A Quick Note
I know baby sleep is a suuuuper sensitive subject in the parenting world, so please know that I truly have zero judgment toward the sleep training methods parents choose to use with their little ones. We all approach baby sleep a little differently because we all have different babies (and doctors!) and that’s awesome. I believe all parents are just doing the very best we can and what I will be sharing below related to our sleep training experience is simply what we felt was best for our baby and what seems to be working for us. You and your baby may be completely different and that’s great! Do your thang, mamas!
Leading Up To Sleep Training
I’ve been pretty candid on this blog when it comes to sharing our baby sleep struggles. At six-and-a-half months old, Chase was still nowhere near close to sleeping through the night. We’d put him to bed between 6:30 and 7 p.m. and he’d typically be up to nurse three times a night around 11 p.m., 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. Day to day, this would vary slightly, but that was Chase’s sleep pattern for the most part.
At Chase’s six-month pediatric visit, our pediatrician strongly urged us to work with Chase to encourage him to sleep through the night. In my head, I knew it was probably time to do something, but Chase’s small size made me so nervous to drop his nighttime feedings. Our pediatrician said that Chase’s weight is perfectly healthy, but that the mothers of smaller babies often struggle the most with the thought of dropping middle-of-the-night nursing sessions.
When I explained that Chase’s best and longest feedings happened at night and he only nursed for short durations during the day, Chase’s doctor said he had a feeling this was because Chase is excitable and distractible during the day and not really all that hungry because he’s filling his tank at night.
In his words, “Why wouldn’t Chase prefer to eat a bunch at night when nothing interesting is happening and only eat a little bit during the day when he has playmates and activities to entertain him?”
This clearly is something we wanted to reverse… More calories in his belly in the day and less at night.
Our pediatrician assured me Chase would not starve if we dropped his nighttime nursing sessions and would make up for the missed calories during the day. (He also said I could bring Chase in for another visit or make an appointment with a lactation consultant if we are ever concerned about his breast milk intake after we drop feedings. We actually own this baby scale, so I’m planning to keep an eye on his weight this way for my peace of mind.)
And then I asked him the big question… “HOW, exactly, should I go about doing this?”
Our doctor said we could obviously do whatever felt best to us in terms of dropping his nighttime feedings, whether it be dropping them cold turkey, slowly weaning him away from them or soothing Chase when he cried after a specified duration of time. We talked at length about the “cry it out” method of sleep training which our doctor said he would support for a 6-month-old baby at a healthy weight. While this method sounded like it would result in a lot of tears on both ends, it also sounded like it would probably be the most effective method given Chase’s personality.
In the past I did a LOT of reading about baby sleep. The two most recommended methods for baby sleep training I heard about from fellow moms (including a ton of you guys!) seemed to come from Moms On Call and Baby Wise. I bought and thoroughly read both books and I see now that back when Chase was four months old and I felt incredibly defeated by his lack of sleep and need for nighttime nursing sessions, I wasn’t emotionally ready to dive into sleep training.
I was worried about my tiny baby. Chase wasn’t anywhere close to self-soothing yet and I wasn’t emotionally in a place where I could let him cry for extended periods of time, nor do I think this was the best thing for my baby at that time. Our pediatrician said to wait until Chase was bigger and older to really work on sleep training him and that was the validation I needed to hear to make me feel like I wasn’t failing at life with a baby who was still up all the time. (I also read Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child which was SO helpful for me and made me feel like it was okay – and even normal – to be regularly feeding some babies in the middle of the night.)
It was hard to hear moms with babies significantly younger than Chase talk about their little ones’ amazing sleep habits or read status updates from mom friends on Facebook talking about their “amazing little sleeper” when I was putting full cups of coffee away in our kitchen cabinet, forgetting things left and right and publishing blog posts with more typos than ever before.
But there was one thought that helped me more than anything during this time: If horrible nighttime sleep is the worst thing we’re facing with Chase right now, we are SO LUCKY. Seriously. I know how blessed we are to have a healthy baby boy and I tried centering my thoughts in gratitude which honestly made the BIGGEST difference for me during the sleepless nights.
But now Chase was six months old. He was healthy, happy and had mastered the art of self-soothing. I could successfully put him in his crib awake during naptime or after his nighttime feedings and he could grab his pacifier and put it in his mouth to help him calm down when he’d start to fuss or cry. Our doctor gave us his blessing (and strong encouragement) to start sleep training.
We were ready!
Our First Sleep Training Experience
We went into the night unsure what to expect. We went through our usual nighttime routine (bath, cuddle time and nursing) and I made sure Chase had a good, long feeding before I placed him in his crib around 7 p.m.
I then I did a “dream feed” at 10 p.m. both so I would feel better about Chase getting some food in his belly and for the added benefit of taking some of the pressure off my breasts since they’re obviously used to producing milk all night long. The dream feed worked perfectly – Chase stayed calm and sleepy but nursed like a champ and immediately returned to sleep with no fussing when I placed him in his crib.
And then we waited.
Chase woke up for the first time around 12:45 a.m. I’m assuming his full belly after his “dream feed” got him through his first usual wake up time of 11 p.m., so that already felt like a small victory.
At 12:45 a.m., Chase woke up and started to lightly cry. This is when I would usually shoot out of bed and nurse him. This time I waited and let him cry. He cried on and off for 15 minutes. He would cry until he located his pacifier (<— one of the three Wubbanubs we surrounded him with in his crib!) which he would then put back in his mouth. This would soothe him for a while… but he kept waking up and fussing off and on for about an hour and a half. He didn’t have any LONG durations of extended crying/wailing which was such a relief. I’m not sure how I would’ve handled that, but Ryan and I were both prepared to let him cry for longer than we had in the past as he learned to soothe himself back to sleep and realized that nighttime nursing wasn’t going to happen.
Eventually Chase settled into a sound sleep while I stared at the baby monitor for hours. He woke up again around 3:30 a.m. and repeated the same behavior from his first wake-up. On-and-off crying until he’d find his pacifier, give it a few sucks, fall asleep, wake up, whimper again and repeat. This lasted for a little less than an hour but again didn’t include any long periods of hysterical crying.
I started to count my blessings and cross my fingers. Maybe this was going to work… I actually managed to fall asleep myself after this spell and when I awoke at 6 a.m., I grabbed the monitor and stared hard at my baby’s chest and watched it move up and down, up and down. He seemed to be sleeping contently and even though my breasts felt like ROCKS and looked like they had doubled in size, I felt the biggest sense of relief.
Chase woke up at 7 a.m. making happy baby coos. I went into his nursery to feed him and he gave me his typical full-body morning smile. He happily kicked his feet, grinned his gummy smile and pumped his little fists in excitement. I scooped him up, half expecting our typical super-short morning nursing session. What happened next proved that my pediatrician is a wise, wise man.
Chase ate and ate. And ate some more. It was a good, long feeding (our longest morning feeding ever!) and I felt my whole body relax as I realized this whole sleep training thing might actually work for us. My baby might be able to work toward sleeping through the night. He can miss nighttime nursing sessions and eat MORE during the day.
The second night was similar to the first night, but the duration of time Chase spent awake and fussy seemed to be cut in half. Ryan and I were shocked and I sent an enthusiastic text to my mom sharing our progress.
The third night amazed us even more. We heard Chase wake up and fuss only one time and within five minutes, he was back asleep until 7 a.m. I was AMAZED. Amazed, relieved, hopeful and, most astonishing of all, well-rested.
I feel like we totally lucked out with our sleep training experience. I have heard and read horror stories so I feel quite grateful Chase seemed to make this transition as well as he has… So far, anyway. Believe me, I know baby sleep habits can change in a flash and I’m not naive enough to think we don’t have more challenging nights ahead of us in the future.
Now, a week and a half in, Chase has been sleeping consistently through the night from about 6:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. Occasionally Chase will wake up in the middle of the night and fuss for a minute or two before he finds his pacifier and returns to sleep. (I still cannot seem to stop waking up a couple of times in the middle of the night like a paranoid mama to check the baby monitor, but I’m sure I’ll chill out eventually.) I’ve continued with the dream feed as well, but now that my breasts seem to have adjusted to no longer feeding Chase in the middle of the night, I hope to work toward dropping this nursing session in the near future as well.
What I Believe Contributed To Our Success
As I reflect on our first baby sleep training experience, the bullet-point lover in me must share a short list of the things we did that I think made the experience what we would consider a successful one:
- We waited until our pediatrician was fully on board and encouraged us to start sleep training. This gave us the resolve to stay out of his nursery when I found myself feeling the pull to go in, scoop him up and feed him.
- We waited until we were emotionally ready. Ryan and I were on the same page and both felt like it was in the best interest of Chase to work toward extending his nighttime sleep.
- We waited until Chase was able to fall asleep on his own during nap time and nighttime nursing sessions. I knew, before we began sleep training, that Chase had the ability to fall asleep on his own since we were already putting him in his crib slightly awake. This helped me believe Chase could fall asleep on his own in the middle of the night, too.
- We waited until Chase was able to self-soothe. I believe this was the BIGGEST key to our success. Chase’s ability to grab his pacifier and put it in his mouth by himself made the BIGGEST difference for us. Knowing he had the ability to put his pacifier in his mouth made it much easier for us to stay out of his nursery while we waited for him to grab his pacifier and comfort himself without us.
Basically we did a whole lot of waiting.
Do I think we could have started sleep training Chase earlier with success? Probably. But we just weren’t ready. Sleep is so different for every baby (and every parent) and we’re all just trying our very best to do what is right for our little ones.
Right now I feel a glimmer of hope and a strong resolve that Chase CAN sleep through the night. He CAN eat enough during the day to grow and thrive. And I’ll give him tons of love along the way.