Finally! Today I’m sharing all about sleep training: how we did it, when we started, what method we’re using, and answering all of your questions…
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WHY DID WE START SLEEP TRAINING BABY GRAY?
Let me start here: I didn’t WANT to sleep train. I can confidently say that no mama wants to sleep train her baby. It’s done out of pure sleep deprivation and desperation – a last ditch effort to save some sanity.
After I had my first baby, I hired a sleep consultant. (I ended up sleep training her the weekend before our first appointment, but that’s another story for another day.)
I remember ONE thing she told me: “She’s telling you that it’s not working anymore.”
Ultimately, all of my babies started struggling with sleep around 3.5/4 months old. It’s the dreaded 4 month sleep regression, and it SUCKS.
It became very clear that Gray was telling me “Mama, this isn’t working for me anymore.” He was waking up 3-4 times a night and becoming increasingly difficult to put down at night. He would fall asleep nursing (GASP) and then when I put him in his crib, he would shoot awake and cry out. UGH.
I knew it was time.
WHEN DID WE SLEEP TRAIN?
I dragged my feet this time. Maybe it’s because he’s my last baby, maybe my mama heart has softened over the years, or maybe I was just used to not getting much sleep, but it took me awhile to decide to sleep train.
Finally, I was exhausted enough. I didn’t have a choice. We both needed sleep.
I started sleep training him when he turned 6 months old.
WHAT SLEEP TRAINING METHOD DID YOU USE?
I used Cry It Out (CIO) for all of my babies. It’s not for everyone, but it is what has worked the best for us.
I had planned on doing the Check And Console Method, in which I would have set times to go in and console Gray for 30 seconds without picking him up. I would go in at 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes and then continue going in every 15 minutes until he falls asleep.
Well, it didn’t work for us. For one, it made him even more pissed off. My consoling wasn’t consoling to him – it was more like teasing. It was like: “See! I’m here! But you can’t have me.” He wasn’t having it and upped the crying.
Also, logistically it was too hard. With 2 kiddos still awake downstairs, I couldn’t exactly sit and watch the clock.
So, CIO it was.
Here’s the thing about CIO: it’s going to work the fastest, but it’s definitely the toughest.
Thankfully, he didn’t cry for longer than 20 minutes, which is amazing. BUT STILL. 20 minutes feels like 20 hours.
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO WORK?
This is why CIO has been my sleep training method of choice with all 3 kids: it works quickly.
I swear, every time I’ve had to do CIO I’m shocked that it works so quickly. The first night is ROUGH. The second night is ROUGH. Then, the third night is better. MUCH better.
He cried for 20 minutes the first night.
Then about 15 minutes the second night.
Then, this was the third night…
He was sound asleep within 10 minutes with NO crying. He had learned how to put himself to sleep.
WHAT IS YOUR BEDTIME ROUTINE?
OK, this might be the most important part of sleep training: making sure your bedtime routine allows for sleep training to be successful and that it’s consistent.
Here’s what ours looks like:
530pm: Nurse downstairs + try real food. This is the last time I will nurse him for the day, then I’ll feed him real food while I eat. I make sure it’s nothing he hasn’t had before, just in case something doesn’t sit well with him.
6pm: Bath. This is the only part of the routine that changes. I don’t give him a bath every night.
615pm: Bottle of formula in his nursery. (This was the change I made when we started sleep-training. I wanted to make sure I knew how much he was getting, so that I wouldn’t convince myself that he was hungry when he started crying at 9pm.)
630pm: Books and song. An essential part of the routine: There needs to be a step in between nursing/bottle and putting him in his crib.
635(ish)pm: Put him in his crib AWAKE (not drowsy), say “Goodnight, sweet boy. I love you.” and walk out.
WHAT ABOUT NIGHTTIME WAKE UPS?
I’ve learned that this is very dependent on the baby. But by around 6 months, you probably know when baby is waking up out of hunger, and when he’s waking up out of habit.
I knew that any nighttime wake up before 1am or so was out of habit. Babies learn quickly and baby boy learned that I would nursed him during those early wake ups, even tho he wasn’t hungry.
I suggest setting a time and sticking to it. So, anytime Gray woke up before 1am, I would let him cry. He didn’t cry more than 10 minutes or so, but it might be longer. The good news is that as long as you’re consistent, it shouldn’t take long before baby learns that it’s time to sleep.
If you’re doing the Check And Console method, you would again start with 5 minutes and go from there for any night wake ups when baby isn’t hungry.
SLEEP TRAINING TIPS
HAVE A PLAN GOING IN. Don’t wing it and wait to see how you feel, because IT’S GOING TO SUCK. For real. It’s awful and once you start, everything in you will want to stop. Remember that stopping makes it even HARDER and will train baby to keep crying.
SUPPORT. When I did CIO with my first baby, I had my mom there with me. I cried in the shower while she watched the monitor. It was the only way I could get through it. This time around, I felt more confident that I could do it, knowing that it wouldn’t hurt the baby and he (we) NEEDED sleep.
PUT THE BABY DOWN AWAKE BUT SLEEPY, NOT DROWSY. “Drowsy but awake” is a big phrase in baby sleep training land. But here’s the thing: drowsy isn’t awake. It’s like one mini step away from asleep. I make sure Baby Gray is sleepy (meaning it’s definitely time for bedtime), but fully awake when I put him in his crib.
Babies expect to wake up the way they fell asleep, and if they don’t, they’re not happy about it. So, if baby falls asleep while nursing, he expects to wake up on the boob. If he falls asleep while rocking, he wants to wake up rocking away in your arms.
The entire goal of sleep training is to teach baby how to fall asleep on his own. So, he goes into his crib fully aware he’s going into his crib.
Then, he self soothes (chews on hands, touches hair, sucks thumb, etc) and falls asleep.
When he wakes up (most likely in 45 minutes at the end of his sleep cycle), he won’t be alarmed that he’s alone in his crib. He’ll know exactly what to do. He’s done this before.
TALK WITH YOUR PED BEFORE SLEEP TRAINING. Every baby is different, so be sure to have a talk with your Pediatrician about starting sleep training.
OUR SLEEP MUST HAVES
DID YOU STOP USING THE MERLIN MAGIC SLEEPSUIT BEFORE YOU STARTED SLEEP TRAINING?
Yes. I wanted to make sure to take away any sleep crutches, and while the Merlin Sleepsuit is great for when baby is too young to sleep train, it can get in the way of baby learning how to self soothe. Also, I wanted to make sure that he could roll over to his side or tummy to sleep if he wanted to, since babies sleep so much better on their tummies.
WHAT ABOUT NAPS?
Daytime sleep is much harder than nighttime sleep. I always focus on nighttime sleep first, and then generally naps will fall into place once baby gets older and is sleeping better at night.
I don’t recommend tackling both naps and nighttime sleep at the same time. An overtired baby doesn’t sleep better a night – you’ll probably make sleep training much harder for you and baby.
While I’m sleep training, I make sure he gets enough sleep during the day, no matter what. So, if that means I nurse him to sleep, so be it. If that means he sleeps in the stroller on a walk, that’s OK.
I do try to put him down for naps in the crib, but if he starts crying, I will immediately go to get him and take him out as if it’s time to wake up. Then, 10 minutes later, I’ll try to get him to sleep again however I can.
WHAT IS YOUR ROUTINE DURING THE DAY?
I covered this a bit in his 6 month update post, but we don’t have a strict routine yet – and probably never will because #thirdbaby.
The thing I focus on most is SLEEP (shocker). He takes 4 naps – with the last one being around 330pm. They’re still all over the place as far as length – anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours.
I make sure he doesn’t get overtired and have learned that babies are pretty much always ready for a nap before we think they are.
His first nap is about an hour after he wakes up, and then we go from there, without letting him stay up longer than 2 hours in between naps.
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