Friend, sleep training’s such a hard topic. I’ve always loved my sleep. I don’t feel good unless I get 9-10 hours. Naturally, my firstborn decided it would be fun to be a HORRIBLE sleeper. UGH! But since nine-weeks-old Beckett self-soothes to sleep. We don’t spend hours rocking or playing paci-pong. We lay him down wide awake and within 10 minutes he’s asleep. By three-months-old, we began sleeping 12 hours each night. We’ve had off nights, but for the most part, we’re still sleeping 12-hours straight. That’s why I want to share some sleep training tips, resources, and product recommendations for the baby who won’t sleep…just in case it happens to help someone else 🙂
Now, I’m no professional. I’m human. What I do may not be “right,” but it’s working for us, so I want to share in case what I learned can help someone else catch more Zzz’s too! 🙂 I can say…We’re not “lucky.” It didn’t “just happen.” We’ve all earned every hour of sleep that we’re getting now!!! 😉 Here’s why:
Before Beckett was born, I studied so many books, including Babywise; Moms on Call; Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems; The No-Cry Sleep Solution; Sleep Sense; Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child; and a MILLION online articles. I found that there was no one methodology that I fully agreed with, or was comfortable implementing 100%, so I planned to take tidbits from each and adapt to what worked for my family. I felt prepared and ready to roll. I had no idea what was coming. Cue Beckett’s birth.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that Beckett hadn’t read the same books I had. He had his own idea of what sleep looked like. He woke up SCREAMING every 20 minutes for the first nine weeks of life. We never had that sleepy newborn phase. Ever. At one week old, Beckett would stay awake from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. regularly!!! I also remember being jolted awake at night, feeling adrenaline and anxiety surge through my body from head to toe.
Eventually, after lots and lots of doctors’ appointments with specialists, we learned that Beckett had severe, painful reflux; a severe tongue tie that prevented him from getting adequate nutrition (not to mention, breastfeeding him was nearly as painful as labor! No, I’m not kidding!); and a milk protein and soy allergy. Well, no duh he wasn’t sleeping! My baby was in such pain and starving! Ugh. The mom guilt hit hard. Once we got him comfortable though (about nine-weeks-old), we had some bad sleep habits that we had to break.
I furiously refreshed myself on all the books I mentioned, talk to our pediatrician, and began diving into Google and my books again. It seemed like the majority’s consensus was that nine-weeks-old was too young to start formal sleep training (the recommended time seemed to vary significantly), rather it was a time to focus on routines and learning the baby’s sleep cues. Ugh. NO! Not what to tell a VERY sleep-deprived mommy. I was so upset. I just wanted sleep, puhhh-llleeeease! Ultimately, we decided to try to wait until Beckett was four-months-old.
Yeah, no. That decision changed really quick. Just a few short weeks later, Beckett was losing his mind after I laid him down for a nap. Like, blood curdling, “I’m dying, Mommy” screaming. I went to check-in and soothe him, and then his gave me the biggest smile and happy wiggle. It was clear: he didn’t NEED me. He just WANTED me. He also would begin to fuss whenever we started to swaddle him and turn off the lights—smart kid! So, we began formal sleep training the next stretch that Jimmy and I both had off from work.
I tapped into a few more resources before beginning this. I know what you’re thinking, “Haven’t you already read six books and basically memorized Google’s search about infant sleep?!” Yeah, but I had the first-time-mom jitters and wanted to make sure I wouldn’t mess my baby up, so I wanted to make sure I was fully informed of all recommendations. Yes, I know, I’m over-the-top, but hey, I’m full of knowledge! 🙂 Anyways, I bought Little Z’s Sleep and Taking Cara Babies courses. These ladies are Certified Sleep Consultants and have material for newborn-toddlerhood. I LOVED the content, and they’re Instagram Stories are super helpful. Little Z Sleep has really helpful podcasts, and Taking Cara Babies’ blog is extensive! The online material is concise, easy-to-read, and provided me with a step-by-step plans. I highly recommend checking them out.
Like I mentioned earlier, we took pieces of each methodology and adapted to what we were comfortable with and what Beckett seemed to respond to the most. Some could argue that you have to stick to one methodology completely in order for it to be effective. I understand the logic of this argument, but it didn’t work for US. I talk more about the strategies we used below!
I truly believe that babies are more adaptable and resilient than we give them credit for. I’m not sure we can really do them “wrong” unless we’re doing something unsafe or neglecting them. Sleep training looks different for every family, and most importantly, how you get your baby to sleep isn’t a “problem” unless your family sees it as one, and it isn’t working for you! It’s not wrong. It’s what works for YOU!
Some may think that I’m a cold mommy who never snuggles. That’s so not true! I still hold my baby when he naps whenever I want. I just want the OPTION to lay him down and have him put himself to sleep if I want to be doing something else, like cleaning or spending time with a friend. 🙂
I’m not a professional sleep consultant. I don’t guarantee anything I share in this post will work for you or your baby. I’m just a Mommy who has been in some dark, yet sleepless, places, and I want to help others if I can, even if it’s just to giggle in sleep-deprived delirium together. 🙂
Here’s what has been working for US (Beckett’s five-months-old right now):
- CONSISTENCY with EVERYTHING!
- Jimmy and I had to be on the same page. If we weren’t, we made it a priority to address it and get back on track. Sometimes this meant late-night arguments when Beckett was ACTUALLY sleeping and we wish we were, but it was worth it. 🙂
- Eat-Play-Sleep cycles
- We never allowed Beckett to get drowsy or fall asleep during a feed or while nursing. We would often get him naked, talk loudly, tickle his feet, use a cold, wet washcloth on him to keep him awake. This upped the chances that he got a full feed and was WIDE AWAKE when he was placed in his crib.
- Ferber Method for formal sleep training, handling early and nighttime wake-ups, nap strikes/short naps, and eliminating sleep props/associations (more on this here).
- Focus on each feed being a full feed but offer a snack about ~20 minutes before the end of a wake window to ensure his belly is full
- For us, this means no feeds with the TV on or other distractions.
- Same wake-up and bedtime RANGE every day
- Right now, this is between 7:30-8:30 a.m. and p.m.
- Flexible schedule based off of sleep cues and age-appropriate wake windows
- Beckett’s still young. I’m dying for more of a schedule. That comes eventually, right?! Ha!
- Predictable nap and bedtime routines
- For us, this includes ~15-minute wind-down period before naps where we do something calmer, like reading a book, sitting on the porch and watching the birds, singing, etc.
- Our bedtime routine looks like this (nap time routine is just a shortened version):
- Change into PJ’s and leave current diaper on – when Beckett was still waking up throughout the night, I LOVED having the infant nightgowns since the bottom was open for easy, non-stimulating diaper changes!
- Feed in the nursery (only feed that takes place in the nursery to cue Beckett to eat up before bed!)
- Washcloth bath on face & neck
- Lotion – our favorite lotion’s Honest Company’s Dreamy Lavender Lotion, which we only use for bedtime
- Put Owlet on – this tracks Beckett’s heart rate and oxygen saturation, giving me invaluable peace of mind. It also gives me data on how much Beckett slept; how often he woke up throughout the night; how long it took him to fall asleep once I put him down; how long he spent awake throughout the night; and more! SO worth every penny.
- Put overnight diaper on – Beckett pees a LOT, so we size up and always put on an overnight diaper. Our favorite has been Huggies Overnites
- Put sleepsack on – our favorite was the Love to Dream Swaddle Up Original when Beckett still had the startle reflex and the Love to Dream Swaddle Up 50/50 when we began transitioning having his arms unswaddled. We still use this swaddle with the arms zipped off for warm nights and the Halo Sleep Sack for cooler nights since it’s a little thicker material.
- Offer more food to top off
- Sing a short song
- Say “night, night”
- Lay down WIDE AWAKE
- Quality wake times to wear him out. I try focus on tummy time A LOT before bedtime to release his energy.
- Decrease electronic stimuli. We watch TV with subtitles and a LOW volume. Sounds crazy, but it’s worth it to us, because Beckett seems really distracted by TV.
- Try to get fresh air and sunshine as much as possible.
- For Mommy’s sanity, allow for half of his naps on-the-go (in the car, stroller, at a friend’s, in my arms, etc.) and the other half in his crib.
- We avoid overtiredness AT ALL COSTS. So, we allow for emergency naps in a swing, in my arms, stroller, car, etc. if Beckett completely refuses a nap. Beckett seems to catch on to this though, so we prefer an earlier bedtime, if possible.
- Being comfortable with an early bedtime if naps didn’t go well throughout the day. Sometimes this has been as early as 6:30p. I’m always anxious that he’ll wake early since he went to bed earlier, but he actually sleeps longer and harder! Weird.
- Being strategic with the timing and implementation of night feeds, if any were offered
- If Beckett seemed to be waking up at the same time every night, we began to push out the feed time by 15-minute increments. For example, he seemed to wake up every night at 3 a.m. So, initially I’d make him wait to eat until 3:15a. Then, when he started waking at 3:15 a.m. regularly, I pushed him out another 15-minutes. Between doing this and trying to get in more volume of milk in during the day, he eventually stopped waking up all together. It seemed like I had to just get him out of the habit and allow him to mature more.
- From 3-4-months-old, we allowed him only one nighttime feed if it was after midnight. If he woke up before midnight, we implemented Ferber’s sleep training method (more about this below). If he began waking up after midnight at the same time every night, we started implementing the method I had just mentioned above.
- We would never NOT feed a hungry baby. Please don’t get that from this post. Always feed a hungry baby. Growth spurts throw us off quite a bit, especially in the beginning. So, if he was truly hungry, we’d feed him with the goal of increasing daytime feed volumes and getting back on track with nighttime feed timing.
- When offering a nighttime feed, we never turned the lights on (we used the Hatch Baby Rest Sound Machine’s light on a dim setting), talked to him, or made eye contact. Beckett wanted it to be a social event, but we made sure it was strictly business. We always changed his diaper before offering a feed to delay gratification. We fed him in the nursery and never burped him over our shoulder to make sure he didn’t become drowsy before we laid him down.
- Dohm White Noise Machine
- Complete darkness (this kid has spent his first five months of life in our walk-in closet. It’s honestly been a God Send! We even put black tape over any lights in the closet.)
Full disclosure: Beckett changes the game every time we feel like we have it “figured out.” I swear his knows when we feel like we’re in a groove. How do babies have that super power?! So, everything I just shared with you will probably change or need to be adapted. That’s life. That’s okay. It’s worked for us so far. But most importantly, all the resources I’ve mentioned today have helped me feel prepared and equipped to handle off nights, illness, developmental changes, etc. That’s about as invaluable as getting my sleep is, ha!
I hope this was helpful and not overwhelming. I’m passionate about sleep and helping other families that are desperate for it. We’ve been in some really humbling places with Beckett. Our village helped us make it through. Please count me as part of yours and reach out if you want to talk more specifics, vent, sob, or try to have a conversation despite your sleep-deprived delirium. 😉
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