Sleep training was something we didn’t think we would have to do. Yet here are with an 8 month old—and we are tired. Very tired. Our precious E started sleeping through the night at 5 weeks—we considered ourselves blessed. But at five months she started what they call “a sleep regression.” I started seeing a lactation consultant and we started nursing more often to make sure little E’s weight stayed on track. These every hour and a half feedings caused her to wake up in the evenings too—and from here we went “down hill”.
After 2.5 months of E only going to sleep if we held her or placed her in her pumpkin seat, we knew we had to do something. Our issue was compounded by the fact that she wouldn’t stay asleep for long, and she wouldn’t sleep at all if we placed her on her back without a swaddle. So, our issues were:
- E wouldn’t sleep unless we were holding her.
- when we would lay her down, she would wake up and scream.
- So, we would hold her again and hope she would sleep more deeply when we put her down.
- We would repeat this process multiple times until finally we caved and placed her in the pumpkin seat for the night.
- *She slept beautifully in the swaddle but once she started rolling over that was not an option.
Where does that leave us?
So here we are, at 8 months, desperate for a solution. My husband purchased the book, Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child. This book gave tons of great researched information, but to be honest, the 690 pages were a little too much for parents wanting a solution right away.
So, I did what any mom does in the 21st century. I googled sleep training and looked for Mom’s who had tried the “crying it out” method. I stumbled upon Natalie Willes site and was impressed. Before trying her actual coaching, I decided to purchase her Kindle book, Getting your Baby to Sleep the Sleep Trainer Way. This book was helpful, an easy read, and gave me all of the information I needed to start our training right away.
I must admit, I think we were very lucky because Baby E caught onto our sleep training within 24 hours. Needless to say, we had our first full night of sleep last night and I would recommend this program to anyone willing to try it.
How to start sleep training
1. Prepare yourself. It will be really hard. Our precious E would even throw up because she would get so upset. Now, you must know your baby. Our baby E throws up very easily, so we knew this was not something to be concerned about. She was throwing up because she was placing her entire fist into her mouth and gagging herself.
2. Prepare yourself. I mean it. Your baby will cry. And you must remember that you letting him/her cry is not harsh. It is actually for their good because you are teaching them to sleep on their own. If you don’t do this, they will struggle with sleeping on their own for years, which is not anymore kind than letting them cry it out for a few nights.
3. You and your spouse must be on the same page! You have to agree on a plan and encourage each other through it. If not for anyone else, for your baby. You cannot yoyo back and forth—this is not good for your precious little one!
4. Once you are in agreement, you can begin.
5. Natalie’s book recommends beginning with the evening time, but we began with nap times. To be honest, I am glad we began with nap time because E was so tired I don’t think she cried as long as she would have if we had begun with the evening bedtime routine. According to Natalie’s book, thought, you should begin with the bedtime for sleep training, so…
Begin with bedtime for sleep training
- Do your normal bedtime routine and have it finished by 6:55pm.
- Make sure your baby is quite awake. Natalie refers to a scale of 1-10. 1-3 being quite awake and 3-5 being sleepy (rubbing eyes, yawning), and then 5-10 sleepy to asleep.
- For your bedtime routine, baby should be 1-3.
- Then, set your timer for 5 minutes. Go in your baby’s room (make sure it is dark, your noise machine is on and there is nothing in the crib), shut the door so you are in the dark room, and set a timer on your phone to five minutes.
- Hold your baby in your arms and either stand or walk slowly (no rocking, singing, or bouncing—you are teaching your baby to get sleepy on their own without anyone or thing helping them).
- As soon as your baby shows signs of entering stage 3-5 (yawning, eyes closed, rubbing eyes, etc.), place them in their crib.
- If they have not entered the 3-5 stage within the five minute time frame, place them in their crib when your timer goes off. Simply say something like “I love you. Sweet dreams, Baby.”
- Leave the room.
- This is where you can do one of two things: (1) let your baby cry it out without entering the room at all (as long as you don’t suspect something is wrong—this is what we did the first night). Or (2) Allow your baby to cry for 10-20 minutes. If they do not pause in crying during that 10-20 minutes, check on them for no longer than 30 seconds. Do not pick them up. Simply go in, pat them, and say something like “Mommy and Daddy are here. We love you. It is okay. It is time for sleep.”
- After 30 seconds, leave the room, even if they don’t calm down.
- Note: If they pause for longer than a breath (longer than 3 seconds) in their crying, then restart your 10-20 minute timer you have set to go check on them. Why? This means they are starting to recognize they are tired and your checking on them will only be a distraction.
- If, after one hour of crying and checking on your baby, they have not stopped crying, you need to stop checking on them. This is an indicator that your presence is actually making it harder for them to fall asleep.
- Eventually your baby will fall asleep. I promise. If they wake up in the night, implement the same strategy as above (only check on them if they cry 10-20 minutes nonstop).
- BUT WAIT! If they wake up anytime after 4:30am, DO NOT enter their room. Let them cry or play until you get them up at 7am. Why? If you get them anytime after 4:30am, so close to their wake time, they will most likely not go back to sleep and will get in the habit of getting up at 4:30 am (and no one wants that!).
This is it. We only had to do this one night and E was set, sleeping from 7pm to 7am. Natalie suggests this could take 1-2 weeks, though, so don’t get discouraged—you can do this!
What about Naps?
Naps work a little differently. Natalie suggests different number of naps and times based on your child’s age. Refer to her book—it is worth it!—to learn specifics for your baby’s age. On the whole, though, when you are sleep training with naps, Natalie suggests only letting your baby cry it out for one hour. If after an hour they do not fall asleep, go get them and try again 30 minutes later. She also suggests foregoing the 10-20 minute checks. Though you can try this, she has found for naps it is more distracting than beneficial.
What about you?
I would love to hear what has worked for you and your littles. Sleep training in this way isn’t for everyone. I certainly didn’t want to do this. But every child is different and every parent has to decide what is best for their baby’s well-being, holistically. Please share in the comments what has worked and what hasn’t for you and your littles!