Counter Productive Comfort Feeding.
This mum was fighting an internal battle with herself knowing that there was a chance Jacob could still be hungry in the night but also feeling certain he did not need so much night feeding.
Jacob was still waking frequently in the night at five months and would feed almost every 2-3 hours after about 11 p.m.
Jacob was a very healthy weight and size and was getting plenty of calories during the day and the large amount he was consuming in the night was actually making him digestively uncomfortable as well as soaking through his nappy most nights!
It was very clear that a lot of these feeds were for comfort so how could she be consistent if sometimes she fed him and sometimes not and how would she know when to feed or not?
We needed to devise a new response to Jacob’s cries and to comfort him in another way rather than always feed him while working out if he needed a feed and not just stopping them completely.
We started out by offering a dream-feed at 11 p.m each night and the option of a second feed, if he woke after 3 a.m and seemed hungry (which was very hard to tell).
Our plan was to meet all other night wakings with a new response of comforting him within his cot by shhh-ing him and stroking him intermittently for no more than 20 seconds and then sitting close by to continue shh-ing as needed.
On the first night, Jacob had the dream-feed at 11 p.m and then woke five times between midnight and 6 a.m. Each time he woke, his mum went in to comfort him and stayed with him until he went back to sleep as per our plan.
It took 20-40 minutes most times but by 4 a.m he seemed to have more will-power.
After a second feed at 3.45a.m Jacob returned to sleep for a further hour and 20 minutes and this time it took an hour for him to resettle but he did it, which was so clever of him and well-worth mum sticking it out because he really needed a bitter sleep.
After five nights of our plan, Jacob was accepting the dream-feed and had only had a second feed on two nights. Mum had used other techniques to comfort him when he woke in the night and she stuck to it no matter how long it took each time.
The longest it took Jacob to resettle in the first five nights was one hour and 42 minutes but on average he could resettle within 30 minutes.
As Jacob was getting better and better at resettling in the night, mum decided he did not really need a second feed and had only been using it for comfort.
We agreed that we would try just the one dream-feed and then no more feeding until morning which would also make for a much clearer message to Jacob because he would then get total consistency in the response he receives when he wakes and cries out in the night.
If every night waking is met with the same response it is likely that it will take less and less time for a little one to resettle because they will stop holding out for the alternative outcome (such as a feed) that they might be hoping for.
Within two further nights (night seven), Jacob was doing fine on just one feed, had reduced his night waking down to just three wakings on average in the night and was resettling to sleep within 20 minutes each time.
Such an improvement in one week.
Whilst the nights were improving we still had some work to do on daytime naps. Jacob’s naps had previously been quite irregular. Some days he would nap for a total of three to four hours while other days he would battle through the day on just two short 30 minute naps and be exhausted.
We applied our nighttime plan to naps and began working on one nap each day in his cot then increased to two naps in the cot by day five.
The other naps were ‘motion naps’ so either took place in the pushchair or the carseat while on the go. This is better than no nap at all even if the quality of sleep is not likely to be so good.
We were aiming for Jacob to be getting three and a half to four hours of daytime sleep each day and we had to experiment a little to find his most optimum windows for his naps. This took just over two weeks to settle into more of a rhythm and a further four weeks to really click into place.
It is quite normal for naps to settle on track a little after night time sleep improves but it is still important to fill up the ‘sleep tank’ during the day to avoid over tiredness which will then impact the night time sleep.
By day 14, Jacob was going to bed at 7 p.m and sleeping through to 6.00 a.m with just one dream-feed at 11 p.m and at most, one night waking which he would resettle within five minutes and did not always need a parent to go to him either.
He was taking three good naps every day, two of which would be in his cot and the third would often be out and about.
This well rested and happy baby was thriving and his parents felt so refreshed from all the extra and unbroken sleep they were getting.
Mum even told me she felt like she could enjoy being a mummy now that she could see through the haze of the sleep deprivation. She felt like a new woman with a happy family.
Note: The names in this case study have been changed to protect identity
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Lucy Shrimpton, "The Sleep Nanny"
Known as The Sleep Nanny®, Lucy Shrimpton is the mother of two young children and one of the UK’s leading experts in child sleep. As a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach, Lucy was trained and mentored by “The Sleep Lady” Kim West, and studied the most extensive professional sleep programme available, working with doctors, attorneys, lactation counsellors and family therapists. After studying the methods and philosophies of pioneers and experts in child sleep, Lucy has developed The Sleep Nanny System™, which gives parents the information and tools they need in order to find a solution that suits the individual personality of their child. With The Sleep Nanny System™, Lucy has already helped hundreds of parents and children worldwide, discover the gift of sleep.