This is a post that I really debated writing. Writing about crying is never going to be accepted by all. Ultimately I decided to share because I find reading blog accounts of baby events before I attempt them myself to be SO helpful. I hope this post is helpful for some of you. If you don’t agree with sleep training, you might want to just skip this one!
I once heard that over 80% of families do some kind of sleep training. I have no idea if that statistic is true, but I believe it. Having survived the first 6 months of Mazen’s life and talking with so many of my mom friends (both in person and online ones) I am convinced that most older babies just need a little help to be able to learn to sleep.*
*Notice I said older babies because I would not ever expect a newborn to sleep through the night!
Mazen was a typical newborn who slept in 2-hour stretches at night and only napped when held. After turning 6 weeks old, he started to nap in the swing, in his crib and in the stroller and at night started sleeping 4-5 hours for the first stretch followed by a few 2 hour blocks. He went through the four month sleep regression from 3.5-4.5 months (yes it lasted a month!) and never regularly slept longer than 3 hours at time after that. During the peak of the regression, he was up as often as every 20 minutes! When things seemed to get a little better, he was still waking up every 1-3 hours all night, every night. As a 5 month old, he was a fairly good crib napper when he learned to roll onto his tummy but rarely slept for more than one sleep cycle of 35-40 minutes. He was a huge fan of the pacifier, and while it helped us tremendously during this time, it did end up being a big obstacle to sound sleep when it became a sleep association he needed to dose off. I feel that all of his sleep behaviors up to 6 months, while frustrating at times, were normal and typical.
I could sit here and analyze what I could have done differently, but I don’t regret much. Maybe I could have let him cry a little longer during the first 6 months in hopes that he would learn to sleep, but as a new parent to a first child, I don’t think I ever let him cry for more than 2 minutes before I went in to get him. Perhaps that was our downfall, but again, I don’t regret it. I probably needed to go get him more than he might have needed me!
Before I get into how we sleep trained, allow me to set the stage with a before and after.
Before at 6 months
- 3-4 naps a day, 2 to 2.25 hours apart.
- Most naps lasted 35-40 minutes (one sleep cycle) before he would wake up crying.
- We would rarely (maybe once a week) get a nap longer than an hour. One time in 6 months he napped more than 2 hours.
- Going down for a nap involved a wind-down routine at 2-hour wake time. I spent 15-20 minutes actively putting him down for naps by hovering over the crib replacing the pacifier after he pulled it out and cried because he couldn’t fall asleep without it. Matt and I called it airport: he’d pull a paci out and fly it around in his hand and another would land in his mouth. (You might say this meant he didn’t want it in his mouth, but he was just procrastinating sleep – he wouldn’t fall asleep without it.)
- At bedtime he would cry most nights too – same parent soothing routine.
- Nighttime sleep was from about 7:30pm to 7:30am with wake ups at 9, 10, 11 then maybe 1, 2, 3:30, 4:30, 6, 6:30 and 7. Exhausting! Wakeups were often fixed pretty quickly with a paci put back in and some pats.
- One parent slept in the nursery at all times (usually Matt from bedtime to midnight and then me for the rest) so the other could get some sound sleep. This was SO helpful for us to get rest in the early months and we didn’t mind sleeping apart at all. But we were kind of ready to get normalcy back.
- We had one night feeding around 3:30am. I cut back from feeding him every 3 hours to once a night fairly easily around 5.5 months in anticipation of sleep training. He didn’t really miss the nighttime feedings – we just did our usual soothing techniques and he went back to sleep.
- Morning naps have extended to 1.5 hours most days of the week.
- Afternoon naps have also extended but not always. Still taking 3-4 naps a day depending on their length. 3 naps is most typical. Waking up happy from a much larger portion of naps instead of crying.
- Bedtime is between 7 and 8.
- Our last nursing session is right before bed. After that I sing and hum songs in the dark room before putting him down. Usually he cries for a few moments when I first lay him in his crib, but that doesn’t last more than a minute or two before he starts singing sleepy songs (they sound like a cat howling!) and then falls asleep usually within 10 minutes.
- Sleep 10-10.5 hours straight!!
- Wake up between 5:45-7am.
Amazing difference, right? When I say he sleeps 10+ hours, sometimes he does wake up and make some noise at night. A brief cry here or there. But it’s been over 3 weeks and we haven’t had to go in for any soothing since the first few nights of sleep training.
So the how. First, shout out to my amazing coach Caitlin! I said in previous posts that I “didn’t want to sleep train.” I don’t really think anyone wants to do it, but I knew I would when the time came IF the frequent night waking continued. As we approached 6 months, I knew we were going to need to do it. Since it’s easier to sleep train at 6-7 months than later, I knew it was now or never.
Caitlin’s sleep training post is so well written – go read it! I agree with all of her points, especially that Mazen knew he crib was a safe place to be. We followed the same technique that Caitlin did – a Ferber method with comfort checks every 10 minutes.
The basic guidelines are:
1. Comfort checks every 10 minutes of moderate to hard crying. (Light fussing doesn’t count)
2. If baby quiets down for sleep and starts up again the 10 minutes starts over.
3. The parent comforts for 30 seconds with touch and voice to let the baby know they haven’t abandoned them and tell them they are just learning to go to sleep.
I knew it was going to be hard. I may have shed a tear or two. But I also knew the more you bend the harder it is, so I was determined to make it the easiest on us all by getting it right the first time. I was honestly prepared for the worst. I really thought he was going to cry all night long. I knew even if he fell asleep the first time that he might cry for a really long time at his 3:30 feeding time. (Sidebar: I asked our pediatrician if I should drop that feeding along with sleep training and she said yes.)
Mazen cried for 42 minutes. We went in at 2 minutes, 5, 10, 10, 10.. and so on for checks. Matt and I both wondered if he would know how to fall asleep. We sat at the dining room table listening, watching the monitor and talking. And then all of a sudden he was quiet…asleep! We were so proud. He figured it out. We knew he was capable of falling asleep on his own, and that gave us the encouragement to continue.
The rest of the night went SO much better than I expected. (I took notes.)
- 10:45-10:50 cry
- 11:15-11:17 peeps
- 1:05-1:14 cry
- 4:45 a peep
- 5:05-5:07 cry
- 6:30 awake
As you can see, we didn’t have to go back into his room at all the rest of the night. And he did a 3 hour, 39 minute stretch! I did end up pumping around 4am during normal feeding time, but this was the one and only night I felt the need.
At bedtime he fell asleep – alone – in FIVE MINUTES! We were again prepared for the worst and again shocked.
- 9:10-9:36 crying with one check (because he calmed down at times we only went in once)
- FOUR HOUR STRETCH!
- 1:36-1:45 crying but not enough for a check
- FOUR HOUR STRETCH!
- 6:30 awake
Compared to our “before” nights, this was an incredible improvement with only one moderate crying session at 9:10.
- 8:05-8:20 moderate crying with check
- 9:00 peep
- 10:10 peep
- 11:24-11:50 on and off moderate crying with 2 checks
- 2:09-2:24 on and off moderate crying with a check
- 5:40-5:45 peeps
- 6:45 awake
We had a a little regression with the longer periods at 11:30 and 2 but overall still getting better. This was the last night we had to get out of bed for a comfort check!
- 8:08-8:16 whine to sleep
- 11:48-11:55 light cry
- 3:40-3:46 light cry
- 7:10 awake!
- 7:25-7:32 whine to sleep
- SLEPT 9.5 HOURS!!!!!!!!
- 4:55-5:15 on and off light cries
- 6:45 awake
I consider this to mean that it took us four nights to teach him to sleep through the night.
- 7:31-7:42 babbled to sleep
- SLEPT 7.5 HOURS!!
- 3:00 peep
- 6:30 awake
- 7-8 bedtime. He cries just for a minute when I put him down. Fuss/babble to sleep in 10 minutes.
- SLEEPS 10-10.5 HOURS!!!!
- Maybe a peep or two, but rarely crying at night.
- Up at 6-7am
I’m SO glad we did this. In all of sleep training, there were only 5 times when Mazen was actually upset enough for us to comfort check him. Most of it was moderate to light protest crying. More whining than crying. One of the reasons I am glad we waited until 6 months to do this is because his cries changed. At 3-4 months he was still an itty baby with itty baby needs and itty baby cries. But by 6 months he knew how to throw a fit at bedtime, flailing about. I could tell during sleep training that he wasn’t crying out of hunger or pain or fear but out of protest. I could also tell he just wasn’t well rested. This made it much easier for me to handle emotionally.
Here are a few things I was not expecting to be so great
-He used to wake up a ton in the evenings at unpredictable times and I would cluster feed him frequently when he was younger. Therefore, leaving a bottle for a babysitter was challenging. We couldn’t say “He’ll wake up at 10 for a bottle” because we never knew. Now I can put him to bed and feel confident that unless he becomes sick he will stay asleep. I’ve been out with friends a few times and we’ve been on a date after bedtime, and it’s been fun to get evenings back!
-I’m spending SO much less time soothing. We used to spend hours hovering at the crib. And he was still crying! Now when I put him down for a nap he still fusses for a few minutes but I don’t have to be there the whole time.
-Also unexpectedly, his morning naps are now pretty consistently 1.5 hours. I can often hear him wake up and stir at the end of that first sleep cycle – around 35/40 minutes – but he self-soothes back to sleep.
-He used to wake up from naps crying, but I’d say half of the time now he wakes up peacefully and starts babbling until I come in. It’s so fun to see how excited he gets when he hears me enter the room!
-I am no longer making two beds a day (the nursery and the master) or washing two sets of sheets every single week and that rules. I love sleeping with my husband again!
And here is one downside to sleeping through the night
I miss him. I think part of the reason I wanted to wait was because I couldn’t stand the thought of going all night without a snuggle! Snuggles > sleep, I know, crazy. But now when I sing him his bedtime songs I know I probably won’t see him for a long, long night and that last hug is extra tight!