Warning: This is a LONG post.
Whenever the words sleep training are uttered, the deep dark recesses of the internet shudders. It knows that another war of words is about to erupt. I have yet to see a Facebook feed or comments section that doesn’t result in some mommy-shaming of some kind. Having posted comments myself and experiencing back-lash, I felt almost ashamed because of our choice. Our choice to sleep train. I am never eloquent enough to express my views and opinions on the matter so this blog post is how I choose to share my story. Full disclosure, it’s probably the trigger for starting this blog.
So please bear with me as it is a long one. If you don’t believe in sleep training, please continue on your way and sleep well knowing that this isn’t to insult your choices and your way life. That’s not the intention at all. This post is to help the people that are on the fence about sleep training as well as supporting those that are going through it right now.
I want to emphasize that, regardless of what you choose to do, it has to be what YOU feel is best for you and your family.
Peak of exhaustion.
Exhaustion is a close, intimate friend of mine. As the mother of a colicky baby, I lost the meaning of what it meant to sleep. A good night: 2 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Naps were equally as elusive as a wish-granting unicorn. My son’s “naps” would take place in the wrap, strapped to my chest, after bouncing on an exercise ball for anywhere from 20 minutes to one hour. The nap would roughly last 20 minutes and then the crying would resume. Night time routines were as follows: swaddle him, feed him, burp him, change him, and then proceed to bounce and hope for the best.
I even tried the baby swing and lay down on the couch next to him (SUPER taboo I know, but beyond desperate at this point). We slept 3 hours straight that night but the swing never worked again – he was onto our trickery and deception. We refused to co-sleep. I was terrified I would be in deep sleep and accidently roll over and crush him. Not co-sleeping paid off for us so far, but that was our personal choice not to do. If it worked for another family, I wasn’t about to (and still won’t) judge.
The night of his first set of vaccinations, he slept through the night. Yet, the next night we were back to the same old same old. At about 3 months old, we went to Vancouver to visit my family and he did very well. He slept on the plane (no crying, screaming colic fussiness to be had – I cried I was so relieved), and he transitioned to the new environment very well. So well in fact that when we got back home, we were able to transition him to his crib (he had been sleeping/fussing in a bassinet next to me).
I thought we had it made! For the most part, we were bouncing for less than an hour, he would wake about 2 hours later. We would feed him, then he’d sleep for 4 hours, feed, then sleep for another 4 – bouncing after every time he woke. It was okay though! We were used to it by now.
At all of his doctor’s appointments, my family doc (most amazing doctor ever!), kept suggesting sleep training. I laughed it off. We were all set – he was sleeping in 4-hour blocks and would have three 20 minute naps in the wrap a day. What more could a new-ish mom ask for (and he was still colicky at this point so this was SO much better than a month ago). She kind of chuckled and said to do what I felt was right.
And then there was sleep regression…
Then, the HORROR! 4 month sleep regression! He was up every hour! It. Was. HELL. So much so that the next night, we started sleep training… And we have never looked back!
“Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” by Marc Weissbluth – BEST, most useful book I have EVER read! My family doctor (we had met at the maternity clinic) started recommending this book to me the day she found out that I had colic as a child (I’ve been told there is a genetic link associated with colic). I had pretty much waved off the advice until this point. (This book can be found on Amazon.)
Quick disclaimer: it is not just about the dreaded “cry-it-out” method. He has a number of options to suite your needs/what you’re able to deal with to the best of your ability. Sleep training to me is anything that you do on a consistent basis to encourage triggers in your child’s mind that it is sleep time. The other point I will emphasize to my dying day: CONSISTENCY! If you are unable to maintain any form of consistency at all, this kind of sleep training is not for you! You are going to have it ride it out.
“Oh but it’s cruel and inhumane to leave your baby crying by itself.” This is the worst thing a mother of a colicky child can hear! We already feel guilty 99% of the time (the other 1% we’re trying to sleep), so try and push those voices out of your head. You have chosen this path because you feel it is best for YOUR family. You as a mother know the difference between your baby’s cries – the “something is wrong cry” and the “I’m just crying.” Also, you are not leaving your 2 month old to fend for him/herself. This training is recommended for 3 months and up. We started at 4 months.
And we’re off…
It took 5 nights! FIVE nights!! The second night he cried for just over an hour and a half. The rest of the time, it was under an hour before he was asleep. We would do bath, sing a song, bottle, read three books, bounce for a few bounces (this eventually went away), and then down for bedtime. He is 2.5 now and we still have a variation of this routine.
When we first started, he slept until about 2am, when we would feed him, and then back to sleep until 6am. It was life changing! I had more energy and started working out again. This allowed me to be a better mother and a better wife. We also started seeing an improvement in his naps. He was now napping for 30 minutes twice a day – in his crib!! Not in the wrap anymore! I had time to clean and exercise.
We still had a rough night every now and then – do you have perfect sleep every night?! Nights when he was sick, we would deviate from the training, obviously, but once he was better, he would go back to sleeping well. We got rid of the night time bottle at about 10 months and he has been sleeping through the night ever since.
I was so pumped about the nights but we were still bouncing during the day. At 9 months old, I decided to day time sleep train – a lot trickier than night time! You only leave them for an hour before you pick them up. We only picked him up twice! He adjusted to it SO well! He started napping twice a day for 1.5 to 2 hours at a time. At about 18 months we transitioned him to one nap a day – averaging 2-3 hours. It changed our lives and our family dynamic! My husband and I had time together again, and our son was a superstar, happy baby! It worked for us.
What sleep training early has done for us.
Fast forward to moving to Northern California when we had to transition him to a new home and a big boy bed. He struggled the first night but is doing great ever since. He only gets out of bed to grab books off his shelf (which I know will change soon but appreciating it while I can), and then sleeps happily until 6:30. Now I know 5am/6am/6:30am sounds super early for most people but you have a child now, deal with it :)! He goes to bed at 6:30/7pm so we are happy with that. We get alone time together and can do our Netflix binge.
I also wanted to note the night the fire alarm went off in our condo building! He rocked it! When we got back inside after 2 hours (it was a false alarm), we did a condensed version of the bedtime routine and he went back to sleep until 7am. I was SO proud of him!
I will recommend this book to anyone and everyone! Sleep is so critical for potty training and especially for “spirited” children (more on that later). It makes toddlers just so much more manageable. If our son didn’t sleep as well as he does, I don’t know what I would do! He is starting to try and give up his afternoon naps but you guys will hopefully experience that journey with me as I post and update my blog.
As usual, please feel free to post any comments or concerns or questions. And always remember, you are never alone!