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When I first started out as a new mom, I spent hours on Pinterest looking for the “best practices” of motherhood. The only topic I found to be more controversial than breast feeding was sleeping. Does co-sleeping create a better attachment? Is it safe to let my child sleep in a Rock ‘n’ Play? Can I really not let my baby nurse to sleep? And, the ultimate debate, should I sleep train my baby?
Many modern parenting books will tell you no, do not sleep train your child. Even my own beloved baby guide told me that sleep training is cruel and harms attachment. And yet, hundreds of thousands of moms have a sleep training story to share about their now adult, well-adjusted child. So let’s just leave it at this–how your baby gets to sleep is a deeply personal decision. If sleep training isn’t for you, I fully appreciate and respect your decision. But if you, like me, are wading through the trials of sleep training, or if you are still coming to your own decision, I hope you can find just a little bit of peace tonight with the tips I’ve gathered here.
Why We Decided to Sleep Train
Lottie started sleeping through the night during month two. Sleep regressions? We had none. Hubby and I thought for sure we were one of the lucky ones. How great did we have it, our baby was a natural sleeper. Unfortunately, we had unwittingly set ourselves up with a load of self-soothing road blocks that wouldn’t come to light until nine months old.
See, we let our child sleep in a DockATot, which was great, we LOVED our DockATot, but Lottie had never slept without something nestling her in. When Lottie was tired and fighting a nap, I simply took her for a walk. Worked like a charm. Two or three times a day my daughter would drift to sleep in her stroller, and as an added bonus, I lost weight. At night, my husband would rely on a bottle to help Lottie fall asleep, and then when she was good and under, we’d oh so carefully lay her in her crib. On the rare occasion that Lottie woke in the night, we simply prepared another bottle, easy as you please.
Until month nine.
At nine months old, we had to pull the DockATot. Lottie had grown too big and too restless in her sleep to continue using it safely at night. For the first time ever, Lottie slept loose in her crib. When she proceeded to wake every hour on the hour, we told ourselves it was simply an adjustment. And when she would wake and cry the minute we laid her back in the crib, we’d say she just wasn’t tired enough yet. Sometimes it would take eight or ten tries to get her back to sleep. Soon, my husband was “sleeping” upright in bed, cradling Lottie all night long, because kind-of-sort-of sleep was better than no sleep at all.
The time had come to face facts–Lottie couldn’t self-soothe. We needed to sleep train.
I won’t sugar coat it–sleep training is brutal. There is nothing that hurts a parent’s heart more than listening to her child wail. But if you can pull through, the results are SO worth it. Here’s how hubby and I survived sleep training. I hope our tips can help you through.
How to Survive Sleep Training
Break the rules.
After hours of research, Hubby and I decided to try the Ferber, or “gradual extinction,” method. For those who are unfamiliar, the Ferber method is a form of cry-it-out, but it allows the parent to return to the nursery to comfort baby at timed intervals. The first day of training you can comfort the baby at 3 minutes, then 5 minutes, then 10 minutes. For the second day you can comfort at 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 12 minutes (and so on). However, during these moments of comfort, the baby is to stay in the crib. For a more in-depth look at the rules, check out this article from The Bump.
Our first night of sleep training, we followed the rules to a T. This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me–I do nothing unless I can do it by the book. But that first night was so awful, we quickly decided to change our approach. We still followed the spirit of the Ferber method, but we adapted it to meet our needs.
We threw out our table of intervals. Instead, we re-entered the nursery at what ever time we felt was best. It’s only been five minutes and Lottie is screaming herself hoarse? You can bet I’m going back in, and there’s no way in heck I’m leaving Lottie in the crib. If my little girl is screaming to be picked up, I’m going to pick her up.
On the flip side, if it’s been 20 minutes and I’m overdue to re-enter, but I can tell Lottie is almost asleep, I’m not going anywhere near the nursery door. No point in stirring her up if she’s mere minutes from sleep.
Find the system that works for you. Who cares what the rule book says? Mama knows best.
Take it slow.
Every article on putting baby to sleep uses the same basic guideline–lay baby down tired but awake. Unfortunately, nobody ever says just how tired a baby should be. The first couple nights, I took this to mean that it’s bedtime and baby is yawning. I mean, that’s a sign of fatigue, right? I don’t know, maybe I’m dumb or maybe that is what all the experts meant. But let me tell you, Lottie goes down a heck of a lot quicker if I wait until she’s on the verge of dreamland to set her in the crib.
Do I still count this as self-soothing? You betcha. She still wakes up when I set her in the crib. She’s still alert and aware that she’s alone. But if I rock Lottie first, if I wait for her to stop fussing and nestle into my shoulder, the time it takes to go from sleepy to almost asleep can be spent feeling comforted and loved and the time from being set in her crib to sleeping in her crib reduces dramatically.
Take your time. Don’t worry about meeting a certain bedtime or just getting it over with. Make sure baby is ready to sleep and not just in need of sleep.
Never look back.
I know it’s tempting. You want to give baby one more reassuring look, just to let her know you love her, and convince yourself she’ll be okay. Seriously, though. RESIST. Baby eyes pull heartstrings even better than a chocolate lab’s. If you look back, you won’t be able to walk out that door, so don’t. Set baby down, give her a loving pat on the back, and go. I promise you, this will be best for all involved.
Mute the monitor.
Our house is small. We can hear Lottie crying from the living room just fine without a monitor. But for those of you who have larger houses, there’s really no need to sit and listen to your child scream. If you have a video monitor, all you really need is the screen to see if baby needs you or not. Even if your monitor only provides audio, you don’t need to leave the monitor on for the entire time it takes your child to fall asleep. Just check in every few minutes to see if you’re needed. Anything else is just unnecessary suffering.
My house was spotless our first week of sleep training. If I didn’t keep busy, I would just sit and stare at the monitor in misery as I counted down to the next interval. Keeping your mind focused on other activities will make the 20 to 40 minutes it takes for baby to give in go so much faster. Plus, it’s harder to hear the crying if you’re doing the dishes. My kitchen has never looked so good.
Get out of the house.
If the crying gets to be too much, it’s okay to step away. Go take a walk around the block, or make an impromptu Target run. Let your partner take over for a while. Give your heart a rest.
Note the positives.
I honestly believe that if we had not seen changes so quickly in our daughter’s sleep habits that we would not have made it through the first week. Those little positives pulled us through the hardest moments. The very first night we started sleep training, Lottie slept 12 hours straight through the night. When morning came, Hubby and I were both well rested for the first time in almost a month. Most importantly, Lottie was happy. She woke up smiling and ready to play. It was the best mood I’d ever seen her in. After two weeks of sleep training, Lottie has only woken one night, and even then only once. When you factor in that she’s popping two top teeth right now, that’s a bonafide miracle.
Keep track of all the changes you see. Lottie is happier, and hubby and I have more energy and patience to care for her. Hard as that first week was, I know we did the right thing.
Be kind to yourself.
Finally, and most importantly, be kind to yourself. Remember that being a parent means doing what’s best for your child, not just what makes your child happy. Your baby loves you, and she knows you love her. And in two weeks or less, you’ll all be better off for the hurt you’re feeling now.
Are you a sleep training survivor? I’d love to hear what tricks and tips worked best for you! Comment below, or join the discussion over on Facebook. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram for all the latest Lottie & Me happenings!