This post contains affiliate links. You can see my full disclosure here.
I talk a lot about sleep or the lack of sleep we have experienced since Phoenix was born seven months ago. I was hesitant to write this as the sleep situation in our house is not perfect, but sleep for small children is about progress not perfection. Parenting comes with a lot more nuance than books account for and while books have their place, I love hearing real situations. Real situations with specifics.
Several of you have asked me what we are doing and before I get into the details, I want to say three things.
- Sleep training can exist without scheduling feedings. This is a mistake I made early on. It also doesn't mean your baby will sleep for 12 hours at night without needing to eat. Our sleep training goal was for Phoenix to fall asleep independently and go right back to sleep after each feeding. Your goal might look completely different and that is okay!
- Crying It Out (CIO) is not a sleep training method. There are a vast number of methods and ways to sleep train. We are using the Three Day Sleep Solution. The amount of parental involvement is dependent on your families needs. The amount of crying is dependent on your baby's temperament.
- Sleep training can be implemented in stages. We started first with bedtime and slowly worked our way towards the amount of nighttime feedings and naps.
After I started writing, I realized this post needed to be split-up. Below I'm sharing how we started sleep training and where we are today in regards to bedtime. Next time, I will share about naps, more on the Three Day Sleep Solution and answer any questions you may have for me.
I hope you find encouragement and a little more sleep.
I read (re:skimmed) several books on sleep before Phoenix was born. The main points I took away were: sleep begets sleep, babies (and adults) receive their best sleep prior to midnight, so an early bedtime (usually) means more sleep overall, however a baby falls asleep (rocking, pacifier, nursing etc) is what they will need to fall back asleep (sleep associations).
Okay, now that we understand how I understood sleep, let's talk about the early days. One thing we had in our advantage is Phoenix was born in the morning. We never had a day/night confusion. Phoenix was four days when we left the hospital, so his early daytime hours were stimulating. I expected him to struggle with the early evening hours (re:witching hour) and to go to "bed" around 10pm as many newborns do.
Phoenix's fussy hours, instead, were in the late afternoon. Around 6pm he was so tired he would fall asleep nursing and stay asleep until 11pm, beginning when he was a week old. After that he was up every two hours until 6am when the day started. To this day, he has stayed up past 6:30pm only a handful of times. We tried taking him out when he was little, but he wouldn't sleep any later in the morning.
Between 11-6am he was up nursing four-five times each night. Between nursing, diaper changes and settling him we slept maybe an hour before he was up again. Around one month old, we started co-sleeping. I brought him into bed after his first feeding (he started the nights in his Rock 'n Play). Co-sleeping didn't lessen his restlessness or the amount of feedings, but I received more "rest". Phoenix still needed to be coaxed back to sleep even when he was sleeping next to me. Co-sleeping wasn't a fix-all.
When Phoenix was three months old we moved from our one-bedroom apartment to a three-bedroom house. This is when I knew I had to stop nursing him to sleep at night. I was returning to work in two weeks and Jordan would be putting him to bed. On the nights I close at work, I return home between 10:30-11pm. This meant three things: Phoenix needed to go to bed without nursing and if he woke up before 11:30pm, he'd have to fall back asleep without nursing. Lastly, I would respond to all night wakings with nursing once I was home from work.
I read a lot and decided upon using the Three-Day Sleep Solution, which I'll get into more later. Essentially, at nighttime, you give the child one hour to fall asleep independently before intervening.
Night one: I nursed with dim lights and instead of letting him fall asleep I kept him awake by changing his diaper afterwards and reading a story. He cried for 45 minutes. Night two: 35 minutes, night three: 15 minutes, night four and onwards: zero tears (unless he is extremely over tired or when he's learned a new skill, but it's still less than five minutes). Phoenix goes to bed completely fine with baby-sitters or Jordan.
Side note: Many have asked me how I dealt with the crying. To be quite honest, I didn't struggle with it. I didn't struggle because Phoenix cried all of the time for his first three months (he wasn't colicky, but he was very fussy). I spent hours rocking and shushing to no avail. If your baby doesn't cry very much, a method that involves a parent's presence more (such as the sleep lady shuffle) will probably work better for you.
During this time we introduced the crib and stopped swaddling. The first two weeks he started the night in the crib and after his first night feeding we placed him into the Rock n' Play. For the first month, the later half of the night we still co-slept.
Two weeks into sleep training, Phoenix learned to roll over. We stopped using the Rock n' Play all together. After talking with our pediatrician at his four-month well-visit, we determined he only needed to eat twice at night. It took a few nights of placing him back in his crib awake, after nursing (and subsequently crying), to now never crying when I put him back in his crib after nursing. This transition was hard, but Phoenix cried more when we intervened too much. He needs space just like his mama!
Dealing with Middle of The Night Wakings and Nursing.
The middle of the night wakings were particularly tricky when Phoenix was between four-five months old. We also had family staying with us. Phoenix wakes more often when he goes through a sleep regression, but he also gets more riled up when we intervene. No one wants to hear a baby crying at 2am, but at 2am the only thing he wants is to nurse. During the early stages of transition there were nights I nursed more often, but those were and remain rare.
Around six months old, when Phoenix learned to sit up and crawl, we struggled with early morning wake-ups. I consider anything before 6am to be an early wake-up. We powered through by letting him fuss in his crib and/or nursing and co-sleeping. As a side note, between three and a half months and seven months Phoenix learned to roll over, sit up, crawl and stand. These developments affect his naps more than his night sleep but they still play a roll.
So where are we today with night sleep?
Phoenix goes to bed at 6 pm and wakes for the day between 6-7am. Ever since we dropped his third nap (right at six months) he started sleeping until 7am. We nurse twice each night (occasionally once). In general, he nurses between 11-12am and 3-4am. Dream feeds never worked for us, so I let him wake up on his own. I place him directly into the crib and he goes right to sleep after each feeding.
At this point, if he wakes up before 10pm I won't go in and offer to nurse. I've learned to differentiate a hurt or sick cry from a mad cry. This helps us determine if we need to bend the rules. One night last week, while I was at work, Jordan went in to give Phoenix an extra pacifier at 9pm. He took the pacifier and went right back to sleep. Phoenix also seems to wake up later when I am at work. It's like he knows I'm not home to nurse.
There is a balance of sticking with your sleep training method and remaining flexible as babies go through a lot of change!
If you have any questions about sleep training leave a comment or email me. I will answer those questions in the follow-up post!