Sleep training a baby has got to be one of the most difficult tasks as a parent. You have to avoid eye contact, wait for them to CIO (cry it out), have the AC set to a chilly 71 degrees and have the perfect lighting. Luckily, millions of parents have done it and their babies are now successfully sleeping through the night.
We got the OK from our pediatrician to start sleep training Sebastian when he was about 4 months old. We couldn’t wait to try it out- having the baby sleep through an entire night? That’s crazy talk! We couldn’t even imagine what that would be like. At about 4 months Sebastian was still waking up twice a night for feedings, once around midnight and again at 4am. Good news is when you start the process of sleep training as early as we did, you can generally (emphasis on generally) knock it out in about 2-3 days. But before you yelp out an excited “woohoo” let me warn you- it will be 2-3 of the most difficult days of your life. But there is a goal and it’s going to make your child’s life better- they’re going to learn how to self soothe and become better sleepers.
Sleep training has a specific formula. As first time parents we had no idea what we were doing so we hired a sleep trainer. She gave us some amazing tips, wrote out a schedule for us, wished us luck and sent us on our way. So I thought I’d share my knowledge with you guys.
The first and most important tip she gave us, is to of course make sure there is absolutely NO bedding or thick bumpers inside the crib. Can’t emphasis enough how important this is. Your newborn doesn’t need a personalized quilt or what you’re hoping is going to be their favorite stuffed animal in there. SIDs is no joke. Take all that crap out of the crib. The only thing that should be in the crib is a tight fitted bed sheet and your baby. Some parents want to avoid their kids getting their legs stuck in between the bars so they use the mesh breathable bedding. We used that for about 2 weeks then decided to take it out. If you’re unsure, ask your pediatrician.
BYE BYE PACIFIER:
Crib is safe and ready for sleep training? Great. The next tip is a little controversial. She told us to get rid of the Pacifier. What? “But that’s the only thing that stops him from screaming bloody murder,” I nervously told the sleep trainer. Why is he screaming bloody murder? And when does it happen? Does it happen when the paci falls out? “Yeah.” Well, there you have it. A good reason why Sebastian was waking up in the middle of the night so often (even after a feeding when he was full) was because his paci had fallen out. So you drag your sleep deprived butt back into their room and with one eye open and try to locate where the damn paci went…in the dark. Score. You found it. Back in his mouth. Peace and quiet. Slowly walk backwards out of his room without making a peep. Open the door ever so gently, slowly exit, close the door, walk back to your room, crash on the bed. 1…2…3…crying again. Paci fell out. Damn it! I don’t know about you guys but this happened to me more times than I’d like to admit (or remember for that matter, I was so sleep deprived).
Remembering how much I love/hate the paci made it easy for me to TRY to get rid of it. We decided we were ready for sleep training. We were going to get rid of the paci and wait for him to CIO until he feel asleep. The first nap I tried it on he cried on and off for about 45 minutes. I sat outside his bedroom and cried with him. There’s nothing worse than hearing your child cry out for you. But you have to be strong-keep reminding yourself that it’s for the best and you’re helping them become better sleepers.
TEN MINUTE RULE:
The general rule of thumb for CIO (according to our sleep trainer) was to set a 10 minute timer. If the baby cries for 10 minutes straight (a break is considered 10 seconds of them not crying), then you go in and reassure them (WITHOUT PICKING THEM UP!) that everything is ok and he’s safe and you’re going to be there when he wakes up. Exit the room immediately. He’ll cry again. If he takes a 10 second or more break during the crying session, reset that 10 minute timer and start all over again.
FIRST FEW NAPS:
You’d think that after all that crying they’ll probably be exhausted, right? Wrong. The very first nap he took after sleep training was 20 minutes. So I picked him up as soon as he woke up and we carried on with our day. I fed him, we played, we did everything we normally do. An hour before it was time for his second nap he was exhausted (from all the crying I’m sure), but instead of putting him down early, I kept him up until it was time for his next nap. He was SO EXHAUSTED at this point, that the sleep training crying portion was surprisingly shorter this time. He cried for about 30 minutes on and off and eventually soothed himself to sleep. This time his nap lasted for 45 minutes. Small victories.
REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT:
You got the formula down, you’re on a schedule, you’re doing great, baby is doing great, everyone is happy. What now? You HAVE to stick to the schedule and boundaries you’ve created. On day 5 you can’t decide that they’re doing so great and you’re so proud that now you’re going to hold him until he falls asleep because you miss the feeling or you think they deserve it. Guess what? If you do this, you have to start all over again. And it’s not fun. The only time I broke this rule was when Sebastian was sick. He got a really bad ear infection and it hurt him to lay down flat so I would hold him upright until he feel asleep. But a week later when he was 100% again I had to “mini sleep train” him all over again.
Sleep training isn’t going to happen overnight. By week 2 Sebastian had dropped his 4am nap and was sleeping from 7:30PM to midnight, waking up for 1 feeding, then he went back to sleep until 6:30AM. It was about 3 weeks after we had started sleep training that our miracle happened. My husband and I woke up at 5am, realized that Sebastian didn’t wake up at all during the night and was still sound asleep. Score! We did it! We were so damn excited, we gave each other a high five and immediately went back to sleep. The most important part of sleep training is having patience and being strong. Don’t give in at the first cry, I know how hard it is not to, but it’ll be worth it in the end for the entire family.