The Sleep Training Diaries #2: Controlled Crying, our positive experience

Aah, sleep training – hello my old friend. We have found ourselves back here again in the land of sleep deprivation, amidst a land of terrible bad habits. I have been feeling like every night is ‘just getting by‘ and survival on whatever shut-eye we can get. We are EXHAUSTED with a capital E and have decided this is no way to live and with the new quickly baby approaching – something has to give.

We did sleep training with Violet at around 10-11 months –  we taught Violet to self-settle in her cot using a gentle technique, which was a step in the right direction, but we are still spending around 60-90 minutes on bedtime every night, only for her to stay there for around 2 hours. As we are exhausted – we’d then bring her into our bed and co-sleep for the rest of the night.

Co-sleeping started off as a survival method, but turned into a nightmare. I’m not against it at all (you do what you need to do!) but Violet would roll around all night, she was so restless. On a bad night we’d all wake up 10-15 times a night. She’d also want so much milk in the night, then refuse food in the day. No one was sleeping and we were all just GRUMPY. How could we add a newborn into this mix too? The idea filled me with horror.

So, I’m currently reading a book called ‘Coping with Two‘ (it’s fab by the way – if you are like me and expecting your second!) and it stated that “before the new baby arrives you should get your toddler to a point where you can just kiss them goodnight, leave the room and not see them again until the morning“. When I read this, it sounded like the impossible, the dream…. surely not.  Could we do it?! 

THE PLAN

We had exhausted (literally, ha!) all gentle sleep training methods, so decided to try ‘Controlled Crying‘. I’d wanted to avoid this technique as I hated the idea of letting Violet cry, but after 15 months of not sleeping I was ready to try anything, so decided to give it a go.

We planned to:

  • Settle Violet to bed with a bottle, nightlight and music – like usual.
  • When she’s finished her milk, give her a kiss goodnight, tell her it’s time for sleep, say ‘Good Night’ and leave the room.
  • If she cries, leave her for 2 minutes, return to the room. Don’t pick her up, if she’s standing, lay her down, say ‘Good night’ calmly, leave the room.
  • Repeat leaving her for 3 minutes, 4 minutes, 5 minutes and so on, keeping a close eye on the monitor to check she’s okay at all times until she drops off to sleep.

DAY ONE

I was going to wait until bedtime so I’d have support from V, but as naptime approached I thought there is ‘no time like the present’ and decided to give it a go! I followed the steps, settled Violet in her cot and left the room.

As the door closed, I heard a heart-breaking squeal that sounded like she thought I’d abandoned her forever, followed by some intense crying. I immediately started to think this was a mistake as I sat looking at the monitor watching her crying. It was honestly such a horrible feeling – I felt like it was going against all of my instincts to go and settle her. I think I found the first two minutes the hardest as it all just felt so unnatural!

I went into her room, settled her again, repeated the steps until she’d been on her own 2 minutes, 3 minutes, then 4 minutes. She kept crying the entire time. I thought it was never going to stop. It was horrible.

Time seemed to pass so slowly – after 15 minutes in total I went into the room and she was red, sweaty, dribble everywhere and just seemed so distressed. I felt like this was all a mistake and never going to work, so I picked her up (against the rules but I didn’t care at this point!) and I gave her a cuddle. I waited for her to calm and cool down and put her back in her bed.

As I shut the door I winced as I waited for the outburst of tears…………………..  nothing. I checked the monitor, was she okay??? She was just laying quietly in her bed, holding 3 dummies, swapping each one into her mouth and inspecting each one. No tears. I pottered around the house, checking the monitor and eventually I saw she’d closed her eyes and gone to sleep. After this, she didn’t wake up after this for THREE HOURS! The longest nap she’s ever had to date and she slept so well. When I went to collect her after her nap, I expected her to remember what I’d put her through, to resent me, to be grumpy, but she smiled and shouted ‘HIYA!’ and was happier than ever after a decent sleep. Phew!

Crying time: 15 minutes  (felt like eternity) 

That evening, with V home we tried the same routine for bedtime. The evenings are always harder than nap time so I was prepared. I set up a notebook and stopwatch to time everything, we also decided to order a pizza so we didn’t have to worry about dinner and could concentrate 100% on bedtime.

V went into the room and settled Violet into her bed, gave her a bottle and said goodnight. She left the room. Nothing. Silence. We both looked at each other in the kitchen and just kind of pottered about, not knowing what to do with ourselves. She’s not crying?!

She just laid in her bed awake, calmly just singing to herself, looking around the room. Eventually after around 45 minutes she started to just grizzle a bit. We decided to go into the room to see if she was ok, gave her a few sips of milk and closed the door again. After one hour she fell asleep.

Crying time: 2-3 minutes 

That night she woke once for her teething gel and a sip of water, then woke the next morning at 07:40am.

DAY TWO

At nap time I tried the routine again. After a traumatic experience at nap time the day before, I was feeling a bit apprehensive, but I put Violet in her bed and settled her. She did cry, but only for 2 minutes and it was a grizzle type grumpy, tired cry… rather than the heartbreaking cries she felt the day before. When I returned to the room I settled her again and she then laid calmly until she fell asleep about 15 mins later.

Crying time: 2 minutes 

That evening, we settled her and left the room – silence. I checked the monitor, she’d fallen asleep within about 10-15 minutes, quietly by herself. We then didn’t see her again until around 8:40am the next morning! I kept waking up in the night as I am not used to her sleeping through, this was the first time in about 5-6 months, we all woke up feeling like we’d been reborn! WHAT IS GOING ON?!

Crying time: 0 minutes

DAY THREE – FIVE

We continued with the pattern for the next few days, every night she went down quietly and easily on her own. I think we possibly had the odd burst of grizzle but usually she’ll just want an extra sip of milk then will calm down. We suddenly found we had our evenings back and didn’t know what to do with ourselves! We watched TV together, watched movies (finally watched ‘The Greatest Showman’ at home!). V did some baking and cooked us nice dinners. I caught up with blogging, crochet and for once put my feet (and swollen ankles) up! She also slept through the night every night – totally unheard of and I’ve never felt so rejuvenated and shocked that this has actually worked.

Crying time: 0 minutes 

THE VERDICT

Honestly, LIFE CHANGING. I know that sounds dramatic, but we haven’t had an evening to ourselves AND an entire night sleep for 15 months. We needed this! I worked out that Violet’s been here 15 months – thats 456 days, which means we’ve spent more than 456 hours settling her to sleep at night – thats 19 full days and nights in total of our lives doing her bedtime routine alone. Of course, we are her mothers – we don’t mind but we also we want to give her the skills to sleep on her own now too. She was ready.

I just wish we’d done this earlier – I don’t know why I was so scared! Yes, the first time I tried it and she cried I felt horrific. The guilt was unreal and I nearly called the whole thing off. Actually one of Violet’s nursery workers gave me a confidence boost by telling me it’s okay to let them cry, there is nothing wrong, it’s just different to them and they don’t know what to do. She soon picked it up and got the message, she was just learning a new skill and having a change in routine.

I feel like she has learned that she is happier for a good nights sleep too, she is more comfy in her own bed  – when we co-slept, she would toss and turn, getting hot, sweaty and frustrated, but in her own bed she sleeps like a log. We can make sure she’s the right temperature all night and we always put 3 dummies in her bed (including one on a dummy strap) so if she wakes looking for one she has plenty to hand to quickly pop in for a quick settle.

DON’T JUDGE ME

I know so many parents frown upon controlled crying. I was almost too afraid to admit on my blog and social media channels that I’d thought about trying it. I awaited the backlash of people telling me what an awful mother I am and certainly during the first day, I wondered if I truly was. Actually, I received SO many positive messages from parents who had tried it, yet hardly anyone commented publicly, showing there is still a real stigma about talking about these methods for fear of judgement. Well, I just wanted to say – don’t be afraid to give it a go. It’s safe, controlled (hence the title!) and works. I’ve only spoken to people who have had success from this technique. What I don’t agree with, is just shutting the door on your baby and letting them just ‘cry it out’ until they burn out and fall asleep, that is a totally different method and not something I’d try. For more information read this.

All in all – we’ve got a new life. We have time to ourselves now, Violet is happy in her room, in her own bed and understands settling herself which is a really important skill to teach your little one too! If you’d like to chat all things sleep-training (or anything else!) please do drop me a line and if you are thinking of giving this a go – GOOD LUCK! You can do it Mamas! 

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6 Comments

  1. 6 June, 2018 / 8:32 pm

    You do see so many people talking about this method negatively, besides those people for whom it worked! I recently read “Bringing Up Bebe” (the book about French parenting) and there’s a whole chapter in there about doing this and not letting yourself feel guilty. I think your first rough nap time experience was probably her just being so confused, but once you came in and picked her up it reassured her that you’re not going anywhere and will always be there when she needs you. I’m happy for you guys that this has worked out so well!

    • 9 June, 2018 / 11:14 am

      Hey, thanks for the comment -since posting this I’ve had so many messages from people saying how successful this has been for them and how it wasn’t that bad afterall, everyones babies seemed happier for being settled in their own bed/room and getting a good night sleep, plus that is great for the parents too! Hope you are all getting along well with little bump, I’m so excited for you too! xx

  2. Kate
    6 June, 2018 / 10:20 pm

    Woohoo! So glad this worked for you. Nothing wrong with any of the techniques, no harm to bubba and the results benefit everyone x

    • 9 June, 2018 / 11:15 am

      Exactly 🙂 After all, it was only 15 minutes of feeling a bit unhappy, then we are all good! She’s been SO happy since and slept so well x x

  3. Emily
    7 June, 2018 / 7:24 am

    Thanks for this post! Like you I’ve always been against controlled crying but as my LG gets older it’s looking like it may be an option! She’s only 10 months atm so I think I’ll wait till she’s at least a year maybe 15 months like violet but I just can’t cope on broken sleep anymore. My LG likes to be close, she has a sleepy head and spend the first part of the night in her cot in my room then the 2nd part in bed with me but she’s such a wiggler she stirs and twists and turns and I don’t sleep a wink! In the end I just feed her for some peace! I hate the thought of letting her cry but she doesn’t like being stroked or rocked to sleep any interaction just keeps her awake! She self settles for naps at nursery and occasionally at home but never at night! There’s also know research apparently that says controlled crying is bad after 10 months old. I’d love to be able to co sleep and bedshare with my LG forever but neither of us sleep well! Sorry for the long comment but just to say I’ve been following your stories on controlled crying and think it’s great it’s been a positive exp for you guys and you are all sleeping better! 😁

    • 9 June, 2018 / 11:17 am

      I’ve ALWAYS been against controlled crying and said I’d never do it, but 15 months is a long time with broken sleep, especially at 31 weeks pregnant, saying that Violet wasn’t happy with broken nights either, she was miserable! Your situation sounds IDENTICAL to ours, Violet is exactly the same, loves being close, has a sleepyhead – goes in her bed for 2 hours then into ours where she’d wiggle all night. It wasn’t good for any of us, I’ve realised. Maybe give this a go and see what happens for you, you may be surprised at how easy/quick the results are 🙂 Wish I’d done it at 10 months and not waited until 15, I think with our second baby we will do it a lot sooner if we are having issues. Good luck! xx

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