3/3 in Sleep Training Babies
Successfully on the other side of having trained my 3rd baby to sleep through the night by 12 weeks old so I feel like there definitely has to be something to the method and tips I've used to promote good sleep in all three of my boys. And I wanted to share in case it could be helpful to someone else. Because having a baby is hard but having a baby and not sleeping great for a year is harder.
With my first baby, Grady, I was super motivated to get him to sleep through the night because I had to go back to work at 6 weeks postpartum. I had a friend recommend the book Baby Wise to me for sleep training and that is where the basis of most of my sleep training principles come from. The book recommends some methods that I decided weren't for me so I took everything with a grain of salt but overall would recommend reading if you want to get serious about promoting good sleep habits.
The First Month
This period is what we call "survival mode" - you're still healing, you're getting to know a new person and learning a new normal. The baby still sleeps so many hours a day and you can't really start to implement any kind of set schedule. Babies nurse more frequently and often cluster feed just trying to get used to life outside the womb. The only real thing I try to do in that first month is get their days and nights adjusted. During the day, I have them nap in the sunshine, usually not swaddled and nap somewhere other than where they sleep at night. At night, I make the room dark and swaddle them and put on a noise machine as signals that it's nighttime and a longer sleep period. But overall, just give yourself time to adjust and do what feels best for yourself and family during this big transition.
4-6 Weeks Old
Around this time we start to settle into more of a predictable rhythm and it's easier to start implementing the EAT-PLAY-SLEEP schedule which is really the foundation for sleep training in my opinion. Each of my babies were breastfed for at least the first 6 months and they each naturally fell into eating about every 3 hours. I was never super strict about this and would never wake a sleeping baby just to keep them on a schedule. If they slept past the 3 hour mark, I would just feed them when they woke up and start the rotation over from there. But the main premise here is that you are not nursing/feeding them to sleep. This creates the habit of needing to be fed in order to fall asleep. Naturally babies will fall asleep while being fed and I know it might sound painful, but after they were finished I would wake them and talk to/play with them even if just for 10 minutes so that they would still start learning to fall asleep on their own. The goal here is to put them down SLEEPY but NOT ASLEEP and allow them to learn to drift to sleep on their own.
6-12 Weeks Old
With my first 2 boys, I switched them from a bassinet beside my bed to their own crib around 6 weeks. Putting them in their own space where they can't hear/smell you as mama really helps promote better sleep. I know it's harder to have to get up to go into another room to feed them if they are still waking up at night but in my experience they only started to sleep better/longer once they moved to their own room. My last baby I hung onto in my room a little longer and I definitely saw a huge difference once I started putting him in his crib to sleep at night. With our first baby, we splurged and bought the Angelcare Video/Breathing Monitor. * This monitor will alert you if it doesn't detect movement/breathing and as a first time mama, that peace of mind was priceless to me. Now with my third babe, I don't feel the need for that extra security but I still love having an Angelcare video monitor to check on him. It's not hooked up to wifi and actually has a parent unit which I love because then I don't have to worry about not having a strong wifi signal or need to get on my phone to be able to check on him.
Consistency is key with babies. If you start to do the same things at the same time, they will eventually catch on. It's always my goal to get my babies sleeping 7p-7a. I found this to be a 'magic window' if you will for each of them. In the earlier weeks, the final feeding for the night is usually around 10pm and then I will let them sleep as long as they can. I was never one to wake up and pump while nursing, I wanted my body to adjust to the baby's sleep habits so I would just feed them accordingly (and yes, I leaked many a'nights while they started learning to sleep longer but your body will adjust too). You just continue to be consistent with your bedtime hour and signals (for us - swaddle, noise machine) and with each of my boys I watched them thrive in naturally learning to sleep longer as the weeks progressed.
What a typical day might look like during this time:
7- 7:30am - Wake up and eat
7:30-8:30 - Playtime (in the earlier weeks, he'd skip morning play time and go right back to sleep after eating and sleep until his next eat time)
8:30-10 - Sleep
10-10:30 - Eat
10:30-11:30 - Play
11:30-1 - Sleep
1-1:30 - Eat
1:30-2:30 - Play
2:30-4 - Sleep
4-4:30 - Eat
4:30-5:30 - Play
5:30-7 - Sleep
7-7:30 - Eat
7:30-8:30 - Play
8:30-10 - Sleep
10-10:30 - Eat & Bedtime
Like I said, I stuck loosely to this style of schedule and would just adjust accordingly depending on our day but my goal was always to keep them awake for at least 30 minutes after eating. And then sometimes they would sleep shorter or longer or need to eat earlier but they really do catch on to the rhythm. You also learn your baby's cues and learn to be flexible with growth spurts and teething. There are a lot of factors that can throw a wrench in what a good schedule seems like to you so you have to learn to be adaptable as well.
I always got nervous when it came time to drop that 10pm feeding because I felt like they wouldn't sleep as long but each time they started to sleep even better when I would put them down for the night around 7pm (this happened closer to 12 weeks but just watch for their cues that they are ready for bed earlier).
Sleep Begets Sleep
It's gonna feel like they're sleeping a TON at first and they are! But in my experience sleep begets sleep. A good day of naps usually ends in better night sleep. So if they wake up too early into a nap, I will work to try to get them back down typically. Starting around 6 weeks, we would let our boys cry in 5 minute increments. Then after 5 minutes if they were still crying, we'd go in and put back in a paci (if they took one) and rub their belly and try to soothe them. And repeat as needed. We started this early enough where we never had one of those long, drawn out, cry-it-out episodes. When they're this little, they're still sleepy enough that they really can't fight sleep that long in my experience. But the goal here is not to pick them up to form the habit that if they cry, they're going to be rocked/soothed. You're trying to teach them to self-soothe and be able to put themselves back to sleep without help. I was never super rigid with this either. I did try to be consistent but if I felt like my baby needed picked up and rocked, I did it. Like I said, with all these methods, you take it with a grain of salt and still never disregard your mama instincts.
That's honestly my #1 advice regardless of what you decide to do/believe about sleep training. I've really found that babies thrive in consistency. They catch on to the repetition of actions. So whatever feels best for your family, do that and be consistent in it and watch that little babe weave seamlessly into the rhythm of your family.
At home photos by the lovely Christi Lee Photography
* I was gifted an Angelcare video monitor for review but all words and opinions are my own. This is a brand I have loved and purchased for years. Thank you for supporting our sponsors.