In our last post, Catie and I started sleep training Charlie. The purpose of sleep training is simply to teach your little one to fall asleep and sleep through the night (over eight hours).
Nope. Sleep training is hard.
As with all things baby-related, there's never one answer. The plan we're following is a mashup of internet research, family's and friends' advice, secondhand sleep consultant materials, and our own intuition. Here's the stripped down version:
Consistency is key.
Routines are important for putting baby in that bedtime state of mind. We have a short and simple routine of changing his diaper, putting him in his Zipadee-Zip, sitting with him in the nursery glider, and reading him a book or two before he goes down for the night.
He has to do it on his own.
Well… within limits.
Most importantly, he's awake when we put him down1. This helps him get used to falling asleep on his own and in his crib.
After he's down, we sit next to his crib. He knows we're there but we're not shushing or soothing him. If he fidgets or fusses, we let him work it out. He's learning how to fall asleep on his own.
This is the hardest part. He gets really frustrated when he can't get comfortable and it would be really easy to intervene and do it for him. But then every time he wakes in the wee hours, we'd have to do it for him again!
Fussing is one thing, and that's hard enough for us to listen to. When fussing turns to crying, it's unbearable.
We don't do "cry it out."
When Charlie turns that corner and starts crying, we immediately move in to comfort him with a hand on his chest and gentle shushing. If that doesn't work, we pick him up, walk around the room, and rub his back until he's calmed back down.
As soon as he's quiet and his breathing has settled, but before he falls asleep in our arms, we put him back in the crib and the process starts all over again.
Break the eat/sleep association.
There's one surefire way to get Charlie to sleep and that's to feed him to sleep.
The problem is that if he only sleeps after a feeding, he'll start to depend on the feeding as his cue to sleep.
The same goes for waking up. If he expects to feed right away whenever he wakes up, he's more likely to cry when he wakes in the night and isn't fed right away.
The plan to break the eat/sleep association is simple: do something else between eating and sleeping. We change his diaper, walk around the house, sing a song… anything to kill 10 minutes.
How It's Going
Sunday night was hard. It took an hour and a half for Charlie to fall asleep and there were plenty of times when Catie and I wanted to throw in the towel. We took him out of the crib to comfort him half a dozen times but eventually, his arms relaxed and fell to his sides. He fell asleep all by himself!
After that first night, it got easier. The number of minutes it took for him to fall asleep went down:
Charlie's been sleeping better throughout the night too! We think it's because he's falling asleep in the crib.
We heard an analogy that for a baby, falling asleep in your arms during a feeding and waking up alone in the crib would be like you falling asleep in your comfy bed and waking up in your back yard!
Now when Charlie stirs or wakes in the night, he's not as startled by his surroundings. He knows his crib because that's where he fell asleep.
We had our doubts that every feeding in the middle of the night was really needed. It seemed that sometimes Charlie was just comfort feeding.
And now we think that was the case. Once he became more comfortable in his crib, on Wednesday night, Charlie went from 8pm to 7am without needing to feed. Amazed (and skeptical), we did some quick research and all the advice sounded like:
Let him sleep!
He'll let you know when he's hungry.
You're lucky. Go back to bed!
So we did! He had a big breakfast later and was happy as a clam.
A sleep prop is anything that your little one depends on to fall or stay asleep. It could be a blanket, a stuffed animal, or in Charlie's case, a pacifier. A big part of sleep training is trying to reduce baby's reliance on sleep props.
That isn't easy. When Charlie's especially fussy at bedtime, sometimes his pacifier is the only thing that can calm him down. So Catie and I are taking the slow road to dropping the "paci."
For now, we're letting him use the paci to soothe himself to sleep but right as he falls asleep, we pop it out. That fancy move is called the Pantley Pull Off2. The idea is that every minute he's asleep without his paci is getting him closer to kicking the habit. We'll see!
You'd think that the nighttime routine would be the hardest part but that hasn't been the case for us. After less than a week, he's already doing much better at night in every way. Naps, on the other hand, are pretty tricky.
The new sleep schedule calls for more nap time and it's more than Charlie is used to. During the daylight hours, he's much more resistant to falling asleep. We were warned that naps might be more difficult and that's been true for us.
The routine is pretty similar to his nighttime routine. We change his diaper, get him dressed for bed, read him a book, and put him down in his crib. The major differences are that we only let him nap for two hours at a time, and the fact that he fights sleep so much harder.
Naps are starting to go better but are still a work in progress.
What We Think
We're glad we started sleep training. We knew it would be difficult, and knowing that doesn't make it any easier. It's always hard to hear your baby fuss or cry. Fortunately, overall, Charlie seems happier and better rested because of it.
We're going to continue our journey into sleep training and hope that it continues to go as well as it has.
Have you had experience with sleep training? How did it go?
Elizabeth Pantley wrote The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night ↩