Family · Motherhood

My Sleep Training Experience

There are different schools of thought when it comes to sleep training (whether or not to do it, the best approach to take, the optimal time to start, etc.) and few topics seem to spark the kind of debate that sleep training triggers. Before I had Jackson, I didn’t know how I’d feel about it, honestly. And I didn’t have to think much about it until Jackson was almost six months old, because from about two to five and a half months, he was a great overnight sleeper (although daytime was a different story). For a while I thought I’d hit the jackpot with an amazing night sleeper and would never have to deal with the dreaded sleep training conundrum. But alas, that turned out to be major wishful thinking.

Right before I was scheduled to return to work from maternity leave, when Jackson was nearly six months old, he went from waking only once per night (totally manageable) to waking every 90 minutes to two hours (complete torture). He never even did that as a newborn! The only way I could get him back down each time was to nurse him, so naturally, I was completely exhausted every single day. Like walking zombie exhausted. I thought I was going to lose my mind. I kept thinking it must be a phase or regression and that Jackson’s sleep would get back on track eventually on its own, so I just dealt with it for a while, but after a few months of this constant waking every night, it was pretty clear that this had become the new normal. Since I was back at work and needing to be functional during the day, something had to give. I was at my wit’s end. So, when Jackson was around eight months old, David and I agreed to try a modified version of sleep training.

In my research, I knew that we shouldn’t start a training approach that we weren’t confident we could stick with, so full-blown cry-it-out was off the table. There were other, “gentler” techniques that we could have tried, but they all involved following the same steps throughout the entire night for as long as it took to achieve success. Living in an apartment at the time, and one with zero sound proofing at that, I didn’t want to let my baby cry for extended periods of time at all hours. I also didn’t want to lose even more sleep by having to deal with long bouts of crying in the wee hours, and the anxiety that provokes. It’s just not something I’m comfortable with, neighbors aside.

My solution was to start “soft training” Jackson by letting him cry when I initially put him down for bed around 6pm, but still tend to him when he woke up throughout the night. I followed my usual routine of bath, book, nurse, but instead of nursing him until he was nearly out, I put him in the crib fully awake (I know they say to do this early on, but Jackson was a terrible napper and by evening, I just wanted to get some shut eye). After turning on the sound machine and flipping off the lights, I walked out and let him cry for a while before returning to soothe him. I first went in after five minutes to lie him back down and pat his stomach for a few seconds, then returned after ten minutes, etc. Surprisingly, the first night he initially cried on and off for only about 30 minutes before falling asleep. And he only woke up in the night a couple of times, and easily went back down after nursing. The second night he cried for less than twenty minutes before going down, and the third, less than ten. By the fourth, he hardly cried at all, and moving forward after that, he went right to bed without a peep. He was still waking up once or twice each night after going to bed, and when he did, I’d nurse him for a few minutes, put him down awake, and he’d go right back to sleep. But this was a compromise I could deal with. I’m sure this approach wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but for me it worked.

Somewhere along the way, Jackson eventually started sleeping entirely through the night on his own. Now he’s an amazing sleeper! He goes to bed between 6:30 and 7pm and usually wakes up between 6 and 7am. Sometimes I wonder if I should have done some kind of sleep training earlier or tried a different method, but I did what I was comfortable with at the time and we’re in a great place with sleep now. That’s what matters. I think moms need to do what’s right for them and there’s no one size fits all solution when it comes to sleep training (or not). I have friends who have done full-on cry-it-out and friends who co-slept with their kids for years. I say, to each their own. Your kids will be fine either way, so do what you have to do to get through the day!

What’s your philosophy on sleep training? Yay? Nay? Did it work for you?

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