DISCLAIMER: I realize there are many schools of thought on this topic. I am only writing this in case I can help an exasperated mama out there somewhere. I’ve been asked by many moms how we got Tucker to sleep through the night, which is why I decided to write about it. I’m not saying this is the way every mom should be doing things. I’m simply sharing what worked for both of our kids (Angie’s too!) I’ve contemplated not posting about this topic just because people can be extremely judgmental and downright hateful when it comes to the way people raise their children. If you disagree with the way we did things, that’s fine. I’m sure you’re doing what you believe to be best for your child, as am I. Emerson slept through the night at 7 weeks. Tucker slept through the night at 8 weeks. If you want to hop on the sleeping mom, sleeping baby train, here’s my advice purely based on personal experience…
We follow a lot of the “Baby Wise” principles and have found them SO helpful! People seem immediately scared at the mention of Baby Wise and picture cold-heartedly letting their baby wail for hours without intervention. This hasn’t been the case with either of our kids. “Baby Wise” is all about giving your infant the gift of nighttime sleep. However, this deep, healthy, nighttime sleep is heavily influenced by what happens throughout the day. When I was pregnant with Emmy, Angie lent me her copy with the warning of not getting TOO overboard with it (AKA stressing myself out trying to follow it 100% and failing). I never beat myself up if we messed up or got off schedule. I just tried to correct and get back on track whenever possible. I didn’t let the schedule control my life, but soon it made my life a million times easier.
The main concepts of Baby Wise that we’ve used in sleep training are about creating this “schedule” for your baby. We started working towards a schedule at about 10 days old. We began to implement a routine of “eat, wake, sleep”. Some moms may make the argument that a schedule “confines” you and controls your life. I’ve found that sticking to some sort of schedule does quite the opposite for us. In the first weeks of Emmy’s life I didn’t dare leave the confines of my home. I feared she would scream relentlessly the second I made it into the grocery store. I was terrified of not knowing how to calm her in public. Many moms experience similar feelings. So, you stay home, which leads to a lot of lonely, depressing feelings (Not good for baby, mama, or poor dad). Anyone whose had success with scheduling knows that scheduling actually gives you the freedom you deeply desire as a new mom. Suddenly, you know when they’re going to cry, sleep, wake, and you can plan for it all. You can hit the grocery store at a time when they’ll be happy or sleeping. Or, if they do fall apart at the grocery store, you know exactly what they need based on where you’re at on the schedule. It makes getting out of the house much easier.
Here’s how to implement the schedule: After your baby feeds you try to keep them awake. Talk to them, do tummy time, give them a bath, tickle their toes, etc. Try to keep them awake for at least 45 minutes from the beginning of their feeding. After that you can let them nap. We tried to stick to feeding both babies every 2 1/2 to 3 hours. For instance: 7:30 am feeding, wake time until 8:30 am, nap until 10 am. Avoid “snack feedings” throughout the day. Focus on getting in a full feeding each time so your baby is full enough to enjoy being awake and napping. Continue this schedule throughout the day until “bed-time”. We started with a 10:30-11:00 pm bedtime and worked our way earlier with the kids. Tucker now sleeps from about 10:30pm to about 7:00am. Once bedtime comes, you stop the eat, wake, sleep cycle. Just feed them and put them to bed for the night. Begin the eat, wake, sleep cycle again when they wake in the morning.
For about the first four weeks we would wake them to feed every three to four hours at night. But, we’d put them right back to sleep after feeding. At about four weeks old we quit waking our babies up to feed at night unless their sleep surpassed five hours. At about six weeks old we quit waking them to feed all together, with the exception of daytime feedings. They gradually lengthened the amount of time they slept at night all on their own. Tucker is not as consistent a sleeper as Emmy was, which probably directly relates to us being less consistent with our schedule this time around. If Emmy slept until 7 one day, she would do that every single day. Then, one day she would sleep in until 8 and then continue sleeping in until 8 every single day. Tucker still jumps around between a 6 and 8 am wake time. Every few days he’ll randomly wake up at 4 or 5 am. When this happens, I go in and give him his pacifier. He typically falls back asleep until morning. Although, some nights he doesn’t. In these situations I typically make 2, sometimes 3 trips back in to give him his pacifier and let him fall back to sleep. If he cries again a fourth time this is when I set my alarm for a number of minutes and turn the monitor off. I give him some time to try to self-soothe and get back to sleep. If he is still crying when my alarm goes off, I’ll feed him. I make every attempt not to feed him until a reasonable morning wake time so I don’t create a pattern or bad habit for him. He is waking up randomly early less and less the more consistent we are.
Learning to self-soothe is exactly that, a learned skill. Many children develop bad sleep habits (sleep aids, fitful sleeping, unhealthy attachments) all because they’ve never developed this self-soothing skill. One of the Baby Wise tips I’ve found to be helpful is laying your child down for naps and/or bedtime while they are still awake. You can rock them and hold them but once they get sleepy, allow them to fall asleep on their own. This way, they learn how to fall asleep peacefully on their own. Sure, there’s been plenty of times I’ve rocked my babies to sleep and stuck around for quite a while just to watch them sleep in my arms. This is the part where I don’t take things “overboard”. I just don’t make that the norm to the point of “they can’t fall asleep unless they’re rocked or held”.
There have been only a few times I’ve needed to let them “cry it out” for a time. Matt used to tell me when I first had Emmy, “She’s either going to cry in your arms or cry in her crib”. I wanted to believe I could soothe her but the truth was, all I was doing was driving myself crazy. Sure enough, five minutes of “crying it out” was enough for her. I found that sometimes the stimulation of bouncing or rocking was actually keeping her up and it was best to just say goodnight. If you need to let your baby “cry it out”, my first advice is to buy a big box fan for you and baby. Don’t park your miserable self by their door, listening and crying yourself. The whole reason I’ve ever let my babies “cry it out” is because I was going crazy. I’d made sure all their needs were met, I’d attempted every method I could possibly think of to soothe them myself. I’d lost my brain, patience, and sanity in the process. I needed to step away for a moment to calm myself. I needed to take a shower or close my eyes and breathe. No, this doesn’t make me a horrible mom. It makes me a sane one. Rest assured these few times I’ve let them cry for short periods of time have helped immensely. They quickly learn that it’s not time for them to wake and the next morning they sleep later. The best part of all this sleep training is when you have a baby who sleeps through the night and actually wakes up smiling and happy and ready for the day. It does happen, I promise!
One thing to remember with all this scheduling is to remain flexible. If you notice your baby needs to sleep or eat more, adjust the schedule for you and your baby’s needs. If you mess up, get back on the horse whenever you can. If Tucker feeds at 2 hours rather than 2 1/2 hours, I’m not going to cry. May be he was extra hungry. By all means, don’t drive yourself nutty with the schedule. It’s meant to free you up, not to stress you out. I have, however, found that the better I stick to the schedule the better his nighttime sleep is.
I hope this lengthy explanation of our sleep training experience/advice is helpful to someone. I hope that it is clear how much we love our kids and desire to do what is best for them and our family. I’ve learned so much since my first days at home with Emmy. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that the most important thing is a healthy baby AND and a healthy mama. Do what is best for your family as a whole. Sleep is crucial for everybody, even your sweet baby.