What I want to say before I begin is that I am in no way a specialist. I am a new mom figuring this all out for the first time. I highly recommend you discuss things with your pediatrician and potentially even a sleep consultant prior to beginning any form of sleep training. I did a lot of research and spoke to a lot of individuals prior to us beginning this process, but this is merely what WE did, not necessarily what is best for others. Make your own informed decisions.
Our sleep training journey really began gently at around 4 months of age when Beau started having his sleep regression. We spoke with our pediatrician who told us he was healthy and gaining weight wonderfully and that he should be fine to sleep through the night. She said we could do a top up or dream feed if we wish to help him get a bit more if we were concerned. I definitely wasn't in a place of wanting to sleep train at the time. He was still very young and I felt if he needed me (whether for nutrition or just comfort) I was going to give it to him. Of course, he took full advantage and would wake every three hours or so to feed. Every three quickly turned into hourly or every two. The weird thing was that I had read that a sign of them actually being hungry is taking in a full feed, which Beau seemed to be doing. So we continued feeding on demand while becoming more and more sleep deprived. We did try a gentle approach to "sleep training" (more like sleep encouraging), but would visit very quickly, and even pick him up when he fussed, rocking back to calm/soothe. This became another crutch for him of course, but no regrets. It gave my momma heart comfort to know he was comforted.
As Beau continued developing his day feeds became much more distracted. He was far too interested in everything else going on around him. At night, there were no distractions, so we were in a reverse cycle of sorts. I started feeding him distraction free in the days whenever possible. Of course if we were out on the go, this was near impossible, but we still tried. I wanted him to be getting as much nutrition in the day so I would feel comfortable weaning out the night feedings. At 6 months of age I felt he was mature enough and ready to begin sleep training.
I did a lot of reading and researching, talked to many friends, read sleep consultant blogs, and ultimately Eric and I sat down and discussed a plan that we were both comfortable with and agreed upon. I think it's so important for you and your partner to be on the same page, as consistency is important and sleep training is hard, so you need that support from one another along the way. You can't be having an argument in the middle of the night while exhausted... that never ends well. We settled on using the Ferber Method as a guideline, but personalized it to a point that I was more comfortable with. We would check on him in shorter increments that recommended. We would feed if past 1am (midnight if very upset). I was NOT in the least bit thrilled about letting my baby cry, even for 5 minutes. But in speaking to many other parents, and researching studies on the effects of "crying it out", I felt confident in our decision.
When we started sleep training I really wasn't sure what to expect... How long it would take for him (and us) to get the hang of it... How torturous it would be... but for us, it's been a positive experience so far. It's still early days so I absolutely don't want to jinx myself here, but the transition for us has been relatively smooth.
You can read about our first night here!
Nights two and three have each gone well also. Night two he went down very quickly with only one visit from Eric. From laying him down in his crib to asleep took a total of just under 16 minutes. His crying was barely crying at all, rather more tired complaint cries (if you're a parent you know your babe has so many different levels of crying). He didn't wake up until around 1:30am. I gave him a feed and as soon as I was drained I pulled him off. I didn't want him soothing on the boob as he so often does. Instead we laid him back down in his crib awake. He self-settled without issue and slept until 5:50am. We had determined our wake cut off as 6:00am so Eric did a visit and I got him up at 6:00am for the day.
His naps after night two were epic. His first morning nap we always put him down 2 hours after waking (looking for sleep cues to determine if it needs to be shifted slightly earlier/later). He usually ends up going down for his first nap sometime between 8am & 9am. His second nap we try and push 2.5 hours after waking from the first nap, but generally he likes to go down sooner and it also depends on how well he sleeps. It is pretty variable, we just try and be in tune with him and watch for early sleep cues. Third nap is all about reading his cues for us. I try and make sure at least one of his morning naps is in his crib, if not both. I'm much more flexible with his afternoon one.
He slept over an hour and a half each morning nap and even went so long on his third afternoon nap that I had to gentle encourage him to wake up so he didn't over sleep. By night he wasn't over tired, but definitely ready for his night routine. Due to a few factors we ended up being a bit behind on his schedule, so he was a little bit fussier going down since we missed his window by maybe 10 minutes or so. He still went down relatively quickly. One visit from Eric and he was out for the night.
Night three he was asleep by 6:45pm and didn't wake up until 4:30am. Because it was such a long stretch I made sure to give him a very full feed. He went straight back to sleep until 6:30am when he woke for the day. He's currently down for his morning nap and went down within 2 minutes on his own without any crying at all. He has been asleep for an hour already so I'd say we're off to a good start.
I don't know if we're just lucky, if Beau was simply just ready, or what factored into our success thus far. As I said, it's been a smooth transition for us, and Beau is an even happier baby in the waking hours than he was before. I am still not getting a ton of sleep as I wake throughout the night worrying about him and check the monitor religiously. I swear I must be sleeping with one eye open these days. One ear for sure! I'm sure as we settle into our new routine I'll become more at ease and get more sleep myself.
My tips if you have discussed sleep training with your pediatrician and are planning on starting:
1. HAVE A GAME PLAN - don't try and wing it. Do a lot of research on various methods, talk to your pediatrician, and map out your own individualized strategy. Make sure you and your partner are on 100% the same page, laying out any "what ifs" you can think of along the way.
2. PARTNER SOOTHE - hearing your baby cry is NOT easy. I so badly wanted to go in and comfort him. Because I am breastfeeding, this can make it very difficult as he'll react to me being near and get more upset. Things go a lot better when Eric is the one settling him. I had to wear noise cancelling headphones on that first night and listen to meditation music to get through. I still cried, but it helped.
3. BE CONSISTENT - again, sleep training isn't easy as the parent. I swear it's harder on us than the baby. If you have committed to doing it, commit! Stick to your plan 100% otherwise baby just gets confused. (This is my philosophy in general for parenting)
4. HAVE A TREAT - just the thought of sleep training was hard on my heart. I dealt with a lot of guilt wondering if I was just doing this for myself, if I was making the right decision or not etc. (FYI - in hindsight I realized that I was being silly as Beau is now getting the sleep he needs to be a happier, healthy baby). Whatever your vice is, reward yourself for being strong. I had some popcorn... maybe you decide to indulge in a glass of wine. It sure made me feel a bit better having a small treat ready for myself.
5. HAVE SUPPORT - talk to others who have recently gone through sleep training (with as close to the same method as possible) and know what you're dealing with. You have enough questions and doubt running amuck in your head, you don't need outside opinions telling you are doing it wrong, you need empathy and emotional support... your own cheerleading squad. I am very lucky to have this. (Thank you btw, if you are one such individual, xo).
So that's it. I will try and check back in down the road to update on how it continues, but for now, we enjoy our sleep!