It’s official: after two full weeks of sleeping 9-10 hours through the night, I think it’s safe to say it’s not a fluke… sleep training worked for us!
While I was frantically Googling “first night of sleep training” for reassurance, I wanted to find a blog post somewhere out there that shared the nitty gritty details of sleep training night by night, rather than “the baby only cried for 15 minutes and then never had a problem again” or “I couldn’t stand traumatizing our child so we gave up” scenarios that I kept finding. So I kept a blow-by-blow account of our actual experience, and hopefully it’s helpful to someone out there trying to figure it out in the middle of the night!
First, some background: Amelia was 7 months old when we decided to try Ferber’s Progressive-Waiting Approach, she has been exclusively breastfed, and we had been co-sleeping since she was about 2 months old (before that, she was in a co-sleeper bassinet).
A note on co-sleeping: I don’t blame co-sleeping because it truly eased my anxieties during the newborn days and it made nursing in the middle of the night so convenient, but it was easy for bad habits to form that were hard to break while continuing to co-sleep. It was really difficult to let the baby fuss/settle without interfering when she was inches away; so when co-sleeping began to affect our sleep too much, we decided it was time to move her to the crib (in our room) so we could all enjoy better sleep.
I’m a longtime follower of the AlphaMom’s Smackdown Advice (since way before I was pregnant!) so I’ve turned to her archives many times since Amelia arrived. Stumbling across this post finally convinced me to give sleep training a try (and then read the follow up!). Thanks to AlphaMom’s suggestion, I read Richard Ferber’s Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems and highly recommend it! It’s very thorough, covers all sorts of scenarios, and the research-based methods were very reassuring to me. (Full review here!)
After reading Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, I could identify the habits we needed to change and exactly how to do that. We needed to change these habits:
- nursing to fall asleep at bedtime
- nursing back to sleep at every waking
- nighttime feedings
Naps are another ball of yarn, but in general, these are the sleep goals we were aiming for:
Daytime Naps: 3 hrs total
Nighttime Sleep: 10 hrs total
8:00 PM -6:30 AM
Without further ado, here are my notes from the Sleep Training trenches:
Night 1: Check in at 3 minutes, 5 minutes, then every 10 minutes
7-7:30 PM Normal bedtime routine: bath, lotion, jammies, playtime on the bed, noise machine, swaddle, last feeding. Put baby in the crib drowsy but awake. She immediately started crying.
Check in at 3 minutes, 5 minutes, and she was asleep before the 10 minute check.
10:20 PM Wakes crying, check in at 3 minutes, asleep before the 5 minute check
11:15 PM Wakes crying, check in at 3 minutes, 5 minutes, asleep before the 10 minute check
11:40 PM Wakes crying, check in at 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 10 minutes, then finally asleep before the next 10 minute check.
This was definitely the hardest stretch to get through! I was questioning the plan and googling for reassurance. I’m sure she felt hungry too, since she’s almost never gone through an entire night without eating. But I felt like it would seem too arbitrary to feed her at this point – she wouldn’t know if she was being fed because she cried long enough or because it was part of the new “schedule.”
12:40 AM Wakes crying, but settles down before the 3 minute check
2:15 AM Wakes crying, check in at 3 minutes, 5 minutes, asleep before the 10 minute check
4:00 AM Wakes crying, check in at 3 minutes, 5 minutes, asleep before the 10 minute check
6:00 AM Wakes crying, but is happy and pleasant when I get her from the crib.
Total wakings: 6
Total time spent crying: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Notes: I started the night in bed, a couple feet away from the crib, but I couldn’t stand the crying and both Sam and I slept on the couch for the rest of the night.It was easier for me to set the timer on my phone and go into the room than to lie awake in bed listening to her every wail and flailing around. It was very intense! Make no mistake, the crying was definitely not just “fussing”; she was angry! She woke up a lot more than a usual night, which would normally shatter me, but knowing that it should only last a few days helped me stay committed. One blog post I found mentioned “visualizing the baby sleeping peacefully and waking happily in the morning” which helped me a lot too. Even though it felt like a miserable night, I could see that she was starting to sleep in longer stretches and didn’t need as many check ins toward the end of the night, and the fact that she woke up so happily made me feel like we were on the right track. Definitely more traumatizing for me than for baby!
Night 2: Check in at 5 minutes, 10 minutes, then every 12 minutes
8:00 PM Went right to sleep with no crying
3:00 AM Wakes crying, check in at 5 minutes, 10 minutes (not intense crying, but she rolled onto her stomach so I flipped her, and her crying briefly increased after check), asleep before the 12 minute check
3:30 AM Wakes crying, asleep under 5 minutes
3:40 AM Wakes crying, check in at 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 12 minutes, 12 minutes, finally asleep under 12 minutes
5:30 AM Wakes crying and I could tell she was still tired; it was really hard not to let her nurse back to sleep in bed but I stayed strong. I tried to stick to her normal nap routine as much as possible.
Total wakings: 3
Total time spent crying: 1 hr, 15 min
Notes: The progress was clear: going to sleep immediately, with no crying, and cutting down the amount of crying by one hour. But after another night on the couch, I really had to reassure myself that we were doing the right thing. I was running low on energy after two nights of poor sleep and I could tell that Amelia was out of sorts during the day too, but I tried to keep her naps as normal as possible so she didn’t “make up” her lost sleep during the day.
Night 3: Check in at 10 minutes, 12 minutes, then every 15 minutes
7:30 PM Goes to sleep with no crying
1:30 AM Wakes crying, check in at 6 minutes, asleep under 10 minutes
2:50 AM Wakes crying, settles back asleep in under 10 minutes
6:10 AM Awake for the day
Total wakings: 2
Total time spent crying: 15 min
Notes: Now I was feeling confident that this would really work. I couldn’t believe that the crying time had already been cut down to 15 minutes total, bedtime was going better than I could have hoped, I was getting longer stretches of sleep, and I finally spent the night in bed.
Night 4: Check in at 12 minutes, 15 minutes, then every 17 minutes
8:00 PM Went to sleep with no crying
6:30 AM Wakes up
Night 5: Check in at 15 minutes, 17 minutes, then every 20 minutes
7:00 PM Went to sleep with no crying
6:00 AM Awake for the day
Notes: Night 5 was the last time I kept a log, because Amelia has been sleeping consistently through the night ever since!
Closing thoughts: I am so happy that we gave sleep training a try! We are all so much happier now that we’re getting more sleep, and Amelia is so much more pleasant and patient during the day. She even takes better naps; sleep begets sleep!
We aren’t super strict about the schedule, but she’s in her crib asleep by 8 PM most nights, and wakes up around 5:30-6:00 AM most mornings. If she still seems sleepy, I’ll let her nurse and snuggle in bed with us for another hour, which we all enjoy. None of us are robots on a regimented schedule, but sleep training helped reset our habits and gave Amelia the tools she needed to sleep on her own. As a friend told me, she wanted to sleep, she just didn’t know how. Now she does!