Disclaimer: This worked for us and you may or may not agree with it. Every family is different and different things work for different families. Also, I’m no sleep expert so please do your own research.
Let’s be honest, sleep training is just a fancy term for letting your baby cry it out. It’s not that you’re abandoning your child, rather you’re trying to teach your baby good sleep habits. Just like how you’d eventually try to teach them to feed themselves, independent play, etc. The TL;DR version for why they will cry is that they don’t like change. As adults, we can communicate that with words but babies only know how to cry.
So here was our situation: We were initially against sleep training because we thought it cruel. Because of this, we always held her, rocked her, or fed her to sleep. We didn’t know any better and for our parents, that’s what they did. We continued doing this for 6 months until we hit our breaking point. At its worst, it took me 2-3 hours of attempting to feed Lily to sleep and gently putting her down (sometimes repeating these 2 steps multiple times), and then getting up every 2-4 hours to feed her back to sleep. Naps weren’t any better because she’d just fight me on every one of them and she’d often miss naps. I wasn’t getting any time to myself during the day, and I was exhausted at night. Also, Kelvin couldn’t help with the night feedings because I was hell bent on exclusively breastfeeding (I talked more about that in this post here). Bottom line, we were exhausted.
At that point, we started considering hiring a sleep coach but realized that they were incredibly expensive (starting at $500). We were willing to shell out that kind of money but we thought that if we could read a book, that a few friends had recommended first, and achieve the same results, then why not? So, we ended up going with Dana Obleman’s Sleep Sense Program.
At first I was a little hesitant because I was worried that it would take too long to read the book. You know, with Lily’s super short 30 minute naps I didn’t have much time to spare. Thankfully, the book is a quick and relatively short read since you can just read the chapters that apply to your baby’s age. I knocked it out in one day and soon got to applying the techniques. It was all very simple, I just needed the willpower to carry it out.
Here’s the thing with sleep training, it’s like starting a new workout routine or diet. It’s simple to read about it and plan it out, but it’s another to actually do it. Essentially, you want your baby to learn to fall asleep on their own and that just means not letting them have sleep props such as a pacifier or nursing to bed. Removing those sleep props aren’t difficult either, but it’s what comes after that is.
So here’s what we ended up doing:
- We established a routine that consisted of a bath, PJs, nursing for 15-20 minutes while keeping her awake, putting on her sleep sac, saying bye bye to toys/people, and we sang her a lullaby. We also used the phrase, “It’s bedtime Lily, time to go to sleep” to cue winding down for the day.
- We put her into her crib wide awake and offered her a small blanket/toy. It doesn’t count as a sleep prop because she could easily grab it herself without needing us.
- Once in the crib, we sat next to her crib until she fell asleep. A few days later we moved the chair further and by day 10 we just left the room after steps 1 and 2. The book offered other strategies but this worked best for us. At the beginning it took her at most 70 minutes of crying to fall asleep but it soon averaged 20 minutes. It was shorter with Kelvin than with me, probably because Lily knew Kelvin had no way of feeding her to sleep.
- When she woke in the middle of the night, we would pull up a chair and sit next to her again until she went back to sleep. This often took longer than putting her to bed as she’d cry close to an hour before going back to sleep. This was extremely difficult because we just wanted to sleep.
It took Lily roughly 10 days to be sleep trained for night sleep. We were hoping she wouldn’t need a night feed anymore but we found that from 6-8 months she still required it because she was genuinely hungry and couldn’t fall back asleep for long otherwise. Still, it was a great improvement from the 2-3 feeds I used to do.
Nap training took much longer, about a month and a half. I simplified the routine by only putting her into her sleep sac, saying bye, and a lullaby. At the beginning, naps were still only about 30 minutes in length and it sometimes took her that long just to fall asleep. Slowly but surely I started seeing improvements. The time it took her to fall asleep decreased while the time she stayed asleep increased.
The hardest part of sleep training was listening to her cries. We used to watch and smile at her while she was crying but we found that our eye contact only made it worse. Gently patting her or talking to her didn’t help either. So, we just took the time to catch up on YouTube or Reddit.
Our sleep situation has vastly improved now, 4 months after sleep training and at 9.5 months old. All her naps are 1-2 hours in length and she sleeps 11-13 hours at night without a night feed. Without sleep training, I’m almost certain that Lily would still be waking up 2-3 times at night for a feed and napping terribly. It was definitely tough at the beginning, but it’s paid off. We finally feel more human again and Lily is much happier and less grumpy.
One down side is that while we were in the process of sleep training Lily, I had to be really strict with her schedule. That meant I always had to be home so that she could nap in her bed. Napping in the stroller or car seat was considered a sleep prop and she couldn’t anyways so I spent a lot of time at home. It got quite lonely and depressing because I couldn’t get out much but I knew it was only temporary.
Another thing we dealt with when we started sleep training Lily was all the… criticism from family. They were shocked, skeptical, and sometimes gave us a hard time because they didn’t believe in what we were doing. We learned that it will happen with pretty much every parenting decision we make so we just nod along and don’t say much now. Just be prepared and do what’s right for you and your family.
Sending you lots of love and I hope all you new parents out there will get some restful sleep soon!