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Candle in the Night

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sleep Training Round Two

You might recall my post when H was about six months old about sleep training and all the methods we'd tried.  Well, I can honestly say, her sleep training was a HUGE success.  She LOVES her bedtime routine and will usually ask for a nap when she's feeling tired.  How many toddlers do you know that do that??  I guess H was our guinea pig.  (That's the way it goes with first children...)  We tried several different things, a couple that didn't work for us, and found the one that worked.

So when the time came to sleep train M, I knew what book to pick up.  I guess before I go any further, I should tell you how I knew it was "time".  M has always slept either in a bassinet right next to our bed or in bed with us.  She had gotten to the point though where she couldn't sleep without being attached to the breast and although this works for some mommies, it doesn't work for me.  I don't sleep well when my babies are nursing.  It also didn't work well because M is a SQUIRMER!  She is the squirmiest baby I've ever seen!  That is not good for sleeping!  So because of the lack of sleep, I was watching for signs of readiness.  One sign I saw was that she was trying to self-soothe.  She'd suck her thumb or rub her hand on her cheek.  I knew the ability to do this was key to being able to put herself to sleep.  Another sign was that she started breaking free of the Miracle Blanket at night.  Unfortunately, this meant even more nighttime wakings and more reason to need sleep training.  The last sign was that nursing was no longer consistently putting her to sleep.  I would nurse and she'd still be awake when she was finished and she didn't know what to do.  She had always fallen asleep nursing and didn't know how to fall asleep without it.

Even though I knew the time had come, I still dreaded sleep training.  I don't like hearing my babies cry.  I really don't want to do it.  But I know it's important.  Here are the things that go through my mind when I'm trying to talk myself into beginning.


  • Babies need sleep.  If my sleep is getting interrupted, so is hers and that's not good for her.  
  • Self-soothing is an important skill.  It's something she needs to learn.  
  • Learning to sleep as babies can shape their sleep for the rest of their lives.  As with H, I see that liking sleep is important well into toddler-hood.  
There is also a story that goes through my head when I think about sleep training.  I believe it's in Ferber's book and it really made an impact on me.  It went something like this...

Imagine you're going to sleep.  You lay down in your bed, fluff your pillow just right, turn on the fan, and drift off into dream land.  When one of your natural, lighter sleep cycles comes around, instead of drifting back into deep sleep, you wake up fully to realize you're not in your bed, but in your living room.  Someone has carried you out onto the sofa while you were in deep sleep.  You get up and make your way back to your bed where you fall back asleep.  An hour or so later, you wake up again on the sofa.  You go back to your room again.  This happens again an hour later, but this time, your door is locked.  You're tired and frustrated.  You go find the person with the key, they unlock the door for you, and you go back to sleep.  This happens continuously all night long.  When you wake in the morning, you're anything but rested.  

This really made an impact on me.  What we do when we don't sleep train our babies is soothe them to sleep and then move them away from that source of soothing.  (Unless you're one of the moms who can nurse all night long.  If so, more power to you!)  They wake up, realize they've been "drug out to the living room", and want their bed back.  They HAVE to nurse back to sleep.  Or be rocked, or walked, or driven around in the car.  Whatever that is for your baby, it's a crutch, and it's not making it better for them, it's making nighttime harder on everyone.  When I realized this, I realized I needed to give my baby a chance to learn how to soothe herself back to sleep so that when she partially awakened in the night without me, she could drift back to dreamland instead of fully waking up and being upset that I wasn't there.  It's freeing for a baby (and for the mommy!) 

So now on to specifics.  The book I finally landed on with H was Good Night, Sleep Tight: The Sleep Lady's Gentle Guide to Helping Your Child Go to Sleep, Stay Asleep, and Wake Up Happy.  Long title, excellent book.  I won't go into it all here, but the basic plan Kim West lays out is something she calls the "Sleep Lady Shuffle".  Basically, you lay your baby down in their bed DROWSY but AWAKE (this is key!) and the first three nights, you sit right by the crib, saying "shhhhh" once in a while and reaching in and patting them once in a while.  The next three nights, you move your chair to the middle of the room and still can say "shhhhh" once in a while, the next three, you're in the doorway and the last three nights, you're in the hall.  By this time, your child should be good at self soothing and falling asleep on their own.  If they wake up in the night, you return to your "shuffle position" and let them fall back to sleep on their own.  She has guides in her book as to how often a baby should nurse at night, etc., but that's the basics of it.  

I love this book because she NEVER suggests you just let your child wail in the dark.  In fact, if the child gets out of control in their crying, she suggests picking the child up, calming them down, and then laying them back in bed.  I love this aspect of the plan.  I don't do well leaving a crying child alone.  It's not something that works for me.  

I'm doing this a little differently with M because she's only five months instead of the six months suggested in the book.  The main differences are that I'm not moving the chair (I'll stay beside her until she falls asleep each night until I decide she's ready) and I'm nursing her twice in the night (West suggests that 5 month olds can go 11 hours without eating...M has NEVER done that and she's only gone 6 hours a couple times).  Six hours is the goal.  So far, we're only at five and I'm not too worried about it.  I feel that as her self-soothing gets better, she'll go back to sleep easier and won't need to eat as soon.  Hopefully I'm right.  

So we're on night four of this and I'll just share with you what it's looked like so far.  

Night 1:  Awful.  M went down at 7:30 and woke up every hour from then until 4:00.  I fed her at 10ish and again at 3:45 or so.  She only cried about 10 minutes each time which I really did think was good for the first night, but it was still hard on Momma.  Plus, I was exhausted the next day!

Night 2: Amazing!  M went down at 7:30, woke up at 8:15, 9:00, and 10:22.  I fed her at the 10:22 waking and then she slept until 2:56.  I tried to hold her off, but she would have none of it, so I went ahead and fed her.  She woke up at 5:00 (because Brian's alarm wouldn't shut off) and fussed for only a few minutes and then slept until 7:45.  The first three waking, she fussed for less than 10 minutes each.  

Night 3: Amazing again!  M went down at 7:35 and was asleep in three minutes.  She slept until 12:00 and I was going to go get her up and feed her, but she wasn't crying, she was just talking, so I left her.  She did that for about three minutes and then went back to sleep.  She woke back up at 12:40 and I fed her and again, she sang herself to sleep.  At 3:00, she woke up and I changed her diaper.  She wasn't thrilled to go back down, but since I'd just fed her a few hours before, I wasn't going to do it again so quickly.  She fussed on and off, but went to sleep in about 15 minutes. She woke up at 5:25, ate, and I laid her down at 5:45 awake and left the room to go back to bed.  I didn't hear a peep out of her until 7:35 when she woke up for the day.  

I just can't believe how well M has done with this.  I am confident that it was the right time for her and that this was the method for us.  I'm sleeping better, Brian is sleeping better, and M is sleeping better...and that's what it's all about!  

Another couple key things worth mentioning... 

  • Good sleep = more good sleep.  DO NOT keep your child up in the day just so they will sleep better at night.  It doesn't work that way.  In fact, I'm nursing M to sleep for her naps and not attempting to sleep train for them yet because I know it's important for her to get good daytime sleep so she's not overtired.  
  • Follow the rules lined out at the beginning of Kim West's book for baby sleep in the first few months. I didn't and wish I did.  I think it would make sleep training WORLDS easier.  The main one I'll mention is to let your child put him/herself to sleep on their own at least once every day.  I can see how this would really help them learn early on how to self-soothe.  I definitely plan to do this with my next baby.  
  • Relax.  If a sleep plan isn't working for you, stop and try something else.  Give it at least a few days, but if your baby isn't ready, it's not going to be better for anyone.  

I hope this has helped some of you who are struggling with your baby's sleep.  I know it's a hard thing to go through and am glad we have so many great resources to help guide us through.   

I'd love to hear from any of you regarding your sleep training experiences!  

Happy sleeping!!

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