Parenting Stories and Tips

My sleep training story – how to sleep train?

Here’s the good part, the actual training. Before I talk about my training experience, I want to first discuss the different types of training approaches out there.

NO SLEEP TRAINING CONSULTANTS OR COMPANIES WILL BE MENTIONED SINCE THIS ISN’T A PROMOTIONAL POST, also I’m not a sleep training consultant either. So feel free to comment or message me if you are interested in learning more, I’m happy to share my experience, I will not push any sale on you I promise :).

One has to consider sleep training in two separate components, in order to be successful – the sleep schedule, and the fall asleep process. Sleep training isn’t about leaving the baby to “sink or swim”. Just like every other skill we try to learn and perfect in life, good set up is key.

A simple google search will yield many names for different sleep training approaches, invented by different people, utilizing slightly different schedules or behaviours, with the same concept – structured and age appropriate wake time, combined with timed opportunity to attempt to fall asleep/go back to sleep. The two items should both be considered in order for sleep training to be successful.

Wake Time and Day Schedule

Wake time is basically our best guess at how long a baby will be tired after waking up from night sleep or a nap. Wake time is your bread and butter for setting up a day schedule, thankfully the guides out there will generally offer ranges, which allow parents to stay flexible depending on how their day goes. Each baby can also be different – Emilia was always the energizer bunny baby, whose wake time is often at the top of the range estimated for her age. This is where a little bit of observation and guessing come in, this is also the part that require ongoing review and troubleshooting since baby’s wake time changes constantly as they grow.

Below is what a typical sleep recommendation look like, this can be confusing as you are trying to calculate day sleep, night sleep, nap duration, wake time, and then try to squeeze in nursing or solids. This is when a sleep consultant can be very helpful, however I strongly recommend spending some time to learn to make a schedule yourself, since the baby’s schedule has to change and adapt over time, but your sleep consultant probably won’t stick around forever without charging you an arm and a leg.

Adjusted AgeWake TimeNaps
3 months1-1.5 hours
3-4
5 months1.5-2.25 hours3
9 months2.5-3 hours2
12 months3-4 hours1-2

Adjusted age means you calculate the age based on expected due date if baby is premature. And figures prior to 3 months are generally all over the map, so it’s not worth much to look at. I recall Emilia only sleeping 8-10 hours in her early days, and it was fragmented sleep too. “WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PROMISED 20 HOURS OF SLEEP A DAY?!” was all that was in my mind for the longest time.

For example, a 3 months old might have a goal schedule like this:

wake up 6 am -> nap 7:30 am -> wake up 9 am -> nap 10:30 am -> wake up 12 pm -> nap 1:30 pm-> wake up 3:00 pm -> nap 4:30 pm -> wake up 6:00 pm -> night time 7:30 pm

Looks like a gorgeous picture doesn’t it, keep in mind all this is saying is that if your baby wakes up at 6 am, he or she will likely be tired around 7:30, 10:30, 1:30, and 4:30. It is appropriate to also get baby to go into night time mode and remove all play time until the next morning at about 7:30pm. If your baby magically sleep better because you got more structured, then congratulations, you don’t need to endure the god awful “fall asleep” training component. For the rest of us, these are the starting points, but definitely don’t be surprised if your baby end up on a completely different schedule.

They are purely to help you get somewhat close to your target, where the ideal schedule will land will depend on the baby, and how well you observe and document their behaviors. For example, by 9 months, Emilia was awake for 4 hours before bed after her second nap of the day, an entire hour more than what some estimates will tell you.

Baby sleep schedule is also one of those things that will work, and stop working shortly after. Like a footed onesie, it will be too big for the longest time, and when it finally fits perfect, two days later it will be too small. As a parent, adaptability is an important survival skill, working with sleep is no different.

Opportunity to Tackle Falling Asleep

So you know what schedule you will try to follow, next thing to do is to let go of any hand holding, and let baby try. It’s like the moment when you finally decide to let go when a toddler tries to walk – they will more than likely fail miserably, they will be upset, they will cry, and then they will master it sooner than you imagined.

This is the part everyone deem to be evil, everyone hate leaving the baby to cry, alone or not, especially the parents, and sometimes even more so the grandparents. It is crucial to communicate the intention and approach to everyone in the family, and set clear rules as to who will do what. It is far too easy for all rules to go out the window when the baby cries and every’s heart gets torn to pieces.

Various approaches will range from the parent being with the baby the entire time until baby is asleep (i.e. pick up put down method) to parents leaving the nursery as soon as baby is placed in the crib and never go back until the designated sleep time is up (extinction/CIO). The many other approaches like Ferber, Sleep Lady Shuffle, Sleep easy, Happy Sleeper, are all variations sitting somewhere between the two measures, forming a spectrum of approaches. I won’t go through every single one, but will try to summarize a few common ones.

  • Extinction – this one is the LEAST involved method, at the appropriate sleep time, the parent does a brief sleep ritual, give the baby a kiss, and place his or her in their crib. The parent leaves the room, and do not return until the appropriate wake time. This is considered the fastest method, and also the most cruel approach by some. I personally did not feel it was cruel, because I learned the hard way my presence was a terrible distraction and fuelled Emilia’s anger when it comes to sleep time. However if the idea of leaving and never come back seems unimaginable, definitely do not pick this one to begin. This method is easier to implement since parent involvement is so low, the caretaker can seek out other distractions to make the first few nights more bearable. It is totally normal to cry as your baby is working through the process, help and support is so important in the success of this method.
  • Pick Up/Put Down – this is the MOST involved method, requiring the parent to stay by the baby until he or she falls asleep. Not only that, but you are to pick up the baby when she fussed, and put the baby down whey she is calm. I did try this method, it was brutal, my back was a wreck, the engagement would last for hours, and Emilia never really fell asleep in her crib with this method. We would do this for often half an hour to an hour, and she would pass out on me when I try to soothe her. In our case it was simply a terrible idea, I was within sight to remind her that I’m here to help, so she doesn’t even try herself, and every time I put her down, she gets angrier and feel betrayed, over and over again. I was full of emotions myself from all the crying that’s right in front of me. A variation of this was the Shush Pat method, where the parent do not pick up the baby, but instead shush and pat at the same time until baby falls asleep. I nearly passed out from the lack of oxygen as it took so long, and never was successful there either. Having said all those things, because this has such a high level of parent engagement, it is considered the most gentle method of sleep training. Many choose to start with this because hey, it totally COULD work and save you guys a ton of tears.
  • Ferber Method – Ferber is the most known of the timed checked methods. These methods involve placing baby in the crib, sooth for x number of minutes, and then the parent leaves. After that, the parent is to return and soothe after every x number of minutes of crying has occurred. This is what the sleep consultant recommended to us, we used a fade out approach where the time would become longer by day, i.e. day one we would return and check every 5 – 15 minutes depending on how many checks we’ve done, day two we would do 10-20, and day three it will be even longer. These methods are EXHAUSTING! Because not only do you need to endure the crying, you also can’t focus on anything else to distract yourself or leave the house and let hubby take over guarding the house, because you need to pay attention to that darn timer. It is also annoying that some approaches have you RESET the timer if the cry stops, so you are staring at the monitor all night long while thinking how much of a monster you are for putting your baby through this. Because of the frequent in and out activity, this method is also ideally carried out by the same person, making it even more taxing. It sounds like a great idea on paper, but to do this, puts the parent in an extremely lonely situation, requires a lot of attention and engagement, and I would imagine is the hardest to do consistently.

I don’t feel any method is more superior, they all work, what is the most important is to choose a method and stick to it, choose a method where you feel you and your family can carry out long term. It is NOT ideal to rotate approaches. What works for your family is the best method to go with.

It is also so important to find support, no matter what method is chosen. For some support is extremely important, like Ferber. Although my memory of those sleepless nights are fogged due to the lack of rest at the time, I clearly remember one night at 4 AM, Emilia woke up, could not go back to sleep, she cried on and off. I sat outside of her door, starting and stopping the timer, chewing on a blanket I found, and had all kinds of bad thoughts floating in my head, I hated myself more than any other time in my life. It’s like a one way ticket to postpartum depression without someone supporting you through those moments. Buddy up with someone online maybe from a mommy’s group who understands your goal and support you, or find a family member to fall back on when you need them. Don’t do it alone, if you can.

What About Night Feed?

We kept our night feed until Emilia was 9 months old – well after she was sleep trained. Night nursing and sleep training can definitely work together. What is important about night feed is to understand how many feeds are needed, your paediatrician is often a great resource, and set times where you initiate the feeding. If baby wakes close to those times, it is acceptable to feed and place baby back. Overtime, feeds can be dropped if baby stops waking up for those feeds, I will include our schedule in my full sleep training story post.

Sleep Training Regression?

If you follow any sleep training group or forum, you will come across phrases like 4 months regression, or sleep regression, which will often suggest that at certain time or age sleep will regress, which I don’t find entirely to be true.

I feel like a “regression” could happen at any time if one of the following things are happening (or both)

  • Emilia’s sleep needs has changed, she no longer need to sleep as much, and can stay awake longer than I thought she could
  • Emilia is testing boundaries
  • Emilia is sick

Always deal with sickness first. But once that is ruled out, try out different schedules, and most importantly, be gentle but consistent. Think back to the rules you set when you sleep trained, and continue to enforce those rules. Try not to slip into bad habits, and if you do, don’t do it consecutively, or day after day.

Sleep Training should not be considered as a one time effort, although it only take a little bit of practice for baby to figure out how to relax and drift off asleep, but that doesn’t mean they are always going to do that willingly. As a parent I feel like I am in “sleep training mode” all the time, and that is quite normal. I don’t know a single adult that go to bed at the same time every day, so it’s quite fair that my baby will have days where she’s happily willing to go to bed and other days where she fights going to sleep with every ounce of energy she has in her. It can be a discouraging feeling, to feel like sleep training failed and all those tears and pain were wasted. But I encourage all parents to think about it like a disciplining effort, and not feel discouraged when set backs occur.

The best analogy I can think of is weight loss, another topic I struggle quite a bit with as of late. When you lose weight, you need to maintain a healthy diet and good exercise habits, if you don’t, the weight can creep back. Does that mean all your initial effort was wasted? No, not at all. It’s just one of those things that require continuous effort, so it’s best that we think of it that way instead of a one time thing.

Since this blog post is getting stupidly long, I will write my own story with all of our training details in the next post. But I’ll give you a bit of spoiler. These days Emilia loves sleeping in her crib, so much so that she will not try and asleep anywhere else, including on me! Often when I do hold her and she becomes tired, she will jerk herself awake right when she start dozing off and protest to get me to put her in bed. It is bitter sweet, but I have no regret what so ever.

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