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19 month old sleeping problem is causing a family crisis. Please help.

(18 Posts)
2aminthemorning Mon 25-Mar-13 17:12:23

Sorry this is long but we're in an awful fix.

First-time parents, very besotted. DD started sleeping through from about 7 weeks but things began to fall apart around the 10 month mark.

I'm largely in a wheelchair and not able to look after DD at night as a result of medication issues.

When DD was born, we followed the books religiously and DD responded well (she always went to sleep on her own and was happy to resettle if she woke). When DD began to wake at about 10 months, DH worked with her to resettle her using the Tracey Hogg methods that had worked up to that point. He capitulated after hours of struggling through consecutive nights, during which DD was hysterical. It was discouraging because she then had hysterics when I put into her cot in the daytime, too.

DD's broken sleep coincided with DH going back to work. Up to this point, DH had been the main caregiver because DD was a busy baby who liked being carried around. It must have been bewildering for her to be without DH so suddenly, especially as DH commutes 3 days out of 5 and she saw him for only a few minutes on those days. Because of my mobility issues (the result of a bad pregnancy), the bond between DH and DD has always been very strong. To be honest, it eclipses any other relationship in the family dynamic. DD often rejects me and prefers to have him to herself for most purposes (I think she's following DH's lead a bit there - he does not like spending time with me/feel the way he used to). So there are tensions. In addition to that, DD had very bad colic right through her first year.

Things have got to the point where DH and DD 'co-sleep' in the guest room. DD wakes periodically, in a panic, locates DH, and throws herself on him. This is repeated throughout the night. DD can only sleep if DH puts his hand on her chest. She will sometime tolerate the cot in the daytime if I hang over the side and do this too. (If she feels the hand moving away, she grabs it and puts it back again.) During the daytime, DD does panic when DH is distracted and not engaging with her. The gentlest reprimand from him and she is too stunned to breathe. Her knees buckle and she hangs off DH's knees, before breaking down into sobs (and no, I didn't tell you that bit with a completely straight face!)

DH is now showing signs of unravelling a bit and is having tests to confirm inflammation of the gut, a disorder that has probably been triggered by stress. Our marriage is in crisis, helped along by the sleep deprivation and all night stress for DH (yes, we're having counselling!). We're both at risk of depression.

We've tried controlled comforting but have stopped because of this reaction in our DD: she begins to cry and almost instantly passes into this state where she cannot stop even if she wanted to. At that point, she doesn't care whether you lift her out of the cot or not, and she doesn't stop crying when you do. At those times, her eyes look pleading and terrified, like a rabbit in the headlights. Her head will be jerking down and to the left with each ragged breath. She might be sick, she might not. She will almost certainly develop colic if not lifted (quite genuinely, too). I know that this isn't something most children do.

I've talked to the HV and read the books but we're no further on. HV is adamant that this approach works for every single child, never fails anybody and is far better for everyone in the long run. I'm not saying she is wrong...but can anyone explain how she could possibly be right, given my child's reaction to her methods?

Also tried the GP who checked her over, diagnosed a sleep management issue and referred us to HV for more information on controlled comforting. It's the standard 'go in after one minute then double it' method. No eye contact, keeping the lights off. Simple reassurance. We've also tried detaching gradually but DD was totally freaked out by DH being in the room but not engagable.

Mumsnet wisdom...this is starting to feel like a really slow car crash. Please help me keep this family from falling apart through simple stress+exhaustion!

I may be away from the laptop at times to attend to the evening meal - if so, apologies. I'll be checking back in regularly. And thanks.

MajaBiene Mon 25-Mar-13 17:24:41

Controlled crying doesn't work for lots of babies - especially at this age where separation anxiety is an issue. At 10 months especially your DD did not understand that when you left her you would return.

It sounds like she is struggling to trust you both after being left to cry, so I would start by rebuilding that bond and working on your attachment with her. Try to be responsive to her, and respond quickly and consistently to any distress. She seems really confused about what is going on at the moment, and a parent suddenly being unresponsive or refusing eye contact can be distressing for a child.

Maybe try reading the No Cry Sleep Solution as well for some gentler ideas on getting her to sleep?

2aminthemorning Mon 25-Mar-13 19:31:22

Thanks Maja, but she wasn't left to cry. The reason I'm posting is that our gentler methods had stopped working and DD's fears/hysteria seemed to be going through the roof no matter how much reassurance is given. We had been following Tracey Hogg's method - responding to the child (doing whatever it takes to reassure) but not to doing more than is necessary to meet the need.

DD wasn't left to cry at the ten month mark, but she was (and always had been) resettled to have another crack at falling asleep by herself once she had calmed down. Our problems began when this stopped being enough and her fears escalated while we were simply doing what we'd always done. In desperation, we 'had a go' at the one minute, two minute, four minute business, but a few tries seemed to show things heading in completely the wrong direction. We didn't make it past about four minutes, to be honest.

At the moment, DD has been co-sleeping for the big sleep (without even attempting the cot) for a number of months. What more could we do to win her trust? If anything, it feels like we could be over-responsive to every passing need and whimper.

2aminthemorning Mon 25-Mar-13 19:32:25

Sorry for typos, tea+typing... smile

Samvet Mon 25-Mar-13 19:36:08

If things are that bad why not use a sleep consultant. Millpond are great. Would be worth the money if it helped your family.

Bobebo Mon 25-Mar-13 20:01:38

"controlled comforting" will just exacerbate the situation- all it does is tell a baby not to communicate their distress. Dd needs reassurance and frankly, sounds terrified.

Have you read any science-based info? E.g.

PotteringAlong Mon 25-Mar-13 20:11:12

If she will sleep with co-sleeping can you not just go with it? Sometimes it's whatever gets you through the night. Are you able to co sleep and your DH go into the spare room alone? Been if its just 1 night a week so he can sleep?

My DS was the great unsleeping baby - still up 7 times a night at a year old, feeding regularly. 2 weeks ago (he's 16 months old) he went from that to sleeping through the night and has slept through for 2 weeks. There's nothing we're doing differently, he's just ready for it.

2aminthemorning Mon 25-Mar-13 20:23:42

Samvet - Thanks for the suggestion. Millpond looks great but before we have what looks like a very expensive conversation, I will see if Mumsnetters can help me as I have huge amounts of faith in the collective wisdom here so we can afford to put the heat on this month.

Bobe I have read some science based info, yes, which is why we're concerned. I agree she sounds terrified but there's no reason for it. And even co-sleeping isn't enough to meet her need. DH is always there, ready to reassure her, but she still wakes in a panic, multiple times a night. I can see that reassurance seems to feed the habit in a way, and have begun to think that learning some independence might actually be a liberating thing for her. This is only after months of rather unsuccessful co-sleeping. But if she's not ready, she's not ready. If it's just a matter of time, we can accept it.

Pottering - congratulations, hopefully that will be us next. I'm not able to co-sleep, sadly.

Iggly Mon 25-Mar-13 20:31:37

Is she teething? This won't help obviously. If she is try pain relief.

You might have to go right back to giving loads an loads of attention so she feels secure again. Put her in her cot in the day with her favourite toys and play with her. Can you put the cot side down for this? Or try putting her in a bed so your DH can lie next to her and reassure her while he's asleep too?

I'd forget the books for now - they're guides, not bibles. Your child needs comfort right now.

Does she nap in the day? Can your DH sleep while she does?

2aminthemorning Mon 25-Mar-13 20:49:53

Thanks Iggly. The teething comes and goes so definitely an issue sometimes. We do all the usual to deal with it. Playing with her in the cot is something we've neglected lately because she seemed to have a completely different association with the cot during games and then seamlessly switch to 'I hate the cot' at other times.

DH isn't with her during the day because he's at work. DD couldn't have more comfort - she's saturated in it. I have wondered if my disability might affect her - don't know how exactly, but we accept that her childhood is different because of it.

NeedlesCuties Tue 26-Mar-13 10:32:02

Wow, I feel for the 3 of you. You both seem like good attentive parents, doing your best.

Aside from all the night time stresses, I was genuinely struck by this bit,

"During the daytime, DD does panic when DH is distracted and not engaging with her. The gentlest reprimand from him and she is too stunned to breathe. Her knees buckle and she hangs off DH's knees, before breaking down into sobs"

I really think that it's great for a child to be very attached it his/her primary carer, but I do think that being stunned and breathless following a gentle reprimand, is not healthy.

Would it be possible to go back and ask for another HV or another GP to discuss your DD with? I think what they said about Controlled Crying was daft and brushing you off.

It's no wonder you're reaching the end of your tether!

Do you have support from family/friends? Anyone can help with a bit of respite?

2aminthemorning Tue 26-Mar-13 23:07:47

Thanks for the sympathy needles. Yes we are doing our best! I don't think we're going to get near another HV or GP as this is a very small surgery and they all tend to say whatever the last person said - very loyal like that!

I checked with DH about DD's reaction to a reprimand and he says it's not so bad now.

Family support is just my DM, who is grea. She helps two and a half days a week. However dad isn't well and neither is my gran, so there's a limit to what we can ask of her. We're on our own at nights! I did wonder about getting some respite but DD would go ballistic and probably be worse for DH on subsequent nights.

I've emailed Mill Pond to see if this is something they can help with.

2aminthemorning Tue 26-Mar-13 23:11:16

great not grea!

waterrat Wed 27-Mar-13 07:36:26

OP I am going to go slightly against the grain here - I have found on mumsnet that there is generally a bias towards co-sleeping/going straight to a baby when they wake multiple times a night - actually I think sleep training does work and it sounds like you are reinforcing her fears and constant waking by being there every second when she wakes - so she never learns to feel safe in herself at night. I would personally at this stage pay for a sleep consultant if you can afford it - as it really helps to have a gentle guiding hand.

and she is not terrified, she has just become dependent on having your dp there all night long...she needs to learn to feel safe on her own - gently, at her pace - but she needs to get there!

AlanMoore Wed 27-Mar-13 07:48:00

Perhaps if you work on her confidence at being away from mummy and daddy in the day she might be able to sleep better? I dunno, just wondered as it sounds like she is always with one of you or a GP - which is great, but maybe a session a week at a good nursery or with a kind patient CM might help? Then she'd learn that good things sometimes happen when mum and dad are away and that they always come back, and she might relax a bit?
Also if there is anything unusual about her behaviiour nursery or CM would pick up on that and be able to advise.

19m is a funny age, they understand a lot but hardly anything!

AlanMoore Wed 27-Mar-13 07:49:13

Oh and we have co slept with both our dc but they happily nap at nursery in the 'sleepy room' with their little mates - no way would they nap at home unless they are driven in car or pushed in pram!

MandragoraWurzelstock Wed 27-Mar-13 07:56:11

I'm not sure where to begin on this. OP you sound great but there are two, at least, massive issues here and I don't think your dd is necessarily the bigger of them.

It strikes me how afraid she sounds of normal things. Why is this? What reason has she got to be so afraid of your dh? I'm not trying to imply anything but does he get very angry? Can you think fo any other reason she might react like this? Because generally babies who have been reassured a lot, do NOT have this sort of insecure attachment.

second thing, your marriage - how is this playing a part, it must be extremely hard to feel like you have no support from DH and also that he has somewhat 'taken over' the care of your baby, often to the exclusion of you.

I wonder if she might be sensing some of the tension and reacting to that.
I'm glad you're having counselling - it sounds like a really complex situation, and probably something none of us can really help that much with, if that doesn't sound unkind.

I am really sorry for you x

waterrat Wed 27-Mar-13 14:01:51

I agree with Madragora - sounds like there is a lot going on in your family and it could be more than just a sleep problem.

I do get a little frustrated though with the comments on mumsnet about sleep sometimes, there seems to be a line that if you do anything other than co sleep you are 'terrifying' your child. I had such a bad sleeper and there were far more tears each night when he was waking eveyr 20 minutes - once we helped him learn to settle himself (without walking out and doing any prolonged crying) he is now happier, goes 12 hours at night - (not alwasy but sometimes!) - and there is much, much less crying!

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