We need to decide what works for us and our family on sleep and then set boundaries when appropriate.
What are we trying to teach related to sleep? A lifetime of listening to your body; rest as a special and wonderful time of the day (not a punishment); ensure our children know how to put themselves to sleep without our help as a skill that will help them throughout their whole lives.
There is SO MUCH SHAMING all around on sleep! Don’t let yourself be shamed!
Sleep training can be hard in the short term, but for me and my family it was essential and led me back to a sane life with family harmony, so I can be the well-rested, good mom that I want to be.
I LOVE TO SLEEP. In fact, when I was pregnant, I can’t even count all the times my lovely husband made comments about how he just didn’t know how I was going to handle not sleeping when baby arrived (mean!). Although I admit, I also wondered how I’d handle this as I had been known to bite anyone’s head off that tried to wake me before I absolutely needed to be woken up basically my entire adult life. However, when that first baby came...adrenaline kicked in, and I operated with very little sleep for months. But we all have our limits, and once that four month sleep regression hit with both kids (OH YES IT IS A THING) for me it was time to sleep train! As is my usual course of action, I did extensive research and over prepared.
By the time my first child was 4 months old and the sleep regression hit, she was basically waking me up every 30 min asking for her pacifier to be placed back in her mouth. She didn’t need to eat. She didn't need to be changed. She just didn’t know how to put herself back to sleep since she had used the pacifier since 6 weeks old (and I'd make that choice again, since for us it really helped during that early stages!). But it was clearly no longer serving my girl or us. It was time to sleep train. What follows is my advice for sleep training based on what worked for me with my two very different children.
Before I start, I do want to note that I know how controversial this all is for everyone - please try to keep an open mind. Also please know that I am not saying that different choices from mine are less than my choices. People with the available capacity and resources can research and determine if sleep training is the best, healthiest course of action for their family, as I did. I wanted to share that clearly and unashamed, so others can feel more informed and less guilty if this is their choice. I also know many families that happily bed share, and I support them. It is important for each family to decide for themselves what works best.
Sleep training was life changing for me. It was the right decision for me and my family to have sanity, balance and harmony. How do you know if sleep training is right for you? Well, if you are doing things to put your child to sleep that are leading to physical pain, or leading you to have no time with your spouse, or generally anything that is making your life miserable (and maybe you’re feeling like “I can’t live like this!”) then most likely sleep training is right for you. Maybe you have a baby in your bed and you want your child to sleep in their own space? Maybe you’re feeding the baby many more times a night than they need to eat? But if the baby is over 4 months old, you can absolutely sleep train. I highly recommend based on my personal experience and everything I read to do sleep training prior to 8 months of age since that is when separation anxiety often kicks in, and it can be harder the older they get, (although of course you can still do it at any age). When they are 4-6 months of age in particular it will be the quickest...it took 3 days max for both of my kids (and I have heard the same from a dozen or so of my friends that also sleep trained in the 4-8 month range).
The following is advice on sleep training a baby...
Make a plan based on what you know about your child, discuss with your partner, agree on a plan, and then implement at a good time for your family.
Be consistent for at least a few days. If you get frustrated and change tactics, baby can get confused. If you are consistent, they learn fast (especially when very young).
Make sure you pick a time to start when you can be home (no traveling, etc.) for at least the first week.
Not necessary, but helpful for us was having a great white noise machine.
A baby monitor was a must for me, so we could watch the babies during the process. Additionally, we still use ours to this day - it is SO cute to hear the kids adorable conversations each night before bed.
Determine if there are “habits” baby formed that you want to help baby learn they do not need…example: pacifier, breast feeding to sleep, sleeping in swing or other device, swaddle, rocking to sleep, etc. I read (and agree from my experience) it's best to do away with those items all at once as opposed to slowly changing one item at a time. We did away with pacifier and swaddle with first child (4 month mark), and with swaddle, a tilted rocking sleep device, and rocking to sleep with second child (also right at 4 months).
Better to start with nights, and then work on naps, (night sleep much more important than day sleep). You could start doing both at the same time if you want, (just don’t try to do naps before nights). And also know if they are overtired from naps being bad it might make night sleep harder, (so at least don’t start naps till the next day after starting nights).
Many sites recommend logging info so you don’t forget/can be consistent and also see progress as it develops. (I.e., write down naps, crying times, sleep time, etc.) We didn’t do this, but it was mentioned a lot so wanted to share.
Have a bedtime routine to signal time for bed/naps. Whatever works for your family…suggest longer for bedtime and shorter for naps. For us it was: 1) Nighttime: diaper change, get in sleep sack, read a book, sing a few songs, hug, and then down to bed; 2) Naps: quick book, song, sleep sack, hug and then down.
For the first night when you are going to do sleep training talk to your baby. Tell them that routine is going to change, and you are going to help them learn to sleep on their own. Tell them you know it might be hard, but you know they can do it. Try, to the best of your ability, to internalize that message for yourself as well. Yes, it is hard to hear your baby cry, but learning to sleep on your own is a necessary life skill. You are giving your baby a lifelong gift!
For schedules, it can be tough since it is so different for everyone. We did the “eat, play, sleep” routine that I read about online, but loosely. We mostly followed baby and weren’t rigid. Basically as soon as baby wakes up you feed them. Then they play (for very young babies you hold them or lay them down to just look around), then they nap. The most important thing is to keep them from getting overtired.
I don’t know what angel made this chart, but I can’t tell you how many times I used it (a million?) and also I’ve given it to every new mother I’ve ever met. This isn’t to tell you that you must follow this. I just really appreciated having this information as “averages”, and I found it was right on to help me avoid an overtired baby if I generally followed this (and also really started to pay attention to my baby’s sleep cues...she was giving them! Pull her ear. Rub eyes. Yawn. Any of those means time to go down right away and might be overtired for tiny baby!)
If you’re going to start sleep training around 4-6 months...you’d want to start about 2 hours after the last nap of the day, so they don’t get overtired since if they are overtired they will cry longer and have a harder time.
Additionally, it is important to note that there is a difference between sleep training and night weaning. Yes, I sleep trained at 4 months, but I still breastfed both my babies till they naturally weaned at 10 months and 8 months respectively. The advice I received is most babies need to eat till around 9 months at night, and you should check with your doctor for your baby based on their weight, etc. By the time my kids were ready to night wean, they knew how to put themselves to sleep, so they just naturally kept sleeping longer and longer till they slept 12 hours straight.
Methods...there are many. Basically the two I used were “cry it out” (CIO) and “middle of the road” on cry it out. I haven’t ever heard of a method that doesn’t involve some crying, although I’ve seen a lot of people asking for that method online! I don’t think it exists...at least not for my kids. And I will also say - get used to crying. Much more is coming in the toddler years. ;)
Important to note - I looked around and found no statistically significant research that showed any negative effects from sleep training or CIO. I just reminded myself how important it is for my children to learn to put themselves to sleep during the process.
For my first child though, I wanted to start with the middle of the road since I had never done it before. We did “checks” at 5, 10, 15 min when we started sleep training (went in and rubbed her belly and talked to her). Honestly, it made me feel better to go in there since I wanted to SO BADLY, but when I did...it just made baby more upset. So we eventually abandoned that and just did straight CIO, (and went straight to CIO with the second kid). For me, both kids cried hard night one for a long time (over an hour). Night two both under an hour (45 min). Night 3 under 30 min...and both were mostly done by night 4.
I can tell you though that my kids are SO DIFFERENT. My 5 year old has cried anywhere from 5 seconds to 5 minutes almost every night of her life when she goes to bed. I read an article once that some kids just have a lot of steam from the day that they need to let off, and that is my first child.
My second child on the other hand (who is now 2.5) we sleep trained once at 4 months and literally has never made a peep since while going to bed. I place him down, he smiles at me, grabs his bunny, and rolls over to sleep. For a while around 14 months, I’d tell him “night night time” and he’d crawl over to his sleep sack, lay down in it and say “night night”. SO CUTE.
We also had to “re-sleep train” our first child at about 16 months. She got sick, and we went in a bunch to hug her. But once her illness healed she had gotten used to a new routine with us coming in a bunch, and we had to sleep train again to get back to just putting her to bed once. This was harder than the first time around since she was old enough to yell “mamaaaaa” and did for 30 min many nights in a row. We also had a BIG thing when baby #2 came, but I’ll save that for toddler section.
As of now, both kids sleep 12 hours, in the same room together about 6:30pm to 6:30am. Yes, you did read that, and it is amazing. The younger also still takes a 2 hour nap everyday and older does "quiet time" when not in school where she colors or listens to stories around 12-2pm (necessary for COVID times!)
We have a clock that turns green at 6:30am, so they know it is “ok to wake up” (aka leave the room for our older child). Highly recommend it! Been using it since the older was about 16 months and by 2 years old she really got it. Even if they wake up at 6am...they stay quiet in their room and do not come and wake us up till 6:30am.
I know it is hard, BUT YOU CAN DO IT!!! We’re very happy with our adult time at night and also for our own bed with no one kicking us. I also know some of my friends LOVE their snuggles and sleeping with their kids. I could totally see that and more power to those families. There were a few times we day dreamed about cuddling all night with our adorable first child, and so we let her come into bed with us...and each time we agreed in the AM that it was a TERRIBLE idea for us and how we will remember not to do it again since we really couldn’t sleep and were kicked all night. :) We do family snuggles every morning AFTER 6:30am. To each their own, and I hope you are able to figure out what works best for your family.
If you sleep train with a baby things should be mostly all good until the time that your child is out of the crib and can open the door, (personally, I recommend delaying this as long as possible!) But for the toddler years, I have to write about the hard times we experienced back when second kid came.
Rewind to 2.5 years ago when I had a 3 year old and a newborn. The 3 year old had just transitioned to a toddler bed and learned to open her door. Very unfortunate timing! On that note, if you have a toddler and are having a baby and can keep toddler in crib for a bit - DO THAT! Just put that new baby in a pack and play for awhile. In fact, that advice is universal to any changes you’re planning to make when a new baby is coming...hold off on as many other changes as you can!
Anyway, so each night we'd rock baby from 7-10pm (witching hour(s)!) while the toddler was getting up and coming out of her room 10+ times after we had put her to bed. So she wasn’t going to bed till 10 - 11pm! Also baby was often crying a lot during this time, so that was stressful. And of course toddler was SO TIRED the next day, which made her test limits even more (i.e., exhibit REALLY annoying behaviors like peeing, trashing things, and hitting / kicking). Our toddler was VERY UPSET about the baby in general coming and ruining her life, but not able to understand or express that in any sort of appropriate way, (Janet Landsbury helped me SO much at understanding how hard this transition would be for my first child - forever grateful!) But even though I knew to expect this and that it was normal, I was SO TIRED and it was very hard to stay patient and be the calm leader our toddler needed.
Finally, about 3 months post second baby being born we were at our WITS END! I found a Facebook chat (which has since been deleted!), about putting a door knob cover on to help toddlers stay in their room (essentially locking the door since a child that young can't figure out how to turn the knob). I have to shamefully admit...I had a very close friend who had done this with her older child about a year prior, and I remember when she told me that I judged her. I remember thinking “I could never do that to my child!” Well, I was very wrong and didn’t know what I was talking about, and it's a great reminder for me to try hard not to judge others till you’ve walked in their shoes, etc. That friend remains a saint and an amazing mother (you know who you are - solidarity!).
We ended up putting the door knob cover on our toddler's door. We explained to her that we were going to help her stay in her room, so she could get the rest her body needed. We also told her that this would help us get the rest we needed too. She did not like this (of course). For many nights she screamed and cried. She trashed her room and banged on the door. It was HARD. But honestly, this was a really hard time for us post new baby. And I knew this was what was needed after all my Janet Landsbury reading - she was begging for a limit to be set. She had too much power being able to come out of her room and make mommy and daddy mad. She did not want to make us mad, and I couldn’t be the calm, confident leader I wanted to be having her wake me up in the middle of the night during the 1 hour of sleep I would get in between feeding the baby.
It took a few weeks, but she started to settle and go to sleep within 5 minutes again (at this point, we also dropped her nap which also for sure helped. She was about 3.5 years old). At some point a couple months after putting the door knob on and things going better, we suggested we take it off and she asked to keep it on! By that point I think she was coming around and could see she needed the help.
Finally around 3 years 8 months, I'd say we had stabilized again as a family post baby. Our daughter told us she was ready to take the door knob cover off. And so we did. She has tested a few more times over the last couple years and we talked about putting it back on...but we haven’t had to do that.
At one point right around when she turned 5 (and COVID hit, so AKA lots of distress in the air) she started coming out again a lot and keeping younger child up. She was too old for door knob at this point from our perspective (she could basically take it off now), so we had a few conversations with her where we brainstormed how she could feel safe and stay in her bed. She had us order a dream catcher for her to catch the bad dreams, and she wanted us to do "checks". We'd come in every 20 min until she fell asleep and just give her a quick kiss and hug. We did this for a few weeks and then gradually dropped the number of checks till they were gone. Happy to report we are back now to 12 hours solid both kids in same room!
I think the most important thing during the hard new baby phase for me was: 1) I needed to be able to set the limit on her behavior, and 2) I needed to trust that she could handle it (she could). Looking back, I waited WAY too long to set the limit with both this and putting her back in pulls ups after she regressed on using the toilet (she went from fully potty trained to so. much. pee. in my life!). She was just feeling so out of control after baby came, and we were so tired it was hard to always see what she needed...but of course now looking back I can see it.
For me, I cannot possibly be the good mom I want to be if I am not sleeping, and I'm so grateful for those that shared information to help me make the best choices for my family to restore our harmony.
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