Parenting Stories and Tips

My Sleep Training Story

Continuing from my previous post on sleep … or lack of, I was a zombie for the first three month or so of Emilia’s life. When I ringed my lovely sleep consultant, she advised that she recommend to start training when Emilia is at least 12 weeks old or is at least 12 lb – she doesn’t qualify for either of those requirement at the time of calling, so we opted to start some gentle measures first.

On a side note, exactly when sleep training is appropriate is something that is up for debate since there’s no real research about this – to conduct such research on young babies would be something that is highly unethical. Hence you will find all kinds of opinions ranging from sleep training is NEVER OK to sleep training is appropriate from birth. I was personally more comfortable with the 12 week suggestion from my consultant, and looking back, I do think that it was the perfect time to start.

Prior to 3 month, baby’s sleep is a complete mess, they have yet to have their day and night figured out, and they will instinctively want to be with the mother all the time – AKA the 4th trimester. The constant contact help to establish bond and has been proven to help with establishing successful breastfeeding relationship. So from these perspective I do feel that sleep training prior to that would be unnecessary, and I toughed it through, but every family will have a different stance on that, depending on the situation and the condition of the mother. I have known families who attempted sleep training from birth and their baby adapted just fine, I just don’t believe I will be able to be consistent enough to be successful myself at that time, I was still a mess trying to recover from birth and learning all the new things.

After about 4 month is when the teething chaos tend to begin, and then baby may start rolling or even sitting, and a lot more disruption to sleep will happen. If a good sleep pattern hasn’t been established, these new challenges will more than likely make situation worse. In addition, after 6 months moms will have the additional work of preparing (and cleaning after) solids to the baby, which means those nap time “breaks” are even more valuable because those will be the only time you can focus on task without the baby around, nap time is the only time I can properly focus on cleaning up and prepping in the middle of the day. Lastly, as baby become older, their stamina and persistency will dramatically increase, making sleep training an uphill battle.

So all in all, I decided to follow the sleep consultant’s advise. She provided me a gentle 4 nap schedule for Emilia to try and follow, but we are not sleep training yet. So I held and rocked Emilia to sleep for naps, and we bed shared at night. The goal is to try to get the idea of routine into her head.

The schedule looked something like this (not including feeding for simplicity)

  • 7 am wake up
  • 8 am nap 1 (90 min)
  • 11 am nap 2 (90 min)
  • 2 pm nap 3 (90 min)
  • 5 pm nap 4 (90 min)
  • 8 pm bed time

Recall, how I said Emilia was never happy even if I held her to sleep or even bed shared? She was still like that as we worked on a schedule with her, so for the entire two and half week we tried this, she would still fuss through all those times we needed her to sleep.

I ended up putting my rocking chair right next to bed, and for all of her naps, totally 6 hours a day, I sat in the chair and rocked away. I stayed there for the 90 min we want her to rest even if she’s awake, so that she get used to the idea. And if she wake up at night, I would get up, and rock her in the chair until she go back to sleep. As far as she knows, chair = rest = sleep. It sounds easy but really I was still sleeping in fragments, and sitting in the rocking chair for 6 hours a day was much more uncomfortable than it sounds.

Although we seemed to be making very little progress, I did appreciate the time practicing the routine, because it gave me time to mentally prepare for sleep training, and it gave me a glimpse of how my day will feel like and the amount of crying involved when we attempt such a schedule.

Then 12 week rolled around, and we were able to start training. The consultant was very kind and sent us a thick document of to dos, including the procedure she wanted us to follow and common things to expect. We used progressively lengthened timed checks, and started training at the night time sleep section, with daytime nap being the same – me and Emilia in our rocking chair.

We also preserved 2 night feeds, they were scheduled night feeds around 11pm and 3am – so if Emilia wakes up around those times, I can go in and feed her a little early, if she doesn’t then I would go in and wake her to feed at 11pm and 3am. This was on the advise of our physician as well, since Emilia is a lightweight baby and our physician wanted us to preserve the night feeds for as long as we can.

Day 1 of training was brutal – which is as expected. Emilia never really sleep for hours at a time, it took her an hour and half to fall asleep at 9:30 pm, and she woke up 20 minutes later at 9:50 pm. Then she was constantly drifting in and out of awake and asleep, until she was fed at 11 pm. And for the rest of the night, she woke at 11:30 pm, 1:30 am, 2:04 am, 2:50 am, 3:30 am, then 5 am. Since I had to go in and out of her room to check on her, I wasn’t sleeping at all that night, and thinking back, the checks may have been part of the reason she kept waking up.

Day 2 was much better, it took Emilia 30 minutes to fall asleep, and she woke up twice right around her two feeding time, so I went in and fed both times and she continued sleeping after that. I was still deathly afraid the whole night, so I didn’t really sleep again. I looked at the monitor all night long, nervous that she will wake up in the next moment.

Day 3 was a little worse, but not as bad as before, it took Emilia almost an hour to fall asleep, but only 10 minutes of crying. She woke up once half an hour after falling asleep, but was able to go back to sleep after some tossing and turning. The following morning she was up a little early compared to her designated wake time, so we had to leave her for a bit before getting her up for the day, since in the early morning, once I’m in she will most definitely take it as a cue to be up and party.

Day 4 and 5 went by rather uneventfully. Babies sometimes do regress on these days but it was more or less the same for us. No crying longer than 30 minutes and Emilia is able to find other ways to calm herself, like tossing and turning.

Day 6 was when we started to phase out the early morning feed, since I know that Emilia didn’t need the feed because she’s hungry. She’s almost always instantly asleep after latching, and rarely actually eat at that feed. So consolidating the night feed into one was what we decided to do, and the one feed stayed with her until she was over 9 months old. So naturally with the early morning feed out, we now need to deal with the real beast of early morning wake ups. Babies like adult go through phases or cycles when they sleep, and their deepest sleep is at the beginning of the night, where in the early mornings (2 am onwards) is when they are phasing in and out of light sleep, and will wake up very easily in between cycles. For babies this is a big challenge since they are less tired in the early mornings, and if they wake up in that time, falling asleep will be extra hard. Prior to dropping the 3 am feed, nursing was what got Emilia through when she woke up during this time, but eventually we had to remove the clutch. So between 2:30 am and 6 am, she was constantly dozing off and waking up and cried intermittently throughout. It was my hardest night in the sleep training journey, and I was sobbing away chewing on my blanket most of that morning.

Day 7 8 9 and 10 we continued to see a lot of difficulty with the early morning stretch, although not as bad as day 6, Emilia was still waking up every hour or so in that early morning period. I wondered to myself if what I’m doing is right, and if she is truly not ready to not eat. However every morning, Emilia continue to eat her normal amount of time (about 10 min), she doesn’t seem to be particularly hungry for food. So I thought, let’s try this for a bit longer, if it is still not working after another 3 days, we will revisit.

Day 13 rolled around, we are still having early morning wake ups, however Emilia’s cries are less intense, and she is able to sleep for sometimes hour and half stretches in the morning. This gave me the confidence that things are morning in the right direction.

Starting Day 14, we introduced crib hour, where Emilia will try to sleep in her crib for an hour when nap time rolls around. She can sleep for longer if she wishes, but if she doesn’t, the longest we would try is an hour. With naps, we opted not to do checks, both because it was disastrous based on how it went with night, and also because it is very stimulating in general. I was presented the option of either stay by her the entire time shush patting, or to be out of her room for the whole hour – I chose the latter, since there are a ton of housework waiting for me as well. For the first day, we tried with her first nap, which is generally the easiest nap to happen (last nap of the day is always the hardest). Emilia didn’t really sleep, and was fussing on and off for the entire hour. So for nap 2 she slept very well in my arm in an attempt to catch up. Night time is improving too, and we had days where she slept for 2 hour stretches. I’ve decided to get some ear plugs to help with night time, since our bedrooms are close, any noise from Emilia’s room will wake me.

Day 15 was the same but on Day 16, Emilia took her first nap in her crib. It was a wonderful moment, since that indicate one more step towards success.

After that we had some good days and back days but mostly things are progressing well, and my program with the sleep consultant ended after 21 days or 3 weeks of support. Our naps were not fully hammered out, and since then, we’ve had to go through the 3-2 and 2-1 nap transition, crawling, standing, walking, and more disruptions to sleep, not to mention our chronic battle with constipation throughout this whole ordeal. But I was thankful and felt like we have everything we needed to tackle any roadblocks as far as sleep goes.

From the training experience, Emilia understands what the crib is for, and through consistency, she also understand that it is a safe place for her to sleep in. She understand what is expected of her when it come to sleep, and is a very happy well rested toddler these days.

For me the biggest lesson was to understand what it means, and how exactly to draw boundaries. I’m happy that we decided to start practicing the art of setting boundaries with sleep, since it’s such a healthy habit to build and work towards, but as Emilia grows, she is showing me just how many other ways she will attempt to push my boundaries, and just how many things I need to communicate to her where she is expected to behave a certain way. Some things for her own safety, like not to approach the fire place, or go downstairs head first. She has reacted to any of those things with the same attitude as her response during sleep training, which come as a no brainer, but this time I am able to better keep my calm and understand the power of some gentle consistency. I thank my sleep consultant, and my sleep training experience for that invaluable gift.

These days Emilia values her sleeping space, she is able to sleep on the go when tired, but she sleeps best on her own, either in a folding crib or her crib at home. She never fall asleep on me anymore, since for her, any time with mommy is filled with fun and games and shouldn’t be missed, and that is completely ok with me.

Do you have a similar story to tell? Are you currently dealing with sleep problems as we speak? Feel free to leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you as well.

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