Sleep Training The Second Time Around

I mentioned in my last post that Emmy’s sleep has improved a ton, but it wasn’t by chance. I decided after Thanksgiving that the best gift I could give myself (and Emmy, too) for Christmas was the gift of sleep, so in early December, right after Emmy turned six months old, I decided to sleep train her. This wasn’t my first time at the rodeo since I wound up eventually sleep training Jackson as well (you can read about that here), but it didn’t make it any easier emotionally. Listening to your baby cry sucks, plain and simple. There’s no sugar coating it. That said, I would do it again in a heartbeat because it has done wonders for Emmy’s quality of sleep, and my sanity. I know sleep training is a very polarizing topic and many people are firmly against it. I never thought I would resort to it myself before I had Jackson, to be honest. Having gone through it twice now though, I’ve seen firsthand how it can be beneficial to both babies and parents (assuming a baby is ready). I’m certainly no expert on this, but I wanted to share my experience in case it helps someone else struggling with infant sleep issues.

So what did I do exactly? First, I moved Emmy out of the bassinet in our room to a crib in the guest room (We’re still planning on eventually having Emmy share a room with Jackson, but until sleep is a bit more coordinated, we’re going to keep them separate). I think having more space to stretch out and less noise helped a lot. Second, I let Emmy learn to soothe herself. There are lots of different sleep training approaches, but I opted to use one of the gentler ones called The Ferber Method. If you’re not familiar, it involves putting babies down to sleep and letting them cry for various intervals before going in to provide comfort. I just don’t have it in me to do straight cry it out. I think I started by going in after three minutes, then five, then ten, etc. This is the method I used with Jackson and it was very effective with him, so I was hoping it would work equally well with Emmy. Emmy was definitely tougher, but overall she adapted much better and more quickly than I expected. I went into it with the mindset that I’d try things out, but if Emmy was overly resistant (i.e. didn’t go to sleep after an hour), I would stop and try at a later time. I don’t believe in letting babies cry for hours on end. The first night she cried off and on for forty minutes before falling asleep initially. The next night was about twenty. The third was ten. And now she cries minimally every night, usually not more than a minute or two, although it can be up to ten minutes. 

Emmy still typically wakes up crying once overnight and I choose to nurse her when she does. She usually goes right back to sleep without crying. To me this is totally manageable and beats waking up every two hours! Doing this is against most sleep training recommendations, but I’m more comfortable continuing to nurse once overnight at this age, and I think it’s totally normal for young babies to still need some comforting. If you provide it, I don’t think it means you’re creating terrible sleepers! Emmy overall sleeps great at night now, so so much better than she had been, and she’s a happier baby come the morning as a result. That’s really all I can ask for.

If you’re desperate for sleep and considering sleep training but you’re not sure if you can go through with it, I hope this offers some encouragement. It may not be as difficult as you think. I was dreading it both times, but was pleasantly surprised in each case. You may actually wind up wishing you’d done it sooner!

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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?