Benjamin just turned eight months old this weekend. I still can’t believe it.
Since we’ve both been enjoying a good night’s rest for the past four months, I thought I’d finally share the tools that helped me help him sleep through the night at 15 weeks old.
I knew I’d be returning to work at the end of my maternity leave, so my motivation initially was to get him sleeping so I would be sleeping before being back at work. I couldn’t imagine functioning if I was still waking up during the night. So I read the first resource that helped me get started… Baby Wise.
This book was recommended to me by several friends and acquaintances. I expected it to be a step-by-step sleep training book, so when I finished it and I didn’t walk away with specific how-to’s to get him sleeping, I was disappointed. In hindsight, the book was invaluable for helping me understand the importance of a routine (not necessarily a schedule) and how patterns of predicability are important for babies. It makes their new little world more manageable for them. But although this book wasn’t intended to be a step-by-step guide, the biggest takeaway for me was just how important sleep is for newborns and infants. The book referenced so many of the challenges we see in our young kids these days and how “is it any wonder” that our kids are struggling in school or socially because they don’t (and didn’t as babies) get the sleep their brains need to develop healthily and properly.
This point really struck home with me.
The next book I read (thanks to my friend Jenica from a Slice of Style who was still pregnant with her twins at the time) was 12 Hours Sleep by 12 Weeks Old. This book was the step-by-step guide I was looking for.
In the beginning, following any guide is challenging because one size really doesn’t fit all. But this book gave me the framework I needed to get started (I had no idea how to begin). I wanted to avoid leaving Benjamin to cry through the night by himself, and this book offered “the limited crying solution,” which involved letting him cry for 3-5 minutes before going in to comfort him. The book also helped me establish the routine Benjamin has now (once we gradually weaned his night feedings). He wakes up every morning at 7am sharp and I nurse him every four hours. Before reading this book, I wasn’t sure how to transition my breastfeeding routine and it was clearly needing some adjusting. He seemed to be having some digestive discomfort and I was either feeding him too frequently or not feeding him long enough at each feeding, but once I realized I could space it out to every four hours (instead of every 2-3) and help him eat longer (meals instead of snacks), I felt so encouraged. I also felt like I could actually do things during the day and go places with him because we weren’t nursing all day long.
The third tool that brought it all home, was my amazing sister-in-law, Kristin. When all else fails, talk to mothers whom you know and respect who have been down this road before. Kristin just had her fifth baby a month after Benjamin was born so she really had a lot of sleep training experience under her belt. I also know her kids and admire how she’s raised them, so I knew I’d trust her approach to sleep training as well. She used the cry-it-out method with all of her kids. The only difference was that she typically waited until they were at least six or seven months old, and I was attempting it at three and a half months.
Before reaching out to Kristin, I had been following the limited crying solution for a week or two. Benjamin and I had one really bad night where he was waking up literally every 30 minutes and I was running in to his nursery to comfort him. I was a ZOMBIE the next day. I realized if this were to continue, we would both be risking our mental, emotional and physical health. Maybe I was running in to rescue him too quickly when he cried. But it was hard to know when to go in and when to keep counting the minutes. All I knew was, I was desperate. And Kristin walked me through her approach…
That night, I used the limited crying solution when I put him down for bed. I went in every 3-5 minutes, then every 10. And then let him cry for about 20 min before he finally fell asleep. That routine took about an hour of crying. I was a nervous reck. So tired and emotional myself and terrified that I’d scar him for life. Keep in mind, Matt was gone on a work trip so I was doing this alone (my choice, not his… I couldn’t wait for him). :(
The next step involved not comforting him if/when he woke up during the night. This was the most gut-wrenching moment of it all. He woke up 3 hours later and I lied in bed listening to him on the other side of the wall. I was sobbing. I kept repeating, “It’s okay, Benji. Mommy loves you. I’m so sorry, Baby. I love you so much. I’m so sorry.”
He fell back asleep after 15-20 minutes.
We repeated this cycle 2-3 more times before 7:00 rolled around and I got up to wake him up.
Three quick things:
- It was incredibly hard to hear him cry and not go in to comfort him. But these were the moments where the magic happened. He learned to soothe himself. He had his blanky (which I had slept with the few nights before so it smelled like me) and there was no other way to teach him that he can comfort himself unless I refrained from doing it for him.
- This instantly taught me a life lesson as a parent. That you have to let your kids do things themselves sometimes so they will learn. I also have never felt so close to my Father in Heaven than I did that night. I had a new understanding for how he feels when we cry and suffer. He wants to help and guide us, but he can’t do it for us. We have to experience things for ourselves so we can learn what we’re capable of.
- One caveat with sleep training before your baby is 6 months old, is that they can’t roll around or get their binky themselves, so you have to know that going in. This only makes you want to help them more, but I’m telling you from experience, it is possible to sleep train successfully even if they can’t yet grab or get to the things that help comfort them (mainly binky or blanky).
We got lucky.
Kristin’s approach typically involves three nights of crying it out (each night they cry a little less than the previous night) before they just “get it” and fall asleep on their own. With Benjamin, it only took the one night. I like to believe he figured it out quickly and didn’t want to put me through that again. ;) I’m sure I’ll never know.
I instantly noticed changes in his demeanor once he started sleeping more at night. During the day he was more patient. His mood seemed more self-sufficient and calm. Even Matt couldn’t stop commenting on the difference he noticed when he got home from his work trip. It was another testament to me that Benj was as grateful as I was for the sleep. It took a few more weeks of inching up his bedtime before we got to the 12-hours-a-night routine we’re on now. But the night after he cried it out, he slept 8 hours straight. So I was finally getting the uninterrupted sleep I needed, too.
One last tool that helped–my Owlet monitor. I couldn’t have slept as well as I did (even when he was finally sleeping through the night) if I didn’t have the Owlet monitor as a back-up. When Benj was 4-5 months and was rolling a lot more, he starting sleeping on his tummy, which I’ve heard can be a common cause of SIDS. Owlet doesn’t claim to prevent SIDS, but it monitors oxygen levels and notified me one night when Benji’s oxygen levels dipped below the normal/healthy range because he had rolled onto his tummy. I jumped out of bed and turned him on his back again. But gosh, without it, I would never have gotten the sleep I needed because I would have been too afraid to sleep. Every new mom should have one of these. This time of year is a great time to give/get one as a gift.
Whatever you decide is the best sleep-training approach for you and your baby, just remember to be cautious of others’ opinions.
I remember posting an Instagram photo during this time asking for tips and one person responded by saying that leaving babies to cry for too long can raise their cholesterol levels beyond that of a grown man having a heart attack. This comment scared me to death (and I really didn’t need the extra stress or pressure). But after looking into it and giving it more thought, I realized it was just someone’s opinion. I’m sure there’s some validity or research behind that, but if you think about the number of parents whose babies have colic–they are rarely able to calm their crying (some for hours at a time). So should they feel like total failures for not being able to stop their baby’s crying knowing it’s raising cholesterol levels? No. They should just keep doing the best they can for their baby.
Remember that you know your circumstances and your baby better than anyone. You will find the right solution for you, even if it’s not what everyone you know is telling you you should try. Keep your head up and just keep trying. You’ll eventually find something that works and you and your baby will be healthier and happier for it.
Please feel free to save or share this post with any of your new or expecting mama friends. I always hope my experiences will help others and I’m hear to answer any questions if you have them. Let me know in the comments, or send me an email!