‘Sleep Training’ is a hot button topic, sure. But we were desperate for sleep as most parents of babies are. Elliot was 6 months and she had my number and was ringing it 4 times a night. She knew that if she cried loud enough I would come running, boob in hand, ready to stuff it into her adorable little mouth, to prevent her from waking up her 2 1/2 year old brother who would surely insist on 19 books before returning to sleep. It was getting worse as she was getting smarter. She needed to learn how to sleep on her own. We are her parents. That’s our job.
Here is my stance on the “sleep training” subject: I feel that the happiness of the family trumps the happiness of each individual child. I think that as long as you show love and your child feels loved, then it doesn’t matter how you manage to get them to sleep. I think it’s really, really important to teach kids how to self soothe.
But … I try to avoid “Crying It Out” (the version with no check-in) because it’s stressful for parent and child. The biggest problem with CIO is my fear that they feel abandoned by me, wondering where I am, and that they’ll lose important trust we’ve established. But I don’t think that’s even true or possible. That’s just my fear.
I think we are all on the same page when we say that when your child is a newborn you do not let them “cry it out.” Sure, you can give them a break every now and again, and let them cry for a few minutes (which some Dr’s believe is a stress reliever). I’m not a scientist, but I believe firmly in the “babies can’t be spoiled/loved/held too much” camp and I think that if your 3 week old baby is screaming, you pick her up, and soothe. Please. Babies need to trust you, and I think that it takes months to build that trust.
Ok… But, after 4 months or 15 pounds (some say 5 months) it’s more widely known that they can kinda handle some distress on the way to sleeping through the night. Being neither anti or pro-CIO, again I believe that at the “safe age” you need to do whatever is best for your family. I would advise to try an easier method first to preserve your emotional sanity (Ferber or the one I did, see below) BUT, if you have to do CIO to just get it done (because it works) then do it. They’ll be fine, and it will hurt you more than them. To me it’s a last resort because the sound of my baby crying is painful for me, and doing what we did at least made me feel like she knew I wasn’t abandoning her because I was constantly in there chanting to her. Let’s face it a lot of the “sleep training” methods are made for us, not them.
Elliot was a lot more stubborn and willful than Charlie was at this age, so I put it off for weeks. But like I said above, that little girl had my number and she was ringing it, texting it, IM-ing it, and doing all sort of Facebook notifications with it all night long. So I looked at the calendar, and I saw a Sunday/Monday/Tuesday in a row where I didn’t have to be on camera or have any stressful shoots and I booked it. “Sleep Train Elliot, ” I wrote on the calendar. It was the week before she turned 6 months old. Happy 1/2 birthday, little bird 🙁
But I needed backup (at least I felt I needed backup … don’t we all need backup??)
I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do it, and I was desperate for moral/professional help. So, we called our old nanny, Shauna (founder of Nanny Agency LA), who had successfully trained many a baby via a non-CIO method. I had become personal friends with her, she still sits a lot for us and we hang out, plus both kids are super comfortable around her. So, I hired her to help me get through the night. By the way, she has even trained babies without the parents home, which she offered but I couldn’t (if you are desperate feel free to call her and she can place one of her sleep training experts to do the job for you). I just wanted someone else I trusted there to say “Nope, don’t go in. Wait 1 more minute because she’s winding down.” It’s like I needed a babysitter. The plan was that Brian and Charlie would sleep in the guest suite to eliminate the stress/possibility of waking that toddler up, and also so at least one parent would be able to function the next day (it’s detached from the house and while the monitor stretches that far, Brian still slept out there with him). I didn’t want to do the “sleep training” by myself but I didn’t want both of us being dead the next day and since I had the boob (and he didn’t), I knew that I would take the first night just in case.
Which brings me quickly to weaning – she was nursing at night but mostly pacifying because I was too tired to rock her to sleep. Shauna asked me if I was ready to wean her at night too and I said, YES. I only wanted to do this once and as long as she can healthily go 10-12 hours without food at night, then wean I will.
So around 6pm Shauna walked me through our now pretty strict routine:
The “No-Cry” method (which Shauna loves) recommends this (as most books do, actually):
2. Massage (possibly with some lavender oil).
3. Bottle (without sleep sack).
4. A song that anyone can sing for them -WITH sleep sack.
5. Lay them down AWAKE, say your “script” and leave.
The key was making sure she doesn’t fall asleep while feeding, and giving her the song/sleep sack and script as her cues that this is non-negotiable, “it’s time to sleep.”
After that, our plan of attack was to implement The Happy Sleeper method of going in after 5 minutes of crying, saying the EXACT same script in a really happy/positive voice, then leaving. Repeat until no crying. Every. Five. Minutes. Our script was this:
“Its time to sleep, Elliot. We’ll be right outside. I love you sooooo much and I can’t wait to see you in the morning. Good night.”
You must be happy, loving and positive. Kids mirror emotions as we all know, so if you are panicky and stressed, you are making it worse.
No picking them up, rocking, and ideally no pacifier. They are learning to go to sleep without any tools that they can’t use themselves at night. We did the Ferber Method with Charlie (which starts out with smaller increments and then gets longer and longer in between going in, a few have written their experiences with it as well), and it worked (to get him to sleep without rocking, he never needed middle of the night sleep training as he slept through the night at 9 weeks). Recently we had to re-train him when he regressed after traveling abroad, because he was dying to come sleep with us as he had in the hotels. We did the 5 minute/script method for him (at 2 years old) and it worked and we were pretty comfortable with it.
Alright. So how did it go?
She cried from 7:45 – 8:50, not SCREAMING just a “C’mon, please come rock me to sleep!!” kind of thing. We turned the monitor off but we could still hear her. Shauna and I poured a glass of wine and watched something that I don’t remember because all I was thinking was “When is she going to stop crying? When is she going to stop crying? Wait, is she stopping? Is she stopping???” We kept a journal of the time, and I went in every five minutes and gave the script with the most loving, calm “you can do it” kinda voice possible. Sometimes she cried more when she heard me come in and sometimes less. She was definitely losing steam around 25 minutes but technically she fussed for 50 minutes before she passed out. I think I only went in 5 times because if she stopped fussing even for 30 seconds we restarted the 5 minute clock – you know, those 30 seconds in which you hold your breath and stretch your ear towards the door thinking “is this it? is this it???”
Once she was down for a while, I relaxed and went to bed. Around 2am (are you guys still awake and reading this?) we had another 8 minute session so I only went in once (at the 5 minute mark). And again at 5am for 7 minutes, although that time Shauna went in because I didn’t hear her (thank you, Shauna).
Around 7:00am she woke up like an angel. So happy, smiley, and as if nothing had happened.
Turns out she caught on kinda fast. The next two nights I did it on my own because I felt confidant, and they got easier and easier – she cried less and less. Brian and Charlie came up on the second night and much to our shock she didn’t wake up Charlie.
We were high fiving all over the house. All our problems were solved.
Of course since then she started waking up at 5:30 then 5am then 4:30. At first I thought that she was hungry (7:30pm – 5:30am is 10 hours after all), but when we were approaching 4:30am I realized that we had to do it again. So three nights ago we went back to the 5 minute method. The key to this is feeling CONFIDENT that she isn’t hungry so I make sure that even if her schedule gets messed up during the day that we don’t feed her after 4pm (besides some solids) so we can be sure to give her a full, huge bottle at 7pm. If you want to know all the details, I am only nursing her in the morning and at night and I’m not sure how much milk she’s getting so that is complicating things, too.
We’ve done the 5 minute script again the last two nights in a row and it’s worked. The first night was only til’ 5:30am and the second (Tuesday night) was 7:30pm – 6:30am. That is solid sleep, folks and has worked great for me as that’s when I like to get up anyway.
There were some props involved. I’m sure you could use ton of different brands, but if you wanted to know exactly what we use here you go:
1. The white noise monitor. Both our kids have these and they are essential to their sleep.
2. The sleep sack. Again both our kids have these (we love those for our winter sacks) and while they are strangely expensive the cheap ones always break or rip.
3. A lovey. Both our kids have teeny-tiny blankets that bring them comfort and signal sleep time. Charlie sometimes wants this while we watch movies but generally these are blankies for when they are ready to go to sleep.
4. A comfortable mattress pad. Due to SIDS the mattresses these days are rock solid. With both our kids, we found that they slept so much better in our bed or in a bassinet than in their hard, hard crib for obvious reasons. Around 7 months with Charlie we added a thick blanket folded on top of the mattress but under the sheet to make it feel softer but tight. With Elliot we cut to the chase and ordered this, but now I’m realizing I don’t think its organic which is a bummer so I wish I had ordered this. Ours is very soft, though and she loves it. My very unprofessional and purely editorial/opinion advice is this: I wouldn’t add that layer until they are 5 months so they can easily lift/move their heads and are not swaddled any longer. For us (caveat: OUR FAMILY and we hold no expertise), we decided a more comfortable mattress pad was a common sense option and our kids sleep well on the softness.
That’s it. People have asked about co-sleeping and after polling my friends that did co-sleep and that didn’t co-sleep, the jury is in that co-sleeping babies don’t sleep through the night as young, but do at some point and then meanwhile they probably have some really good cuddling time. We didn’t do it because we chose the “let them be independent and let us sleep” route, but with Elliot we were so tempted and definitely slept with her a lot longer (til 6 weeks, I think).
It’s really what works best for you. While I can be super opinionated and even annoyingly know-it-all in many ways of life, when it comes to kids I’m a “do your best” kinda person/parent. Seriously. Get through it with love and crying infrequently.
I’m also now a “I have had 8 hours of sleep and I can perform brain surgery if you need me to” kinda person. I know that this is only temporary and that things will digress, regress and undress over the next 5 years, but she has learned that she can get through the night without me now which means freedom, sleep, and sanity. And that is the recipe for happiness right there. I love that little baby but I’m even more fond of her when she sleeps through the night.
Also, can we all agree that having a friend who has once sleep trained to help you is a really important gift? It should be some sort of rite of passage or tradition. We all need help with that and we should be there for each other more than we are while drinking wine and watching “The Proposal” over and over.
In conclusion, “sleep training” is like giving birth – it doesn’t matter how you do it, it only matters that everyone survives.
So. Let’s get into it in the comments. How did you “sleep train”? Are you anti-sleep training? Is co-sleeping a good thing? Did you CIO, FERBER, or do you even remember because its all a blur and it doesn’t really matter anyway???