With the help of my husband, I was able to get a clearer idea of what happened during those early sleep training days. Here goes… *big breath in*…
In Part I, I mentioned that for the first month or so, we were mostly sleeping with Noelle on our chests, and was in basic survival mode by just doing whatever we could to get some sleep. I was breastfeeding, so my husband couldn’t help with feedings in the middle of the night (plus he went back to work after 2 weeks), so I was the one getting up most of the time. Noelle would wake up every other hour the first couple months, and I would feed on demand. Then it would take me 30 more minutes to rock her back to sleep. By the time I tried to go back to sleep, it was time to do it all over again. I was losing it, and it was obvious that she was not a naturally good sleeper and probably falls in the category of a “high needs” baby.
When we first considered sleep training, it didn’t sit too well with me. I could hardly bear to hear Noelle cry for more than a few minutes at a time, how was I going to muster up the courage to let her cry herself to sleep? Wasn’t my role as a mother to make sure she didn’t cry and to meet her every need? I felt conflicted, but we did it anyway because ultimately, we felt that sleep training would be in the best interest of us all instead of having an overtired baby along with sleep-deprived, stressed out parents.
We decided to sleep train Noelle earlier than most, at the 6-week mark. It happened to fall on President’s Day weekend so we thought it would give us the perfect 3-days to let her cry-it-out. We started with Ferber’s CIO method with checks every 5-minutes, then every 10-minutes, and so on. We soon found that checking up on her just made it worse because she would cry even more furiously knowing we’d likely come back in for her.
Thus, we chose to follow Weissbluth’s Extinction Method, meaning no checks at all once she’s down for the night. However, we used that with discretion. If her crying sounded abnormal, we would hurry and go in to make sure there wasn’t anything wrong. We found that when we did this, she would immediately stop crying the moment she was picked up, which indicated to us that everything was perfectly fine with her. We would put her right back down and not check again. Hearing her cry while we sat in the living room staring at her through the baby monitor was one of the hardest things I ever had to sit through. I cried inconsolably while she cried, but thankfully, I had my husband to lean on.
The first night was the most brutal – she cried about 45-minutes nonstop before falling asleep. Through the monitor, we saw her learn to self-soothe by sucking on her fist through her Woombie. My stomach was twisted into a thousand different knots, and I wondered if I was going to damage her for life. However, my mind kept reassuring me that human beings are more resilient than that. The second night, she cried a little less. The third night, she only cried for about 15-minutes before drifting to sleep. I couldn’t believe it!
What worked for us:
- Tackling nighttime sleep first. I read that it’s easier to teach them to sleep at night than it is to nap train. Turns out we never ended up having to nap train because after we successfully night-trained, she fell into a good rhythm for naps by herself.
- For naps, we let her sleep on her belly the moment she exhibited stronger head control. We believe this is a big reason why we never needed to nap train and she was always able to nap in 1-1.5 hour increments. We would watch for her sleepy cues, and get her ready for a nap the moment she let out her first yawn.
- Consistency is key. Having the same routine every night was so important in setting up her expectations. She caught on pretty quickly that once we put her down for the night, we were not coming back in.
- Putting her down sleepy but awake. We intentionally did not want to create sleep props like rocking or feeding her to sleep. We really wanted to teach her how to fall asleep on her own, so this required her being somewhat awake when her head hit the crib.
- Swaddling – We used the Woombie and loved it because it allowed her limbs to still move freely within the confines of a swaddle. This was especially important in allowing her to self-soothe. She was able to suck on her fist through her Woombie, whereas she wouldn’t have been able to do that with a traditional swaddle. She was not a pacifier baby so her being able to suck her fist was very important in aiding her back to sleep.
- Cluster-feeding – this helped keep her tummy fuller and allowed her to sleep longer stretches at a time.
- Holding her upright for 20-minutes after nursing. We soon caught on if we didn’t make sure she got one really good burp out before putting her down, she would not be able to sleep.
- We were fiercely protective of her sleep. We pretty much revolved our lives around Noelle’s sleep schedule. We were the type of parents others might roll their eyes at because we would skip out on events, or come home early just because we wanted her in her crib for a nap or to put her down for the night. It wasn’t much of a sacrifice to us though because when she napped, you bet I napped! When she went down for the night, I relished the personal time that remained.
Where we’re at now:
The benefit of writing this post months and months down the line is I can tell you if the sleep training worked for us. We saw the benefits of sleep training almost immediately, and have no regrets about it.
- Months 1-3 she slept from 8-midnight before waking up for her first feeding. Then she would wake up once or twice in the middle of the night, but fall right back asleep right after feeding so I didn’t need to sit there and rock her to sleep like I had been doing before.
- Months 4-6 she started sleeping 7-4 am, which is considered “sleeping through the night” for that age range.
- Months 6-8 she started to sleep from 7 pm-7 am. Since I was still breastfeeding I would wake up in the middle of the night to pump and keep my supply up.
She did go through various phases where all of a sudden her good sleep would somehow disappear. This was usually because of teething, or a developmental leap like the 4-month or 9-month sleep regression where they’re learning so many new things at once. Regardless of what phase she was in, the one thing we always stuck to was giving her a consistently early bedtime (7 pm). She’s well-rested, we’re well-rested… everyone wakes up happy.
She’s a healthy and well-adjusted baby girl. Contrary to what some say, none of this seems to have made her love me any less. She is a mama’s girl through and through, with a wonderfully gentle spirit.
Would I do this again for our next baby? Absolutely, if needed. But every baby is so different, I’d have to wait and see what he/she’s like. There really is no right way. I’m lucky Noelle took to sleep training so well, this may not be the case for the next one. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when it comes.
This was a hard post for me to write. I know not everyone is going to agree with sleep training so early on, but it worked for us and hopefully it provided some useful insight! If you have questions about anything we did, I’ll try to answer them as best I can.