As a second-time mom, I was prepared (as much as one can be) for the sleepless nights and back-to-back-to-back nursing sessions that come along with having a newborn. When my son reached 11 months old and those nights weren't getting any less sleepless, though, I knew something had to give.
He was still waking me up at least three or four times every night to nurse. After confirming with his pediatrician that he was getting more than enough breast milk and solid food during the day, my husband and I decided it was time for a healthy dose of sleep training.
Every book, website, video, and Facebook group will tell you to do something differently — and they all claim to be the best.
Deep down, I had known for months that we needed to give sleep training a try. My hesitance to take on the task had been due not only to sleep deprivation, but also because of the sheer volume of sleep training methods out there. Every book, website, video, and Facebook group will tell you to do something differently — and they all claim to be the best. In my state of perpetual exhaustion, it felt like more than my brain could handle.
Eventually, I worked up the courage to check out a few books from the library. My favorites were The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight and The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep by Dr. Harvey Karp. I thought I would want to follow a specific plan to the letter, but no one approach felt like the perfect fit for us. My husband discussed what we liked and didn't like about each method, and came up with our own plan.
Our method involved the following:
- Instead of nursing to sleep, nurse and then give him a bath so I can lie him down drowsy but awake
- Leave the room, but check on him in increasing five-minute intervals (five, then 10, then 15, etc.) until he falls asleep
- Only comfort him or hold him long enough for him to calm down and then lie him back in bed
- Remove "sleep crutches" like pacifiers or rubbing his back until he falls asleep
- Let my husband handle some of the overnight wake-ups so he isn't always expecting milk
We chose a Tuesday evening to start the process. I expected to spend most of the night lying in bed listening to our son cry, but it went surprisingly well. I nursed him and then gave him a bath and let my husband put him to bed. He was (not surprisingly) still crying after five minutes, so my husband went in to comfort him. He let another 10 minutes pass before going in again. Before we hit the 15-minute mark, he was asleep. I was seriously shocked. He only woke up twice overnight and we were able to get him back to sleep without nursing him.
From there, things progressed rather quickly. Within a few days, he was sleeping through the night and we didn't have to check on him more than once after lying him down. He was finally learning how to fall asleep and stay asleep without my help. I felt like a new woman! I hadn't had a full night's sleep in almost a year and I didn't realize just how tired and worn-down I had felt until I had a few nights of sweet, sweet rest.
I'm not saying you should do it our way. There are lots of ways to sleep train — this is just the one that worked for us. If you are ready to tackle the world of sleep training, here are a few tips I would recommend:
1. Do your research and choose a method that feels right for you.
Just because your neighbor used the cry-it-out method doesn't mean you have to if you aren't comfortable with it. On the same note, you don't have to listen to your mother-in-law when she tells you that you are hurting your baby by not picking her up every time she cries. Read a few books or websites and choose the path that most resonates with you.
2. Stick to the plan and trust the process.
Babies thrive on routines, which is the exact reason it can be so difficult to break them of their current sleep habits when you decide to sleep-train. Whichever method you decide to use, go over the plan with anyone else who will be putting your baby down for naps or at night (your partner, a babysitter, etc.) and stick to it. If you waffle back and forth, your baby will feel confused and frustrated . . . and so will you.
3. Choose the right time.
Yes, we could have tried sleep training much sooner, but I just wasn't ready. You don't have to sleep train at 3 months or 6 months or even at all if it isn't what you want to do. For me, I knew when it felt like the right time, and it made it that much easier to take on sleep training and see it through to the (glorious) other side.
Here's wishing you good luck, better rest, and lots of coffee.