of the bed; then, after a week or so, just walking out of the room.

It worked a charm. Sadly, it didn’t last. Every time something external changed – she was ill, or we moved her into her own room, or we went on holiday, or the clocks changed and it was suddenly light, it seemed to throw her back to needing to feel my hand on her chest, which was annoying, but usually temporary, so OK.

In recent times, I have to admit to engineering her day-time naps so that she invariably falls asleep feeding. She doesn’t, now, mind being moved into the bed when that happens, so that’s often the most direct route to walking away from her and starting my baby-free evening. However, in the last week, she’s had a streaming cold, which is a factor, and just hasn’t been going off on the breast in the same way, and we have faced a new challenge: Daisy is mobile.

She can crawl – right out of the blankets to a convenient side-panel of the cot, where she can stand up. She was perfectly happy, mind you, she was just having a wonderfully exciting time with it all.

I spent an hour, on Thursday night, laying her down, tucking her in, laying her down, tucking her in, utterly confident that the baby whisperer said she would run out of stamina. Well, I did. The exercise wrecked my back, and after an hour, I walked off and told Kevin I couldn’t do it any more.

The interesting side-effect of all this was that my leaving the room made her sad. And once she was sad, she was much more inclined to lie down, be comforted, and go to sleep.

I’ve never been able to bring myself to do proper controlled crying, but we’ve hit on a compromise strategy, which borrows from Kevin’s sister, Caroline, and the things she did with their daughter, as a baby. I’m reading Hamlet to her.

It’s a two-pronged attack – Mummy will sit in the room with you, and read; if you stand up in the cot, Mummy will walk away for about thirty seconds – long enough to make you cross, but not long enough to make you hysterical. Then she will come back, help you to settle back down, tuck you in, and read again.

So far so good. The first night, Saturday, was a breeze, because she was already exhausted. Last night, I did have to leave the room, but only three times. The strategy has the advantage of teaching that standing up in bed gets a negative response, plus it gives me an exit route – from reading in the room, I hope to be able to move to reading by the door, reading outside the door, and at some point just walking away altogether. She’s older now than she was the last time I went on a sleep offensive, so I think it will take longer, but I also think I can make this work.

I chose Hamlet because it’s rhythmic, poetic, and dull as ditchwater. Plus the day she comes to study it, she’ll be at a loss to explain why she knows some of the speeches off by heart… 😉