on sleep training
To parents of the baby who doesn't sleep through the night at 12 weeks or even 6 months... I was in your shoes not long ago, and I survived to tell you that there is hope! Your baby can still turn out to be a good sleeper! Someday you will sleep more than two hours at a time! Maybe even sooner than you think!
For his first two months of life, Finch would only sleep if he was being held. We had not planned to co-sleep, but he was waking every 10 minutes, and no one was getting any sleep! So we went into survival mode and I held him. After a couple months, I was able to get him to sleep next to me on the bed. Then, after a few months of that, we transitioned him to a swing in our bedroom..which sort of felt like we were moving backward, but we were just glad he was no longer in our bed!
I had read about sleep training, and some people said to wait til 4 months, 6 months, 9 months or even a year...for us, the magic age was 7 months. Our pediatrician had mentioned sleep training to me at 4 months and again at 6 months...not pressuring me, but saying that we could start if we wanted. Finally at 7 months it became clear to us that it was the right thing for our entire family.
We had finally transitioned him to a pack n play (he outgrew the swing), but he was still in our room, so we could hear every little noise he made. He would wake up every three hours and sit up and stare at us while crying. It got to a point where I felt like we were actually interfering with his sleep. I was confident that he was not hungry...he just didn't know how to fall back asleep without nursing (because I had nursed him to sleep since birth). So Eric would get out of bed, bring him to me, then I would nurse him back to sleep and put him back in the pack n play. We wondered if he would go back to sleep on his own if we ignored him, but it just seemed easier and quicker to just feed him and put him back to bed (not to mention we didn't want to lay there and listen to him cry!). Nothing calms him like nursing. Perhaps he would have calmed down after a half hour of rocking, patting, shushing...but we never had the energy to try. I had trained him to nurse to sleep and needed to un-train him.
The term "sleep training" is sort of funny to me...isn't it just a nice way of saying you made your baby "cry it out"? And...yes...in a way, except that obviously we do not make him cry. But we do allow him to cry. There are several ways to sleep train, and I'm not saying this is the best way for everyone, but it worked for us, so I figured it might be worth sharing!
I've heard that some people start with naps, but we started with night sleep. We kept him in our room, but the first thing was not letting him fall asleep when I nursed him to sleep. I would actually listen to podcasts or Snapchats while nursing him to keep him awake. Once I could tell he was done eating and had switched to more of a comfort/pacifying suck, I would remove him from the breast, say a prayer with him, kiss him and tell him good night, and then lay him on his stomach in the pack n play (his favorite sleep position).
The first night, he only cried for six minutes and I thought we were off the hook! But then five minutes later he woke up. I knew he was not hungry and I also knew that he would not calm down if I went in and rubbed his back, so I just let him figure it out. When he finally fell asleep (44 minutes later), he slept for five hours, which he had only done a handful of times previously! The next night, it took 30 minutes for him to fall asleep. Then 15 the next night. Then 5. Now he's sleeping in his own room and there are nights when he doesn't cry at all! It's amazing. He can actually soothe himself back to sleep without me. And, he still trusts me and smiles at me in the morning!
Since we are breastfeeding, night weaning is something we've had to do gradually...at first I would feed him if he cried anytime after midnight. I knew he could go six hours without eating, so 6:00 pm - midnight became a timeframe when he learned that we would not respond to him. There were times when he only took 15 minutes to fall asleep initially, but then an hour later he would start crying again. And...sometimes he would cry for a considerable amount of time. Like, a couple times, he cried intermittently for almost an hour. Which is really, really hard to listen to. I know! But typically it takes just a few nights, and now we are all sleeping so much better! It was definitely worth it.
About a week later, I was ready to see if he could go longer than six hours (I wasn't quite sure if he was legitimately hungry or just in a habit of waking up). So, when he would wake up at midnight and my breasts were OK (didn't want to risk an infection!), I set a timer for 30 minutes. If he was still crying after 30 minutes, I would go in to his room and nurse him. Guess what? He was always asleep at the 30-minute mark! So after a couple nights of that, he just started sleeping through that wake-up. Then we went through the same thing at 1:30 am for a few days, then 3:00 am, then 4:00. I would feed him at that time for a few days, then I would set a timer and seeing if he could stretch out his feedings. Now, he rarely cries before 4:45 am (which is usually 11 hours of sleep), and I feed him at that time, and then he goes back down for a couple more hours. I've only had to pump twice and can definitely tell my nighttime supply is leveling out.
He has done so great! Over the course of a few weeks he went from sleeping 3 hours at a time to 6 hours, and now he goes 9+ hours straight! It's incredible. And we do the same thing for naps and he instantly started taking longer naps (from 20 minutes to at least 45, sometimes even 1.5 hours). Obviously, there will still be nights of teething or sickness where he gets up more often, but after a month I can confidently say that this is our new normal!
I know none of this is revolutionary, but just general encouragement on sleep training! Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby is an awesome book that has some of the science behind sleep. Other things that have been helpful for me...
- Having a close friend I can text. My friend Tiffany's daughter was born four days after Finch and sleep trained a month before us. So, she knew exactly what I was going through and it was not uncommon for me to text her with excitement "Finch only took 15 minutes to fall asleep tonight!"
- Not using a monitor. We use one at night (we can't hear him crying from our bedroom because it's on the opposite side of the house), but not in the evening when we are still awake. It makes me anxious to hear every little noise.
- Reminding myself "He is not hungry. He wants me, but he does not need me." Sleep is so, so important, and it's a learned skill! So I honestly think we did him a favor, rather than hurt him.
- Remembering that sleep training usually only takes a few days! The second night might be worse than the first, but a few days is really short in the grand scheme of things (however, I totally support you if you decide it's just not worth it yet! Don't feel ashamed if you "give in" and try again in a couple months!)
Now, if anyone has tips on getting a 3-year-old to go to bed by herself, I'm all ears! :-D
P.S. I'm finally OK with the fact that he doesn't take a pacifier. We are probably better off now than we were with Rooney, who slept great but needed a pacifier until age 3...
P.P.S. I'm still sleep deprived because I'm silly and stay up way too late blogging - but it's so nice to finally have "me" time again!