I’m aware that this post pertains to 0.002 % of my readers. However, when we were looking into sleep training Emerson, the thing that helped me most was reading real moms talk about how they got their kids to sleep. We ended up using a controlled comforting method (basically, we let him cry but checked on him to let him know we were still there), and if that’s not your thing, I understand. It worked for us!
The Background: I realized pretty early on that we’d have to train Emerson to sleep somehow. He was never a “sleepy” newborn. He often fell asleep while I wore him, but even as a 2-week-old, he could sit in his swing, car seat, or stroller for hours without falling asleep. He was a baby who had to be “gotten” to sleep, and by the time he was 3 months old, that process could take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. He had periods during his newborn stage when he’d go to sleep more easily, but he turned a corner around 2 months and rarely went down easily after that.
When I was reading up on sleep training, I read an article that said you’re ready to sleep train if you know, deep down, you have to do something. That’s where we were by the time he turned 4 months old. He was requiring a three-ring circus to get to sleep: 20 minutes of bouncing, 20 minutes of rocking, shushing, patting, the works. Every night. And often for naps, too. This meant that one of us was putting him to sleep for an hour every night, and, if Caleb wasn’t home, that Gabby was left watching TV or playing by herself while I rocked Emerson. It was really hard for all of us to ever eat together because someone had to put Emerson to sleep. Every night, that person would ease him down, and he often popped those eyes open as soon as we did. I felt like we couldn’t leave him with a babysitter, because we were the only ones who knew the “secrets” to getting him to sleep (plus I would’ve hated to inflict that on anyone else!)
How We Decided We Were Ready: Once Emerson was asleep for the night, he usually slept pretty well, but around 4 months, he started waking more and more, for longer and longer periods of time. We saw bad habits forming (“Let me just nurse him back to sleep.”) and wanted to circumvent them if we could. He still ate at least once a night, and we weren’t interested in night-weaning him (he still eats once a night), but we knew he didn’t need to eat at 2, 3, and 4 a.m. Nursing to sleep had never been something he’d done, and we didn’t want to make it one. Also, at this point he was still in our bedroom in his bassinet and we were ready to transition him to his room.
Caleb needs sleep to perform well in medical school, and I need sleep so that I don’t sell the kids on eBay in a moment of weakness. So one night, gearing up for Mom vs. Baby, Episode 89, Caleb said, “Why don’t we give it a shot?” We decided to go for it.
But I had done a lot of research to get us to that point (I had a lot of free time on my hands while I was rocking.) The Internet and baby books are divided as to when a baby is “ready” to sleep train–mostly, I surmised, it depends on when Mom and Dad are ready. I knew that I didn’t want to try until at least 4 months, when Emerson was officially out of the newborn phase. By 3.5 months, he was showing signs of being able to self-soothe, like sucking his hands, rolling on his side, and doing a soft, whiny cry to get himself to sleep. We decided to give it three nights, and if he showed progress, we’d keep going. If not, we’d try again a few weeks later.
The Method: Like I said, Emerson’s big issue was getting to sleep in the first place. He fought it and fought it and often screamed even as I was rocking him (he just didn’t want to go to sleep. If I took him out of the bedroom , he’d be all smiles again.) So our plan focused around that initial put-down, which for us is around 6 p.m., because he takes shorts naps during the day. Until he stretches those out, he’ll go to bed early to make up for the missed sleep. For middle-of-the-night wake-ups, we let him whine himself back to sleep unless it was after 3:30, and then I’d feed him.
So, the plan. I think the longest Emerson had cried without us before this (exempting times we were in the car and I couldn’t get him out) was around two minutes–I had just lathered up my hair and had to rinse before I could get him. So he was very used to Mom and Dad coming to his rescue–as he should be! I knew it would be tough on everyone to hear him cry, so I wanted to do it right the first time. We did a 30-second check, with touch and soft voices (I sang his bedtime song) after one minute of hysterical crying or three minutes of regular crying (but we did NOT soothe him or give him his paci–we simply let him know we were still there.) Then, we added 30 seconds for hysterical crying and a minute for regular crying. So, for example, if we went in after a minute, we waited 1 minute 30 seconds before we went back in, and then two more minutes after that. If Emerson calmed himself down at any point, we started the timer over.
I didn’t keep exact notes, but we did go in several times in the first 10 minutes. Emerson wasn’t self-soothing (he was crying like “WHERE ARE YOU PEOPLE?” and we were counting down the minutes until we could go in and reassure him. But I realized after about 15 minutes that we weren’t giving him enough time to flex those self-soothing muscles, so we decided to stay out completely for 10 minutes. And what do you know! He started sucking his fists and rolling over. We were watching the monitor and let out a big cheer–he was figuring it out! (I stayed glued to the monitor the entire first night 🙂 Emerson cried for the first 20 or so minutes straight, and then intermittently for next 45. After about an hour, he was asleep.
The next night, it took 45 minutes for him to get to sleep, but we only had to go in and check on him two or three times. By night three, he only needed one check, and I think we’ve only gone in once or twice since then.
What It’s Like Now: Each night, we begin Emerson’s bedtime routine around 5:30 or 5:45, depending on when he woke up from his last nap (usually between 3 and 4). He gets a bath (his favorite!), lotion, pajamas, a book, a prayer, nursing, and a few renditions of his nighttime song. We work really hard to keep his routine consistent so that he knows bedtime is on its way. Then I plop him into his crib, tell him I love him, and leave. He goes to sleep with no crying or whining about 80 percent of the time. The rest of the time, he will whine for five or 10 minutes before he settles in. We wake him up around 9 or 9:30 for his dreamfeed bottle, and then he usually sleeps until around 4:45 or 5 before eating and going back to sleep for a couple of hours. He’s usually up for the day between 6:45 and 7:15.
A few notes: I still nurse Emerson right before bed because it very rarely puts him to sleep. If he had a sleep association with nursing, I would have moved this up in his bedtime routine.
Also, Emerson is not nap-trained; based on all of my reading, I didn’t feel comfortable doing that until closer to 6 months (when babies tend to naturally consolidate their daytime sleep). However, sleep training at night helped his naps a lot–he goes down much easier for the most part and generally sleeps in his crib for a full sleep cycle (though that depends on the day).
He also does still wake up in the night, but he rarely cries. He will whine, sometimes for five minutes and sometimes for 20, and almost always put himself back to sleep. Occasionally, Caleb will go back in and put his paci back in for him (though that’s against the rules during sleep training 🙂 And the early morning hours–between 5 and 7–he usually has a lot of wake-ups and he sometimes ends up in my bed for his last sleep cycle (around 6 or 6:30). We’re OK with this.
All in all, I am SO glad we did this. It’s made everyone’s lives happier, including Emerson’s. He’s learned a new skill that really aids in his well being; for example, he can fall asleep in the car now, whereas before, he would just cry and cry until we got home. Gabby gets a full hour (including dinner) with her parents with no baby brother, which does lots for her. And Caleb and I no longer have to fight Emerson to get him to sleep every night.
Rockabye, sweet baby Emerson James!