Sleep Training: A Dummy’s Guide

sleep training your baby

My mom and I embarked on a two-day road trip from Charlotte to Rowayton, Conn., last June prior to LG’s arrival. It was half-last-pre-baby-hurrah and half-mission-recover-baby-items from my parents’ basement. My mom keeps everything so I knew I’d find stuff from my childhood I wanted to re-purpose for the next generation. My parents deemed it unsafe for me to drive solo heavily pregnant with our dog Agnes so my mom flew and met me in Charlotte, then we drove the rest of the way together with a stopover in Williamsburg, Va.

I had purchased the audio book “Bringing Up Bebe” by Pamela Druckerman and figured it would be entertaining to listen to with my mom being that we lived in France for three years of my adolescence (’91-’94). It was an entertaining accompaniment to our drive and we found Druckerman’s ex-pat perspective on the French and their parenting styles both humorous and informative. It was the first introduction I had to what I would later learn was called “sleep training.”

I was 11 when I moved to France so my exposure to moms with babies was minimal. Until this book, I had never heard the expression faire ses nuits (direct translation is do their nights, or as we Americans call it, sleeping through the night), but it became my goal to raise a child who would do his nights as early as possible. What Druckerman shares with her readers (listeners, in our case) is that French parents let crying babies lie. Not for long, but for a good five minutes, or “the pause,” to give them a chance to fall back asleep without parental intervention. I didn’t fully understand what it would feel like to ignore a baby’s cries, but at the time I was all about embracing this method as a soon-to-be mom. I did not want to raise my child thinking they could forever rely on my instant attention with waterworks.

Sleep training is a phrase I find to be somewhat cringe-worthy. I wish we used a more gentle phrase when discussing the act of helping babies sleep at night. Sleep enabling sounds better and more accurate. We are, after all, encouraging better sleep habits. Training alludes to a kind of agreement on the baby’s behalf and they’re certainly unwilling participants in this endeavor.

As the due date to LG’s arrival approached, I was inundated with tips on what books to buy to help with sleep. Happiest Baby on the Block was the first one brought to our attention. Author Harvey Karp is a pediatrician in Santa Monica, Calif., and his schtick is that babies are born too early and their first few months with us should be considered the fourth trimester. He accentuates the importance of the five S’s in soothing a crying baby: swaddling, side/stomach holds, shushing sounds, swinging and sucking. Sounds easy enough. But once you’ve powered through all five S’s in the blink of an eye and your baby is still crying, kicking and turning himself purple, you’ll quickly realize Karp’s book is not the end-all be-all solution to perma-grin baby. He barely touches on colic — our LG had inexplicable bouts of crying after we exhausted food and dirty diapers as possible culprits — so if you’re like me, Karp’s book will end up in your least valuable pile.

Another book I tried was “The No-Cry Sleep Solution” by Elizabeth Pantley. I get her idea, but the title alone still pisses me off. Whenever someone suggests there will be no crying involved in any part of bringing up your baby it irks me. And it’s totally misleading. Pantley is a mother of four and she states clearly in the beginning of her book that her methods aren’t scientific, rather they’re what she discovered worked for her babies. She writes about sleep associations and how you should mix it up so baby doesn’t fall in love with one blanket or animal or pacifier or I don’t know what. She also writes babies should not nurse to sleep and that they should be put down before they go to never-neverland. That I’m down with. She is also pretty adamant about no crying allowed. Even for a minute. She lost me there. Her style seemed a bit more attachment-parenting than what I was looking for. One of the biggest problems I had was Pantley suggests parents should expect to deal with night wakings for up to a year. That may be OK for some people, but that wasn’t going to work for us and our sanity. Pantley doesn’t offer a structured plan or method in this book — there’s a lot of fluff with no substance — so we moved right along.

The “Sleepeasy solution” by Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack was one of our faves, and had I not discovered the book I’m about to mention, it would have won the most valuable book award. My only problem with this book was it is not specifically for newborns. There’s a lot of stuff in the book that we may or may not need one, two, three + years down the road. But it basically suggests the same principles as the next book on my list — weaning and cutting back on nighttime feedings. Waldburger and Spivack are psychotherapists and own a sleep-consulting firm so they know what they’re talking about. I look forward to going back to this book as LG ages with the ideas and suggestions for toddler sleep problems.

Last but not least — the MVB we stumbled upon thanks to a UVA friend in San Diego — was “Twelve Hours’ Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old” by Suzy Giordano. Giordano embraces the gradual approach of weaning baby off nighttime feedings vs. what I call the cold turkey approach of putting baby down and not going into the nursery until 12 hours later. The latter is something I read about on Tribeca Pediatric’s website (h/t Fashionista), but we decided it was too much for us and our son. Here’s their article. We did a sort of combination of the two methods. So if you’re wondering, yes, we did “cry it out” at points in this sleep enabling process and it was the best thing we ever did for all of us.

If you’re considering this type of sleep enabling, I can’t pretend ignoring your baby’s cries will be easy. I just recommend one thing once you’ve committed. Stick. It. Out. And if you do online research, prepare to be floored by the vitriol spewed among moms on the subject. I’m bracing for some here. The first night I felt sick and nearly cried along with LG. I discovered that turning on the air circulation in the apartment slightly muffled his cries, as did the fans in both our bathrooms and the dryer right outside his door. I even covered my head with pillows to a chorus of displeased grumblings from MainMan (I wasn’t too concerned about his comments, however, because in one breath he’d whisper “poor guy” and the next he’d be back to snoring a bitter sweet symphony). But we were determined to make this work. And it did gradually get slightly easier. I made the mistake of telling my mom what we were doing and she sent me some highly-charged texts telling me how selfish I was while speculating this must be some form of post-partum depression. I would advise perhaps against informing your baby’s grandparents of your sleep methods if it involves crying it out. Neither verbal explanations nor online literature supporting sleep training would help my mom come around to what we were doing so I ended up just leaving out the details.

When LG turned 3 months and he was well over 12 pounds (weight is one of the most important factors when considering if it’s safe for your baby to skip night feedings), MainMan and I made a decision to begin the sleep enabling process. At the time, LG was waking up about two to three times a night. Giordano recommends weaning babies off one feeding at a time by decreasing the amount of milk being fed to the baby during these overnight sessions. Pick one feeding and gradually reduce milk offered during that session until you don’t offer any. For instance, if you’re up at 11 p.m., 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. and you’re interested in cutting out the middle session, you’ll want to slowly feed your baby less at that time. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s a little tougher to measure how much milk your baby is getting. If you follow this plan rigidly and you BF, I imagine you’ll just cut minutes away from the feedings. For us, it was easier to just nix a feeding all together. So if LG cried at those three times, we’d let him cry it out once, then we’d go to him the next time, then we’d let him cry it out again and so on. Slowly, and like magic, the waking up at 2 a.m. went away completely. Then we did the same thing with the remainder of the feedings — alternating going in and letting him cry it out — until one magical night we didn’t hear a peep.

In addition to having a plan once the lights go out, you should have a strategy for the daytime, as well. We gradually embraced a phrase I learned from another mom: “sleep begets sleep.” This may seem counter-intuitive. In the beginning I often thought, “Oh he’s been up for hours. He should be exhausted. He’ll sleep great.” This is not necessarily the case. The better your LO is sleeping during the day the better they will most likely sleep at night. A bedtime routine was extremely helpful to us and we are thankful to WizMom for helping us get started with one as early as 6 weeks. Once we decided 7 p.m. was roughly the goal bedtime, we implemented nightly tubs at 6:30. They last anywhere from 5-10 minutes, followed by dad putting him in PJs and then we go into the nursery for a boob session. For the first few months of his life, we always put LG down asleep. Which I later discovered was not going to help with sleep enabling. Once we committed to sleep enabling we would put LG down awake. He wasn’t very happy with us in the beginning, but the tears when we left the room dissipated rather quickly (quicker than the cries in the middle of the night). That was a small victory in the beginning which helped motivate us to keep going.

You might think this method sends confusing signals to the baby. If you’re going in some times and not others, how do they get the message they’re supposed to be sleeping through the night at all? I can’t say how or why, but our strategy worked and it truly was a life/game-changer. The more rigorous CIO method espoused by Tribeca Pediatrics is supposed to work in just a few nights. I believe it, but I also believe your baby has to have the right temperament for it to work. LG was not an easy newborn and the “see you in 12 hours” method just felt like it was too much to ask of him. Our hybrid approach to a full night’s sleep for all of us took about a month, but the payoff is tremendous. We feel so lucky that LG has been sleeping through the night for almost five months, minus a hiccup maybe half a dozen times since his 4-month birthday (he’ll be 9 months in a few days). I can’t tell you the amount of posts I’ve read in groups on Facebook and on Instagram of moms whose babies are 13, 18, 23-months old and they’ve never seen a full night’s sleep. Or their babies wake up at 4:30 a.m. on the reg. I just cannot imagine.

As mentioned above, on LG’s 3-month birthday (11/15/16), we started our sleep enabling process. I flew solo to a wedding in New York the first weekend in December and MainMan was committed to continuing the weaning process without me. At that point, LG was waking up about once a night. Little did I know I’d disappear for 48 hours and return to LG doing his nights. It was an early Christmas miracle! Shortly after I read about a woman who paid someone to sleep train her baby while she and her husband went away for the weekend. I have mixed feelings on this, but I unintentionally did something similar with LG. Thanks, MainMan!

If you’re a parent looking for a sleep solution, I highly recommend reading as much as you can and figuring out what method will work best for you and your family. And like us, maybe you’ll find mixing it up is best. Living arrangements may also factor into your plan. It has to be much easier to embrace CIO if you’re in a 4-bedroom, 2-story home and the nursery is down the hall behind a closed door. I imagine you’re less likely to endure CIO if you’re squeezed into a tight apartment. We are in a 900-sq-ft apartment and I was always wondering what our downstairs neighbors were hearing. We just kept our eyes, ears and hearts on the prize of a full night’s sleep. Lucky for us, I discovered our neighbors didn’t hear any crying and they too happen to have a baby who’s only about a month older than LG.

It’s 8:30 p.m. as I’m finishing this post and I put LG down about an hour ago. Now that I’ve started working full-time it’s a little hard to part with him at 7 o’clock, but I know it’s what’s best for him. I’ll go check on him like I do every night before I go to bed, then I’ll walk into his room at 7 a.m. tomorrow, smiling and thankful for our great night’s sleep and for another awesomely great day of being his mom.

 

 

 

 

 

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There are 3 comments

  1. Emily

    Great post! The subject is very fresh for me – I’ve just finished sleep train my son who just turned 6 months old. For these 6 months we co-sleep. I thought there is no way to make him fall asleep on his own with his crib. And my sister told me about “How to teach a baby to fall asleep alone” ebook written by Susan Urban and the HWL method that she describes in it ( http://www.parental-love.com ). I thought that there is si many books and guides for parents and that they all are hopeless but I was really tired so she convinced me to read it. Now I owe her! After a few days (3 or 4) my son was able to fall asleep on his own! Great ebook, big help!

    Like

  2. Kim

    I tried the HWL method and it worked really well! Thank you Emily for mentioning How to teach a baby to fall asleep alone guide! Love it!

    Like

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