Okay, I know CeciStyle isn't necessarily a parenting blog, but since being a mom is such a big part of my life right now, I couldn't resist sharing this super-helpful information with you guys. (Those of you who do not have babies on the brain can just skip this!) For the rest of you who have little ones or know friends who do, please read on and share. I am forever grateful to my girlfriend who gave me this invaluable insight into sleep training and I feel obligated to share it with the world because it has changed my "new mother" life!
Let me preface this by saying I am NOT an expert on sleep training. I am merely sharing with you the outline that has helped me with my new son Mason. What I can say is that we went from uncontrollably fussy days and sleep-deprived nights to complete control and sleeping through the night within a week (the training takes only 3 days to see results!). So I personally will go out on a limb here and say this really works!
Truthfully, the formula is very simple. So simple, I joke that I'm shocked that the nurses at the hospital do not send all new parents home with a cheat sheet for them to follow! I have learned that it's not for everyone since it takes a lot of strength and strict discipline to pull this off, but if you can keep reminding yourself "it's for the greater good" and keep at it, you will be on your way to a happier baby and, more important, a happier YOU!
So to answer the question, "to sleep train or not?" my answer, hands down, is YES!
Here's what I did:
Pick set times: Pick a bedtime and wake-up time that works for you and your husband's schedule and commit to it. We chose 7:30am/pm. Note: this time will be both the bedtime and morning wake-up time.
Create your target schedule: From your baby's wake-up and feed time, you repeat this every 4 hours until bedtime. This is what mine looks like:
7:30 a.m. Wake up for the day + feed + playtime 8:30am - back in crib for nap time (your naps should be anywhere from 1hr to 3hrs)
11:30 a.m. Wake up + feed + playtime 12:30pm - back in crib for nap time
3:30 p.m. Wake up + feed + playtime 4:30pm - back in crib for nap time
6:30 p.m. Wake up and start evening bedtime ritual 6:30pm - bath 6:45pm - PJs and feed
7:00 p.m. Sing lullaby/read book
7:15 p.m. Back in crib for the night
7:30 p.m. Asleep for the entire night*
*Depending on the needs of your baby, you might have to go in for a feeding during the night. Your goal is to teach your baby how to be an independent sleeper and help them learn they can make it through the night without your comfort or feedings. If your baby is anything like mine, I found myself getting woken up 4 to 6 times a night, only for Mason to eat for 2 seconds and fall back asleep again! This showed me that he had become dependent on me to soothe him back to sleep. This had to stop! Imagine having to do this when your kid is 2 or even 4 years old! It was enough to get me to try the sleep training right away. Ha!
The golden hour rule: Baby is only allowed to be awake for an hour at one time. Once the hour is up, it's time to put him or her in the crib to sleep. If you allow your baby to go past this hour, they will most likely be uncontrollably fussy because whether they show it or not, they need their sleep.
Sleep environment: Get blackout curtains, plus a good white noise machine, and use them at all nap times! Your goal is to create the same sleeping environment every time your baby sleeps (day or night). Even when we travel we pack the white noise machine!
Let them cry it out: This is the hardest part of the training by far. No mother (or anyone for that matter) enjoys hearing a baby cry. But here's the trick that helped me: babies have different levels of crying. It's important you pay attention and learn yours.
Level 1: This is a whining, whimpering cry. For me, it sounds like Mason is just revving an engine - errrrr errrrrrr errrrrrr - instead of a wailing WAAAAAA!
Level 2: Crying hard consistently
Level 3: Hysterical crying, screaming at the top of their little lungs, silent grasping for air cry (you know the one)
Here's the key: Ignore Level 1 you when putting your baby down for naps in the crib. This is the equivalent to your baby just complaining. Don't pay attention to it.
For Level 2 or 3 cries, listen to the intensity. The rule is if your baby keeps a consistent level 2 or 3 cry for longer than 10 to 15 minutes then you go in and pat them and talk to them to let them know you are there. But only do this for 5 to 10 seconds max and walk out. Do not pick them up. The point is just to let them know you're there and that you haven't abandoned them. Repeat this every 5 minutes if the level 2/3 crying continues. If your baby drops to a level 1 cry then your timer starts over. Pretty soon they will learn to put themselves to sleep and you will not need to go in at all.
Tip 1: Naps
Your target is for the baby to sleep 1 to 3 hours at a time. If yours wakes up under the hour window, don't run in right away. Let them cry and soothe themselves back to sleep. When I tried this with Mason, he ended up taking 2 to 3 hour naps! Before he was only doing 30 to 45 minutes. So you can imagine he is a much happier baby during his awake times now. Eventually the cry-outs go away and your baby will have a long consistent nap time. Hang in there and believe in your baby. It really does work!
Tip 2: Adjust as you go
Remember, the schedule you make is a target for you to work towards. Your baby isn’t always going to sleep for 3 hours so it’s important that you start your timer for awake time once he actually wakes up. So if your target is for your baby to be awake at 11:30 and back asleep by 12:30 but he woke up at 10:30, then his new nap time is 11:30. Make sense? If you keep your baby awake longer than the hour you will see they will get fussy and uncomfortable. Pretty soon Mason was telling me when it was nap time just by his behavior. It's magic!
Tip 3: Nighttime Sleep
Try letting your baby cry themselves back to sleep when they first cry out in the night. You want to teach them that they don't need to eat through the night (once they are of sustainable weight of course). For example, Mason used to cry at 1am. Once I stopped going in, he learned to sleep through it. Of course if your baby is crying at level 2 or 3 without stopping then most likely they are truly hungry and need you. But I found if I just listened and gave him 5 minutes even, he fell right back to sleep!
Note: Most professionals advise to start this once your baby is 3 months old. I started Mason at 2.5 months because he was such a big baby (15 lbs already!) and we desperately needed some control to our day. However, I do believe that had I known about this earlier, it would have been nice to start following the system since babies (and new moms) like order and consistency in their lives.
Also, as your baby gets older the awake time is allowed to get longer. I'll update you as I go. But I believe this lasts until they are a year old at least.
Good luck and remember it's for the greater good! Be strong and don't give up. Stick to your schedule. And trust me, it will work. Mason goes to bed now on his own every night without crying! Now, I call that progress!!