The Story so far...
I have successfully completed a placement with Lucy and James, leaving them once their daughter Isabelle had learnt to sleep through the night at 12 weeks. Whilst I was there, Lucy’s sister Joanna came to stay with her children. Jack, aged 10 months, still won’t go to bed without a lot of attention from his mother and wakes several times a night and Millie, aged 3 years, used to sleep beautifully until Jack’s arrival and now creeps into her parents’ bed half way through the night.
Luckily Joanna doesn’t live too far away for me to go for a series of consecutive nights – I don’t need to move in. The best way of teaching children to sleep through the night is as part of a family and I think it is important for children to feel their parents are still in control, even if the parents sometimes don’t feel this to be the case! I arrive for the interview at about 4.30pm so that my presence seems to the children like a visitor coming for tea. I have suggested that Joanna makes sure tea is fairly easy to deliver to the table and allows at least an hour and a half for my visit. The interview will take place over tea so that, if Joanna is comfortable with my approach and decides to book me, the children will remember me when I start next week. I can’t imagine anything less conducive to successfully sleeping through the night than for a stranger to appear suddenly in your room in the middle of the night, so it is important for the children to get to know me today.
Joanna and I sit around the table. On the side is a large chocolate cake which Millie proudly tells me she helped to make this afternoon and plenty of fruit. Since Millie has opened the topic of nutrition, albeit unknowingly, we start by discussing the children’s diets. Jack was a colicky baby, Joanna tells me, and I reassure her that this is quite common in boys – 3 in 4 boys and only 1 in 4 girls have colic and it can be a nightmare to get through. Retrospectively we discuss how controlled use of a dummy might have helped since it stimulates the digestive juices which can aid relief from colic; we talk about massage, which Joanna liked doing, Infacol, which she didn’t like using because “it was a medicine” and how finally Jack seemed to simply grow out of it, as so many babies do. Joanna says he has always been a “fussy feeder” but she acknowledges that she was trying to deal with Millie at the same time and probably didn’t relax as much as she did when she only had Millie to worry about. As we talk, I notice that Jack is actually managing marvellously with his sandwiches and cheese and seems to get most of the contents of his sippy cup into his mouth! One of the things I need to ensure is that Jack, in particular, is getting sufficient nutrition during the day. At 10 months he ought to be, but it is a box that needs ticking.
We then go on to discuss the children’s bedtime routine. Joanna says: “I know how I want it to go, calmly and smoothly from tea to bath to bed, but often I seem to run out of time, it is rushed, or Simon appears unexpectedly and it seems mean to deprive him and the children of each other’s company.” Simon, I remember, works in London and travels a lot as part of his job, so I can entirely understand Joanna’s point. Joanna tells me: “I do know how important sleep is for the children, so I am determined to get them into bed with their lights out by 7pm. It’s just that, as I pull the door half-closed behind me, I know that during the last 10 minutes I have been reading faster and faster to Millie, tipping Jack’s bottle to get him to drink faster and almost throwing them into their bed and cot. It surely shouldn’t be like this?” I encourage her to tell me what happens next.
“Jack will cry. Almost before I’ve reached the bottom of the stairs, he will start and I know I should leave him, but I can’t bear it. Simon has read about controlled crying and we did try to give that a go, but honestly, I felt awful.” I sympathise entirely. I explain to Joanna that research has proven that if controlled crying is undertaken within a loving relationship (specifically that between a parent and child) it can strengthen that relationship. This is because the baby learns clear boundaries from his parent and understands the reward implicit in his behaviour - a good night’s sleep and a very happy mummy! However, as a professional, I would not want to undertake sleep training like this because I know how traumatic it can be for parents and I also know there are other ways which achieve the same result more gently and just as effectively. Joanna continues her story. “So I go back into him and cuddle him for about 20 minutes and he will eventually fall asleep. I go downstairs and start cooking dinner for Simon and I, but invariably Jack will cry again before we sit down to eat. I sometimes end up taking my plate back upstairs, or bringing him down so I can have some dinner. Simon is brilliant when he’s here, and Jack seems to behave better with him, but Simon is away so often.” I ask if there’s any pattern to Jack’s waking, and Joanna tells me not really. He can wake up to five times a night and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. “In fact,” Joanna explains, “up until he was about 5 months old, he used to sleep really well.” As we have been talking, Millie and Jack have got down from the table and are playing together happily. Joanna looks at them and says, “I really love them, but I am not as patient as I ought to be, and I can feel myself getting stressed at the thought of the battle to come. Can you help us?”I tell her that I certainly can. Her situation is not the worst I have ever had to deal with and Jack, who seems an intelligent and engaging little boy, will quickly learn how to sleep through the night. Joanna is right, he does need to sleep through the night – they all do. And by this time next week, they will be.
Information on sudden infant death is available from the FSID, 020 7222 8001 or www.fsid.org.uk
Night Nannies Hampshire:
Georgie Bateman 01794 301762
Night Nannies Surrey:
Louise Young 07800 843618