(Excerpted from Sleep Training Part 1) To SKIP this section and go straight to Part 2, Click Here
Sleep Training isn’t new. The formal rules/guidelines are rather new, but I asked my mom what she did with my brother and me, and she said she didn’t train us to sleep. She had me in my nursery room, they didn’t have a monitor, and she closed my door and closed their bedroom door. She said “Yeah you probably cried, but you were fine.” ha!
Some parents choose not to formally sleep train and to let their baby grow into their own natural rhythms of sleeping and needing comfort through parental intervention. That’s completely fine and each and every family goes about the topic of sleeping at their own approach. After hearing some horror stories of non-sleep trained babies, we decided before Jia was born that we would read up, take notes, and train Jia.
So what’s “Sleep Training”?
The term “sleep training” is generally used to refer to a method to teach a baby how to self soothe in order to learn how to sleep through the night (STTN). This is often referred to as the Cry It Out (CIO) or Ferber Method method, named after Dr. Richard Ferber, who developed the style/method. There are other ways that parents use to help babies sleep, like sharing the bed to help parents learn the baby’s natural sleep rhythm, or attachment methods which means that parents tend to the baby right away and at any time they wake up through the night. This may or may not mean the baby will STTN.
Jia started STTN when she was 5 months old, mainly because we were in the process of moving from our condo (where she slept in a crib next to our bed) to a house where she would have her own room. No sense in teaching her how to sleep only to disrupt it after moving. I got a lot of input from friends about sleep training, but we didn’t follow the rules perfectly. But, Jia now sleeps 11-11.5 hours straight once put to bed at 8 PM.
To teach Jia to STTN, we followed the principles in the book, The Sleepeasy Solution: The Exhausted Parent’s Guide to Getting Your Child to Sleep from Birth to Age 5. My friend Sam swore by it, and her kid sleeps for 12 hours straight and started when he was 5 months old. She says she literally has to go and wake him up in the mornings. He is now over 2 years old. The friends she referred this book to have also had great success, and friends of hers (and mine) who opted not to sleep train are still dealing with sleepless nights with their toddlers (now 3 and 4 years old!). Not something we wanted to go through, so I ordered this book months before Jia was born so we could prep. I also got some great advice from a friend of a friend (thanks, Heather!) who has two boys who were sleep-trained differently. She followed “Twelve Hours’ Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old.” Sam would shake her head at me for not following the first book to a T, but like I said, each kid is different. But, hey, I’ll take 11 hours!
Basic Fundamentals We Used:
- Wait until baby is at least 14 pounds to sleep train – most pediatricians confirm that babies have abilities to self soothe after they meet this benchmark weight
- Run it by your baby’s pediatrician to make sure it’s OK for baby to go long stretches without nighttime feedings
- Follow a bedtime routine to indicate to baby that it’s nearing bedtime, follow this religiously!Make sure anyone who babysits for bedtime, follows this exactly. I cannot emphasize this enough!
- Aim for the same bedtime each night.
- Baby’s last nap time should END 2.5-3 hours before being put down in her crib for the night (if you aim for an 8 PM bedtime, her last nap should end NO LATER than 5:30 PM or else she won’t be tired enough to go to bed)
- Put baby down to bed awake or drowsy, but NOT asleep. You don’t want her to fall asleep in your arms and then wake up in her crib upset she is in a different environment.
- Give baby a chance to self-soothe once she is crying in the crib. If you go in right away, she’ll think she needs you there to help her go to sleep. The Sleepeasy Solution recommends to “check in” crib-side at time intervals of 5, 10, 15, and 15 min and so forth until baby is asleep. You are not abandoning her. You are not depriving her. You are helping her learn.
- Touching vs No Touching at Check-Ins: Sleepeasy says no touching at all, only verbal reassurance (“You’re doing great, we know you can do this, Mommy and Daddy are right here and we love you!”). Other books don’t restrict touching. My interpretation is that, with every baby being different, the no-touch route may further aggravate your baby if she hears you but she can’t feel your touch. Or, touching may make her more upset because she wants more than just a small touch. Jia dozes off to sleep at her designated intervals after we stroke her head lightly, re-insert her pacifier, place her lovey in her arms. She still sleeps 11-11.5 hours, so for me, I didn’t stick with the no-touch rule and it works for her.
- Wean feedings before you sleep train. Baby can only handle learning one thing at a time, and sleeping without feeding is task enough! Twelve Hours’ Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old focuses on 4 feedings during the day for baby to get all her calorie needs and two naps during the day – a 1 hour mid-morning nap and a 2-hour afternoon nap between feeding 2 and 3. It’s supposed to naturally help baby to sleep longer. I can’t expect or force Jia to take a 1 hour morning and 2 hour afternoon naps. She usually wanted to take a 1.5-2 hour morning nap and would only sleep for 2-30 minute naps later. Now that she’s older she functions better with a 1- to 1 hour 15 min nap at 3 PM. I watched for her sleepy cues (rubbing eyes, yawning, tugging at her ears, vocalizing in annoyance) then put her down for a nap to figure out when her natural napping times were.
OK, so if you have already successfully weaned your baby from night feedings, read on. If you haven’t tackled that yet, read Sleep Training Part 1: Weaning from Night Feedings.
Part 2: Sleeping Through the Night and Crying It Out
First things first:
- Congratulations on deciding to start sleep training! Your full nights’ rest is in sight!
- START SLEEP TRAINING AT NIGHT. The books say that naps may take more time to work on, but nighttime sleep is where training starts. Additionally, if you had a rough time trying to sleep train starting with naps, you’ll have an overtired baby trying to go to bed at night.
- DO NOT start to sleep train if
- your baby just learned a new skill. Hold off for 7-10 days.
- your baby is cutting a tooth or is sick.
- The primary caregiver (mom or dad) has just returned to work within the last 2 weeks, or if s/he will return to work in the next 2 weeks. The separation for baby is an adjustment in itself.
- Establish a nighttime routine, that will be followed religiously! (see below)
It’s really important for your baby to learn how to unwind, to learn when it’s time for bed, and to feel calm and relaxed. One of the best ways you can do this is to establish a predictable routine that indicates to your little one that it’s nearing his or her bedtime. This will be your bedtime routine. This can include any combination of story time, bathing, massage with lotion, getting into favorite PJ’s, calming music playing, dimming lights, diffusing calming essential oils, etc.
Do this same routine every night, stick to the routine as close as you can. Be consistent. Again, make sure you start this as early as you can; this doesn’t have to start after your baby is weaned from night feedings. The routine can start as early as 1 month old, but if you’re getting ready to sleep train, you need to start this now if you haven’t already. Makes sure any babysitters, caregivers, grandparents, everyone follows this.
Sleeping through the night is achieved through not needing to eat during nighttime hours and by putting herself back to sleep when she wakes up. Babies go through short sleep cycles (as mentioned in the post, “Your Snoozin Sprout”) and wake many times throughout the night. The key is giving your baby the comfort of knowing she can put herself back to sleep without crying.
Our Bedtime Routine:
We started Jia’s bedtime routine when she was about 1.5 months old, because we found she was taking 3 hours to unwind and go to sleep! It would be midnight by the time she finally stopped fighting sleep, with us going in and cradling, rocking, singing, shushing, etc.
I tried using the baby carrier to get Jia to fall asleep, walks around the condo complex wrapped around me, running water from the sink, everything. It wasn’t until mom friend Armita recommended we start a routine to help her that she FELL ASLEEP at a reasonable hour! This advice was gold.
I HIGHLY recommend establishing a bedtime routine early on, even if you don’t have a set bedtime (if your little one is very new or you don’t believe in bedtimes). After just a few nights of her routine, she was going to sleep within 30 minutes after the end of it. I’m a big proponent of bedtime routines and sticking to them. Thirty minutes felt like a miracle.
- Form your routine: you decide what you want to do to help your little one unwind. This should take 15-60 minutes and at nighttime. Then,
- Observe your baby to see when he starts to get fussy in the evening, when he just seems irritated and won’t relax. Note what time that occurs, and start your routine 30 minutes before that. It may take a few days of experimenting. Jia used to get fussy at 7:30 PM, so we started her routine at 7 PM, but then she started getting fussy at 7 PM, so we started her routine at 6:30 PM. Now, we generally start her routine at 7 PM because of when she wakes from her last nap (sometimes it’s a 30 min nap, sometimes it’s 1 hour).
- The Sleepeasy Solution says babies shouldn’t have a bedtime past 8:30 PM, because of their natural tendency to wake up when the sun peeks through the curtains and they need 10-12 hours of sleep. Eventually you’ll figure out what time to wake your baby up for the day, but your baby should be scheduled to get at least about 10 hours of nighttime sleep, so plan their bedtime accordingly. (If you wake baby at 7 AM every day, make sure he goes to bed at 8:30 PM, no later)
- Recommended environmental changes:
- Dark, dark room (especially important when working on naps the next morning)
- White noise
- Lovey/mommy bear
- Comfortable nighttime clothing (not too warm)
Ours (at 5 months, she was no longer swaddled) looked like this:
7PM: start bath, making sure PJ’s, socks, and Halo Sleepsack is ready at changing area. We turn on the Sleep Genius iPhone app, which is nice soothing spa music while we bathe Jia. This music signals to Jia it’s wind-down time. We use California Baby Calming Shampoo & Body Wash, which has calendula, aloe, jojoba oil, and French lavender. Then we dry her off then give her a baby massage (known to help baby relax) with California Baby’s Calming Everyday Baby Lotion. I love this lotion, it’s got organic French Lavender, calendula, and rosemary. Then she gets dressed in her PJ’s, socks, and sleepsack (she used to get swaddled right before bed, until she was 3.5 months old)
7:30PM: Bedtime feeding. (After feeding, we now brush her teeth before story time)
7:45-8 PM: Storytime. This used to be for 30 minutes because Jia used to have spit up/reflux issues, so we held her upright in a slightly reclined position cradled in our arms while we read to her.
8 PM: Change diaper (if your baby poops after eating). Turn on white noise (we use the White Noise app for iPod that we have near her crib set to the “Extreme Rain” setting, and turn on our Sleep Sheep to the mother’s heartbeat sound). Give her Wubbanubb and lovey (I slept with it cuddled with me for a couple weeks before I started putting it in the crib with her, so it had my scent). We hold her with her pacifier in and with the lovey, kiss her forehead, then put her down and slowly walk away.
Over the past few months we have tweaked our routine, but this is basically what we do!
Crying it Out (CIO): A Brief Overview
Crying it out means that once you put your baby down into the crib, give your baby a chance to relax and soothe himself – UNASSISTED – for a defined length of time. Some methods of sleep training maintain 5 minutes between each check-in, some 15 minutes each time, some include touching/stroking/rubbing baby’s back with soothing comforting and encouraging words (not that baby understands these words necessarily, but hearing your calming tone is comforting), and some methods only allow for verbal reassurance.
As mentioned in Part 1, we sleep trained by rules of the Sleepeasy Solution method, but we also didn’t follow it 100%.
Through consistency, your baby will learn that you will be checking in, but you won’t be checking in right when he starts crying. He’ll also learn that he knows he is safe and can get sleep without you being there, cajoling him to sleep.
Why you can’t rock and cradle your baby til asleep? Well, if he learns that the only way for him to calm down is in your arms, he’ll figure he needs your assistance in order to sleep. This can actually vary baby to baby. But in my experience, that was quite a toss-up, rushing to Jia’s bedside to comfort every time she cries through the night or when we were putting her to sleep. We tried it (the soothing by picking her up) and it dragged on the time she actually fell asleep – by a lot. We were ALWAYS better off touching her while she was in the crib or not touching at all, versus picking her up.
Again. Babies are all different, some calm down more when you touch them while they’re in the crib versus only verbally reassuring them, some get more hysterical with touch and would be better off left being shushed. And, some babies don’t need sleep training at all to sleep through the night! (Like my friend Martha and her baby Ethan)
What Does it Mean to “Cry It Out”?
Sleep training can pull at your heartstrings. It’s rough. The Sleepeasy Solution recommends a carton of ice cream on standby when you’re waiting between check-ins while your baby is crying and learning to settle himself. For me, knowing I wasn’t “allowed” to visit for 5, 10 , or 15 minutes was actually very freeing because I knew I wasn’t “allowed” to do anything for that length of time.
Having designated intervals really helped alleviate my uneasiness. But rest assured (ha) it only takes a few days (up to a week) of your baby “crying it out” to learn how to sleep. And even though he’s crying in the beginning of training, you’ll see in the morning he’s just as happy and full of smiles seeing you as he was when you tended to his every cry at every minute. Only you both will be rested! Babies have to learn the skill of sleeping and putting himself back to sleep. Don’t worry, he will learn quickly.
A few nights of crying for anywhere from 10-45 minutes is not so bad in the long run. Plus, they generally don’t cry for too long the first couple nights. The first night, she cried for a total of 43 minutes. The second night is was probably 25 minutes, and the third night she cried just for the first 5 minute check-in and was out for the night. A week’s challenge is worth years of good sleeping!
If you don’t believe in the CIO method, that’s fine! You need to do what you feel is more comfortable for you and your spouse, even if that means going in to soothe your baby right away and every time. We obviously didn’t go that approach, but whatever works for you is right for you.
The CIO Process: How to Proceed (by the book)
- Baby is placed in the crib for bedtime. Starts to cry and continues to cry. Verbally
- Look at your phone/watch/timer. Note the time, count 5 minutes out or immediately start your timer for 5 minutes.
- If baby is still crying after 5 minutes, go to your baby (don’t turn on lights), give verbal reassurance:
- “Shhhh, it’s ok, mommy and daddy are here, shhhhhh…”
- “We know you can do this, you’re a good little baby, it’s time for night night”
- Stay for 1 minute max. Leave the room.
- Immediately set your timer for 10 minutes.
- After your 10 minute timer goes off, if baby is still crying, go to your baby and
- Verbally reassure him.
- Stay 1 minute max. Then leave the room.
- Immediately set your timer for 15 minutes.
- After 15 minutes goes by and baby is still crying, check in with your baby and
- Verbally reassure him.
- Stay 1 minute max. Leave the room.
- Repeat step 7 (15 minute check-ins) until baby is asleep.
Now, as I mentioned, we didn’t follow things to a T. Things we did differently, depending on how we felt it would help Jia was:
- sometimes we only verbally reassured
- sometimes we plopped the pacifier back in her mouth and put her lion loveys back in her arms then tiptoed out of the room
- sometimes we stroked her back and head, making sure she had her pacifier and lions
Every once in a while, Jia will wake up after she’s been asleep for a few hours. She may whimper or open her eyes and let out a small cry. We look at the clock: 9:54 PM? Make a mental note to go in at 9:59 PM. But after just about 2 minutes (sometimes more, sometimes less) she goes back to sleep.
When should I NOT check in on my baby?
- If your baby is whining or complaining but not full on crying. She is learning! That’s progress!
- Intermittent crying with pauses of more than 30 seconds between crying. This also means your baby is learning to put herself to sleep.
- Even if your 5, 10, or 15 minutes are over, but baby takes pauses between crying, let your baby keep moving toward his progress. This is critical. Your check-in may actually escalate his crying.
My Advice/Some Q&A’s:
- What if my baby falls asleep after a check-in, but then x amount of minutes goes by and he starts crying again?
- Start your timer for either 5 minutes or the next interval (10 or 15) depending on where you left off. Sometimes I did 5 if it had been anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or more, and I did the next interval (10 or 15) if she fell asleep for 5 or 10 minutes before crying again.
- What if my baby is in hysterics?
- Do what you feel is right. If Jia was crying to the point where she seemed to be hysterical, I would cut the check-in a little sooner then keep going.
- If you decided to pick up your baby at the last check-in and NOW she is in hysterics, I would make sure to NOT pick them up for the next check in and remain strong by either verbally reassuring her or stroking her back/head and calmly and supportively sweet-talk her.
- She never got to the point where she was so upset she vomited, but if she would’ve started gagging I probably would’ve called it a night and start the next evening.
- But my baby seems so much calmer and falls asleep instantly if I pick her up, but then when I try to put her back in the crib she starts wailing!
- Then clearly picking her up is not helping. She can’t learn to fall asleep in your arms forever. Picking her up and calming her then putting her down to cry is only going to make her feel insecure with your responses. Will mommy pick me up this time? Will she touch me? Will she say something to me that sounds nice? Why didn’t she pick me up this time? This is confusing and will likely get your baby more upset than if you stay consistent with your responses.
- Isn’t this mean? Won’t my baby think I’m abandoning her by not responding to her?
- You are responding to her, but you are giving her a chance to settle down.
- Our parents didn’t have fancy monitors to see what we were doing, and they likely didn’t pick us up, console, and rock us every time we cried.
- Verbally (or physically) reassuring your baby at set time intervals reconnects you to your baby without the need of doing the job for them. It lets them know that you’re still there and you know they can sleep.
- How long does this usually take babies to learn to sleep through the night?
- The Sleepeasy Solution says “Results in Less Than a Week!”
- Jia took 4 days, with occasional nights where we had to follow 5, 10, and 15. The last time we did a full cycle was over 1 month ago and it was one random night. It catches us off guard when she doesn’t sleep through the night.
- What do you do in the middle of the night after you’ve been asleep and you hear the baby cry?
- Technically you would wait for your 5 minutes before going in. But…
- For us, we don’t keep the sound on the monitor at night anymore. I wasn’t sleeping well, hearing all her little noises and when she’d turn over and kick the crib rail. So with it silent, I assumed (every time) that once I’d heard her, she’d been crying already for about 5 minutes. So I went in and shushed her, stroked her head, gave her her pacifier and she falls asleep right away.
- Sometimes I fell asleep waiting for 5 minutes to go by and she went back to sleep.
- How do you live with yourself knowing your baby is crying and you’re not doing anything?
- I love my baby as much as you love yours. I live with myself very peacefully knowing this is what will help her achieve a full night’s rest.
- All my friends who have sleep trained their kids have had success.
- All our babies sleep a good solid 11-13 hours per night.
If you have any questions or need help developing your bedtime routine, weaning feedings, or wrapping your head around this, send me a message through my Contact Me page or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to help you and your family finally get some rest!