When Your Baby Just Absolutely Will Not Sleep
My Firstborn. AKA the Sleep Thief.
Starting the Process of Sleep Training
While the idea of sleep training your baby may sound great, knowing where to start can be absolutely overwhelming, especially when you are operating on very little sleep. Let's face it, most of us don't start sleep training our baby from day one, following some book to the letter the day we leave the hospital. What any normal, exhausted parents do is Whatever. It. Takes. When you come home from the hospital, you are really just in survival mode those first several days. Whatever swing/sound/position makes your newborn drift off, that's what you'll do.
Which makes sense! You're in catch-up mode from hours of labor, your body is in recovery, and you are trying to enjoy the sweet moments in between the chaos of tiny but mighty newborn wails. But then the weeks go by, or maybe months, and you are still doing hours of psychotic bouncing/swinging motion with a vacuum running and total darkness because that is the perfect combo that will maybe, mostly, sometimes put your baby to sleep.
So really, the way most of us begin the process of sleep training is exhausted and sick of the insane hour-long routine that ends in a tip-toe, held-breath exit from the room...only to hear cries seconds later. It was at this point with my firstborn that I began picking up sleep training books, looking to dive into whatever method they said would work. But then I'd set them down again in discouragement, because every book made it sound like I'd already failed by not starting with the right routines and habits from day one. And weirdly, none of these books came with time machines, so I felt like we were just out of luck.
But then I found a book that actually addressed how to enter into the sleep training game months, or even years, into your baby's life. Huzzah!! I was thrilled.
Here is that magical book.
I never found a sleep training book that actually had all the perfect answers, but this one has come pretty darn close.
The Sleep Training Book that Actually Worked
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child follows a lot of the same principles as other popular sleep books, but it just gave me so many more practical tips. It breaks down sections by months of your child's life and has a whole host of special topics. There haven't been many sleep issues I've encountered that weren't addressed in this book
Of course, no book is magical. But I really appreciated that HSHHC gave different methods for approaching sleep training, depending on what you feel comfortable with as a parent. Here are some of the major points that were huge in our success with our two girls' sleep training:
Sleep Begets Sleep
This is the big one. What it basically means is that your child will sleep better if she is already well-rested. If your baby isn't sleeping well, it probably means she is behind on sleep and struggling to catch up. Long, good naps during the day do not mean your baby won't sleep at night but actually the opposite! Often this means you need to help your child "catch up" their sleep by moving up their bedtime significantly, just for a night or two. Putting your baby down at 6 instead of 7:30 may sound crazy to you and you may be anticipating a 5 a.m., but that's not usually the case. It often gives your sleep-deprived baby the extra dose of sleep he needs to get back in healthy rhythms.
One-Hour Cry Limit During the Day, No Limit at Night
I definite needed to read a concrete instruction for length of crying it out. Once you have a set time, you can set the timer, go in another room, and try to focus on something else while your little one is crying. It is heartbreaking to hear, but if you have set a definite limit ahead of time, you are much more likely to stick to your guns. And weirdly, the hour limit seems to be spot on. The first day I start sleep training my youngest daughter, she cried for 55 minutes and then conked out for her nap. The book does warn that day two can sometimes be a little worse, but then every day after that you should see progress. And I have definitely witnessed that with my daughters. After the first two days, every day gets so much better. In three days my youngest daughter was crying 5 minutes, if at all, when I laid her down AWAKE for naps. Can I get an "Amen"??
So what do you do if you hit the one-hour mark? My eldest daughter cried for a full hour a couple times at the beginning of her training. At that point, you get her up and wait for the next nap time. Maybe you move the next nap time up a little bit so your baby isn't completing falling apart from exhaustion. But crying for longer than an hour for nap time will through off the day's schedule too much, so you simply get them up and try again at the next nap.
The tough part of this is the no limit on crying time at night. The book's reasoning is that even the youngest baby will quickly realize what your time limit is and he will cry that amount of time, knowing you will give in. Ughgh, smart babies. For the first couple nights of this tough process, I would recommend switching of shifts between parents, with one parent sleeping on a couch in another room for one night or a portion of the night while the other parent is somewhere they can hear the baby or see a baby monitor. Again, it will get better after the first night or two if you really stick to the no limit, I promise!
Schedules for Each Age
One of the most helpful parts of the book, the reason I pull the book off the shelf every couple months, are the sleep schedules for each age. Most recently, with my youngest daughter, she was struggling to go down for her afternoon nap all of a sudden. It took me a while to realize what was happening, I just kept battling her at nap time. But then I pulled out the book, turned to the chapter for 18-month-olds and finally realized she is probably transitioning out of two naps a day. Duh. But really these sections are so helpful, to be able to understand how much sleep your baby needs at each stage and how to space it out.
All the way through book are tons of short stories of different parents and their struggles with their children and how they resolved them. There are so many examples in every chapter that I've usually found at least one in each section that really sounded like what I was going through at the moment with my baby. A real life example is so much easier to relate to and take courage from than a list of rules and recommendations. For instance, one section tells the story of a couple who waited til their daughter was 10 months to sleep train. They realized they were working for hours every day to soothe her to sleep and it was leaving them emotionally and physically exhausted. Dr. Weissbluth, the author, gave them a concrete plan to try over the weekend while both parents were home and after five nights she went down without a fight! But the first four nights she cried 75, then 25, 45, and finally 15 minutes. This story gave me so much hope when we were diving into sleep training 8 months into my daughter's life and the first night she just seemed to cry forever.
And now she is a sleep champ!
So Don't Give Up!
You can do it. You can sleep again! I know it sounds impossible right now but honestly, truly, with a couple days hard work, even if your baby seems so set in her ways, you can sleep train your baby.
Weissbluth, Marc, M.D. (2015). Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, 4th Ed.
© 2018 Meredith Cornell