Babies sleep is probably one the most hotly contested and most challenging aspects of parenting – along with breastfeeding and natural birth! Before I start this post, I want to add a disclaimer – these are my thoughts and opinions on the topic of sleep and this is what worked for us and our baby. I am in no way an expert or claim I can give advice but am purely sharing our experience 🙂
If you follow me on Instagram, then you might remember a few months ago we were investigating sleep training. There are so many opinions on the topic, it’s hard to know what the right thing to do is but what I’ve learnt so far in my 10 short months of parenting, is that every baby is different and so is every parent. You can read all the books but your baby won’t have so you need to be open to adapting to what works for you and your baby – and that’s the best part, it’s your baby. My husband and I had been debating sleep training for a while but I had been the one stalling and coming up with all the excuses as to why it was not the right time. So I started reading up on sleep training and I came across a few great posts that really helped me see the value in teaching my baby to fall asleep on his own and know how to self soothe. Laetitia from Poppet Patch wrote a post on how they sleep trained Poppet and shares quite a bit of information on sleep which I found interesting (https://poppetpatch.com/the-sleeping-through-the-night-recipe/). The second post was Operation Sleep Training by Leigh from The Mom Dairies on her experience of sleep training baby Hunter. After reading both these mom’s stories and having a great chat with the lovely Jess from ThirtyOneMum (her blog is definitely one to have on your subscriber list) I decided it was time to give Oliver the incredibly valuable tool of being able to fall asleep on his own, a hard but critical skill they need to help them through life.
So why did we decide to sleep train?
Oliver had been cuddled, snuggled, rocked and fed to sleep right from his NICU days. Oh how I treasure those early days of snuggling up in bed with my sleeping baby nuzzled in my neck, breathing in his delicious newborn smell. We worked out quite quickly that he was very sensitive to noise and light and would become over stimulated very quickly (something that he’s grown out of) but that also meant he was was very light sleeper in the day – surprisingly he had always been a fairly good sleeper at night (I think being in the NICU helped him distinguish day and night early on) The best way to get him to sleep and stay asleep during the day was on me or in his baby carrier and as with many things, we quickly fell into the habit of him spending almost all of his day naps sleeping on me – which was lovely while I was on maternity leave but not practical long term. A very long story short, it got to the point where I was spending far too much time trying to get him to sleep and then stay asleep in his cot and at about 8.5kgs, I physically could not stand and rock him to sleep for half an hour any more – only to have him wake up as soon as I put him down.
For Oliver’s daytime routine, I always followed his awake time allocation so while his timing was not always exact, he roughly followed the same eat/play/sleep routine every day. Our evening routine has always been a non-negotiable – supper, bath-time, story, breastfeed, sleep by 7pm. But getting him to sleep could take up to 45 minutes of in the cot/out the cot and more often than not he’d be fast asleep the moment you picked him up, but wide awake as soon as you put him down. I had tried putting him down “sleepy but not asleep” and that was less than successful. He’d rev himself up with his cot being party central and then after about half an hour, he’d hit the point of no return and was overtired and hysterical. And daytime was just not even worth the effort.
Whenever we’ve made any changes to Oliver’s routine, we’ve always made then gradually to give him a chance to adjust. When we moved him from our room to his own room, we started with him taking day naps in his cot and then after about a month, he started sleeping there at night. When it came to unswaddling him, we swaddled one arm for a week, then only had him swaddled at night before transitioning him into his sleeping bag (at one point I was convinced he was going to be swaddled until he was 12!). When it came sleep training, we were both very against letting him ‘cry it out’ . We had rocked and cuddled him to sleep for 8 months so it would be incredibly harsh to let him go cold turkey and just cry himself to sleep. We had created the sleep associations and I felt like I would be completely abandoning him and unfair on him so we took a very gentle approach and made up our own rules (our baby, our rules). While this did mean it took us a lot longer to see an improvement, I truly believe there is no quick fix but it is worth investing the time and teaching them slowly.
We started with getting Oliver to self-settle in the evenings and we loosely followed Meg Faure’s Sleep Sense. Her book gives you a few options when it comes to self-soothing and we decided to go with leaving Oliver to cry for short increments, increasing by 1 minute each time but never longer than 6 minutes. When you go in to check on baby, you let them you are there and gently shhsh them but if they continue to cry, you pick them up and settle them before putting them down again (before they sleeping). With Oliver, the first few times we went in, he would stop crying straight away and giggle but cry the moment you walked out the door. When we did pick him up, he would fall asleep straight away but wake up as soon as you put him down. The first two nights he was asleep within 20 minutes and never cried for longer than 4 minutes. The third night, he jabbered away in his cot for 15 minutes before falling asleep and slept straight through to 4am. If he did wake up in the night, we didn’t follow the book but rather settled him straight away – I also didn’t sleep train him in the day. Not every bedtime went smoothly and we had a few regressions along the way but most nights, Oliver was putting himself to sleep with no crying, just some chatting. It was hard though and I hated hearing him crying (at all) but a few things kept me going. Firstly, we were teaching him an incredibly valuable skill that will help him well into his adult life and two, I realised that there is a difference between ‘crying up’ and ‘crying down’ and more often than not, Oliver was crying down. If at any point he was crying up, I went in straight away and cuddled him but often, if I went in and he was crying down, it actually made things worse because he was actually trying to settle himself and I only frustrated him.
I was surprised at how quickly Oliver learnt to put himself to sleep at night but I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that he already knew how to self-soothe during the night – I was feeding once or twice during the night but he was definitely waking up more than that, he was just putting himself back to sleep.
I wish I could say it was that easy and we were all sleeping like babies but there’s a reason the title of this post says Part One 😉 Stay tuned!