If you are like me you probably hear the words sleep training and imagine a screaming baby. Or you might be imagining sleepless nights AND a screaming baby. You might even imagine a screaming baby AND a crying mommy.
Before I had my daughter I imagined all of those scenarios with a huge emphasis on a screaming baby. It broke my heart more than a little bit. But now that I am a mom and after having done my own research I know the importance of teaching my daughter good sleep habits! Good sleep habits are just as important as healthy eating habits!
Let me be clear here, I am not advocating the Cry it Out method in its entirety. I am advocating that you find a method (or combination of methods that work for you! I used a little bit of Cry it Out but I also combined it with other strategies that worked for my daughter and me.
Remember not to start sleep training until your child is ready. Experts usually recommend around 4-6 months which is when they have developed a better sleeping and waking schedule. Most babies at this point shouldn’t be doing more than 1 or 2 (or if you are lucky, 0) feedings at night.
Surviving Sleep Training Tip #1: Have a Schedule
Having a schedule is key! You need to teach your little one when it is time to sleep and when it is time to play! Your ultimate goal is that when you put your baby into her crib that it is time for sleep! This will happen when your baby is on a schedule! Now I’m not talking about a rigid, to the minute schedule. I am talking about a gentle, general time frame for when Baby should be taking naps and going to sleep. My 5-7-month schedule looks a little bit like this.
7:00 Baby Wakes Up
Nap #1 Starts 2 hours after baby wakes up in the morning.
If Baby woke up at 7 am then nap #1 is at 9 am. Or if baby gets up at 6 nap #1 will be at 8 am. At 5-6 months my daughter was sleeping anywhere from 45 minutes (drove me crazy) to 1.5 hours (yay!)
My daughter was very particular about this napping time frame. She was ALWAYS ready to go down after exactly 2 hours. She would yawn, rub her eyes and start getting really fussy. I, personally, barely had to watch the clock because she let me know it was nap time. She wasn’t like this with other naps.
Nap #2 Starts 2-3 hours after baby wakes up from her first nap.
At 5 months this nap happens closer to the 2-hour mark, at 7 months it happens closer to the 3-hour mark.
I watched my daughter for signs that she was ready for a nap during this window but her signs weren’t as obvious for nap #2 as they were for Nap #1. During this time I always made sure she went down 2-3 hours after her first nap EVEN if she wasn’t acting tired or sending sleepy signals.
Nap #3: 2-3 hours after baby woke up from her second nap
At 5 months this nap happens closer to the 2-hour mark, at 7 months this nap might be completely gone.
This nap was the trickiest nap for my daughter to get down. She often flat out refused to take a third nap. I spent A LOT of time trying to make her take a third nap NO MATTER WHAT. However, I stopped getting hung up on her getting the third nap every day and started watching the clock to decide if she actually needed a third nap.
7 pm Bedtime
Babies at this age sleep about 12 hours at nighttime with 0, 1, or 2 middle of the night feedings.
Having a general schedule will help you keep your sanity! You will know when your baby is about ready for sleep or when he or she is being cranky for some other reason. Babies also seem to thrive off of consistency! Your baby will do so much better when he or she knows what to expect from the day!
Surviving Sleep Training Tip #2: Have a Sleep Routine
My biggest suggestion is having a rock-solid bedtime routine! I prefer the standard bath, books, boob, bed scenario. We started doing this routine every night starting at 3 months old. It really set the stage for bedtime. As my daughter got accustomed to this routine I started moving bath time to every other night. I wanted to have the flexibility to not have to give her a bath if we were especially pressed for time.
I involve her in the entire bedtime process. Around 6:30 we go into the bathroom and start running her bath. We go into her bedroom, turn on her lamp, close the blinds and curtains, lay out her pajamas, and undress her for her bath. Next, we head to the bathroom for bath time. Bath time usually lasts less than 10-15 minutes. After her bath, we head back to her room (that we already darkened and made cozy for bedtime). I dry her off, brush her hair, lotion her up, and put on her jammies and sleeper. We then sit in the chair and read a few books. Lastly, I turn on her music and give her a final feeding. By this point, she is completely relaxed. I put her in her crib and she is usually asleep before I even make it to the door!
I basically do a very similar routine for naps minus bathtime and books. We walk into her room, close the blinds and curtains. I put her in her sleep sack, turn on the music, and nurse her. At this point, I don’t follow the eat, play, sleep routine. I always feed her before she goes down for a nap. I found that I had much better peace of mind sleep training her when I fed her before sleeping because I didn’t have to worry that she was ever crying because she was hungry.
If Eat, Play, Sleep works for you then, by all means, keep doing it! I tried my darndest to do Eat, Play, Sleep because that’s what everyone said to do but it never worked for my daughter or me! As a parent, you have to make your own choices about how to raise your kids. Always do whatever works best for your family even if its a little different from what you are told!
Surviving Sleep Training #3 Know Your Limits
This is one of the trickiest things to figure out. You need to decide how much crying you are okay with (if any). No one else can decide this for you!
When I first started sleep training I tried to do a Ferber-like method and I was going in after 5 minutes, then 7 minutes, then 10 minutes. When I did this my daughter basically wouldn’t fall asleep for almost 45 minutes. I was losing my mind and she wasn’t sleeping! Then I read on PracticallyPerfectBaby.com about the 15-minute rule. I decided to start letting her cry for a total of 15 minutes before I would go in. (Although to be fair she usually conks out after 8 minutes, tops). Waiting 15 minutes worked wonders for us! I felt that I was able to get something done quickly within 15 minutes and my daughter quickly began putting herself to sleep more quickly AND started napping longer! Guys, doing this took her naps from 30 minutes to 1.5-2 hours! Game changer!
Surviving Sleep Training #4 Find Distractions!
There will probably come a time during your sleep training journey that you will be listening to some crying. That’s okay! My daughter always took the shortest naps of all time when I soothed her all the way to sleep. Once I started letting her Cry It Out a little before a nap I noticed she started napping longer and longer! (I never really had to do this at bedtime because she always put herself to sleep at night without crying.)
As I was letting my daughter learn to soothe herself to sleep during naps (by crying) I found that I dealt with this best when I gave myself a distraction. Since the longest, I would let my daughter cry at a time was 15 minutes I set a timer on my phone and started doing whatever I needed to do. Usually, before the 15 minutes were even up she would already be asleep and I would have crossed something off my to-do list!
Scrolling Instagram doesn’t count! You need to give yourself something meaningful to do! Clean up the kitchen! Get dressed! Take a shower! Put on some makeup! Go outside and water your plants! Do those little things you don’t have time to do during the day. Time will fly by if you keep yourself busy! Pretty soon your darling baby will be asleep and you will have gotten some much-needed things done!
Surviving Sleep Training #5 Remember that this too shall Pass
As with all things baby and parenting, sleep training is just a season in your life and a very short season at that! It never ceases to amaze me how quickly my daughter is growing up. While I used to long for the days when she would sleep through the night and take longer naps I realized how quickly her newborn days passed and how much I miss that stage despite the difficulties! I think it’s so important to hold onto and cherish every moment of babyhood because it goes way too fast! Don’t worry! Things will get easier!