I’m writing this as I should be sleeping, which is basically my thought whenever I have a moment to myself these days.
The lack of sleep really takes over your life.
As of three weeks ago, Westley was 5 month, 20 pounds, (90th+ percentile) and waking up every 2-4 hours a night to eat. Plus a few more for a pacifier.
I literally got out of bed 12 times before 2 am once. BEFORE 2 AM!
It was a week after we’d done night weaning and I basically reached a breaking point. I said to Westley, “You’ve eaten. Your diaper is clean. You are safe. You are loved. And I am not coming back in here. I’ll see you in the morning.”
He cried for 10 minutes.
And then another 10 minutes at 4 am.
And then we all woke up at 7:30.
That was unplanned sleep training night one.
I read a few things on sleep training five years ago with Lincoln (and by that I mostly mean Megan read all the things and then walked me through how to night wean Lincoln and sleep train).
Before We Started:
Between 3-5 months (usually right around 4 months) baby’s sleep cycles change. Their sleep consolidates are starts to look more like adult sleep, with 60, 90, or 120 minute sleep cycles with a brief wake period in between. As adults, our bodies go through the same sleep cycles but we put ourselves back to sleep so quickly we don’t realize we’re awake. Babies, though, are still figuring it out and this can mean lots more middle of the night wakings for everyone.
Every since Westley was born he woke up every 3 hours to eat. Occasionally, as we got into month two and three, we’d get a four or even four and a half hour stretch once during the night. Even with that though, he was great at going right back to sleep. Sometimes he’d cry out, I’d feed him and change his diaper, and then I’d put him back down in the crib without him even opening his eyes through the whole process. If he was awake, I still put him back down in the crib and went back to my room and he’d fall right back asleep on his own.
The four month sleep regression hit with a vengeance. When it hit with Lincoln, I had been sleeping through the night for two months so it felt miserable but I went into it well rested. With Adelaide I was only used to waking up once a night. This time around with Westley, I was at my wits end and completely exhausted BEFORE the sleep regression hit.
He was waking up 5-7 times a night (between the hours of 7pm-7am. Usually this meant a wake up every three hours to eat and then struggling to settle after feeding.
Before we could sleep train we needed to move more of Westley’s feeds to daytime hours. He was getting the majority of his milk at night because he would calmly drink a full 5-6 ounce bottle at night in contrast to during the day when he easily got distracted after 2-3 ounces.
The plan was to lose a few nights sleep by soothing him after a night waking with something other than milk. It took much longer to rock him back to sleep than to just feed him but it could be done.
I tried for a few nights in December but then Westley came down with a bad cold so we pushed it off a little longer.
At the beginning of January we recommitted and I started either putting him to bed and not feeding him for 8 hours (7pm – 3./4am) OR doing a dream feed before I went to bed and not feeding him until morning (7pm- 6/7pm with a dream feed around 10:30pm).
I usually just got up and reinserted a pacifier. If that didn’t settle him I’d pick him up and bounce him a bit and then try again. I never let him cry more than 3-4 minutes.
I initially thought that once we had him night weaned he’d stop waking up so often and give us longer stretches but his sleep actually got worse.
After I’d gotten out of bed the seventh time before 2am, I called it quits. That night, I simply closed his door, closed my door, and went to sleep. I have yet to be able to sleep when he’s crying so I’m pretty sure I drifted off after he settled himself a little after 2 am. I woke up to him again at 4, but didn’t get out of bed. by 4:15 we were both sleeping again and then he woke up for the day at 7 am!
My sleep training rules:
- Always wait 4-5 minutes before I get out of bed (I’ll break this if his crying is desperate/ sounds different than his normal night crying)
- Don’t pick him up.
- Don’t feed him.
- Insert pacifier.
- Go back to bed and wait another 5-10 minutes.
In theory, each time I’d wait longer to go back into his room while he’s crying. In practice, he’s never cried more than 15-20 minutes total before falling asleep again so I haven’t had to lengthen the internals very much. For example, this is what a big crying incident looks like for us:
4:30 I hear Westley crying
4:33 I get out of bed and give him a pacifier. He starts crying again before I’m back in my bed.
4:40: I get out of bed and give him a pacifier. He seems to settle
4:42 He’s crying again. I stay in bed
4:52 He’s quiet and back to sleep.
We’re essentially following a full cry-it-out method, which works for me right now because Westley will settle himself and not cry for more then 5-20 minutes.
After a few nights of this we started getting MUCH longer stretches of sleep and a baby that woke up so happy (instead of cranky). I’m still giving him a dream feed before I go sleep and then he’s waking up once or sleeping all the way through until 6:30/7:30!
Not every night is that great. For example last night I skipped the dream feed because he went to bed a little later (8pm) and he woke up shrieking at 11;30pm and then again at 4am. When I’m tempted to complain about nights like that, though, I remember back to when I would have killed for just two night wakings.
The biggest thing going forward is being consistent. I need to commit to the dream feed and NOT feeding him between 10:30 and 7:00.
At some point we will also cut out the dream feed. My plan is to approach is similar to the way we cut out the last night feed with Lincoln. What we did then was notice when he was usually waking up in the night to eat, and set an alarm to go in and feed him 30 minutes before this time. Any other time he woke up, we would not feed him. This helped him get used to waking up and putting himself back to sleep without food (while still getting the night feed he was counting on for calories). Each night we would reduce the number of ounces we were feeding him during the dream feed by one. I think we started at 8 ounces and had about a week of dream feeding before he was getting 0 ounces. I also think we skipped the last night and went straight from 2 ounces of 0 ounces. I wasn’t going to set an alarm for 3 am to feed a baby one ounce of milk.
This time around we’ll just slowly move the bottle ounces down over a longer period of time. Instead of giving him a full 6 ounce bottle I’ve been giving him four ounces. Eventually we’ll go down to 3, then 2, and then drop the whole thing altogether.
**UPDATE: I wrote this and then last night I decided to skip the dream feed altogether (I was tired and wanted to go to bed – so much for dedication. AND THEN WESTLEY SLEPT STRAIGHT THROUGH UNTIL 6:30 AM! 11 hours straight! The problem with this is he’d sleep a little longer if he wasn’t so hungry becaue 6:30 is so close to his regular wake time that he won’t go back to sleep after a feed but, hey, I can wake up with him at 6:30 every morning if I haven’t gotten out of bed since 10pm. It is also quite reassuring that he isn’t starving when he wakes up. Ben fed him 4 ounces this morning and then he wanted to play.
Also, after listening to the sleep training section of “Cribsheet, “ I am feeling really good about sleep training. For background, in Cribsheet, the economist author goes through all the studies behind the parenting advice we commonly hear (“don’t co-sleep, definitely breastfeed if you wan’t your kid to be smarter, and never let your child see a screen”), helps us understand how to evaluate the studies and then encourages us to make our own, newly informed, decisions. The sleep training section goes through the literature for and against cry-it-out sleep methods and I am feeling really good about this choice. This is the #1 book I wish I’d had when I became a mom five years ago.
The sleep training section also reminded me that part of sleep training is allowing the child to fall asleep on their own so last night, after he had been fed + swaddled + sung to and was still crying, I got in the shower for ten minutes (so I couldn’t hear him) and he was fast asleep by the time I got out.
In conclusion – my sleep training tips
After three kids being totally different sleepers, Westley has been a lesson in humility that good sleepers are born and not made (initially). But really, when the sweet parent of one child tries to give me tips on getting Westley to sleep better I want to laugh and tell them that I, too, thought that my first baby being such a great sleeper had something to do with me. I also probably tried to give struggling sleep-deprived moms advice.
That said, sleep training can make a big difference. Here is a quick summary of what we’re doing / what is working:
- Move the baby as far away as possible where you can still hear him. We moved Westley to the playroom for sleep training mostly so he wouldn’t wake up the other kids when he cried but the added benefit is it is much easier for me to sleep train when I can hear him crying but it he isn’t right next to me. It sounds a bit heartless, I know, but listening to your baby cry is HARD. Even though I know both of us will be happier once he’s learned how to sleep, it is still hard.
- Don’t sleep train for naps at the same time as night time sleep. I can’t remember where I read this, but even if just for your own tolerance of hearing your child cry, don’t nap train at the same time as nighttime sleep training. Your child’s nap schedule will also likely be impacted by nighttime sleep training so you don’t want to be trying to force a schedule that won’t work. Once you have nighttime sleep under control, then you can start to worry about naps.
- Make a plan and stick to it. If you’re doing cry-it-out, are you doing the extinction method where you leave and don’t come back? Are you doing gradual extinction where you come back after longer and longer periods? Having a game plan you can stick to use very useful and having your partner on board will help hold you accountable in the middle of the night.
- Low expectations. Remember to give it time. Sleep training might not seem to make a difference for the first night or two but give it a week and see where you’re at.
bonus tip: Go read the sleep training section in “Cribsheet.” It won’t tell you how to sleep train (except maybe after reading it you realize you don’t need some complicated formula) but it will help you feel empowered in making a choice that will result in more sleep for all of you.
Like this? Check out these similar posts:
- 8 things that reduce tears with a newborn.
- 4 baby sleep cues you need to know
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