I have had a good long think about it, read and reflected on lots of different advice, looked at the effect it's having, and reminded myself what my objectives are. I suppose a good proportion of people who resort to crying do it because they aim to get their baby to sleep through the night without bothering them, so they can sleep through the night themselves. That's not my objective. The night wakings don't bother me.
My objectives were:
- break the cycle of over-tiredness where she was so wired she refused to sleep;
- break a suck-to-sleep association so strong that she persisted with it even when she couldn't stomach any more milk, and that meant no one could get her to go to sleep in her cot or arms with rocking / patting.
We have done that. We have had four days of 13-15 hours sleep (a lot for her), which I hope has caught her up on sleep and reset her system. I can now settle her again with patting / gentle stroking in the cot - she resists a bit but she doesn't scream and arch her back any more, and it's taking 10-20 minutes (instead of forever with no result). Her Granny should be able to get her to sleep while I am at work.
I think if I wanted true self-settling, I would have to be consistent and go the whole hog and leave her to self-settle overnight. It would be at least one horrible night, I'd say, perhaps more, as she'd be starving. Then there'd be more horrible days while we tried to get her on a bottle so that she'd cope with no feeds overnight and only one feed during the time I'm at work. I wouldn't mind going to an occasional bottle so Dad could give her a feed etc if I was still able to breastfeed at other times, but I think the combined day/night withdrawal of breastfeeding is likely to practically wean her. I'd be pretty sad about that. 8 months seems so young, and I can see how much it comforts her. She doesn't have another comfort item like a pacifier to use instead - maybe she'd develop one if forced to, but not all babies do - she might just end up distraught and I would have lost a powerful way to help her. I don't think I want to go down that path unless I actually feel I have to.
I want to go back to where we were before this all went haywire, which was gently, gently over time winding back the amount of assistance from me that she needed to get to sleep. This is easier to do when she's in the cot, so we'll keep the cot for day sleeps and the first sleep of the night. I'm introducing an mp3 player in her room to start getting her to associate sleep with particular music. I'm preceding the patting and stroking with the bedtime ritual I used with the crying, which is to give her a big cuddle, then put her down, narrate give her a teething toy and a bunny blankie, and cover her with a light muslin wrap, and say "night, night, time to go to sleep now".
So that we don't end up in this situation again, I will try to avoid feeding her to sleep more than I have to. I think as long as she still gets lots of practice settling without feeding, it should be fine. I will try to aim the naps round 9-10ish, and 1-2ish, with a further nap round 4-5ish if the first two naps were both short, with bedtime round 7-8ish to see if some consistency there helps with the sleeping as well.