In the early days of my son’s life, when he was around 6 weeks old, I was seriously sleep deprived. When I say sleep deprived, I mean that on a good day I would get 2-3 consecutive hours of sleep. That was when I started thinking about sleep training.
Before we go any further, I want to throw out a disclaimer. Just like the great vaccination debate, breastfeeding versus bottle feeding and so many other decisions we have to make as parents, the topic of sleep training can invoke some strong feelings in parents. I’m not here to say what is right or wrong but only to share mine and my husband’s experience with sleep and our son. I’m not an expert in sleep training and I only know what has worked for us as a family.
Ok. Obviously 6 weeks is way to early to try sleep training with an infant but it wasn’t too early to think about what we wanted to accomplish as far as sleep and our son. Please talk to your Pediatrician before you begin sleep training, they can give you a good idea of when it’s ok. The most common age to begin is 4 months. Before we even talked about sleep training, one thing my husband and I did do was start a very basic but very set nightly routine with baby boy. Starting around 8pm it was dim lights, swaddled, bottle, bounce and into the bassinet in a dark room with loud white noise. Very simple! We also would go to bed at this point because we learned the hard way, during weeks 1 and 2 of baby boy’s life, that staying up until midnight while baby slept in his chair, was really stupid. At this point, our son was giving us a good 3 hour stretch of sleep before his next feeding. It was something he did on his own. Everything I know about starting baby on a routine I learned from this lady here. Her information is fantastic!
The hardest struggle for us was daytime sleep. Most babies tend to wake up from their newborn sleepiness around 2 months, right? Well my kid was way over that by 4 weeks old. Daytime was a complete gong show for us. I was in a daze for the first 3 months of his life because I had no schedule. I knew it was pretty much up to me to implement some kind of daytime schedule with my son and bring some order to my life. But there was so much information out there. I was overwhelmed. I asked some people who sleep trained and while they were well-meaning, I didn’t take their advice with a grain of salt. Every baby is different and what works for one child won’t necessarily work for the next.
The basics of what I learned are out lined here:
- Babies can only stay awake for so long and this window of time is different each month. This awesome sleep consultant talks about this HERE on her blog. She was a lifesaver for me and understanding my son’s awake time window was a game changer. (Right now my 6.5 month old son can stay awake for 2 to 2.5 hours MAX. I stretch this time at the end of the day before bed by a half hour but sometimes it backfires, read why at #3)
- Babies will show cues when they are tired. Rubbing of the eyes, yawning, fidgety, etc. But by the time they are wailing, you might have missed their window and now they are over-tired. Understanding this was also a game changer for me.
- Keeping baby awake longer does not equal more sleep. Babies will become over tired their brains will stop producing the sleep hormone and they will begin to produce the stress hormone cortisol which is likened to red bull for babies. I’ve seen this in my son. Pam at Wee Bee Dreaming talks about this here.
- It is a myth that you can not sleep train if you EBF (exclusively breast feed). I have a good friend back home whose son was EBF and she successfully sleep trained him. I want to point this out because I’ve had people say to me, “Well, it was easy for you to sleep train because you don’t breast feed.” FALSE.
- Routine is KEY when getting your baby on a sleep schedule. Great resources on this here. Creating a bedtime routine was fairly easy with my son but getting the nap time routine down was difficult. I did the exact same thing every day for months and it took months for it to click.
- Sleep training is NOT leaving your baby to cry for hours in a dark room, alone. Was there crying involved for us? Yes. I cried and my son cried. Yes, I let him cry and no I’m not a bad mom. (more on this later)
- It takes time to establish a healthy sleep pattern. You can not expect a little baby to figure something out in a few days or weeks even. You also can not take a baby who is 6 months old to a year that has not been sleep trained and expect them to just get it. They now have rock solid sleep associations that are going to take a lot of work to break if you want to sleep train. I don’t have any experience with this because I wanted to avoid waiting too long. The longer you wait, the harder it gets. I would say that if you are into the 6 month mark, it might be a good idea to consider a trained/certified sleep consultant.
- Sleep training at night is apparently easier than sleep training for naps. (I wouldn’t know this because I started with naps and once baby boy had this down, he was an even better night sleeper.) Sleep studies show that our drive to sleep is much stronger at night so it’s often suggested to start with night sleeping.
- The 40 minute sleep cycle. If you don’t know what that is, you can read research it on google, there are tons of articles! In a nutshell, once babies are no longer sleepy newborns they have trouble transitioning from one sleep cycle into the next. We even do this as adults.Think of when you roll over in the night or adjust your pillow? You are transitioning from one sleep cycle to the next. It’s a learned skill. My son would wake up at 40 minutes ON THE DOT every time and this is where I let him learn to self-soothe. In the beginning, I established this method. Let him fuss/cry for 10 minutes, go in, check diaper, back into crib with a kiss. I repeated this 3 times and if he was still crying after the 3rd try, I called it and got him up. Then I would try again for the next nap. I eventually stretched the amount of time I let him cry/fuss to 15-20 minutes and typically he would fall asleep after 20 minutes.
- Sleep associations! These are things that your baby has to have in order to fall asleep. Some examples can be nursing to sleep, soother, rocking to sleep, needing you to be RIGHT there at all times, etc. Now I will say that in the beginning you will do all if not some of these things. But eventually it’s important that baby learns to be put down awake, so he can fall asleep on his own. My son still gets a bottle and we rock in the rocking chair, every nap and at night but he’s wide awake when he goes into his crib. It’s more of our time together with him. It winds him down and tells him it’s time for sleep.
- Have support! It wasn’t until I reconnected with 2 friends from back home that had babies and were similar in their sleep training methods, that I started to feel successful. We chat every day through text and they have been a lifeline to me. Don’t talk to people who don’t practice what you want to accomplish. Negative feedback is not what you need at a time like this. Everyone is going to have their opinion but only you know what works for you and your baby. I know it might sound silly to not listen to opposing opinions but sleep training is not easy and if you want to give your baby the gift of sleep, you do not need negativity.
- Be prepared to have a boring life for a few months and even longer. I didn’t go anywhere between 3 and 6 months. I’m still really picky about interfering with my son’s sleep schedule. His bedtime is 6-7 pm and we are very boring people after this time of day. I’m know people think I’m CRAZY and I’ve heard it all. I could care less, honestly. Sleep is sacred. My son is a happier, healthier baby because he sleeps and I am a happier, healthier mom.
- Be prepared for setbacks and crazy days. Teething, sickness, time change, etc. My son will throw me for a loop and his sleep during the day will be all over the place. Babies are continually developing and when they learn new skills, they will want to do that instead of sleep. Right now my son is rolling over in his crib and getting stuck. It’s driving me nuts but it’s a phase!
To finish things off, I want to share something very personal. At 5 weeks post partum, I was diagnosed with extreme pp anxiety. I will share more in-depth about my post partum journey in another post. I tried medication for a while but found that natural supplements worked better for me. The thing that was a game changer for me during my struggle with pp anxiety was when my son started to sleep better. It wasn’t until I began sleep training that he began sleeping better. I know there are many strong opinions about sleep training. I know it’s not for everyone. I did it for my mental heath because self-care is vital when it comes to being a mom. I don’t know if I would’ve made it through post partum if I had not chosen to implement sleep training so it was a matter of survival for me.
I’m so thankful for the abundant resources on sleep training and I am indebted to my friends who have championed me through this journey. My son is 7 months old at the end of this week and he is almost sleeping through the night. He settles quickly for his 2-3 naps a day and I love that he loves his crib. He understands its for sleep and he’s such a happy boy when he does sleep. He’s not a magical unicorn baby and he wasn’t a born sleeper. My husband and I worked tirelessly for months to give him the gift of sleep.
Motherhood is survival and however we make it through, we all want the same thing for our children. We want the best for them. That will look different for everyone. Whatever your journey, hang in there mama. You are doing amazing and God has given you everything you need to make it through. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!