This post is part 2 of 5 in the series To Train Up a Child.
Mention the phrase “sleep training” and a few hot button topics come right to mind. Crying it out. Co-sleeping. Scheduling. Baby Wise….
I’ve done a little of it all — sometimes out of instinct, sometimes out of necessity, but always with discretion (the key word in this discussion). And while I haven’t screwed any of my kids up yet in my varying approaches to getting them to sleep, some of my decisions played out better than others.
I think there is a lot of fear surrounding this topic of sleep training — fear of our methods causing some sort of emotional damage or relational detachment or nutritional deficit… because an expert somewhere warned us that might happen.
And yes, those things could happen where discretion is lacking or where general neglect is the rule. There are always the exceptions or the stories of a method’s abuse that serve to discredit it for all. But as a mom speaking from personal experience and with a healthy dose of good judgment, I can affirmatively say,
crying it out didn’t damage their well-being,
co-sleeping didn’t make us more “attached,” and
scheduling didn’t starve my twins or my supply.
*** Now, before I swim further into the waters of controversy, let me just say, I recognize the delicacy of this discussion and admit there is not just one “right” method of sleep training. Ultimately, a momma has to follow her God-given instinct, doing what she feels best for the child entrusted to her care. Methods or approaches that worked for me and my children may not be the right choice for your family or your situation. ***
Can I just admit, first off, that becoming a mom was hard for me? I had no idea what I was doing (does any first-time mom?) or how I was going to get it done, but I did know this: I had to get some sleep.
Trusting in love, wisdom, and motherly instinct to see me through — and being the first of my friends to become a mother — I was pretty oblivious to any “popular” parenting methods. I’d chosen not to read any parenting books, and such lingo as “feeding on demand” and “attachment parenting” and “Baby Wise” was completely unknown to me.
And yet, even without all the “expert” tricks, I had my firstborn son (and myself!) sleeping through the night in two months. How?
Get Up, Wake Up, Fill Up!
I got up, I woke up, and I made sure my baby did the same for every. single. nighttime feeding (and daytime, too, for that matter). We left the bedroom, turned on the lights, even got baby naked if we had to, to ensure he (and I) was awake enough to get a full feeding. There was no snacking, pacifying, or snoozing allowed. And that led to a lot better sleep for both of us!
Since this approach to nighttime feedings was so successful for me, you’d think I would have done the same when my second child came along. But to be honest, I got lazy. Baby #2 was an expert at nursing from the beginning, and the two of us easily mastered the lying position in a way my firstborn and I never could. That, combined with the fact that we had moved into a new house where our bedrooms were no longer right around the corner from the living room couch, led me to make the “easy” choice — do nighttime feedings in bed.
It worked okay for a while, but the more weeks that passed and the more exhausted I became, the harder it got to stay awake while nursing — for me and for baby. She’d snack while I snoozed, and when I’d wake an hour later to find we’d both fallen asleep, I’d take her to her crib and stumble back to bed before starting it all over again a couple hours later.
Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad… except that this went on for nine months. It wasn’t good for me, it wasn’t good for my baby, and it wasn’t good for my marriage. So why did I let it go on for so long? It was that fear thing. Fear that maybe she really was hungry. Fear that I’d be wrong to not just feed her. I told myself I’d put a stop to it once she started eating solids. We tried introducing them at six months, six and a half, seven, eight. But not until nine did she finally accept them. And then I knew it was time. She had to learn how to sleep through the night. For both of us.
Crying It Out Saved Us from Tears
As I recall, it took a few nights. I sent my husband to the basement for undisturbed sleep, and I resolved to let her cry it out. I wasn’t a total stranger to the method. We’d allowed our son to cry himself to sleep on a regular basis, and our daughter occasionally at nap times. Still, it wasn’t easy. After all those months of allowing bad habits to form, I felt responsible for her temporary distress. And yet I hung in there because I knew that at that point a little tough love was the most loving thing I could do.
Several months later, healthy sleep habits resumed, I learned I was having twins. No way could I have a repeat of my second go-round, especially with two babies this time, so I decided to see what all the Baby Wise hype was about.
I read the book objectively while I was still pregnant and, liking what I saw, planned to implement its methods when the babies arrived. Keeping them on the same schedule would be imperative to our survival, and I felt Baby Wise gave me the tools I would need to do so.
Why I Loved Baby Wise
It worked like a gem. My Baby Wise babies were by far my happiest and easiest all around — even though they were twins. Because I was keeping a log and paying attention to the clock, I was better able to assess and to understand their needs. As a result, they almost never fussed. Seriously! And never once did they cry when I laid them down to sleep. They were never allowed to develop a sleep crutch (nursing to sleep, rocking to sleep, swinging to sleep, etc.), so sleep time was never a battle. I always laid them down awake and they always put themselves to sleep — peacefully.
In a nutshell, and based on my own experience, here are my top tips for creating healthy sleep habits for you and your baby:
- Don’t feed your baby in bed. Get up, wake up, and ensure baby gets a full feeding every time. It’s hard in the moment, but it’ll lead to better sleep sooner.
- Don’t create sleep crutches (things or situations your baby has to have in order to fall asleep) — these just turn into habits that are hard to break later.
- Pay attention to the clock. A feeding and sleeping schedule isn’t meant to run your life, but rather to be an aid to you. Knowing when your baby last woke and last ate will help you assess her needs when she starts acting fussy.
- Use good discretion and trust your motherly instinct. Sometimes the best piece of advice is the one you just know in your heart.
What have been your biggest sleep training successes (or failures)? Share your experiences or questions in the comments!
Read more from our To Train Up a Child series!
- To Train or Not to Train: Not Even a Question
- How to Potty Train Your Child
- Your Circus, Your Monkeys
- Welcome to the Drama, Momma! Parenting a Dramatic Tween without Losing Your Sanity. Mostly.