Gina Ford - How She Helped My Baby Sleep Through The Night

Gina Ford author of The New Contented Little Baby Book is described on as being the Delia or Martha Stewart of babies sleeping, and I have to say that to me that could not be more true.

When I had my first child I was lost. I brought her home from the hospital happy, but confused and terrified. My husband and I almost couldn't believe that they were going to let us bring home such a precious thing when we really had not much idea how to care for her other than the absolute basics of bathing, feeding and keeping her warm.

I had bought and lightly skimmed The Contented Little Baby book and absorbed a couple of GIna Ford's ideas but I had thought that the routine sounded a little structured and difficult so I had cast the book aside deciding that myself and my baby would have a more relaxed existence. Gina Ford gives very specific routines for sleeping, feeding and bathing for each week of your new babies life. Routines that tell you exactly when your baby should be eating, sleeping and having it's bath and I wasn't sure we were ready for this.

After my baby's birth, the midwives and health visitors that came to my home advised me that the latest thinking was that babies should be demand fed. In other words, if they cried and wanted to be fed they should feed as often as they liked. It was up to them to dictate the pattern of their feeding and I should just go along with my babies desires.

The only problem was that my baby and I quickly settled into a pattern where she cried almost constantly, fed hourly and wanted to be held at all times and particularly when she was going to sleep.

I knew that something was wrong, I just couldn't work out what. I was following the instructions of the midwives to the letter, allowing her to feed as often and as much as she wanted and it still wasn't working. In fact I became worried as she seemed to want to feed more and more frequently but barely seemed to get much milk each time. This was making her unhappy and me unhappy because I was so sore! She also became very colicky, crying for a feed and then screaming in pain when she had one.

The Contented Little Baby Book And Breastfeeding

So, after six weeks or so of almost no sleep whatsoever I was fairly desperate to find a solution. It had got to the point that I didn't dare to sit down or get in the bath without someone else around as I was so tired that I would just drop to sleep instantly.

So I went and reopened The Contented Little Baby Book, hoping that there would be something, anything that Gina Ford would say that might help my baby to get a little rest.

The first thing that I found was that we were already way behind, by six weeks my baby should already have been well into her routine. Still, that wasn't a problem, I just put her on the four week old routine instead, hoping that we would later catch up.

The first thing that struck me was that I had never properly understood breast feeding and that no one had actually bothered to explain to me properly how it worked. At the hospital and through the media I had learned that breastfeeding was best and even how to get my baby to latch on, but nothing about my body's milk supply.

Essentially, the human body, amazing as it is, responds to your baby's needs by making the appropriate amount of milk. This is why the midwives had been telling me to demand feed. What they hadn't explained however is that if my baby was only feeding two or four hourly instead of pretty much constantly, my body would still make that much milk, the baby would just get it all in one longer feed. If however I skipped feeds my body would think that the baby didn't need so much and reduce the milk supply. Whilst I had been breastfeeding I had been giving the odd bottle here and there of formula when it was convenient, for instance at the shops when I couldn't stop to feed. All of this had been reducing my milk supply and probably making my baby hungry. Gina Ford also explained that she believes that feeding too frequently can be a contributer to colic, something that my baby suffered from dreadfully before I implemented these routines.

Gina Fords explanation of breast feeding helped me to understand what I needed to try to do was stretch the periods between feeds but do so without skipping any feeds. She also advocates expressing one extra feed of breast milk each day and freezing it. This expressing can then be dropped at the point at which your baby goes through a growth spurt and needs more milk. It also means that you have a store of frozen breast milk in case of emergencies or illness, or when you might want to have a glass of wine.

I hadn't even attempted to express any milk at that point let alone build up a store, it hadn't really occurred to me that I might want to.

The other thing that Gina Ford advocates is that the baby should be given a bottle once a day from the very beginning. This can be a bottle of breast or formula milk, but is simply done to ensure that the baby is happy to take a bottle. I hadn't done this on the strict instructions of my midwife who had told me that giving too many bottles would cause nipple confusion. Gina Ford says that this isn't true, and I can confirm having given my second child one bottle a day from the first days that she was never ever confused. My first child by six weeks was already fairly unhappy to take a bottle as I had only given her one every few days and it ended up being a huge battle to get her to accept bottles, something I avoided with my second child by using Gina's methods..

Sometimes when I saw Gina Ford's routines for daytime feeding it appeared that she scheduled too many feeds during the day. However I soon realised that this was because if you want your baby to sleep through the night you need them to have eaten enough meals during the day. If they haven't fed enough between 7am - 7pm they will need to make it up between 7pm and 7am. Many parents of newborns (including myself) fail to realise this and allow their baby to sleep through daytime feeds as they don't like to wake them when they are finally sleeping. However in doing so it ensures that the baby will need to feed during the night.

Gina Ford And Sleep

Where Gina Ford helped me more than any other way was in her sleep routines. By the time I revisited her book we were in a mess. Sleep of more than an hour unbroken was almost unheard of and I was exhausted. My husband had been forced to move into the spare room so that he could get enough sleep to go to work in the morning. None of us were coping very well. We were still full of the euphoria that a new baby brings with it, but we were tired too. Dead tired. 

When I first read the sleeping and feeding routines that Gina Ford had set out in The Contented Little Baby Book I thought that they seemed completely unworkable and restrictive. However after six weeks with a newborn I could see that my life was already fairly restricted anyway by her constant need to sleep and feed. So I was willing to give it a go. 

The first week it was difficult. I certainly couldn't just slot my daughter into the routines on the first day. I aimed to get as close to them as I could but sometimes she was just so tired or so hungry that I couldn't ignore her and let her sleep longer. 

I also had to make some changes to her bedroom. Gina Ford strongly believes that babies need to sleep in absolute darkness. I wasn't convinced, but I went along with it and purchased a blackout blind. I have to say that whilst my baby was still a newborn I don't think it made much difference, newborns will sleep anywhere, but as she got older it made all the difference in the world. If we went anywhere where the curtains let in light we would immediately notice the difference in her sleep. 

Within two weeks I managed to get close to an approximation of Gina's routines and I have to tell you that my life was transformed. My baby was then feeding far less frequently and taking much more at each feed. This meant that she was not constantly fussing for a feed in between feeds - she would cry when she got hungry but was not constantly grouchy in between. She also started to sleep more. What I had missed was how overtired she was. With the routine that Gina had suggested she started to have a morning nap, a long lunchtime sleep, an afternoon nap, an evening sleep and then only feed four hourly in the night. 

By 12 weeks of age she would feed at 10-10.30pm and then sleep through until around 6am. This allowed me to feel like a human being again. Not only that but having a period of an hour or two in the middle of the day when I knew that she would be asleep gave me time to have a rest or get things done. I often allowed her to have her morning and afternoon sleeps when we were out and about and this seemed to work fine, but I always returned home and had her lunchtime sleep there whenever possible. 

The Ongoing Benefits of Using the Gina Ford System

My friends are probably split 40/60 between those that followed Gina Ford's routines from The Contented Little Baby Book and those that didn't. There were a few who started and quickly gave up when it didn't work within a day or two and I class those amongst the ones that didn't use it. 

The interesting thing has been as our children have got older. My own children now 9 and 6 have continued throughout their childhood to go to bed at 7-7.30. They sleep throughout the night and always have until around 6-7am. When they wake up they lie happily in their beds reading until myself or my husband get up. Bedtime has simply never been a battle. My husband and I sometimes laugh because we believe that it has simply never occurred to them that bedtime could or should be a battle. 

This has been the case for every single one of my friends that have followed Gina Ford. Yes, occasionally after travelling or some other disruption they have dropped out of their routine and needed to get back in it, but generally they have all been perfect, happy sleepers, who view going to bed as nothing to get upset about. 

For my friends that didn't follow the principles that Gina Ford sets out in The Contented Little Baby Book the results have been wildly varied. Several of them now have 8 or 9 year olds that don't (or won't as their parents tell me) go to bed until 9 or 10pm. Their parents have never had the thing that my husband and I have always so valued - evenings alone with each other, to read, talk or watch television together as a couple. 

One of my friends who doesn't follow Gina Ford as she believes it is too restrictive on your life was telling me the other day how thrilled she is as her four year old is now sleeping through the night. Not every night, but sometimes. 

Of course, there are some children who are great sleepers anyway, but many, many aren't. Many of those children could have been great sleepers though if they had just had a little routine brought into their lives. 

With my second child I followed Gina Ford from the very first day and interestingly then never had to let her cry or do any controlled crying to get her to follow the program. In fact, the first time she slept through the night (well, 10pm -5am) was when she was six weeks old. The health visitor at this point told me that she was too young and that I should wake her in the night to feed her. However, I didn't as she simply wasn't hungry. She was getting enough food during the day. She didn't do this consistently every night at that age, but some nights she did and this gave me some much needed rest. By 10 weeks however she was fully sleeping through the night. 

In conclusion

Gina Ford and The Contented Little Baby Book are divisive. There is no question about that. One lady even told me that by following her routines I would psychologically damage my child. However, many people, myself included think that her routines helped them to maintain their sanity and have a far more enjoyable parenting experience. Before I used her routines I was exhausted and whilst I tried my best I wasn't able to be as good a parent as I wanted to be as I was simply so, so tired. 

After implementing her routines however I could see that my daughter was happier. She was less tired, less hungry and her colic went away. I was happier, she was happier- I'm not sure how this could be damaging. In the longer term too I have always felt that my whole family has benefited enormously from the fact that my children like going to bed and don't see it as a battle ground. It has eliminated a whole layer of conflict that so many families suffer from.

I know that Gina Ford's routines won't work for everyone. Some people want and need more flexibilty in their lives. But for some people like myself they really can be a life saver and I would encourage you to at least read the book and make your own mind up before discounting them on other people's say so. If nothing else I found that there was invaluable advice on weaning, feeding and nursery equipment in the book.

Happy parenting! 

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