The best parenting advice I never asked for was “don’t make yourself crazy.” It applies to basically everything, but I find it particularly helpful when talking to people about sleep training. The phrase itself is polarizing, its mere utterance enough to get you booted from certain circles.
At the end of the day, you have to do what works for you. Not everyone wants or needs to sleep train their child(ren). If you enjoy the midnight snuggles and you don’t mind (or somehow have managed to avoid) the accompanying exhaustion/coffee dependence, then you probably don’t need to sleep train your little one. But if you’re growing weary of breastfeeding in the middle of the night, or the mere thought of getting 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep makes you weep, as it did me, then consider adding sleep training to your arsenal of parenting techniques.
My wife and I (mostly my wife, as you’ll understand if you read further) sleep trained our son when he was 8 months old. It was hard, it was frustrating, and it was worth it. It wasn’t until he started sleeping 10+ hours at a time that I began to feel better, look better, and get back to my favorite version of myself.
Sound good? Read through these tips, and then check out the step-by-step outline of what worked for us.
Don’t start until the time is right
It seems obvious, no? But unless you’re committed to sleep training, any one of a number of things can derail your efforts. In order to make the transition as smooth as possible, avoid starting on this adventure when your child is sick, recovering from or preparing for travel, or cutting teeth.
Find a method that jives with your style
Do you remember the iPhone commercial with the tagline “there’s an app for that?” The same thing goes for sleep training. Does having your child hang out in their room from 7pm-7am sound good to you? There’s a method for that. Worried that your child will feel abandoned if you leave the room? There’s a method for that. Do your research and find one, or a combination of several, that works for you.
If you have a co-parent, make sure they’re on the same page
Being a parent is hard. Having someone to parent alongside hopefully makes it a little easier. Arguing at 3am with that same someone about whether or not you should be Ferberizing your baby or using the PUPD method is less ideal.
Stick with it, but don’t be afraid to try something different
These seem contradictory, I know. Trust your gut. If you try one method for a week but you don’t like it or you’re getting overly frustrated, find something else.
How we did it
After doing a bit of research, we borrowed from a few of the gentler sleep training methods. Because our son had grown accustomed to falling asleep while nursing, my wife (the non-breastfeeding parent) took the lead. This was key for us, and if she hadn’t done it I don’t think we would have met with success as easily or as early as we did.
The first order of business was to establish a bedtime routine. Ours is simple: pajamas, nurse, book, bed. We’ve been doing this consistently for over a year, and it now takes between 5 and 15 minutes, start to finish. At first, our son would fuss and cry when she put him down awake; she’d rub his back and talk to him. Gradually, he fussed less and less until she was able to put him down awake and walk out of the room.
Next was night weaning. If our son woke up after my wife put him down, she would go in with a 2oz bottle. After a night or two, we dropped it to 1oz. After a few more nights, we put water in the bottle instead of milk. It took approximately a week before he no longer woke up in the middle of the night to eat. He always has a sippy cup of water in the corner of his crib, which he will usually drink from at least once (and which he always delights in throwing out of his crib in the morning).
Now, our son is almost always able to get back to sleep unassisted when he wakes in the middle of the night. We will go into his room if he sounds panicked, but 9 times out of 10 he wakes up, squeaks and squawks or moans for a few seconds, then rolls over and goes back to sleep.
Your turn. Did you sleep train your kid(s)? What worked for you? What tips would you add for parents who are considering sleep training?