Last weekend I polled my Instagram following about motherhood topics they want talked about. I said it on there and I’ll say it again here: I’m so humbled by your responses whenever I share about baby-related things. I count myself no expert since I only have one and he’s still so young. However, I’m delighted to share our experiences in case they resonate with you. So today we’re diving into baby sleep training.
This is for sure an issue that gets the blood boiling. In fact, whenever that time comes to put your nugget on a schedule, it’s not unusual to wonder who crowned them tyrant of the sleepless kingdom. I have been there. And some days I’m still there. But hope remains. You will sleep again. And I promise you won’t have an eighteen-year-old crying for you to rock them to sleep.
Before I dive in, I’ll admit this: Colton is a great nighttime sleeper and not the best napper. He never has been. But we stay consistent on his schedule and savor the good nap days. Regardless of the duration, I employ all the possible tricks to coax him into daytime snoozing. So I’ll talk about both aspects of sleeping.
It was not until Colton’s four month check-up that our pediatrician recommended crafting a schedule. Once they reach that age they’re finally able to respond to more structure. So I tell new moms that if you’re pushing a schedule earlier than that, only do it insofar as it’s helpful for you. Just don’t let feelings of failure or despair creep in if it doesn’t work at first. That tiny being is just barely learning to be human!
The very first habit I had to break was nursing to sleep. Whether nap time or at night, it was just so easy to stick a boob in their face knowing they’ll fall asleep. But that creates an association that can really mess with sleep training. While it was incredibly challenging, we adapted from a Play-Eat-Sleep method to a Sleep-Play-Eat method. During that transition, I would often have to rock him in my arms to go to sleep. I saw it as fighting one battle at a time.
In order to signal to Colton that it was time to sleep during the day, we developed a nap time ritual (that would also be used at night). We read two books then sang one verse of a song before putting him down. Initially, he was clueless to what we were doing. But gradually the process sank in.
The Everest of our sleep training was teaching Colton to self-soothe. It was emotionally and mentally draining. The concept behind this is that, if they don’t learn to fall asleep on their own you’ll be coddling or rocking or nursing them down well into toddler years. The sooner they learn this the easier it is to accomplish nap or nighttime put-downs.
We chose to use a baby swing method. Our Graco swing had six speed settings and a sound machine built into it. To start, I’d put him in with the sound machine on and the highest swing setting. I’d leave the room for a few minutes to let him cry. If he continued to wail, I’d go in (without getting him out or touching him) and shush him. This could go on forever, but I was committed. Eventually he’d fall asleep. After a few days at the highest swing setting, I’d drop down a notch and do the same thing. We finally got to a point where he could go in the swing without it being on and just fall asleep. I’ll tell you, that was a glorious day.
This self-soothing was the groundwork for daytime and nighttime sleep. Sure, he might still cry for a few minutes after being put down, but he didn’t need our help or presence in order to fall asleep. He might’ve been unhappy, but he was capable.
As far as cutting down on the number of his naps, it’s again about reading his signals. If there was an entire week of him all-out refusing a nap, we’d drop it. I know when I type this it can sound simple. But I assure you many tears were shed. Him ‘refusing’ those naps was not a pretty sight. It drove me crazy. However, once I came to the conclusion he wasn’t out to sabotage my parenting, I calmed down a little.
Finally, since Colton has never been a great napper, we employ a few different ‘helpful’ aids. We use blackout shades, a sound machine, play soothing lullaby music, and keep a book in his crib. If he has what I like to call a ‘crap nap,’ I let him sit there for a while just resting. He stays calmer with those elements and preciously reads his book.
We co-slept with Colton for the first few months. It was something I never imagined doing yet loved every minute. And we watched for his cues to know when he was ready to transition. Once there were two or three bad nights in a row, we realized we should transition him out of our bed and into a pack-n-play in our room. Again, after a month or so in the pack-n-play, he let us know he was ready to be in his own room. By that I mean he was waking up at our every move around the room or in bed. He was more aware of his surroundings and therefore we were disrupting his sleep.
I genuinely believe that because we watched for his signals and didn’t impose these transitions too early, moving Colton into a crib was relatively easy. At six months he wasn’t sleeping through the night, but he’d only wake for feedings and go right back down into his crib. Some external factors like introducing solid foods contributed to him sleeping through until morning. But we’d also increase the time that we’d let him cry. At some point he was just waking up out of habit rather than hunger. So we’d let him whine for fifteen minutes before he’d eventually go back down. Yes, it tugged at our heartstrings. But I had to realize he was healthy and completely fine–just used to seeing me around 3am.
As I mentioned above, we began crafting an actual schedule for Colton around four months. And in the beginning I felt completely clueless. I had no idea even where to start or what a baby’s day should look like. I cannot speak highly enough about The Baby Sleep Site. They offer sample schedules based on your child’s age and share helpful blog posts addressing top mom questions. I consider them my life raft in tumultuous sleep training waters!
here are some things we didn’t try that I would next time around:
- swaddling (we basically just gave up after our hospital days)
- start breaking the nurse-to-sleep habit earlier
- work on Eat – Play – Sleep as soon as possible
What sleep training techniques have worked for you?