The story so far: I am training Joanna’s children to sleep through the night. Jack, aged 10 months, still won’t go to bed without a lot of attention from his mother and wakes several times a night. I have been here for the last two nights and Jack is still waking several times a night.
Wednesday night: I let myself in and find Joanna in the sitting room with a cup of coffee. She smiles at me and invites me to join her as she turns the television off. “I really want to thank you,” she says. “I was so nervous on Monday before you came for the first time that I phoned my husband to ask if it was too late to cancel you. Now, I can’t imagine how I could have gone on without you.” I laugh; I’m not at all offended and this is a perfectly natural attitude towards letting someone else take care of your precious baby while you are asleep at the other end of the house. This is why it is so important to give parents as much reassurance as I can by way of references and enabling them to talk to other mothers who I have worked for who have been in the same position that Joanna finds herself in. I tell Joanna: “A large part of my job involves dealing with parents’ fears, their feeling that they haven’t done the right thing for their baby, helping them sort out the confusing (and often contradictory advice) they are given by professionals, enabling them to deal with well-meaning family who can sometimes inadvertently add to the pressure.” These issues, and many more, can become overwhelming when you are sleep-deprived night after night, and all it takes is a couple of good nights’ sleep before things assume their proper perspective. “That’s exactly right!” exclaimed Joanna. “Two nights’ sleep and I’m a different woman – the person I used to be before children, the mother I hoped I’d be.” We go on to discuss how much better the children’s bedtime routine is, and how much easier it is already to manage their expectations, particularly Millie who, at the age of 3, really benefits from understanding what is going to happen, when. I tell Joanna to be careful not to submit to pressure from the children to watch television after supper as they grow older, or to be allowed to play on their computers. Television and computer screens emit the same intensity of light as the boxes used to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder or winter depression; they encourage the body to continue to produce hormones and prevent it from beginning to shut down for the night. “A safe guideline is not to be in front of a screen for at least an hour before bedtime,” I advise her. “Does that apply to adults too?” she asks. It does, but it is amazing how many adults fall asleep in front of a television and indeed, have one in their bedroom for exactly that purpose. However, these are often the same people who complain of insomnia or disrupted sleep, and who find a significant improvement in the quality of their sleep when they change their habits. “Coffee’s not great, either, is it?” Joanna asks ruefully. “Not really, the caffeine will keep you awake – what about herbal tea instead?” I suggest, as I head upstairs to check on Jack.
Jack is sleeping peacefully with no hint of the worry and concern he caused his parents. The night passes in the same way as last night – he wakes four times, at erratic intervals and each time submits to my massaging and stroking, eventually falling asleep within half an hour each time. I notice that he hardly cries at all tonight and it is more of a grizzle than an angry cry. It is as if he understands that he isn’t going to get fed or picked out of his cot, and I am certain that the hunger pangs which caused his awakening previously are subsiding.
In the morning I take him into Joanna’s room and find Millie in her bed too – as normal! However, this morning Millie asks me, “When will it be my turn?” Joanna has explained why I am here and Millie knows that she should sleep in her own bed. She knows that Jack was going to be taught first and that her turn will be next week and, like any child, she is keen for her share of the attention. This will make my time with her a lot easier; I have explained to Millie why it is important for Jack to sleep through the night in his own cot, laying the foundations for the job I will do with her next week. I am pleased that she seems to be looking forward to it.
Thursday night: Joanna tells me she loves the idea behind “tidy-up” time. She has got some big boxes so everything has its own place and the children find it easy to keep their things organised. “Millie definitely gets the hang of it. She knows she is putting the toys to bed, she knows she is helping me to do a grown-up job and we all have a sense of achievement at leaving a tidy room behind us as we go upstairs. Last night Millie even said, ‘Toys to bed, me to bed now.’ I was thrilled!” Joanna then offers to make me a cup of tea. “I’ve got some camomile to try – no coffee!” she grins. As Joanna gives me an update on Jack’s behaviour over the day, she says, “I had never realised the impact and importance of the things we do during the day and how just changing a few little things can make such a difference.” She is quite right; although I am doing a lot with Jack overnight, the little changes Joanna has made to his evening routine are just as significant. Joanna has realised that a good night’s sleep doesn’t happen in isolation – it is essential to look at the whole picture including nutrition, daytime behaviour and routines, and to give everyone plenty of time to wind down before lights out.
Friday night: My final night working with Jack. Joanna is on the sofa with her cup of camomile tea, looking happy and relaxed. I show her the diary I have been keeping since the beginning of the week and talk through the development we can now see coming through. Like most babies, Jack’s sleep seemed to become more disrupted for a couple of nights, but actually the length of time he was awake lessened each time and his crying was quieter, calmer and abated faster. Last night he hardly stirred; I only went into him once and didn’t even have to touch him before he settled himself back to sleep. “So tonight … ?” asks Joanna. “I’ll tell you in the morning!” I reply. As I expect, I pass a completely uninterrupted night and take Jack in to see Joanna in the morning. “Wow,” she says, “I would never have believed it. Do you think he will stick with it?” I reassure her. Babies of 6 months and older really need to sleep 12 hours straight through and are quite able to do it with a little guidance. Because your body needs sleep to heal or fight off infection, even illness and teething won’t disrupt this new found ability. I leave Jack, Millie and Joanna playing happily on the bed. “See you next week,” says Joanna. “My turn!” agrees Mille.
For more information on anything mentioned in this article contact Georgie Bateman at Night Nannies on 01794 301762 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The website is www.nightnannies.com. Other useful organisations are FSID (www.fsid.org.uk), the Department of Health (www.dh.gov.uk) and UNICEF (www.babyfriendlyorg.uk).