Let’s talk about sleep training.
When my daughter was about 2 months old, she started sleeping through the night.
By sleeping through the night, I mean she would go about 6 hours without waking to eat. It was AMAZING.
After several weeks of getting by on 60 to 90-minute increments of sleep in between hour-long breastfeeding sessions, this new schedule felt like heaven.
As new parents, people would ask my husband and me how we were sleeping and I almost felt guilty saying, “great!” We thought we had won the sleep lottery.
Sure, we knew we weren’t supposed to let her fall asleep while feeding and maybe we shouldn’t be rocking her to sleep but it seemed to be working for us.
One trick I did utilize was adding in a dream feed before my husband and I went to bed and it worked liked magic.
How Our Sleep Problems Began
Then two things happened:
- I went back to work after my maternity leave ended
- My daughter started a new medication
My daughter was born with an infantile hemangioma. When she was three months old, her dermatologist decided to put her on a medication called propranolol due to the rapid growth of her hemangioma and where it was located.
The medication worked wonderfully at treating her hemangioma. Unfortunately, side effects include possible sleep disturbances and low blood sugar. Due to the risk of low blood sugar in infants, we were instructed to wake and feed her every 3-4 hours in the initial stages of treatment.
So I resumed middle of the night feedings. We kept rocking her to sleep.
When she was eight months old, we were given the okay to let her sleep through the night. We were so ready!
However, at this point, our little girl was used to waking up every few hours to eat. She was used to falling asleep while being fed in mom’s arms.
She was certainly NOT interested in trying anything different.
But me? I wanted my sleep AND sanity back.
So our sleep training journey began…
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The Ferber Method
Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber
We decided to try the Ferber Method because, well, honestly, that’s what everyone was telling us to do. Plus my husband liked to use the line from Meet the Fockers about Ferberizing our baby.
Most everyone with a baby knows about the Ferber Method. This is generally what people think of when you talk about “sleep training”.
However, it may often be confused with the Extinction Method, which is recommended by Marc Weissbluth in his book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. Extinction is basically when you put your baby in their crib for the night and don’t go back into the room.
On the other hand, Ferber calls his approach “progressive-waiting.” You put your baby to bed awake, then briefly returning to the room to check-in at increasing intervals until the baby falls asleep.
How To Do The Ferber Method
The first night, you do your normal bedtime routine (UNLESS you are normally rocking or feeding your babe to sleep). Then, put your baby to bed AWAKE, say goodnight, and leave the room.
You start out checking in at 3 minutes, then 5 minutes, then 10 minutes until your baby is sleeping. The next night, you start your first check-in after 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 12 minutes, then 15 minutes. Each night, the time you wait to check in with your baby gets progressively longer.
Ferber recommends not to spend more than 1-2 minutes with your baby each time you go in to check on him.
Our Attempt at the Ferber Method
This was the first method we tried and it just didn’t work for us.
I did a lot of research on whether or not letting your baby cry it out is harmful and determined that it wasn’t going to affect her long-term and was safe to try. Still, when I actually tried to let her cry, I couldn’t handle it.
I had read stories about babies crying for 15 or 20 minutes and then falling asleep but my daughter seemed to just cry and cry and cry.
My husband had an easier time than I did so I tried to distract myself by doing things like washing the dishes or taking a shower. I had no idea how long I should keep letting her cry for so I set my own limit of 45 minutes. We tried this on a couple of different occasions. Each time, she cried longer than 45 minutes, so I always went in and picked her up.
I knew I was sabotaging our sleep training efforts by being inconsistent. Everything I read told me I was only teaching her if she cried long enough, someone would come to get her.
Feeling defeated, we just went back to our usual feeding/rocking to sleep.
The Sleepeasy Solution
The Sleepeasy Solution by Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivak
Waldburger and Spivak report the Sleepeasy Solution “is designed to minimize crying as much as possible—and to help your child learn how to sleep quickly and easily.” They own a sleep consulting practice called Sleepy Planet.
The Sleepeasy Solution goes through seven main reasons children may not be sleeping well. These include not having a consistent bedtime routine and a miss-timed sleep schedule. It also offers a plan for night weaning.
The Sleepeasy Solution aims to offer parents a “middle-of-the-road” option which is why I was hoping this would work for us. However, I found that the Sleepeasy Solution is basically a modified version of the Ferber Method.
How To Do The Sleepeasy Solution
The Sleepeasy Plan recommends you talk to your child and let him know what’s going to happen when you put them to bed. You do your usual bedtime routine but make sure he doesn’t fall asleep. Then put him in his crib awake, let him know it’s time to go to sleep and leave the room.
After, you go in to check on him five minutes later, then ten minutes later, and then every 15 minutes until he falls asleep. You can use more frequent intervals if desired but they recommend these as the most effective.
When you do your check-ins, you go halfway into the room, tell him you love him and it’s time to go to sleep. Don’t touch or pick him up and don’t stay longer than 30 seconds.
If your child is just whining or cries are becoming intermittent, they recommend you don’t go back in for a check as that may escalate the crying. Wait to see if he falls asleep.
Sleep and Wake Times
From the information presented in The Sleepeasy Solution, I realized we may be missing my daughter’s “sleep windows”.
When your body is stressed, it produces cortisol, which acts as a stimulant. Elevated levels of cortisol can cause your child to have trouble falling asleep and can contribute to more frequent night wakings or waking too early in the morning.
Along with issues with falling asleep at night and night wakings, my daughter also took very short naps.
I tried adjusting her sleep/wake times and her usual 30 minutes daytime naps turned into 90-minute naps!
Encouraged by this, I decided to give sleep training another try using The Sleepeasy Solution.
Our Attempt at the Sleepeasy Solution
I thought maybe I wasn’t prepared enough when we tried with the Feber Method before. So I made sure I was prepared this time.
I wrote out our sleep plan and set up my sleep station as the book suggests.
I read and re-read the Sleepeasy Solution’s section on how to deal with crying.
My daughter cried for 90 minutes.
I started out doing checks and then stopped going in, thinking they were making her even more upset.
Then, she finally fell asleep. I was devastated but I had made it and she had fallen asleep on her own! I thought: I can do this.
Unfortunately, she woke up half an hour later.
I started doing checks again, hoping she would fall asleep soon. She kept crying.
My husband went to bed. I waited.
Occasionally she stopped and was silent and I could breathe a little, but she always started back up a few minutes later.
Finally, after another ninety minutes, I had enough. I went in and picked her up. I felt horrible and decided any cry it out method was just not going to work for us.
The No-Cry Sleep Solution
The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley
After our disastrous attempt to let our daughter cry it out, I turned to gentle sleep training methods. I started with this one by Elizabeth Pantley because it even emphasized No Crying in the title.
This book basically goes through tips on helping you create a sleep plan for your baby based on your baby’s specific sleep issues.
My daughter clearly had negative sleep associations because she needed to be rocked or fed to sleep. This was causing frequent night wakings in which I had to either rock her or feed her until she fell back asleep.
Even then, sometimes when I tried to put her back in the crib once she was asleep, she would wake up and the process would begin again. This led to bed-sharing and me sleeping with my daughter on the pull-out bed in her nursery. For months.
I actually like the concept of bed-sharing and we did it frequently as it was sometimes the only way I could get any rest. However, I was always worried about safe sleep when I had my daughter in bed with me. I felt much more comfortable having her sleep in her own crib. I just didn’t know how to get her to sleep there through the night.
How To Do The No-Cry Sleep Solution
Pantley provides 10 steps to help parents create their own sleep solution plan. Each step is discussed in detail in her book.
- Do a Safety Check
- Learn Basic Sleep Facts
- Create Your Sleep Logs
- Review and Choose Sleep Solutions
- Create Your Personal Sleep Plan
- Follow Your Plan for Ten Days
- Do a Ten Day Log
- Analyze Your Success and Revise Your Plan as Necessary
- Follow Your Plan for Ten More Days
- Complete a Log, Analyze Your Success, and Revise Your Plan as Necessary Every Ten Days
Our Attempt at the No-Cry Sleep Solution
I tried following Pantley’s 10 step plan.
One of the suggestions from the book I tried was making her crib a comfortable place by spending time there during the day.
I introduced a lovey (or transitional object). She wasn’t interested.
I created sleep association words that were supposed to help settle her at bedtime or when she woke during the night.
I tried to shorten our nighttime nursing sessions and stop feeding her before she fell asleep.
Pantley admits that this is NOT a quick-fix plan and may take several weeks to see any results. For me, I didn’t feel like anything was changing. A typical night for us looked like this:
7:00pm – start bedtime routine
7:30pm – baby asleep
8:15pm – baby wakes up
8:30pm – baby asleep, rocked to sleep and put in crib
10:55pm – baby awake and breastfed back to sleep (brought into bed with me)
12:04am – baby wakes up, rocked back to sleep
1:22am – baby wakes up, breastfed back to sleep
3:38am – baby wakes up, rocked back to sleep
5:10am – baby wakes up, breastfed back to seep
6:20am – baby wakes up for the day
She clearly wasn’t getting enough sleep but I had trouble pushing her bedtime any early because of her late afternoon nap and had little control over her nap schedule during the week because she was in daycare.
I felt stressed out knowing she was overtired but not knowing how to fix it and being too tired myself at night to try to change what was happening.
Then I heard about Kim West and the Sleep Lady Shuffle and decided to give another sleep training method a try.
What did I have to lose at this point? Besides more sleep?
The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight
The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West
In this book, Kim West discusses The Sleep Lady Shuffle, her method for gradually teaching your baby to put herself to sleep without you.
You start out sitting in a chair right next to the crib to soothe your baby and every three nights, you move the chair progressively further away.
How to Do The Sleep Lady Shuffle
Our Attempt at the Sleep Lady Shuffle
With this method, even if my daughter cried, I felt better being in the room with her and being able to rub her back or even pick her up if necessary without feeling like I was ruining everything.
I made it to sitting in the hallway (day 12) before my daughter got sick and we regressed back to rocking her to sleep.
However, what the Sleep Lady Shuffle did for us was help me start night weaning and transitioning my daughter from bed-sharing with me half the night to sleeping in her crib the whole night.
On day one of using the Sleep Lady Shuffle, my daughter woke up FIVE times in the middle of the night. She woke up at 9pm, 12am (breastfed), 1am, 3am (breastfed) and 4am.
After a few days, she was only waking 1- 2 times during the night.
On day eight, she woke up ONCE and it was at 3am. This meant she slept for almost seven hours straight from 7:30pm to 3:00am.
As I mentioned before, she got sick which caused a sleep regression and we started rocking her back to sleep.
Some magic spell had been broken though because once we got her to sleep, she was now sleeping through the night and waking up once at night to breastfeed.
Which Sleep Training Method Should I Use?
Anyone promoting one sleep training method will talk about why the others are not beneficial for your baby.
No-cry solutions may still cause crying and be counterproductive as children still aren’t learning to soothe themselves. According to Waldburger and Spivak, “when using these kinds of “hands-on” methods, parents often give up on sleep learning because it takes so long to actually get better sleep that the process itself becomes exhausting.”
Advocates of gentle sleep training will talk about how harsh and wrong cry it out approaches can be.
Personally, I feel like I learned so much about sleep, about what not to do, and about what you should be doing from reading and trying the different sleep training methods.
Armed with this knowledge, I was able to combine the different methods to create our own sleep plan that worked for us despite the fact that my daughter wasn’t putting herself to sleep at night and still having trouble with night wakings.
Our deep dive into the realm of sleep training helped me to recognize when the moment finally arrived to try again.
Related post: What To Know About Normal Sleep for Infants and Toddlers
How I Knew My Daughter Was (Finally) Ready To Sleep Train
When my daughter was about 18 months, she moved from the infant room to the toddler room at daycare.
We were still rocking her to sleep at home for naps and at bedtime. While they also rocked her for naps at daycare in the infant room, I knew they would not be doing the same in the toddler room.
I went to pick her up after her first full day and cringingly asked how nap time had gone. I was in shock when the teachers exclaimed, “She did great! She lay down on her mat and went right to sleep.”
A few weeks later, she was still sleeping like a champ during nap time at daycare so my husband and I decided to try that method at home.
We did our usual bedtime routine. Then, instead of rocking her to sleep, we just put her in the crib. We said, “you’re going to lie down and go to sleep, just like at school.” I sat outside her bedroom door and she cried for about 10 minutes. Then she fell asleep.
The next night, she barely cried. The next night, she didn’t cry at all. I was amazed. I thought all of my research and sleep training efforts had failed. Now, all of a sudden, my baby was “sleep trained” and I didn’t really do much of anything.
So what was different?
Well, for ME, I KNEW she could fall asleep on her own because she was already doing it at daycare.
For some reason, knowing she was able to put herself sleep made it much easier for me to let her try to do it on her own.
For my daughter, I just think she was finally ready.
The Truth About Sleep Training
My daughter has been successfully putting herself to sleep every night since then. There are no tears. Now that she’s two, there’s whining and begging and asking for a drink of water five times but that’s life with a toddler. She goes to sleep and she sleeps through the night.
Recently, however, she’s been asking to come to our room at bedtime. She’s been begging her dad (because he has a lot more trouble saying no than I do!) to “rest” with her in her room. So we compromise. She lies in her crib and he sits in the rocker for a few minutes. Or we tell her mommy has to take a shower and daddy has to do the laundry but we’ll be back to check on her. She asks us to leave the door open. She’s always sleeping when we go back to check on her and shut the door.
We make adjustments. We do what feels right and we do what we have to do for this particular moment in time.
My Sleep Training Advice To You, Mama
The truth is, kids grow and change and their sleep habits change too.
To new moms who think you have to sleep train, don’t be so hard on yourself.
Maybe one method will work for you, maybe you’ll try everything and nothing works.
Maybe you’ll be rocking your little until they’re two years old and that’s how it goes.
Every child and every family is different. There is lots of advice out there. Take what works for you and leave the rest.
I used to refer to my family as “sleep training failures” because NOTHING seemed to work. But we now have a toddler who sleeps through the night, so we must have done something right along the way!
Do what feels right for you right now. Try one method that seems like a good fit for you. If it doesn’t work out, try another way. Try ALL the sleep training methods. Or just wait it out.
Whatever you decide, know that it’s your decision and you will make the right decision for your little one and your family.