Let me begin by declaring that I have zero intention of actually participating in this stupid debate. Whether or not you decide to sleep train your kids is not my problem and I thank God for that everyday because I’ve got my own fucking problems.
All I can speak to is my own experience. For me, sleep training worked. My kids both took to it very easily (and from a young age). It allowed me the amount of sleep I needed in order to function and be a good mom. For us, it was a small amount of pain for mucho gain, and that’s just the kind of deal I like.
Now that my kids are 1 and 3, if I could go back and do it all again, I would change absolutely nothing; around here, regaining our sleep (on most days) was a major upgrade for everyone’s overall happiness.
As I stated earlier, I think that everyone is entitled to her opinion on the topic. I know there are a lot of people out there who don’t believe in sleep training. And that’s fine. Go on with yo bad, “gentle parenting” self.
Having said that, I also know that there are equally as many of you reading this who are just done feeling more like lactating zombies than human beings.
If you fall into the latter category, and you just want to teach your kid how to sleep (and walk away with your sanity in tact), then this post is for you – all the tips I’ve got to get you through the initial shittiness of sleep training.
Disclaimer: I’m not an expert on infant/child sleep, but my own kids sleep like bears and we’re all well rested AF, so I must have done something right, non?
- Get your doctor involved – even just for peace of mind. Anytime after baby’s 4-month check up, ask if your Doc thinks baby is getting enough calories during the day to hold him over at night. Knowing that my kids were not waking due to hunger made it easier not to run to them to offer them a boob when they squawked in the night.
- When my kids were tiny, they slept the best when they went to bed at 6:30pm. It seems insanely early, but if you’re going to give sleep training a try, starting with an early bed time can make life a lot easier.
- Put baby down when he’s tired (but not losing-his-shit, wanted-to-go-to-bed-5-hours-ago tired). Google “infant sleep cues”. Watch baby like a hawk. When you see a yawn or an eye rub, it’s go time.
- Once you identify when your baby is sleepy, track her rhythm. My kids were both super consistent with wake times. When they were really tiny (around 4-6 months, I believe), they could only function with 2 hour (MAX) wake-windows. From 6-12 months, that stretched to 3 hour wake-windows, and thereafter, 4-5hours (at which point they’re down to 1 nap). I always found tracking it like that much easier than trying to get them on a strict time schedule.
- Develop a sleep cue from you to your baby. It doesn’t have to be a big, elaborate series of events (ie. 3 books, 2 songs, a bath, a massage, a story, a bottle and bed). It just needs to be something you do to tell baby that it’s bed time. For us, it’s the singing of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on the way up the stairs. Any other trip upstairs is not accompanied by a tune. When there is singing involved, my kids know that it’s time for them to shut it down. If your kid is still an infant, you may feel like an asshole putting on a show for a little seal who shows no sign of computing, but trust me, if you do it every time, they start to clue in faster than you’d think… they’re smarter than they look, those babies.
- In the beginning (i.e. the first week of sleep training), try doing something loud and productive right when you put the baby down (no, I’m not joking). Not only will it drown out the crying so you don’t feel like bolting up to baby’s room every 15 seconds, but it will also help you pass the time more quickly (10 min feels like an eternity when you’re sitting outside of your baby’s door, weeping as she shrieks… not so much of an eternity when you finally got your main floor vacuumed.) For me, a huge benefit of the “noisy chore” trick was that it reminded me that if I stuck with this sleep training thing, I would once again be able to get shit done – I’d have some me time again! From 6:30 until like 11! When you’ve spent 24/7 with a baby attached to your body for 4 months, getting fuck-all accomplished, that feels really friggin’ good. (Another bonus is getting your kid used to falling asleep without dead silence so you can one day hope to entertain guests at your house after 7pm!)
- Don’t create an unrealistic sleep environment. And by that I mean, make sure you can more or less recreate the “bed time experience” for baby with minimal effort if you’re not at home. My kids sleep with a little light (curtains, but not black out curtains), a crib, a lovey and a noise machine. Anytime they’re sleeping at someone else’s house (read: at grandma and grandpa’s), or out-of-town, this situation can be recreated with a pack’n’play, standard window coverings, an iPhone white noise app and their little lovey from home. Easy peasy.
- When my boys were babies and they would wake up in the night, I used to give them 10 minutes to figure their shit out before I went and intervened (my pediatrician actually told me about this little trick). Often, they wouldn’t make it to 10min before falling back asleep. If they did, it was boob (or soother in the case of my 2nd kid) and back to bed. (At the beginning, if they woke 3 times, maybe 1 time would last for long enough to prompt me to get up and feed them… I could deal with one wake between 6:30pm and 7am… just not that every-2-hours-all-night-long crap. They tapered off quickly, though.)
- Sleep train for naps using a similar tactic. If they have a short, shitty nap, upon their waking, give them 10 minutes in the crib to see if they’ll go back to sleep. You’ll be surprised at how many times they’ll conk back out for an additional hour.
- Always have good wine on hand. Open it once baby falls asleep. Turn on Netflix. Snuggle up to your man. Revel in the freedom. This is all so worth it.
- Take regressions in stride. Every new skill (and bout of sickness) can be a setback – from sitting, to crawling, to talking, to standing, to teeth, to colds, to growth spurts etc etc. You know you’re in one when there’s literally a random overnight shift in sleeping patterns (ie. suddenly you have a night that makes you wake up in the morning thinking your life is over and that you’ll never sleep again). I got through regressions by reminding myself that all is not lost and this is just a phase. During those phases, though, I’d just go full on survival mode. Nursing, soothers, bottles, cuddles – WHATEVER. Just give me some peace, man. Once it started to let up (longer stretches between night-wakings), I’d go back into sleep training mode (i.e. giving a few min to settle, not offering food at night, etc.)
- Have your man go comfort the baby if she’s inconsolable. If you go (especially if you’re nursing), baby will lose her shit until you cave and feed her because she KNOWS it’s there. My kids always gave up faster with dad; they knew he didn’t have the goods.
- If you do cave and feed your crying cherub (happens to the best of us), don’t panic and pick her right back up if she cries as soon as you lay her back down. Leave the room calmly, and give her 10 min before sending hubby in to comfort.
- Ditch the baby monitor. I have a video one that I used constantly with my first – looking back I wish we never set it up. We never hooked it up for my second (well, we did when he was a newborn but not during or after sleep training) and WOW what a difference. We live in a small house so we left both our doors open a crack; if he made any notable noises, we heard him. Not jumping at every baby grunt or log-roll across the crib played a huge role in my overnight sleep quality with baby no.2 (and not being glued to a tiny LED screen, watching him cry during the early days of CIO was much better for my psyche).
- Don’t let it make you crazy. This process is on-going and it’s frustrating AF. I sleep trained both my kids the minute my doctor said I could. Some nights it was a total breeze. Other nights we’d spend from 6:30-11pm going back and forth from the nursery to the sofa with a baby who just REALLY didn’t feel like going to bed. Whatever man. So long as it wasn’t creating a new trend, we didn’t care. We were not hard on ourselves about any of it – no need to make a high stress situation more stressful. Most of the time, the sleep gods are very good to us, and at this point, I’ll take what I can get.
- One of the most valuable things I got out of sleep training was a better understanding of how my kids were using different cries to tell me different things. Because I really sat and listened to the crying (mostly just to gauge
if it warranted my running up there or if it was just one of those whiny cries that was bound taper off in time). I now know pretty quickly what my kids are crying about and I’m able to act accordingly in a way that guarantees the most number of quality Z’s for all of us.
You see, for me, sleep is a non-negotiable. I am not – nor have I ever been – the kind of person who could even pretend to have my shit together on 4 hours of snooze time.
The first months of my kids’ lives, I was a zombie. I felt like shit. I was tired all the time. I was grumpy. My appetite was off. I was nowhere near my “best self” (I felt obliged to put that in quotes because for some reason I feel like Oprah owns the rights to it…).
After I committed to teaching my kids to fall asleep on their own without nursing, pacing, bouncing, swaying, lunging, or shushing (at the advice of both my mother and my grandmother as well as friends whose lives had recently been changed by the miracle of sleep-training), they were noticeably happier. And you know who else was happier? ME! And I think that counts for something, don’t you?
Sleep – you know, that thing you need to LIVE – came back into my life and made me a better mom. A more patient mom. A mom who had a chance to recharge her batteries. A mom who was able to take on the daily shit shows without having a weekly cry on the kitchen floor.
For you, letting your kid cry it out may not be worth it, but for us it was. A solid 8 hour sleep has literally never felt so fucking good.
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