BABY SLEEP TRAINING FOR THE UNINITIATED
By Sarah Walla – Sarah is a Mom & a Principal at BumpVitmains.com
I REMEMBER THE DAY my whole world changed when a pregnancy test showed the faintest little line indicating positive. I remember laying on my couch in happy disbelief (even though we had been trying to conceive) and Googling how to read these darn little tests correctly. It became abundantly clear that there are almost never false positives… so if there was a line, faint as it may be, it means you’re with baby. My husband laughed at my concern over what constituted a line or not, but as the days and weeks and months went by, that faint little line turned into a big belly full of baby… and our house was transforming into a baby zone!
I thought a lot about becoming a mother and being responsible for someone else. I thought a lot about how this would change my life and priorities. I stressed about how I would keep my marriage healthy while shifting it to care for a little one. I was worried about sleep as I’ve never been one who can pull an “all-nighter” to study for a test etc.
I love, I mean LOOOOVE my sleep. In fact, I love sleep so much that some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around my favorite My Little Pony sleeping bag. I was always guaranteed to be the first kid to be catching Z’s at childhood slumber parties. My friends would tease me and then go on playing and gossiping well into the morning, while I happily slumbered next to them with the lights on.
Discovering Baby Sleep Training
When my daughter came, I had a ‘Snuggle Nest’ set up in our king-size bed so she could sleep between us for a couple of weeks. Our bedroom was not large enough for one of those nice bassinets, so this was the next best option. I loved the Snuggle Nest because it had hard sides (to prevent sleeping parents from rolling onto a baby), a lullaby button, and a light button.
Those first few nights home from the hospital, the mothering instincts and maybe the adrenaline coursing through my blood, barely allowed me to sleep next to my baby. Any noise she made I’d turn on the light to make sure she was ok. I actually loved when she got fussy because it meant I could carry her down the hall to the nursery to feed her and change her and just BE with her. Looking back, I’m sure I was tired, but it didn’t negatively impact me. It’s like my body adjusted to her schedule because I had to.
As the weeks went on, we fell into a little schedule. She would feed in the morning and sleep, then feed mid-morning and sleep again (while I took her for a daily walk in the stroller for my exercise), then feed when we got back, and then sleep some more. This feed and sleep pattern was repeated in the afternoon and again in the evening, and then maybe twice more during the night.
I remember thinking “this isn’t that bad” because basically she just ate, slept, and pooped… totally manageable! But then, as she became older and more awake and ready for the world, things changed. Suddenly my sleepy baby became a very awake and very demanding infant. What little schedule we had for 2 months disappeared. I have to admit that I did not adjust very well. I was feeling fatigued. I’ve always been one to crave some control so that I can plan and prepare for things effectively. I was most definitely out of control now.
We found a wonderful nanny named MacKenzie and we spent a few days together before I went back to work. She loved my daughter and I felt really safe and comfortable with the decision. One day we were chatting, and she brought up the idea of a sleep schedule. I was like What?? A schedule?? For a baby? Then I suddenly recalled something in a book I read (and loved) called “The Honest Life” by Jessica Alba, where she mentioned sleep schedule. I looked it up and started doing a deep dive.
Sleep Begets Sleep
What I learned, and still repeat today, is that “sleep begets sleep.”. Babies and children are notorious for sleeping worse at night if they don’t rest throughout the day. They can literally become so overtired that they can’t sleep! Crazy right? So according to the American Pediatric Association, once a baby reaches a certain age and weight, they can successfully be sleep trained. Hallelujah! So my controlling self drew up this sleep schedule based on my research and from observations of my kiddo:
I guess I labeled it a “wake-feed-play” chart… but it was all in an effort to gain a full night’s sleep. MacKenzie did a great job following the chart and my daughter adjusted well. After a couple of weeks, we were fully on this amazing sleep schedule. It was wonderful knowing what the day would look like and when we could run errands or chill at home. I had gained some of my control back! Once again, I remember saying to myself “This isn’t so bad.”
“This isn’t so bad” has become an omen of sorts for me now, because whenever I say that it is usually followed by an immediate period of borderline misery. In this case, it was cutting out the night feedings. I’ve heard horror stories and success stories about weening of the night feedings and I was determined to make mine a success because remember… this mama loves her sleep!
Pediatricians will tell parents when they can ween their babies off of night feedings depending on their age and BMI. Please note that this, along with far too many aspects of raising children, can come with extremely different opinions and viewpoints. I encourage you to find the right path for you and your family… this is simply the story of what worked for me and mine.
After getting the initial daytime sleep schedule down and doing lots of research, I decided to do a hybrid approach. I did not want to leave my daughter to “cry it out” and not comfort her. I also thought it was cruel to pick her up and comfort her without feeding her. So, we decided that when she woke in her crib and started crying for food, we would simply lay a hand on her and say “We are here, we love you, it is time to sleep now” and walk away. This way she didn’t feel abandoned but was instead given the room to learn how to self-comfort and to fall asleep on her own.
After three nights of this, like magic, our daughter started consistently sleeping through the night! So much so that the only time she woke was if she was sick or if something was really wrong. I won’t lie, hearing your baby cry in the night stirs something deeply emotional in a mother. Something very instinctual, something very hard-wired into your being. It is incredibly hard to ignore. I probably learned as much about self-comfort and self-control as my daughter did through the process.
We all know that parenting is hard. But I believe that some tough decisions make things easier in the long run. It’s tough to follow a schedule during the day and deny your baby food when they cry at night, but it would be way harder weening a 2-year-old than a 5-month-old or to go a year or more without a good night’s sleep.
Incorporating the sleep schedule and weening our daughter off night feedings when she was the right age (and BMI), helped her set a new expectation that bedtime is for sleeping not for constantly waking and feeding. And this helped us regain our sleep and allowed us to continue being patient, alert, and productive parents during waking hours.
My sweet girl is 5 years old now and doesn’t nap during the day anymore. When 7 pm hits, she knows it’s bedtime and she doesn’t fight it. When the little angel wakes at 6 am, she is fresh and rested and ready for all that the day will bring!
It is our job to give these little people the tools they need to be successful. Sure parenting is hard. And sometimes it requires us to exercise a whole lot of self-control and discipline to instill just a little of it in our children. But, in my experience, if you are able to endure a few hard days and nights teaching your child to be more self-reliant, it will make the weeks, months, and years ahead a lot easier to tackle.