Thursday, September 01, 2011

What, Why, How: sleep-training

G would sleep anywhere, anytime--that changed quickly!
G has been sleep-trained since 12 weeks old. Around 10 weeks old, I had enough of her crazy antics--she would take one nap a day, usually very short, and cat nap after nursing. She had witching hours in the evening, that I now know were related to her being overtired.
I was misinformed about babies and their sleep--I thought she would just go to sleep when she was tired, where ever she was. HA-that only works for so long (unless you are really lucky)! (See my first post on ST) With everything new around them, babies often need our help learning to sleep. In the beginning we assist them in falling asleep, but as they age, they need to learn to sleep on their own.
Sleep training is helping your baby learn to sleep on their own. You get rid of 'crutches' like rocking them to sleep, using pacifiers, or swaddling them. Of course, for the first weeks of life those things are totally necessary and good for the baby. There comes a time, though, that babies are ready (and need) to put themselves to sleep. You can help your baby establish good sleep habits. G can now put herself to sleep, take good solid naps, and sleep through the night (except during teething or growth spurts/illness).

my sleep log notebook, before I started using my phone
Before I learned about sleep training, I got really frustrated because I didn't understand what was going on with my own baby. I did some online searching and talked to other moms. I came up with a sleep plan. I have a pretty obsessive personality. I guess I'm a pretty passionate person. I take on "projects" and they can occasionally become my sole focus for days or weeks. I get really wrapped up in whatever they may be. During weeks 10-18 of G's life, I was very obsessive about her sleep. I still keep track of it and try to keep to a routine, but I am a lot more easy-going about it now than I used to be.

If you are struggling to help your little one sleep, or are at your wit's end with your current sleep training, allow me to share what worked for us. Sleep training means different things to every parent, and will vary based on the child's age. If you want to ask me about what we did for a specific age, please contact me!
At six months:

G is on 2-3-4.5 hours wake time schedule. I don't have to force those (although when first doing sleep training, you will probably have to force wake times). I just have to watch for tired signs and get her ready for a nap. If I don't get her into her crib before the 'window' is gone, nap time can become world war III.
  • After she wakes up for the day (typically around 6:30 AM), G will be awake about 2 hours before her first nap. That's why nap times aren't set in stone, they vary based on how long she's been awake.
  • After the first nap, she will be awake for about 3 hours and then she'll take another nap. 
  • After the second nap, she'll be awake until bedtime and that is usually 4-5 hours. 
  • Bed Time is usually around 6:30 - 7 pm. We can stretch it if necessary, but if she goes down any later than 8 pm, she is pretty tired the next day because her natural wake-up time stays the same (bummer).
G has a very simple bedtime routine. This usually starts right after dinner. On bath nights, that comes before diaper change.
  • change her diaper 
  • get into pee-jees 
  • sing a song or read a book
  • snuggle daddy
  • nurse/cuddle mommy
  • into bed
swaddles serve their purpose, but eventually are bad habits
We cut some of the sleep crutches, but kept some others.
  • G has a little fan that creates background noise and she is a thumb sucker (never even tried a pacifier), so those help her put herself back to sleep if she wakes up. 
  • We went cold turkey on the swaddle back in May. 
  • She is usually very drowsy, or very close to being asleep, when I put her down for the night. I've tried putting her down very awake, but that was a big mess. For now, I have no problem nursing her almost to sleep at night. Don't judge me.
  • At nap time, she is typically pretty awake and puts herself to sleep with only a little bit of fussing (unless she is teething--then it's a different story--can you blame her?)
Most naps and bedtimes are not a fight, and she knows it's time for sleep. Sometimes, though, we have to let her fuss. I know that some moms don't want to let their baby fuss themselves to sleep, but it has to happen sometimes. As babies get older, they get smarter. They learn that when they do X, it will make you do Y. If baby is used to sleeping on you, or with you, they won't want to sleep in their crib alone--until you teach them that is what they are supposed to do. We do go to G/assist her if she is screaming, in pain, or some other sort of cry for help. We do the pick up-put down (see below) method if she is fighting sleep.

Here are some tips:
  • Don't rush in to get your baby if they wake up earlier than expected/necessary (based on age, growth spurts, etc). Especially in the middle of the night, try to wait 5-10 minutes unless it's obvious something is wrong. You may find yourself surprised when baby goes back to sleep without your help! 
  • There is a difference in 'I'm STARVING' or 'I'm HURT' cries & 'I'm AWAKE (but shouldn't be), come PLAY with me' cries. Figure out the difference for your baby and you can help them sleep through the night on their own.
  • If she is simply having trouble putting herself back to sleep, you can use what ST'ers call the 'pick-up-put-down' method. Go in to check on her in specific time increments, pick her up and soothe her, then put her back down and walk out. I'd usually wait between 5-10 minutes before going back in.  This method is helpful when you have to 're-sleep train' after illness or travel, due to sleep habits being messed up.
  • If G can't seem to fall asleep (even though she is tired), I get her ready for bed/nap and put her down anyways. Give your baby the opportunity to sleep--quiet time is beneficial in its own right.
  • She may have to babble for a while, or thrash about, but that is just many babies' way of unwinding. They are taking in so much each day, and their brains are making so many new connections, it's only natural that they need to 'de-stress'.
  • The main key is to be patient, consistent, and not give up. You may have to alter your plan (I did several times), but keep at it until you find something that works. You will learn more about your baby as you do this, and it will get easier!
  • There are "no-cry" options, but those didn't help me with G at all. You have to find what works for your baby.
I think it is a lot easier to do gentle sleep training at a young age (like 12 weeks), then try to do gentle sleep training at an older age (6 months+). Older babies will take longer to change-- the gentler methods will often take months to work so many parents end up doing the more intensive methods (like cry-it-out type things), or they just deal with their sleeping situation until the kid grows out of it (around 2-3 years).

My daughter is still on the low-end sleep-need scale for her age, but that's fine. As long as she is happy, growing, and not having any meltdowns related to being overtired--I'm happy. I feel that sleep training G helped me become a better mom and helped her become an even happier baby. I learned a lot about her through tracking her sleep patterns, and can tell very easily what's going on with her. I'm glad that I did it, even though it was pretty hard in the beginning.

Please check out this google doc: wake time chart. I do not take credit for it whatsoever, but some wonderful moms compiled this and it was pretty helpful to me. G never fit perfectly into one row, but I just tried to get her as close to her age recommendations as I could and called it good.
Also very helpful to me: Teaching your baby to sleep forum on BabyCenter


  1. Great tips! Hi I'm a new follower from the Thursday Blog Hop.


  2. New from the blog hop, Check out my blog!

  3. I figured out how to grab your button!

  4. Thanks for sharing. I was the same way when my daughter was little and tracked all of her sleep. I found it super helpful and sleep training has saved our relationship already even though she is only 6.5 months old. She has always fussed herself to sleep whether I held her or not so just letting her fuss it out has worked wonders. Plus she usually only takes 3 half an hour naps a day so letting her fuss/play a little bit in her crib to fall asleep has saved my sanity. :-) It was great to hear that someone else has had a similar experience with a kiddo that doesn't seem to need much sleep.

  5. Love your blog. Its so cute! Following from the blog hop! Hope you can come see my blog sneakers over stilettos and follow back.



  6. Hi! I am a new follower from the Blog Hop, via GFC. Please follow me back at http://jessycaspage.blogspot.com/
    Have a great weekend!

  7. Thanks for the follow! Following you back! :)

  8. i could really use a lot of these tips. trying to get my LO into a schedule to make mama's life easier!

  9. How was going cold turkey on the swaddler? We swaddle our 3 mo old son, and he is starting to get too big for the only swaddler that works. I am frightened of putting him to bed without it.


Thanks for leaving a comment! Have a great day!