One of the primary questions first-time parents ask me is, “How do you get your infant to sleep through the night?” Now that my daughter is a toddler, sleep is not an issue in our house. She sleeps about 10 hours/night and takes a 3 hour nap, so she sleeps away the majority of her day – what a LIFE!!! Then again, I slept away most of college including nap time lectures, so I can’t really decry her as being lazy. And don’t give me all that, “Well, she needs her sleep b/c she is growing.” Trust me. I grew a LOT in college. You could even say I was an overachiever: freshman 15? I did it in one semester. What was I writing about? Oh right, sleep training. So yeah, now that we’ve been in this routine for some time now, it’s hard to imagine life being any different.
But with Baby #2 well on his/her way, EVERYTHING’S going to be different. Tips on sleep training after the jump.
For most first-time parents, their initial concerns usually center around the health and well-being of the newborn, and we were no different. But after a few days or weeks of not getting more than 3 hours of sleep at a time, our concerns shifted from our daughter’s well-being to our own, and that meant getting her to sleep through the night.
Prior to our daughter’s arrival, we read Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate with Your Baby, which was available at our local library, in order to prepare for what was ahead. I’ll go through what the book covers but let me tell you, NOTHING can prepare you for what’s ahead. You may have pulled multiple all-nighters in college, but there’s nothing quite like the exhaustion you feel after you’ve endured day after day of responding to a wailing baby and realizing that just because the child is the fruit of your loins doesn’t mean you’re able to calm him or her down.
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer outlines the E.A.S.Y. method: Eat, Activity, Sleep, You, and she sure does make it sound easy. I felt like I was reading instruction from one of the experts from Super Nanny or Nanny 911 as she recounts testimony after testimony of how she helped families. The basic idea behind the E.A.S.Y. method is you feed the baby and you make sure the baby does not fall asleep during feeding or immediately after the feeding, so you do an activity, such as a massage, a bath, a book, etc…then the baby sleeps and you get some Me Time. This way the baby is in a routine and you get some time to yourself – I suggest you take every chance you get and take a nap. 🙂
We earnestly tried the E.A.S.Y. method with our daughter, and it seemed to work ok for the first day or so. “Man,” I proudly thought to myself, “this parenting thing is E.A.S.Y.! har har!” Typically after such proud exclamations and such a thorough patting of my own back, I’m humbled into a fetal position and this was no different. After trying unsuccessfully to soothe my daughter, my wife exhausted from the delivery and the stress and pain/soreness associated with breastfeeding, I hugged my daughter and began to weep (picture snot running down my nose:
“Daughter. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to do! I don’t know what to do!” followed by, “God….why do You hate me?! Please help me!”
So we asked other parents for help. We got tons of advice and some of them suggested another book: On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep. This was a totally different book from the other one and if you Google it, many parents rail against the book and call it dangerous- a fact I found out only after reading the book. With my daughter crying in the next room, I tore through the book looking for something, anything, that would help. You can Google it for more info, but the basic ideas I got were that letting your child cry isn’t a bad thing and they suggest Parent Directed Feeding.
After a few months – I want to say 2 – our daughter was sleeping through the night. We used a combination of ideas from both books and advice from other parents. Before I outline some tips, I must say that I am not an expert – this blog is for entertainment purposes only and take any advice and tips w/ a grain of salt: if you ask my wife, my ideas don’t pass the Stupid Test very often. Second, it’s hard to generalize with children since they tend to be drastically different, so what worked for us may not work for you. Additionally, we only have one child, so while these things worked for our first, they may not work for our second child.
- As a general rule for parenting, we don’t like to do things that we can’t do indefinitely. For example, even playing a game where you pick up your child and raise him/her above your head repeatedly is fun at first, but then you feel like you’re going to have muscle spasms after they say “AGAIN!” for the 20th time. This was a theme for us in our parenting as we learned weaning from anything isn’t fun.
- We decided against co-sleeping: there’s tons of research for and against co-sleeping; the only evidence I needed was a few friends I knew that still needed to co-sleep in their kid’s beds even when the kids were two or older. Additionally, I value my alone time with my wife…I’ll leave it at that.
- We didn’t use anything we couldn’t or didn’t want to take everywhere. There’s tons of stuff out there, like the womb bear, or using CDs that claim all kinds of things but we used nothing more than building up a nighttime routine.
- Some parents like using a specific blanket or maybe some stuffed animals, but I was mortified of SIDS or my daughter suffocating so we used nothing more than a sleep sack.
- Our nighttime routine did not consist of a specific schedule, e.g., getting the baby down by 8:30pm. I’m sure that works well for folks, but since we were pretty involved in our church, which meant some nights we’d be out until 11pm or so, this wasn’t an option for us. Additionally, we didn’t want to be out with friends and have to rush home because we had to get the baby to sleep. Instead, we did the same thing over and over again: the wife would breastfeed, I would hold her for a minute or two and talk to her, and then I would sing God is so good, say a prayer over her and then put her down for bed. Initially, this didn’t work well as she cried…
- But I think it’s ok to let the baby cry. Again, I’m no expert and I have no research backing this. Some parents tell me their babies cry for 3 hours or more. While our daughter never cried that long, we did let her cry for quite some time. She’d wail for a while and then it’d be silence. *gasp* “Did she fall asleep?!?!” WAIL!!!! Nope. She was just storing up her energy. She initially cried for about an hour or so after we put her down and then she would fall asleep for an hour or two. When she woke up, the wife would feed her again. If she seemed alert, I’d read her a book or bathe her, and when she looked tired, I’d sing God is so good, say a prayer over and put her down. Slowly but surely, the length of her crying decreased: 1 hour…55 minutes…50….until she began sleeping after crying for a minute or less – most likely announcing her displeasure at the fact she had to sleep.
- After getting in this routine, she eventually slept through the night. The first tim she did, when I awoke, I was actually alarmed at how bright it was outside and thought she died. I’m not kidding – I’ve never run so fast in my life. Being as heavy and plodding as I am, it must’ve sounded like a stampede to her but she didn’t wake up. It kinda sorta looked like she was breathing but I poked her several times to make sure. Yup. That woke her up. My relief was soon replaced with grief as my wife shouted, “Did you wake her up?!?!” 😛
- Baby Whisperer talks about respecting the child as a tiny person rather than treating them like a baby, and Baby Wise talks about treating the child like a part of the family and consequently, he/she should adapt to the family. My wife and I agree with both takes and we think that our daughter is very important but the world does not revolve around her. We certainly don’t want her thinking that as she grows older, so we didn’t want to give her that impression from birth. Some parents respond to every cry and do everything they can to soothe their little one. While neglect is a major issue, not to mention a crime, I think it’s ok not to respond to every single cry, at least not initially. Typically, my daughter would wake up during naps and cry and five minutes later, she’d be back to sleep. I don’t think sleep training would have gone as well if I ran into soothe her every time she cried.
- We never used pacifiers to soothe her. Many parents swear by binkys but we read somewhere that they could cause dental issues plus kids drop binkys on the floor ALL the time, and I know some parents who didn’t have much fun weaning their kids off of pacifiers. To comfort her, we held her, and patted her back to the rhythm of the song we sang her, usually God is so good. To be honest, we reconsidered using a pacifier quite often as they seemed to be a wonder tool, but in retrospect, we’re glad we didn’t.
- If you want to go out, try to go to places that crying infant won’t be (much of) a nuisance. Our favorite place to go was Don Pablo’s because the ceilings were high and our daughter’s crying didn’t bother others in the restaurant. Again, one of our things was not to hurriedly soothe her every time she cried and being in a nice restaurant, I would have felt significant pressure via death glares, sighing and teeth sucking from the other patrons to calm her down quickly.
- Whatever you and your spouse decide, try to stick to it as much as possible. There’ll be nights you’ll be desperate and would be willing to try anything, but I personally didn’t want to have to go out and drive for hours to get her to sleep – that might’ve been ok when gas was less than $1 or $2/gallon. nor did I want to have to put her in a swing or rock her until she fell asleep.
The two months or so we were sleep training were insanely difficult and trying, but now that she falls asleep pretty easily and can sleep pretty much anywhere, we’re glad we put the effort in on the front end.
So as we eagerly await Baby #2, what books did you read that helped with sleep training? And do you have any tips or suggestions?