Sleep training – should you decide to do it – is probably one of the toughest challenge a parent faces in those early parenting years. It is often very emotional and dramatic for everyone involved.
One of the thing every parent want is for the experience to improve quickly and stay that way. Being prepared is crucial for the training attempt, the worst thing a parent can do to their baby, and themselves, is to try to train, but doesn’t follow through. It can confuse your baby, make sleep an even bigger challenge than before you tried anything, and bring about an enormous amount of guilt for failing your most loved.
In order to help you prepare for this very important task, below are key things you should check off before starting sleep training.
Decide on a method, together
How will you sleep train? I have a blog overviewing the common methods here, there are also a lot of resources available from a simple Google Search. Pick something that you and your family are comfortable with and can all agree on, so that the likelihood of you carrying through will be higher. Explain in detail to everyone in the family what the method is and how it works.
Decide on a sleep arrangement
Consider where you want your baby to sleep, you can pick from crib, bassinet, in the nursery, or in your bedroom. However generally it is best to go straight to crib in the nursery to avoid future headaches, since the baby will grow into a toddler, and before you know it he or she is too big for the adult bedroom space. This is also the time to consider whether you want to keep things like a lovey or pacifier. Whatever you decide, it is something that you want to continue to do for the next few months to years, so make sure you think thoroughly. Pacifiers and lovey can be wonderful aids but also can bring about issues when baby can’t find it in the dark, or decide to throw it for fun later on.
Have a day schedule in place
Sleep isn’t an isolated thing, how well we sleep is impacted by our day time activities. This is true for both adults and babies. So it is important to have an age appropriate day time schedule in place before attempting any kind of training – you want to set your child up for success don’t you?
Attempting to sleep train with no set day schedule is like learning to swim by jumping into deep end of the pool: sure, it might work, but it’ll be painful to go through for the one trying to learn and painful to witness for everyone else.
Write down your action plan
When things are written down on paper, it provides a solid ground to fall back on when your training effort goes sideways. It will act as a reminder to everyone, daddy, grandparents, and others, what was agreed upon, and how to continue if they forgot.
Having something written down also make it easier if you need someone to take over, should you need to take a mental break and go for a walk for example.
Start a journal for the month
Because sleep training isn’t something that ends after one day, or even one week, it helps to keep a journal to review your progress. I made the mistake of measure our progress by how terrible I felt when Emilia cried, rather than actual time it took her to fall asleep, and I seemed like we made no progress at all. But in fact we did, it just didn’t happen overnight.
How soon things will start to work highly depend on the child’s age and temperament. Sleep training a toddler can take FOREVER, months sometimes, younger babies take shorter, and the not so stubborn ones could be sleeping all night within the week. I would suggest keeping the journal for a month, then reevaluate whether you want to continue what you are doing.
Decline visitors for the first week
Not everyone will support you or understand your decision to sleep train, it is a very personal decision. Some people will feel uncomfortable sitting through 10 minutes of non stop baby cry, wondering why you are not doing anything. Others may confront you on your decision and make things more stressful than it already is. No one likes sleep training, moms that are actually doing the sleep training actually hate it the most, but not everyone will believe you on that.
Unless it will be a very understanding friend, who is there to support you, consider declining visitors for the first week, when things tend to be the worst.
Don’t plan vacation in the same month
Don’t plan vacations within the month, and don’t sleep train if you have vacation coming up. Although some babies can get the hang of things quickly, others can take much longer, and require a lot more consistency from the parent as support. Like learning any new skill, consistency is key at the beginning stages. So try to avoid doing sleep training if you will be travelling, the two simply don’t mix very well.
Find support buddy for night time
Sleep training will be exhausting, both day and night. While I found daytime tolerable with enough coffee, I feared nighttime the worst. Not only is this when the worst cries happen, it is also an incredibly lonely and isolating, making things even more unbearable.
It didn’t make sense to keep the whole family up, and my husband and my mom who was over helping at the time both had no problem sleeping through the baby noises, I was the only one on hyper alert, thanks to my hormones. I also didn’t want either of them doing night duty, since my husband need to be alert for his work, and my mom is not young anymore.
At times I felt like me and my miserable baby was the only people awake in this world, no one is around to help or listen. As a result I impulse shopped a lot at night time – something that does not help at all. I also read a lot of blogs, but blogs can’t have a conversation with you. Having an actual person as support can make or break those night time training. You can often find a friendly mom who lives in a different timezone as you from a sleep training group on facebook for example, to have some chit chat with you if things come up. You might even make a great friend on the opposite end of the earth at the end of it all.