Sleep training is one of those things that can really rile up the masses. I firmly and unashamedly believe in teaching a baby how to fall asleep and stay asleep. It’s both for their development and for their parents’ mental health and well-being.
If you do not agree with sleep training, that’s ok! Please don’t make it your mission to shame those who are desperate to get some sleep. Momblah.com has a zero-tolerance policy for abusive comments. In fact, we welcome tired and desperate parents to openly discuss their sleep training journies.
So You’re Desperate for Sleep
I’ve been there. My first child pushed me to the edge of my mental health with her sleep rebellions. Aren’t I supposed to be enjoying motherhood? I’d ponder those words to myself pretty much daily.
The truth was that I wasn’t enjoying it. I wasn’t enjoying it because I wasn’t sleeping. And then I felt guilty that I was so selfish for prioritizing my sleep desires over being a mother who gives it all. I felt guilt, and the odd time I reached out, I didn’t feel as though people understood the gravity of the situation.
I’ve found that people in general either don’t understand or remember the reality of sleep deprivation.
They judge you like you’re a lesser parent because you’re tired and trying to solve the sleep puzzle.
The truth is this: sleep deprivation is used as a torture technique for good reason– it turns you into a crazy person!
Sleep Training Works!
In today’s post, I’m going to discuss quite a few things you can do to prepare yourself for the initial days of sleep training. It’s a mistake to think that just a few days will solve everything- sleep training is about forming new habits and rules that you’ll adhere to indefinitely.
The good news is that for the most part, you get to write these rules and create rituals and habits that will create fond memories once the initial days of sleep training pass.
Sleep Training Prep: Step One
Educate Yourself Before Beginning
Sleep training for me was simple in theory but so complicated in practice. The “what do I do if…” list grew very long and so I went to school on all things baby sleep.
There are a couple of options available to you in this step, with varying costs.
- Read the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. I’ve read about a dozen books about sleep and sleep training, and I must say that this is the most informed, practical and logical approach to understanding sleep and getting a baby to sleep that I’ve come across- BY FAR. Seriously, buy this book and read it cover to cover. It’s very affordable at about $10 for the book!
- Hire a sleep consultant. If you are especially exhausted and lost, this might be the most practical way to handle your situation. It’s expensive, but most consultants have a 100% guarantee or your money back kind of deal. They’ll walk you through the process and be a great support system.
If you’re a DIY type like me, I’d recommend the book. If you’re seriously so exhausted that you just need some HELP, hiring a sleep consultant might be the best money you spend in your baby’s first year.
Choose a Sleep Training Method
There are about 100 ways to sleep train a baby, with varying opinions on what age is ideal to begin. In my experience, sleep training at a young age has been beneficial to my family.
Ultimately, you should decide what method with which you can be 100% consistent, and that your child’s temperament will respond well to that method. You can ask your family doctor about their opinions on sleep training too, but make sure you’re comfortable with what they’re recommending!
There is a spectrum of methods, with one extreme tolerating absolutely no crying, and the other extreme being allowing your baby to cry for as long as it takes to learn to soothe themselves to sleep.
Just FYI, we chose the latter, and it’s not really as bad as it sounds, but still pretty terrible. Effective, but terrible.
If you’re like me, you’ll probably thoroughly research every method and weigh the pros and cons.
Consistency is Key
Here’s my advice to you: pick what you can do over and over and OVER again. Not just for the initial nights of training, but for when you go away on a trip and come home and Baby’s sleep is messed up and you have to do it again for a couple of nights. Or at 3:30 in the morning when they’re up and you’re not ready to feed them yet, so you have to resort to your method. (not fun, by the way).
This is why we as a family chose extinction- it’s 100% effective to leave the soothing and falling asleep to the baby. Both of our kids woke up with smiles the next morning, by the way. No brain damage or long-term side effects. Here’s the best explanation of extinction that I’ve found.
Discuss these methods with your partner and come to an agreement on what method you’ll use and for how long. I definitely recommend committing to trying your method for a week before giving up.
Write Down The New Sleep Rules
Make sure you and your partner agree on the New Rules for sleep training. It’s pretty hard to stick to your guns if one of you wants to change things up in the middle!
Here were our sleep rules:
- Once the sleep routine is finished, we don’t go back in.
- No night feeds or bedside visits overnight unless there are extraordinary circumstances (see something on video monitor, sickness, etc.)
- Return at 7 a.m. for the morning!
Sounds super strict, and it was, but it worked for us!
Clear your schedule
For a week leading up to sleep training, you have one mission: do everything you can to have a well-rested baby! No leaving the house or sacrificing a nap here or there, or staying out late for dinner and missing bedtime.
You need to do everything you can to make sure that your baby has good naps and bedtimes for a week leading up to sleep training! Babies thrive on a well-rounded routine. If you don’t have a routine going yet, you need to get one in place ASAP before you sleep train. A well-rested baby will accept the changes with a lot less crying than a tired baby.
Plan Some Activities
When sleep training commences, there is going to be some crying, even if you choose a no-cry method (sorry!).
If you’re a normal, well-adjusted parent, your instinct is going to be to curl up in the fetal position outside your baby’s room and cry with them. This is a bad choice and it will break your heart. Yes, one of the parents needs to be paying attention, but you both don’t have to listen to the whole ordeal.
A) Buy a video monitor like this one and go into the garage. When we trained our Leo, I had about 8 months’ worth of Amazon boxes piled up to recycle in our garage, so I spent the night with a box cutter tearing apart boxes and glancing over at the video monitor when my heart would flutter and wonder how he was doing (it only took him 33 minutes that night, if you’re curious!). Hubby stayed inside the house to monitor the situation in real-time but never needed to intervene.
B) Tag-team in 30-minute shifts. When you’re off-shift, leave the house. Go get something from the grocery store, water the plants in the backyard, clean the gutters… just leave the house and keep busy. If you’re idle, you’ll want to go all mama bear and save your little cub, sabotaging any progress you’ve made in your baby learning how to soothe themselves to sleep.
Sleep training is hard on the heart strings, but for the greater good!
How To Handle Middle of the Night Wakeups?
In making your New Rules for sleep, how will you and your husband handle the middle of the night? Are you going to be night weaning at the same time as training (yes, we did that!)? Will you have a dreamfeed? A cutoff time for feeds? How will you handle wakeups that occur outside of feeding times?
The middle of the night is extremely difficult and can be confusing to navigate if you don’t have a solid plan in place. Plus, you’ll be tired and emotionally drained from sleep training. Give it some thought!
So you’ve written down all of your rules and you’ve made it to night 5 and things are still going poorly? Perhaps a schedule change is needed. Or perhaps you’re not able to be consistent with the plan you chose. Or maybe your baby’s temperament just isn’t responding well. Be willing to be flexible, but try sticking to your plan for a few nights before you make tweaks- consistency will help your baby learn to sleep faster!
Words to Reassure You During Sleep Training
Repeat after me:
- I am not a bad parent
- My baby will learn to sleep
- Good sleep promotes good health
- Consistency will help my baby learn the fastest
So there’s my little list of things to do to prepare mentally to sleep train. Of course, there are all of the things you need to do practically as well. Make sure you download my pdf to get things in place before you start.
How is sleep training going for you? Let me know in the comments below. I love talking about baby sleep! If you need some help, hit me up for some non-judgmental listening ears and advice 🙂