I am a big fan of gentle sleep training. When I was pregnant with A I started to research how to help him have good sleep habits; when I was a kid, I never learned how to sleep on my own. I was always scared, slept in my parents’ room forever, couldn’t soothe myself back to sleep if I woke up, etc. I’m sure it was annoying for my parents but more importantly, it was hard on me emotionally. So this is a personal hot button issue of mine, which is why I really wanted to learn how to give A the gift of sleep.
Many people say, “I would never let my baby cry” and have lots of criticism to say about sleep training. It really is a personal decision, and I totally respect the fact that it is not something other families are interested in. That being said, I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what sleep training involves. The method I used does not involve leaving baby to cry for 3 hours, but rather it involves checking in on baby frequently, offering comfort, and increasing wait times. Sleep training won’t work unless you use the method YOU are comfortable with and can stick with it 100%. Yes, there will be crying – you are switching things up and baby will protest. I have friends who have babies that wake up every night as well who are a year old – those babies cry to alert mom they need something and do so every night for many months. For me, two nights of some crying was easier for me to handle then every night for months and A was so happy with so much sleep (baby C took much longer than two nights to learn how to sleep, but still not months). Others might not mind the middle of the night wakings, and if baby is happy and healthy and mom is happy, why rock the boat? Again, it is a personal decision but for me, waking up well rested myself to a well rested happy baby has been an incredible gift for our whole family.
We have had to re-visit sleep training a couple of times; after sickness for example, or after teething. It is always very brief and easy and before we know it, we are all back to getting the sleep our bodies and minds need. If this is something that still makes you uncomfortable, you know your family best and I encourage you to skip over this next section and do whatever you need to do to help your family sleep. Otherwise, here is how I sleep train:
You can start this between 3 and 4 months (if your doctor gives you the greenlight). You will first wean night feedings, then you will increase wait times before going in to give baby pacifier. This advice is based on Richard Ferber’s “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems”, and has been a go-to for my friend who has 5 children (she is the one who taught me- you can check out her tutorial here!).
1) Put baby to bed, drowsy but not totally asleep, for the night after you do your night time routine. Let’s say baby wakes to feed at around 3am – pick baby up and nurse or give bottle a couple minutes less than normal, then burp and lay back down. Over course of one week, you continually feed less and less. If nursing, feed for fewer minutes. If bottle feeding, feed fewer ounces decreasing by about 1 ounce per day. By days 5 and 6, you should be down to about 1-2 minute feedings, or 1-2ounce bottle. After feeding, put pacifier in baby’s mouth and back to sleep baby goes.
2) On day 7, you are probably down to a one-minute feeding. Nurse for that one minute, then swaddle and put pacifier in mouth. Lay baby back down and whatever you do you can NOT pick baby up. This is where it gets very hard, but baby needs to learn how to soothe him/herself and really needs sleep at this age. By being strong, you are giving baby a gift. Baby will likely fuss so reach your hand and hold pacifier for baby, or pat baby and make shhh noises. It will take some time but baby will fall back asleep.
3) Now….the big day – day 8. You are officially out of nighttime feedings. You are committed! Feed baby before bed like normal, put baby to sleep like normal….But when baby wakes up at 3am for a snack, quietly crawl into room (try to avoid letting baby see you if you can) and gently place pacifier in mouth. If swaddle has come undone and baby likes to sleep swaddled, quickly reswaddle. It is very important that you do not pick up for cuddles and kisses. If you pick baby up on this night, or if you feed even a little bit, it will undo all your hard work from the week. You will teach him that if he wakes in middle of night, he gets mommy and a snack. So, go in there quietly and gently hold pacifier in baby’s mouth. Once baby is sucking he is soothing himself. Sit in there for a few minutes until you are sure baby has fallen back asleep. Baby might spit pacifier out and you might have to put it back in a couple times. But again, whatever you do, DO NOT feed and DO NOT pick up. Try not to let baby see you.
Baby might fuss for 10 minutes. Baby might fuss for an hour. All the while, you sit there with your hand in the crib, helping with the pacifier so baby can start to soothe him/herself back to sleep.
4) Day 9: You made it through a rough night but you were strong and after an hour of fussing and helping with the pacifier, baby went back to sleep. Maybe baby woke up another time or two, and you repeated the process of giving pacifier. Now it is time for night two of no feedings – this time with no feeding (maybe waking, but no feeding). Bedtime routine like normal, and baby wakes up at 3am. Give baby pacifier and do not pick up or feed. Chances are baby sucks on pacifier and falls asleep a little faster than the night before. Maybe baby spits pacifier out 10 times instead of 20. Baby soothes him/herself to sleep. You are almost done!
5) Day 10 (night 3 of no feedings): Baby wakes at 3am because of habit. Now you play the waiting game. Let baby fuss for 3 minutes before you creep in and give pacifier. Still no picking up or feeding or cuddles or talking. Baby falls back asleep. Day 11: Wait 5 minutes before going in and giving pacifier. Day 12: Wait 7 minutes before going in. Day 13: Wait 9 minutes before going in, and so on.
Eventually baby will wake, then quickly soothe back to sleep, with pacifier or not. Because you have taught baby that waking up at 3am is not a time for snacks and kisses and cuddles, it is time to go back to sleep..
The whole process takes between 10 and 14 days, and some babies will put up way more of a fight. If baby is sick or congested or teething or you are on vacation, this is NOT a good time to sleep train. Don’t break on the first night of no more feedings and you will be golden.