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When you are ready to do sleep training, or help your baby learn to sleep on his/her own, you will be looking for some guidance on how to go about that. In this post, I have 5 tips to help you through this process.
“Oh great!” I thought. “I am going to have to potty train another child!”
That was one of the first thoughts I had once the excitement of knowing we were expecting number four wore off and the planner in me got going. In the 11+ years that I have been parenting, I have found that there are two things so far that I dread more than anything else. One is potty training. Another is sleep training. Whenever I am pregnant, I a) moan that I have another child to potty train (and I don’t know why–it has never been as bad as I seem to think it has been) and b) worry about how sleep training will go.
Sleep training is not always easy. But oh can I tell you how much it is worth it. I do have tips to make this process easier for you.
My Sleep Training History
Let’s first give a brief overview of my sleep training history. This isn’t important to the tips, but it is of interest to some. Feel free to skip this section if it isn’t of interest to you.
My oldest (now 11) was born and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sleep train or not. I wasn’t sure if I could listen to him cry without doing everything I could to stop him from crying. I did know, however, that I wanted my baby to sleep and have good sleep habits. I had read a lot of books before he was born and I believed in sleep (besides the obvious “I feel better when I get good sleep so a baby will too”).
He was not born a naturally good sleeper. He was one of those newborns who valiantly fought sleep and would be awake for HOURS at a time. I worked to get him to take naps, but it seemed like I was fighting him all day long. I tried to rock him to sleep but he HATED it. He would scream and cry for a full 30 minutes in my arms before finally falling asleep. This left me exhausted and emotionally drained. I decided I could either have him cry it out (CIO) in my arms or CIO in the crib. I figured in the crib, he would at least be learning to fall asleep independently, so we went with that.
I was completely on my own so far as experience and resources went. I was the first of my friends to have a baby. I was the first in my family to have a baby. I was the second on my husband’s side to have a baby. My mom didn’t do CIO with us. My sister-in-law didn’t do CIO. My mother-in-law did but didn’t remember much about it. Believe it or not, the Internet was not a real resource yet. So I had to navigate it on my own.
We started at 9 weeks. He immediately went to waking just once a night. Sleep training was hard at first, but after a couple of months, he was going to sleep without a peep and we were all much happier.
My second (now 9) came along. She was a much more natural sleeper. She was tricky, though, because she had reflux. I had to be sure she was not in pain before having her CIO before a nap. I didn’t want to teach her any habits she would later have to break, so from the beginning I had her sleep on her own. Her first “CIO” session, she didn’t cry at all. She had some naps with crying, some without, and by 8 weeks there was not a peep at all before she fell asleep for naps.
With my third (now 7), I decided to try out the Four S’s described by Tracy Hogg (see my post Sleep Training: The Four S’s for more on this method). She was also a natural sleeper. With my experience and the Four S’s, she never cried before a nap until she was about 3 months old, and then it was brief (see In Action: Cry It Out for that story).
My fourth (now 4) is a similar story to my third except she never went through a CIO phase. She was one of those babies who will at times cry for about 30 seconds after I put her down, but that is her being frustrated that playtime is over. As she got older, I could tell her to not cry and she wouldn’t.
Sleep training works. I am a believer! All four of my children sleep well and have from young ages. So now you have my history, lets move on to the tips.
Tip 1: Choose a Method
I talk a lot about “why vs. how“–essentially, the method you use to accomplish a goal is not important. Accomplishing the goal is important. That is of course with the obligatory caveats that it is legal, ethical, in line with your goals, meets your goals as a whole, etc.
So, you don’t have to do cry it out in order to sleep train (are you ready to use cry it out? Then see my post 6 Rules for Using Cry it Out as a Baby Sleep Training Method). You certainly can, but you don’t have to (see Sleep Training According to Babywise). So your first step is to identify a sleep training method you can be on board with. Your goal is to have baby fall asleep on her own. Here are some ideas:
- CIO Bootcamp–Revised and Updated
- Should You Do CIO?
- Sleep Training: The Four S’s
- Pick up/Put Down by Tracy Hogg
- Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Weissbluth has several CIO methods listed in the book
- Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems
- The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Pantly
- There are many others out there
No matter the method you choose, please be sure to read My Newborn Sleep Hierarchy.
As you are deciding, see these posts also:
Tip 2: Choose an Age
Once you have decided what method you want to follow, decide what age you want to start sleep training your child. Along with an age you are comfortable with, you want to be sure there is no sickness and that your baby can be home for a while to master this new skill.
What age do I recommend? I really think parents have to go with what they feel is best, but if it tells you anything, I started right from birth with my three youngest. I really didn’t want to teach one way, then essentially “pull the rug out” and teach another way. From what I hear, babies older than 6 months old are harder to sleep train–getting harder as they get older from there (this is of course in general).
Tip 3: Get to Know Your Baby
You can read more in depth about this in my CIO Bootcamp–Revised and Updated post, but you want to understand some key things about your baby. Know your baby’s nap cues. You also want to know your baby’s Optimal Waketime Lengths. No matter what method you use to sleep train, understanding these two things will help your baby fall asleep the most easily.
Tip 4: Be Consistent, But Adjust As Needed
Be consistent with your sleep training. Set aside some time to really be home and provide your child with chance to build a stable foundation. Once you have, your child will be able to have flexibility, but your child needs somewhere real to flex from to really be flexible.
While you are maintaining your consistency, don’t be afraid to adjust and tweak methods as needed. If your child needs a different sleep routine, change it up. If your child needs you to go in after 10 minutes of crying, go for it. Adjust your methods as you see they need to be adjusted. Odds are, you will need to adjust things. You will get to know your baby better and be able to create the perfect sleep environment for her.
Tip 5: Know That it is Worth It
Hang in there! Sleep training is a big job. It is an emotional job. It takes a lot of effort and brain power on your part. There will be days you will wonder if it is worth the work. It is! I promise it is. There will come the day you are so glad your baby sleeps so well! Sleep is so important throughout your child’s entire life. Read my post How Healthy Sleep Principles Have Benefited My Children from Infancy to Preteen. Read my Word to the Weary post. You can also get great help, advice, and support in the Chronicles of a Babywise Mom Google Group. The group is private (request to join), and it is a safe place. There are nearly 3,000 members, so there are lots of people to help you out! All you need is an email address.
Hang in there, seek support, and you and your baby will come out the better for it!