Sleep-training and what worked for us. Twice.


We are 2 for 2 when it comes to sleep-training success so I’m here to share our experiences for any other parent(s) who may need a nudge. I wrote a “dummy’s guide” after we did it with H and I’ve tweaked it to include the alternate method we used with Sky. 

H was borderline colicky for the first 4-5 months of his life — we could barely put him down for a breather at any time — and when a friend told us about the game-changing-ness of sleep-training, we knew it was something we had to try. We were living in a 2-bedroom apartment at the time in San Diego, and I felt bad letting H cry at all with neighbors downstairs, but luckily they had a baby who was only slightly older than H and they told us repeatedly they heard nothing. 

I was introduced to sleep-training by Pamela Druckerman’s “Bringing Up Bebe.” It’s about an ex-pat living in France (I lived in Paris for three years growing up) and the perspectives on French and American parenting styles were both humorous and informative. What Druckerman shares with her readers is that French parents let crying babies lie. Not for long, but for a good five minutes, or “the pause,” to give them a chance to fall back asleep without parental intervention. I didn’t fully understand what it would feel like to ignore a baby’s cries, but pre-H I was all about embracing this method as a soon-to-be mom. And little did I know the “pause” would become our go-to sleep method with Sky.

The phrase “sleep-training” still makes me cringe. I wish we used a more gentle phrase when discussing the act of helping babies sleep at night. Sleep-enabling sounds better and more accurate. We are, after all, encouraging better sleep habits. Training alludes to a kind of agreement on the baby’s behalf and they’re certainly unwilling participants in this endeavor.

I read numerous books. “Happiest Baby on the Block” was the first one brought to our attention. Author Harvey Karp is a pediatrician in Santa Monica, Calif., and his schtick is that babies are born too early and their first few months should be considered the fourth trimester. He accentuates the importance of the five S’s in soothing a crying baby: swaddling, side/stomach holds, shushing sounds, swinging and sucking. Sounds easy enough. But once you’ve powered through all five S’s in the blink of an eye and your baby is still crying, kicking and turning himself purple, you’ll quickly realize Karp’s book is not the end-all, be-all solution to perma-grin baby.

Then there was “The No-Cry Sleep Solution” by Elizabeth Pantley. I get her idea, but the title alone irks me. Pantley writes about sleep associations and how you should mix it up so baby doesn’t fall in love with one blanket or animal or pacifier or I don’t know what. One of the biggest problems I had with Pantley was she suggests parents should expect to deal with night-wakings for up to a year. That may be OK for some people, but that wasn’t going to work for us and our sanity.

The “Sleepeasy Solution” by Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack was one of our faves. Waldburger and Spivack are psychotherapists and own a sleep-consulting firm so they know what they’re talking about. They support weaning and cutting back on nighttime feedings, which is basically what we did.

Last but not least was “Twelve Hours’ Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old” by Suzy Giordano. Giordano embraces the gradual approach of weaning baby off nighttime feedings vs. what I call the cold turkey approach of putting baby down and not going into the nursery until 12 hours later.

If you’re considering any of this, I can’t pretend ignoring your baby’s cries will be easy. I just recommend one thing: Once you’ve committed, stick to it. The first night I felt sick and nearly cried along with H. But we were determined to make this work. And it did get easier.

When H was about four months, MainMan and I began the sleep-enabling process. H was waking up about two to three times a night. Giordano recommends weaning babies off one feeding at a time by decreasing the amount of milk being fed to the baby during these overnight sessions. Pick one feeding and gradually reduce milk offered during that session until you don’t offer any. For us, it was easier to just nix a feeding all together. If H cried at those three times, we’d let him cry it out once, then we’d go to him the next time, then we’d let him cry it out again and so on. Slowly, and like magic, the waking up at 2 a.m. went away completely. Then we did the same thing with the remainder of the feedings — alternating going in and letting him cry it out — until one magical night we didn’t hear a peep.

This approach to a full night’s sleep (for all of us) took about a month. It was challenging, but the payoff is tremendous.

Sky came into this world last May and, for whatever reason, I was more “laissez-faire” with her. H slept in our room all of one night before we relocated him to his nursery. I couldn’t sleep because his every move, breath and even the rustling of a swaddle stressed me out. First-time mom jitters, much? With Sky, on the other hand, her bed for the first four to five months was our bed. She slept on a Dockatot in between me and my husband. Minus a couple of all-nighters where she cluster fed from sun down to sun up, it was going pretty smoothly. I certainly thought about when we would sleep-enable, but we were in no rush. Shhh, don’t tell H, but she was just an easier baby.

It wasn’t until we had a socially-distanced family date with one of H’s school friends, who also happened to have a then-5-month-old, that I was motivated to get our nights back. The mom told me how she used the Ferber method with their littlest and it worked wonders if we weren’t ready to dive back into 100% CIO. I read about it and decided we would give it a go.

If it took us 4-6 weeks to get H to sleep through the night, it took us 3 to 5 nights, if that, for this method to work with Sky. We were in shock.

It went like this: She would cry at, let’s say, 1 a.m. I would wait five minutes before I went in. At 1:05a, I’d tell her mommy was here, I loved her and I’d give her the paci. We were not supposed to pick her up. I would sniff for a no. 2 diaper and if I didn’t smell poop, I left her. The next time I would up the “pause” to 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, I’d go in, say hi, say bye. The idea is you would keep adding more time to the pause, until crying stopped. We never made it to 15 minutes. She would always fall asleep.

I was amazed at how well this method worked. We all were. I missed turning over to see her next to me in the Dockatot, but I knew this was best for all of us. Especially since I was starting work. I can’t remember when Sky graduated from swaddles to sleepsacks, but I don’t think it was long after this.

If you’re a parent looking for a sleep solution, I highly recommend reading as much as you can and figuring out what method will work best for you and your family. And like us, maybe you’ll find mixing it up is best. Living arrangements may also factor into your plan. It has to be much easier to embrace CIO if you’re in a 4-bedroom, 2-story home and the nursery is down the hall behind a closed door. I imagine you’re less likely to endure CIO if you’re squeezed into a tight apartment. We were in a 900-sq-ft apartment with H and we just kept our eyes, ears and hearts on the prize of a full night’s sleep.

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