Update: since writing this post, we traveled a bunch and it totally messed up his sleep. Trying to sleep train an 8 month old who can pull himself up and stand and scream even louder was even harder. It was really hard for me to handle so we called in an expert — he’s now falling asleep on his own and if he wakes up in the middle of the night, he puts himself back to sleep – it has been GAME CHANGER as he was getting up between 5-11 times per night … we were literal mombies (aka mom zombies). Check out Jenny Poppins as we affectionately call her HERE (I don’t get a referral fee, I am just so grateful for her work!).
One word: awful. But the outcome: amazing.
Before I continue, I want to say that everyone feels differently about sleep training – there isn’t one perfect method and it is not one size fits all. There is no judgment for people who can handle full on cry-it-out and no judgment for those who co-sleep or do anything different than what we do. I just wanted to share our experience and what has worked for us.
Before we had a baby, J + I were BIG sleepers. I loved me some naps. Now, we’re on Parker’s schedule and his naps are only about 40 minutes (my naps used to last 2 hours!). Obviously when a baby is little, we know they’re not going to sleep through the night. They have to eat every few hours. But after a few months, it’s time to sleep!
I’ll set the scene: Parker slept in our room until he was about 5 months. He slept in theHalo Bassinet right next to my bedside from the night we got home from the hospital (and occasionally in bed with us bc baby snuggles are just irresistible) and it was super convenient for nursing him in the middle of the night. He started rolling over when he would go to sleep around 4 months and he wasn’t happy about it, so we got the DockATot and it was a lifesaver – it prevented him from rolling over and was super cozy – he loved it!
Around 5 months, we realized that we all needed better sleep, so we put Parker in his own room. We used the DockATot in his crib and I was really sad the first night – I missed my little buddy being so close to me + I felt like he was growing up so quickly, but the next night, I felt such a sense of freedom. We could keep the lights on and not tiptoe around the room anymore and J + I could actually have conversations again in bed! I definitely felt like we all started sleeping a little better because we weren’t hearing every single thing – I was always so nervous rolling over in bed because I didn’t want to wake the baby! Don’t get me wrong, I would (and still) stare at the monitor to make sure he was breathing (and yes, I’ve gone in several times to put my hand on his chest), so it wasn’t easy but has been a wonderful transition for all of us the past month and a half.
Around 6 months, Parker rolled over in the DockATot, so it was time to say goodbye. When we put him in his crib without the DockATot, he was rolling like crazy – and then his little legs went through the slats and I got so nervous – so we ordered mesh bumpers
+ they’re ah-mazing. Now pediatricians always say nothing at all in the crib, but I also didn’t want him to break an ankle as I’ve heard of that happening. The mesh bumpers are breathable (yes, I put my face up to it – and totally had lipstick on and so now there’s a little kiss on the inside of his bumper! – and you can absolutely breath), so I felt safe with them. Parker now actually sleeps on his side + belly which has been a game changer. He sleeps way longer – apparently a lot of babies like to sleep on their belly. They still say "back is best" but he rolls and falls asleep this way, so I’m not messing with it!
Now to the "training": When Parker was around 3 months, we decided to start a gentle version of sleep training for naps. I couldn’t handle a lot of crying (LOTS of tears were shed on my end), so we did a lot of research on different methods of sleep training. We eventually decided to create our own method. We would put him down drowsy but awake and if he started crying when we left, we would set a timer for 3 minutes. If he was still crying, we would go in, put the paci in, pat the belly and then leave within 30 seconds. Then we’d set a timer for 5 minutes and do the same and another 5 minutes and do the same. If after the second set of 5 minutes he was still crying, we would pick him up to calm him and start over. We called this method 3 – 5 – 5 and it worked really well! Then he got back to back ear infections, so sleep training went out the window since lying down would hurt him. Once he was all better, we decided to start again. He was older now and 3 – 5 – 5 was not working. He would actually get more upset when we would go in, so we needed a new plan.
I had to have a call with my therapist about this because hearing him cry was torture for me. I cried so much + would get mad at J because she wasn’t as visibly upset as me. My therapist actually told me that going in so frequently was actually selfish in a way because he would then continually see me leave. That hit home for me. I never thought of it that way.
It turns out, I was really going in for me … Parker was / is fine.
He was totally mad that he wasn’t getting his way, but he didn’t NEED me (if he did / does, trust me, I’ll run in there). And by going in all the time, I was conditioning him to learn that if / when he cried, he would get one of his moms to come in. He needed to learn how to self-soothe and put himself to sleep.
New plan: I still couldn’t handle extinction (put them in bed + don’t go in until morning) but I knew that he needed a little bit of time to figure things out.
After reading several different books / methods online, we decided on our own version of Ferber (the best book I read was The Good Sleeper). What we do is we have a nightly routine (doing the same thing every night will give him sleep triggers): we’ll give him a bath, put on PJ’s, he’ll have his last feed, we’ll go upstairs and put on his sleep sack, give him his paci + stuffed animal and then read him 1 – 3 books (depending on how tired he is) and then walk him into his room. We then turn on the white noise machine, sing 2 songs while rocking him and then put him down, pat his belly or back and repeat the mantra I came up with – "You are brave. You are safe. You are strong. You are loved." – and then we leave the room. If he’s crying, we set the timer for 10 minutes, give him a paci + some pats then leave and set timer for 15 min then 20 min. If he’s still crying, we continue to set the timer for 20 minutes and we don’t pick him up if it’s at night. Now, if it’s for a nap, if it’s been an hour and he still isn’t asleep, we’ll call it quits, bring him downstairs and try again within the hour.
We always have the video monitor on but with the sound off because the screaming + crying is unbearable for me. The first few times we did this, I had to put headphones on and play music to try to block it out and I had J watch the monitor.
Within a week of us doing this, he slept 12 straight hours. It’s been another full week since we started and he slept 10 – 12 straight hours 4 nights in a row and then we went on vacation and it messed it up a little bit for the first 2 nights but then he slept 11 straight hours the third night. When we put him down now for naps + bed, he rarely fusses – he will sometimes just hang out and play with his paci + monkey for 15 – 30 minutes and puts himself to sleep. He’ll roll around and make playful noises – it’s really beautiful to witness his independence + growth in his ability to entertain himself.
It’s also made me realize that my therapist was right. I was going in for me. I was projecting my emotions onto him. Yes, he’s upset and maybe even sad, but he’s okay. He is so unbelievably loved + cared for and we are always there when he wakes up, so he knows that he is + never will be abandoned. And guess what? When he wakes up, he is SO happy. Even if he goes to sleep after crying for 20 minutes, he’ll wake up in the morning with a huge smile. I was so worried that by him falling asleep after crying, he would remember in the morning. But he doesn’t. The smile is what allows me to keep going — he’s happy because he’s rested. I’m happy because I’m rested.
It’s still a struggle to hear him cry, but I know that he is safe and that he will eventually fall asleep. It’s definitely getting easier because he is getting much better. It’s a learning curve for all of us but I am so proud of him for being so adaptable and proud of me + J for being brave enough to handle the discomfort of his cries because we know it’s in his best interest.
TIPS FOR SLEEP TRAINING:
Have a discussion with your partner to see what you both can handle. I couldn’t handle as much as Jordana, so it was up to me to decide what method we were going to use.
Consistency is KEY. You have to pick a method and stick to it for at least 2 weeks. Babes love routine + structure. And make sure you’re doing the same nightly routine – babies notice sleep triggers, so when we put the sleep sack on Parker, he knows that he’s getting ready to go to sleep. If after 2 weeks, it’s not working, you need to try another method.
Notice your baby’s cues – when they’re sleepy, do they rub their eyes, do their eyebrows get red, do they yawn? Once you figure this out, you need to make sure you start your little sleep routine right away – you don’t want to miss the sleep window!
Stay home. During the two weeks you start the training, literally stay home. Don’t make plans so if you suddenly see your baby yawn, you can put him / her to bed immediately. We didn’t go anywhere at all (we work from home so we were lucky to be able to do this, especially for naps) and kept a log of when he slept.
Turn the sound off the monitor. I’m sure you can hear your babe sleeping from another room + even if you can’t, most monitors have those color indicating levels that will tell you how high + loud your baby is crying.
Don’t stare at the monitor. You totally should check, but don’t stare at it because it’s hard to see your baby’s face when they’re crying. Set a timer and look every few minutes if you need to. Trust me, 5 minutes seems more like 50 when you’re sleep training, so no need to make it harder.
Write down a few mantras to repeat to yourself when it’s happening. For example, he is safe, he knows I love him, I am strong, it will get easier. You want to remember WHY you are doing this. Sleep is essential for a happy, healthy baby (and adult!).
Have a support system. I had a few friends who have kids that knew we were sleep training and I would text them as it was happening and they would remind me that everything was okay and that I was a good mom.
Again, all babies are different and this method may not work for your baby or even our next baby, but hopefully some of these tips + tricks will help!
here’s to a great night sleep + a happy, well-rested baby.
*I am an affiliate for the links above – we used both the bassinet + the book for Parker. If you purchase either through my link, I may receive compensation.