*Edited June 2019*
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In the early days of my first son’s life, when he was around 6 weeks old, I was seriously sleep deprived. When I say sleep deprived, I mean that on a good day I would get 2-3 consecutive hours of sleep. That was when I started thinking about sleep training.
I’m not here to say what is right or wrong but only to share mine and my husband’s experience with sleep and our son. I’m not an expert in sleep training and I only know what has worked for us as a family. If sleep training is something you strongly oppose, then I’d suggest skipping this post!
Please talk to your Pediatrician before you begin sleep training as they can give you a good idea of when it’s ok. The most common age to begin is 4 months. Before we even talked about sleep training, one thing my husband and I did do was start a very simple bedtime routine with our son. At 8pm it was dim lights, swaddled, bottle, bounce and into the bassinet in a dark room with loud white noise. Everything I know about starting baby on a routine I learned from this lady here.
Maybe you co-sleep and exclusively breastfeed but wonder if sleep training is possible? Absolutely! While I didn’t do either of those things long term, I think helping a baby learn to fall asleep (and stay asleep) independently is possible in almost any situation.
I lived in a tiny basement apartment with really loud neighbours when I sleep trained my first son. He actually slept better when we lived in the basement than he does now, on the main floor of the house. If I can sleep train in a basement….you can sleep train anywhere my friends!
The basics of what I’ve learned after sleep training 2 babies in two years are out lined here:
- Babies can only stay awake for so long and this window of time is different each month. This awesome sleep consultant talks about this HERE on her blog. Understanding my son’s max awake time was a game changer because I learned to catch him before he was over tired. You do not want an over tired baby. This makes everything so much more work!
- Babies will show cues when they are tired. Rubbing of the eyes, yawning, fidgety, etc. Keep an eye out for those cues and it can make sleep much easier!
- Keeping baby awake longer does not equate to baby sleeping longer or better. Babies (and toddlers) will become over tired, their brains will stop producing the sleep hormone and they will begin to produce the stress hormone cortisol (which is like red bull for babies). If you don’t have an appropriate (and set) bedtime for your little one that could be why they are struggling to sleep. Pam at Wee Bee Dreaming talks about this here.
- Routine is KEY when getting your baby on a sleep schedule. There are some great examples of routines by ages here. Getting a good nap routine down for my son was not easy. I did the exact same thing every day for months and it took months for it to click. By doing the same thing for naps and bedtime, you are cuing your baby that it’s time to rest. It’s amazing how quickly they catch on to this! Two babies later and I’ve learned that sticking to our routine has made the biggest difference in how well my boys sleep for naps and nighttime.
- Sleep training is NOT leaving your baby to cry for hours in a dark room, alone. Was (is) there crying involved for us? Yes. I’ve cried and my sons have cried. Yes, I let them cry and no I’m not a bad mom. There are tons of resources on the internet that take a No Cry approach to sleep training. You will probably do all the things in the beginning such as rocking, swaddling, using a swing, feeding to sleep, etc. That is ok. You’ll know when to fade those things out!
- It takes time to establish a healthy sleep pattern. You can not expect a little baby to figure something out in a few days or weeks even. The longer you wait, the harder it can become. I would say that if you are into the 6-12 month mark, it might be a good idea to consider a trained/certified sleep consultant. You can’t put a price tag on good sleep!
- Sleep training at night can be easier than sleep training for naps. Sleep studies show that our biological drive to sleep is much stronger at night so it’s often suggested to start with night sleeping. I did things the hard way by starting with naps. Because of this I’ve had to do very little night sleep training.
- The 40 minute sleep cycle is important to understand. It’s a maturing of the brain for a baby to learn to transition from one sleep cycle to the next. That is why it’s great to gently help a baby learn how to soothe themselves.
- Be prepared to have a boring life for awhile if you are serious about establishing good sleep and routine. I know I have the reputation of someone who rarely leaves or house or deviates from our routine. I cancel plans or don’t make plans and prioritize my boys’ routine to set them up for better sleep habits. I know that sounds extreme but it’s worth it for me. This is a short season and I’m more than ok with giving up my schedule if it means my boys sleep well.
- Be prepared for setbacks. Teething, sickness, time change, etc. Just remind yourself, it’s all a phase! If you can give your baby a good foundation of sleep, it can make these setbacks a little easier to navigate.
A few of my favourite items that helped during the sleep training phase in our home are these:
- This Swing! Both off my boys slept in this week for the first few months of their lives and helped us all sleep much better in the early days.
- This White Noise Machine has 20 different soothing sounds on a loop. The shushing sound worked like magic for my second son.
- This Miracle Blanket swaddle kept my babies feeling snug and secure.
Around 5-8 weeks postpartum, I was diagnosed with extreme postpartum anxiety. It was when my son started to sleep better that I started to feel better. I don’t know if I would’ve made it through if I had not chosen to sleep train. It was a matter of survival for me.
Having a baby who sleeps well (or sleeps through the night) is NOT the hallmark of parenting. It doesn’t determine your worth as a parent nor is it a competition. But if you desire to help your baby get into a routine with restful and restorative sleep, hopefully some of these tips help!
Do you sleep train? Why or why not? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!