Sleep Training Part 1: Weaning from Night Feedings

Sleep Training Part 1: Night Weaning“Awww, how cute. Is she sleeping through the night?” Seems like I got this question 1 out of every 3 strangers we met. For me, I didn’t mind it too much. That’s because when she was little, she wasn’t expected to (not yet) and when she was older, she slept for about 5 hours at a time so I wasn’t complaining. However, it doesn’t help me from feeling like I’m jinxing ourselves for that night. If you’re a new parent, I’m sure you have gotten this question a fair number of times. 

This post is mostly for new parents who have heard about “sleep training,” but don’t know the details, parents who are having restless nights, those sleeping in few-hour increments, those who have babies who cry a lot when put to bed, and those who are anticipating the need to sleep train to get those delicious-sounding 12-hour stretches with baby sleeping soundly. 

If you’ve already weaned from night feedings and need to know the next step, or have already read this post, read Part 2: Sleeping Through the Night

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, 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 learn to STTN. Some parents are blessed with babies who are “good sleepers,” who didn’t require formal “cry it out” methods. They just learned to sleep longer stretches on their own. 

Sleep Training isn’t a new thing. The more structured 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. However, 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. This was regardless if she seemed to be a “good sleeper” with 5-hour stretches at a couple months old. I didn’t want to chance it.

We waited to sleep train Jia until 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 her progress with a big move. I got a lot of input from friends about sleep training, and we didn’t follow the rules perfectly.  But, Jia now sleeps 11.5-12 hours straight once put her to bed at 7:30 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 Samantha swore by it, and her kid sleeps rock solid 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. Mom friend Armita also sleep trained their son, and nowadays she usually has to bang around dresser drawers and pots and pans in the morning to stir up any sort of wakening response from him.

Anyhow, friends of Sam’s have also used The Sleepeasy Solution and have had great success. Also, friends of hers 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. My coworker Chris and his wife followed a different book, “Twelve Hours’ Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old” for their twins, saying they didn’t want to mess around with TWO babies keeping them up all night forever. Similar methods but slight variations. 

Is it Recommended?

The authors of The Sleepeasy Solution, Jennifer Waldburger, MSW and Jill Spivack, LCSW are sleep consultants and social workers who have been featured all over mainstream media (like Good Morning America, The Today Show, The New York Times, etc.) and are very popular with assisting in sleep training for Hollywood’s babies (Ben Stiller and wife Christine Taylor, Greg Kinnear, etc). They have a section in the book dedicated to explaining why learning to “cry it out” does not harm babies and does not lead to psychological damage. “Crying it out” doesn’t mean you’re abandoning your baby or letting them cry all night long without any sort of calming intervention.

Though I didn’t need much convincing about sleep training, what really convinced me was the packet of information we were given by our pediatrician when Jia was a few months old. It was about sleeping. They actually recommended some form of sleep training through learning to self-soothe and cry for a bit, to “learn” how to settle themselves back to sleep. They did recognize attachment styles for sleep training, but encouraged parents to allow their babies the chance to self-soothe by crying some. Now, they didn’t recommend a specific book or method, but they did acknowledge that self-soothing was an important part of a baby’s development in learning to sleep.

The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study in October 2012 to determine harms or benefits of sleep training with five-year follow ups of sleep-trained and non-sleep trained groups of babies. All participants of the study reported before the study that they were experiencing sleep problems at 7 months. The intervention group was one in which parents allowed their babies to self-settle through “controlled comforting” at specified time intervals (methods similar to Sleepeasy and described in Part 2 of this post) and non-intervention groups did not employ sleep training methods. At a five-year follow up, there was no significant difference (positive or negative) in the effects (stress regulation, psychosocial functioning, child mental health, sleep, the child-parent relationship, or maternal mental health) of controlled comforting. Given that there were not significant changes in either group, the short-term benefits of infant sleep and improved rates of maternal depression would justify self-settle methods. You can read the entire research article here. In the article are TONS of references that support that no harm comes from using self-soothe techniques.

Whichever way you decide to approach your baby’s sleep is your decision, and every baby is different. Research indicates that there is no “best” approach to sleep training; some babies require super strict methods or no method at all.

But this post is more about what we did to get Jia to STTN.

Basic Fundamentals We Used: 

  • Wait until baby is at least 14 pounds to sleep train – most pediatricians confirm that babies have the ability 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. Our bedtime routine is described in Part 2 of Little Sproutings’ Sleep Training post.
  • 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. 
  • Don’t attempt to sleep train or wean feedings during any big change: moving, teething, learning a new skill (rolling over, sitting up, etc). 
  • 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 only takes 1 nap in the morning for 1.5 hours max. When she was around sleep-training age, 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. But anyway, I highly recommend weaning from night feedings before you teach them how to sleep, so when they wake up you aren’t responding inconsistently with feeding vs. sleep training methods. 

The crying nights when learning how to sleep train should only last about 3 days – the book advertises “Results in Less than a Week!” but anyone I know who has sleep trained didn’t have to for more than 3 or 4 days. Babies learn this pretty fast. 

Part 1 of Sleep Training: Weaning from Night Feedings

(Download PDF Version: Little Sproutings Part 1 of Sleep Training – Weaning from Night Feedings)

My mom said she didn’t go through an active process to wean us from night nursing, we just started sleeping through the night on our own. If you aren’t lucky like she was, here’s a good place to start getting your little to STTN: no more waking out of hunger. 

The overall principle for weaning night feedings (with Sleepeasy Solution) is to feed shorter and shorter every night to train your baby to shift to eating more during the daytime hours, until there are no more night feedings. Start by taking note (I use the Sprout Baby iPhone app) the time and length of each feeding during the nighttime. Do this for about a week to get an idea of what time your baby naturally wakes up to eat. When you start to wean, you wake your baby up 1 hour before she will wake on her own and feed for the longest time she’s been eating at this feeding throughout the past week.  ONLY wake her enough to eat (she can stay drowsy and eat, don’t talk to her or make much eye contact). You are anticipating her hunger so she doesn’t wake up because she is hungry. Do this for all night feedings. On proceeding nights, cut feeding time by 2 minutes each feeding. Eventually you will wean out all night time feedings:

Example: 8 PM Bedtime, if you note that baby wakes up at 11:30 PM (feeds 10 minutes max over the past week), 2:30 AM (feeds 8 minutes max over the past week), and 5 AM (eats 7 minutes max over the past week). If baby wakes up at any other point and feeds less than 2 minutes, do not count those as feedings (Sleepeasy says these are comfort feedings, and as long as you are waking baby up to feed, she shouldn’t wake for these blip feedings):

Night 1:

  1. Wake baby at 10:30 PM, feed for 10 minutes
  2. Wake baby at 1:30 AM, feed for 8 minutes
  3. Wake baby at 4 AM, feed 7 minutes

Night 2:

  1. Wake baby at 10:30 PM, feed for 8 minutes
  2. Wake baby at 1:30 AM, feed for 6 minutes
  3. Wake baby at 4 AM, feed for 5 minutes

Night 3:

  1. Wake baby at 10:30 PM, feed for 6 minutes
  2. Wake baby at 1:30 AM, feed for 4 minutes
  3. Wake baby at 4 AM, feed for 3 minutes

Night 4

  1. Wake baby at 10:30 PM, feed for 4 minutes
  2. Wake baby at 1:30 AM , feed for 2 minutes
  3. Wake baby at 4 AM, feed for 2 minutes

Night 5:

  1. Wake baby at 10:30 PM, feed for 2 minutes
  2. Feeding weaned!
  3. Feeding weaned!

Night 6:

  1. Feeding weaned!
  2. Feeding weaned!
  3. Feeding weaned!

For Jia, it was hard to go from 4 to 2 minutes. So, what I did was feed Jia 3 minutes, then another night of 3 minutes, then another night of 2 minutes, then I stopped waking her for that feeding. Any time I noticed, between 2 and 3 minutes, that she was snoozing/resting between sucks, I would un-latch her then eventually put her back in the crib.  Your baby will most likely stay asleep when you rouse her to feed and will still likely be sleepy when you put her back down in the crib. Jia always stayed drowsy and she didn’t have much trouble drifting back off to sleep in her crib… that is, unless she pooped while she was eating, then I had to change her diaper. If your baby doesn’t poop, the books recommend to NOT change them. Sometimes it was hard to tell if Jia pooped, but if I didn’t feel it then I put her back down. Sometimes that meant we woke up to poo on her PJ’s, but other times we just had a full wet diaper. Eventually as night feedings go away, your baby probably won’t poop at night. Yay another bonus. 

Remember** after your baby is successfully weaned, continue to reinforce NO FEEDINGS at night, for a couple weeks BEFORE you start to sleep train. 

After you have tackled weaning and baby is no longer feeding, stay tuned for Sleep Training Part 2: Sleeping Through The Night

Good luck!

Sources:

The Sleepeasy Solution: http://www.sleepyplanet.com/products/sleepeasy_book.php or on Amazon

AAP.org Infant Sleep Training is Effective and Safe, Study Finds: <http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/Infant-Sleep-Training-is-Effective-and-Safe-Study-Finds.aspx>

Price, A. Wake, M. Ukoumunne, O. Hiscock, H. Five-Year Follow-up of Harms and Benefits of Behavioral Infant Sleep Intervention: Randomized Trial. 2012; (130)4: 643-651.  <http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/4/643.full.pdf+html>

***Always put your baby to sleep on his or her back. This is the safest position to sleep, to reduce the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The risk is greatest in infants 4 months or less, but it is recommended for the first year of life that babies are placed in empty cribs on their backs. Do not place blankets, bumpers, pillows, or stuffed animals in the crib with your young baby. ***

6 Comments

  1. How did night weaning go for your breasts? I’m prone to mastitis and currently weaning baby and I’m terrified that my breasts are going to explode. Any tips? Did anyone wake up to pump while baby slept through the night?

    • Jeni
      Jeni

      March 22, 2016 at 9:44 PM

      Hi Angela! Sorry for the late response, I was taking a little break! Night weaning was a fine balance of figuring out when to let baby sleep and pump an hour or so after she used to wake up to nurse, and gradually spreading out that time. So, if she was actively weaning and I was dwindling down on the length of each feeding, I would nurse her the specified # of minutes, then put her down and pump the remainder. I would do that for all the feedings (nurse the length of time I was weaning to, then pump the remainder after I put her down). After we cut out all the feedings, I would wake up mid-way between when she would nurse (like if she woke at 12 AM and 3 AM for a feeding, I would wake up at about 1-2 AM) to pump to relief (til it wasn’t tight), so about 4 total ounces or so. That way, at night, my supply would dwindle down. I would do this around 5 AM too, just to relieve some pressure. I would be pretty full at 7 AM when she would wake up for her morning feeding. So as I continued this (pumping to just relief so it wasn’t tight) my body soon learned to make less at night and would be completely emptied in the day time. Does that help?

  2. Hi Jeni!

    Thanks so much for this series, it is really very helpful to have such condensed information in one single place! It is very generous of you to share your knowledge like this :-)

    We have a 3-month old boy who is in the 10th percentile for weight at 12.5 pounds, which means I am freaking out about dropping his night feeding (he now nurses only once at night, about 6-7 hours after we put him to bed + 5 times during the day).

    Does the Sleepeasy book say anything about maybe increasing the number of daytime feedings for babies on the lower end of the weight spectrum for their age?

    I guess with breastfeeding we are all a bit paranoid about our babies’ weight gain….

    Thanks in advance for your insights on this :-))

    Do you know

    • Jeni
      Jeni

      December 2, 2015 at 11:30 PM

      Oh Veronica it was my pleasure! We put our noses to the grindstone on this topic and since I know it’s a topic so many parents struggle with figuring out for themselves, I wanted to share down to the detail, what helped us! Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have. I would love to help!

  3. What I’m wondering is..what do you do if baby cries because she hasn’t had enough? My baby will literally scream if she is still hungry.
    I am planning on doing this as soon as my babe hits 14lbs as I am so utterly exhausted I’m finding it difficult to even move my body. Baby is almost 4 months old.

    • Jeni
      Jeni

      November 17, 2015 at 4:58 PM

      Hi Heather! Thanks so much for your question. Since your baby hasn’t been slooooowly and gradually weaned from night feedings yet, she will definitely still scream if she’s not had enough. That’s understandable, since she hasn’t shifted her nutritional milk intake to the daytime hours. Once you begin your regimen on shortening and shortening night feedings, she will nurse even more effectively in the day time to ensure she’s “covered” for the nighttime. It honestly was pretty easy to do for the first couple of “midnight” feedings (shortening them day by day) but when we were down to 2 minute feedings, we had to go 2 minutes or zilch.

      It may not seem like she’s thirsting for more in the day time because the entire length of nursing for each session MAY NOT change, but she could actually be emptying your breast much more effectively during that session.

      I can DEFINITELY help you with this, too!

      Please feel free to reach out to me (you can reach me lightning fast at jennifer.marali@gmail.com or via a message from my Facebook page) and we can map out a plan together when the time comes! The first thing we’d need to know is what times she’s waking at night for feedings (on average) over the course of a week, and how long each of those feedings is (longest length of time). Example:

      approx 11 pm: 7 minutes (over 1 week it could be 7, 5, 6, 7, etc; take the longest time)
      3 AM: 9 minutes (5, 7, 7, 6, 5, 9)
      5 AM: 5 minutes (3, 4, 4, 5, etc)

      Hope that helps!
      xoxo Jeni

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