I have something to confess. I hate sleep training. I would rather go to the dentist and have my mouth drilled into, without any novocaine (okay, maybe a bit of novocaine). The thing is, sleep training sucks. It’s a necessary evil that serves a greater purpose, but man it’s a bitch.
I’m not a doctor. I’m not a sleep specialist, midwife, doula or fairy. I’m just a mom who has had to sleep train two babies. My husband and I did our research, decided on what was a good method for our family and then we tortured ourselves.
If you are currently ready to sleep train your baby or if you’re pregnant and can feel your sleepless nights looming, here are some tips and tricks to help you get through to the other side:
Manage your expectations
This sounds like an easy one but it can become a gray area, very quickly. If you are approaching sleep training with the idea that your baby will begin blissfully sleeping through the night after a few days of effort, you need to rewire your thinking.
Fact of the matter is, successful sleep training can take a while. The first week (sometimes two weeks) are the hardest but once bad habits are broken and a proper routine has been established, things start to get easier. All babies are different, just like no two moms are alike. The best way to arm yourself before the battle of the sleepless is to expect the unexpected. Expect that the process will take time and if it doesn’t, then you are truly #blessed.
Be consistent even if you want to stick your head in the freezer
As soon as you decide on your method of sleep training, you need to stick to it. No ifs, ands or buts.
It is incredibly tempting to throw in the towel when it’s three o’clock in the morning, but staying the course is the only way you will see results. If you agree to not pick up and rock the baby when he or she cries, then you need to follow through. Nothing will confuse your infant more than you rocking him or her to sleep one night, and then putting him or her straight down the next.
My husband and I got caught sharing our bed with both of our daughters when they were babies. Sometimes it was the only way we could get some sleep, but eventually it turned into an uncomfortable mess. Once we agreed to not bring our daughters in bed with us, I struggled to stay consistent. I didn’t have the same resolve in the middle of the night, when it felt like my ears were bleeding from all of the screaming. I wanted nothing more than to toss sleep training out the window and snuggle my baby. Luckily, my husband kept me on track, and after the sleepless fog had lifted, I was glad that I had stuck to our plan.
To cry it out or not to cry it out
I understand that this is a slightly controversial topic. This has been the root cause for lots of mom-shaming but remember: there is no shaming here. Whatever it is that you choose, whether you are pro-crying it out, or find yourself dead set against it; there is only one truth. There will be tears.
Your baby will cry. You will cry, your partner will cry and unless you live in a house, your neighbours will cry too. Once you have accepted that there will be tears, you need to decide how you will handle them.
Full disclosure: My husband and I didn’t feel comfortable letting our girls cry it out. That’s not to say that we didn’t let them cry. We just timed their tears and comforted them in timed intervals. At first, we would let each of them cry for 5 minutes. Once 5 minutes were up, one of us would go in the room, quietly comfort them by patting them on the butt (and giving the pacifier to our youngest) and then exit the room, even if there were still signs of protest.
The second time around, one of us would intervene after 10 minutes, then 15 and basically add 5 minutes to the latest lapse of time. Did we manage to work ourselves up to 60 minutes of tears? Yes. Twice. It hurt. It sucked and like I said, our babies weren’t the only ones in emotional distress but we were consistent and sooner rather than later, everyone stopped crying.
Find a bedtime routine and stick to it
When I was a first-time mom, the word ‘’routine’’ always made me nervous. When I researched bedtime routine ideas, I became seriously discouraged.
It seemed like bedtime routines needed to be filled with leisurely baths, a billion books, warm milk and an original sonnet, written and performed by me. I didn’t have an hour to spare and to be honest, I didn’t have the energy. A bedtime routine does not need to be orchestrated, and it certainly does not need to take an hour of your time. The key is to find what works for you and stick to it every night. A night-time story, followed by a diaper change and bedtime feed in the dark, goes a long way when you do it consistently.
What happens in the middle of the night, stays in the middle of the night
I am not a nice person when I get woken up. Even when it’s one of my sweet-smelling baby girls, I need to resist the urge to scream in a pillow. I don’t do well with tired and to be honest, not many of us do.
You might have a partner that might also morph into an irritable, sleep monster and even if they don’t, two tired individuals are bound to clash. Heck- my husband and I have even crashed. Exhaustion is the key ingredient to the start of an argument. Especially in the middle of the night, when you are both waking frequently and can’t hear anything other than the shrill sound of your baby’s tears. This is when a lot of arguments happen. It’s a prime time for lashing out and saying things you don’t mean. It’s normal and it happens to the best of us. The best way to not let it eat at your relationship the next morning is to accept that both you and your partner are human and you were not in your right minds when you argued.
Use white noise
This was a total game changer. With our first daughter, we started using white noise when she was about 9 months. For some reason unbeknownst to me, we never thought of using it prior to that. It’s only when another mom recommended this on a parenting message board, that it even dawned on me. We ended up purchasing a white noise machine for babies because most of them have integrated nightlights, but you don’t actually have to purchase anything. There are a TON of free apps you can use on your smartphone, tablet or iPad. The most important part is finding a sound that your baby seems to enjoy and that you can tolerate.
When sleep training your baby, remember that it’s normal for hiccups to arise and that you are bound to encounter some roadblocks. Teething can be a major sleep spoiler, just like sleep regressions and being sick. The key to it all is consistency. Lots and lots of consistency and, when all else fails, wine.
Do you have any tried, tested and true sleep training tips?