I have a slight obsession with my daughter’s sleep habits, how long, how often, should I wake her or let her sleep in? Will it mess up her schedule? Is she getting too little or too much? I am finally getting a little more relaxed about it lately (I swear), but her sleep habits pretty much run my day. She’s my alarm clock in the morning; a long nap means more time to do things around the house, a short one means I’m letting my hair air dry after a shower. Ava is almost 11 months old, she sleeps 10-11 hours a night and take 2 naps a day, totaling about 2-3 hours combined. She falls asleep on her own. She’s come a long way from our early months of endless rocking, patting, bouncing and shushing (yes, all at once!), short naps, and multiple night wakings after which I would have to do the rock/pat/shush/bounce ALL OVER AGAIN. Needless to say, the first few months I was in sleep deprivation hell.
I spent a lot of time holding her during naptime, during which I would scour the internet for advice, read sleep training books on my Nook app, and pray for a better night. My anxiety was at it’s peak. We were also dealing with her silent reflux issues at the time which only made matters worse. Once that was under control, I thought things would get better, but they didn’t. Ava was addicted to having me help her to sleep and if she woke up she needed me to help her again. It came to a point where I wasn’t even sleeping at all anymore, even when she slept at night. My anxiety was keeping me up and I couldn’t relax. I would leave her with my MIL during the day so I could go home and try to sleep and I would lay in bed tossing and turning. At that point, I knew that sleep training was in our future.
But before I get into our sleep training story, I want to share some tips that I think helped her sleep in general.
1. Start a bedtime routine ASAP.
When Ava was a little over a month old and we had settled more into our new home, I started to consistently do a bedtime routine. At the time it included a bath, pjs, story, swaddle, nurse, then bed. It has changed since then, but I really think it cues Ava that sleep time is coming.
2. Continuous white noise.
We started off with a sleep sheep, but it had a 45 minute timer. It helped somewhat in the early weeks, but not much. One really bad night when I could not get her to sleep, I brought her downstairs and put on the ‘blow dryer’ sound using an app on my iPhone. She knocked out in less than a minute. Since then every nap and night she has that playing while she sleeps.
3. A straight jacket (ha just kidding, it’s what my husband used to call it).
I read about the Woombie on another blog, the mom had claimed it made a big difference in her baby’s sleep. It’s basically a super snug sleep sack that zips up so that no baby can break out of it. We started using it within the first month, and I really think it helped her sleep longer because she couldn’t flail her arms into her face and wake herself up. Until she outgrew it and the next size up wasn’t as snug and didn’t help any longer.
4. Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit.
I also read about the Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit on another mom blog. We used this the day we started sleep training. We wanted to ditch the swaddle at the same time since she was breaking out of them, but didn’t want to leave her completely without that comforting ‘snuggly’ feeling. It really was ‘magic’, and it also worked as another cue that sleep was coming. We actually stopped using it just a couple of weeks ago because Ava was starting to sleep on her side and on her belly. She was also sitting up in the middle of the night with it on. So I figured she was ready to be out of it. I was scared she would protest and we would have to sleep train all over again, but it was pretty uneventful. I know they recommend that a baby shouldn’t wear it if he or she can roll, but honestly she never really rolled over in the suit until recently. She actually was never much of a roller, I think she rolled 3 times from belly to back and a few times back to belly, then she moved on to sitting up and never really wanted to be laying down when she was awake. Anyway, if you’re looking to break the swaddle habit this is a good option to ease the transition.
4. Do your research.
I read a few sleep training books, but the one I found most helpful was Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Weissbluth. If you are reading this blog and you’re still pregnant or planning on kids someday, read this BEFORE the kid comes. Cause reading when you’re already in the midst of no sleep craziness is no bueno. It talks about the science behind infant sleep, strategies to help your baby sleep, sleep needs, sleep training methods, etc. I also went to other blogs for help which I will link here:
So, on to the nitty gritty. We were planning to start sleep training when Ava turned 6 months old, but I was at the end of my rope and we started at 5.5 months. The method we chose was modified cry it out (CIO) or CIO with checks. We did our usual routine at the time: bath, pjs, book, bottle, & a song. Instead doing our usual rock/pat/bounce/shush I laid her in the crib. And she cried immediately. I chose a night my husband would be home for moral support. I checked on her at 5, then 10, then 15 min intervals. I didn’t pick her up or touch her, I just told her that she was okay and that it was time to sleep. After 34 minutes she was sleeping. The next night took 2 minutes, the 3rd took 3 minutes. The next night she didn’t cry at all. I was amazed. We still fed her when she woke up at night and did the same checks if she couldn’t go back to sleep on her own. She eventually dropped her night feedings somewhere between 6-7 months. We nap trained at the same time which took longer, almost 2 weeks, before she was able to go down without a fight. I’m not gonna lie, nap training was HARD. The first couple of days we had to completely abandon her first nap because she cried and would not fall asleep. We also did some car naps just to make up for lost daytime sleep. It was SO worth the effort because now she naps easily and is no longer grumpy during the day from being overtired.
Ava has woken up in the middle of the night maybe a handful of times since then. One night I think it was night terrors, a couple of others because of new milestones and separation anxiety. But, that’s to be expected and it happens for a day or two and she’s back to sleeping through til morning. We just revert back to the original sleep training plan and move on. And now we’re all sleeping better. And I can actually relax after bedtime instead of anxiously awaiting her next wake up.
I know sleep training isn’t for every parent, but reading other moms’ sleep training stories helped me so much that I wanted to share mine too. I hope it helps if you are considering doing any sort of sleep training with your little one.