If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that we’ve really struggled with sleep. We reached breaking point in January—Jacob was still waking at least 3 times a night to breastfeed, not wanting to sleep in his cot, not wanting to sleep anywhere unless he was touching me and generally exhausting me and my husband. We started sleep training in early February and *touch wood* it seems to have been a success for us! I’m now getting at least a 7-hour stretch of sleep a night, which seemed absolutely impossible a couple of months ago. For those of you in the same boat and considering sleep training, here are my tips.
Move baby to their own room
I’d strongly advise moving baby to their own room before attempting sleep training. I tried it once with Jacob still sleeping in our room. It didn’t work. He could smell me, probably see me, and was just hysterical that I was ignoring him.
It is hard to hear your baby cry, but it’ll be ok
One thing I must confess. It is hard to hear your baby cry. The first night, I nearly caved in when we had an hour of crying at 1am. We were following The Blissful Baby Expert book routine (check out my review), which advocates timed comforting. This is basically a slightly gentler version of controlled crying. As the key to sleep training is teaching babies to self-soothe, they have to be put in their cot awake. If they have been used to being fed or cuddled or rocked to sleep, they will obviously protest at this. The routine we followed recommends patting baby’s bottom and shushing for 30 seconds, then leaving the room for 2 minutes. If they are still crying, go back in and pat and shush again for 30 seconds, then leave the room for 4 minutes. This is repeated, if necessary, but next time you should leave the room for 6 minutes, then 8, then 10. If baby is still crying at 10 minutes, then you keep the intervals at 10 minutes—never go higher. We have only actually got to 10 minutes once, on that first night!
It’s important you and your partner are on the same page. It’s no good if one of you is likely to crack. You need to support each other.
Although I obviously hate hearing Jacob cry, I’ve decided to look at it from a different point of view. Sleep is really important for children. By teaching them to sleep better you are setting them up for a lifetime of better health. I’ve read loads recently about chronically sleep deprived children and how it’s impacting their schooling and potentially their health. So although it is hard at first, it will be worth it in the long run.
Do not crack (unless they seem ill or to be teething)
We made this mistake once. He was taking a while to settle, we were tired, so we just let him in our bed. It took us a couple of days of being strict again to get him back to sleeping in his cot all night. There are exceptions to this: if baby seems ill or generally in pain, they won’t self-soothe. We’ve had some nights with lots of wake ups—I assume it was teething pain—and I didn’t leave him to cry because he seemed really upset. Those nights I gave him some teething gel, a cuddle and, on bad nights, some ibuprofen.
Things improve quickly
Although it was hard, things did improve quickly. On day 4 we had a 6-hour stretch of sleep. Now, we regularly get a stretch of sleep from 10.30pm until 6am, sometimes even 7am! It is amazing. To manage that, we are still waking him for a bottle at 10pm, just to make sure he isn’t waking up hungry in the middle of the night. Soon, I’ll attempt to see if we can drop that feed and get him to sleep through from 7pm until 6/7am!
If they wake up, give them a minute to self-soothe
One of my biggest tips, and the thing that really helped us get baby sleeping through the night, is to stop rushing in to soothe as soon as they wake up. I started leaving it for a minute or two, and 9 times out of 10, he’d go straight back to sleep again. I didn’t even get out of bed! He now rarely wakes up in the middle of the night, unless his routine is disrupted.
If I do have to get out of bed, I try to shush and pat him and I turn on Ewan the Dream Sheep for white noise.
Daytime naps (and routine in general) seem to be key
Routine is not something I am a massive fan of. However, it has worked for us. Jacob has 3 naps during the day—a short morning nap, a long lunchtime nap, and a short afternoon nap. If he misses these naps, often he will wake in the night crying. I think it’s because he’s over-tired and over-tired babies find it harder to soothe themselves. I do find having a routine a bit restrictive, but it has been worth it. It’s a trade-off really. Flexibility versus sleep. Sleep has won for me so far!
Have you tried sleep training? How did it go?
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