My Tips for Successful Sleep Training
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When Lily was around 9 months old my husband and I started talking about the possibility of ‘sleep training’. I was never a huge fan of the idea, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that despite the fact that Lily started sleeping through the night at just 7 weeks old, following the infamous ‘4 month sleep regression’ combined with two trips home to Ireland in quick succession, this had resulted in a somewhat disturbed sleeping routine and we had never managed to quite get ‘back on the wagon’.
While Lily was still sleeping 10-12 hours a night in total, I had gotten into the habit of feeding and rocking her to sleep, and feeding her/ cuddling her back to sleep whenever she woke up during the night. Not to mention the occasional bringing-her-into-our-bed-in-the middle-of-the-night scenario.
After deciding this sleep training business was worth a shot, I researched a ton of methods and techniques. While I definitely preferred the sound of ‘gentle’ sleep training (for obvious reasons), we decided to go with the Ferber Method, or ‘Cry It Out’ (CIO) as it seemed to yield the best results over a shorter period of time (i.e. less chance for me to throw in the towel!). I will say, I am not following Ferber to the letter of the law, but I have adopted as many of his guidelines as I feel comfortable with, and spoiler alert, it’s working!
I totally understand that sleep training isn’t for everyone, I definitely didn’t think it was for me to begin with and I really wouldn’t have appreciated someone pushing their views on me before I came around the idea myself. The below is for you if you’re sitting on the fence, or if you’ve decided to go for it and just want to hear about someone else’s real life experience.
A few things to mention- Lily was just over 9 months old when we started sleep training. I didn’t hire a professional sleep therapist, I just read the odd book, chatted to friends who had done it and did a lot of Googling.
For us, successful sleep training boiled down to 3 things:
- Having a relaxed, consistent bedtime routine.
- Following the below table of timings when it came to ‘crying it out’.
- Ensuring two solid naps during the day, morning and afternoon.
- Naps are just as important as night time sleep. Lily always sleeps better at night when she’s had 2 good daytime naps.
- We do a 1 hour nap in the morning about 2-3 hours after she wakes up and a 1-1.5 hour late afternoon nap. I try to be at home for these naps wherever possible, but I’m not precious about where they take place- currently she’s having them in her bouncer in the living room which I know is ridiculous and not very ‘Ferber’ of me, but it works for us right now. I haven’t quite figured out how to wean her off the bouncer during the day, but I will, soon(ish)! If I need to be out and about, I’ll just time my car trips so she can have her full nap in the car. My main aim for now is making sure these naps happen successfully, regardless of where.
- A consistent, relaxing bedtime routine & maintaining same bedtime every night- standard across any sleep training you decide to do. Tip: Lily isn’t a fan of having her nappy changed and PJs/ sleeping bag put on so this doesn’t form part of our actual ‘bedtime routine’. I get this done about 20 mins before bedtime starts. Her bedtime routine only consists of the things she enjoys, hence keeping it all very relaxed.
- I was surprised how quickly it worked, even though almost everyone said the same thing in forums and blog posts online. Night 1 she cried for 18 mins, night 2 she cried for 12 mins, night 3 it was 10 mins and by night 4 it was 2 mins. By night 5 she just smiled at me, rolled over and fell asleep. I couldn’t believe my eyes or ears. And most importantly, very quickly she was able to put herself back to sleep if and when she woke up during the night.
- Obviously she was used to being fed to sleep and fed during the night on demand, so I just gradually replaced these bottles with water and she soon lost interest.
- It’s important to note that although she still woke up during the night in the first few days (albeit less than usual), she didn’t come out of the cot at all. I just popped her soother back in/ offered her water if she was really upset, but in every case she stayed in the cot and settled back to sleep very quickly.
- She now goes into the cot and settles herself to sleep completely and generally speaking will sleep about 10-11 hours straight. Occasionally she’ll wake up and need her soother popped back in, but it’s pretty rare. I can see from our monitor that she does occasionally wake up during the night, but 9 times out of 10, she puts herself back to sleep without any issue.
Lily’s bedtime routine is pretty short, and very simple. It’s just about finding what makes your own baby happy and relaxed. I learned pretty quickly that getting her bum changed, jammies on etc. wasn’t very relaxing for her no matter what way I did it, so we learned to treat that job separately, and in the words of Marie Kondo, now only keep things as part of her bedtime routine that ‘spark joy’!
- I prepare her room before bringing her in- temperature set between 19-21 degrees (bloody cold if you ask me, but that’s what they say it should be!), curtains drawn, lights dimmed, cot sprayed with sleep spray (no Im not crazy and I swear it works!), Ewan the Dream Sheep lullaby on repeat, white noise machine switched on, bottle, muslin and soother ready to go. It might sound obvious, but bringing her into a cosy, relaxed environment where everything is prepared and to hand, instead of flapping around with her in my arms sets the tone for a far more positive, sleepy experience.
- She wears a sleeveless vest, sleepsuit/ footed pyjamas and a 2.5 tog sleeping bag, which as I mentioned earlier she is in a little while before this actual routine starts along with a fresh nappy of course.
- I decided when we started sleep training to introduce a comforter that she would associate with going to bed. Every evening she takes ‘Charlotte’ from Cuddle + Kind off the shelf and I swear the minute she holds that little knitted doll in her hands she starts to get drowsy! (giving your child a lovey at night time is a personal decision, and I personally felt Lily was ready for one)
- We then sit in the chair in her room, she has her bottle sitting up, holding on to Charlotte, which means she’s nice and relaxed but doesn’t actually fall asleep like she would have before.
- We then have a little ritual of peeking out the curtains and waving ‘night night’ to the birdies/ traffic/ people out the window, systematically saying goodnight to her other dollies, teddies, books etc. and then it’s time to pop in the soother and into the cot she goes.
Our Sleep Training ‘Essentials’
- Nanit Video Monitor– this thing is the business. Not only is the camera quality amazing, it records the entire night so you can watch it back as a time-lapse the next day. It also monitors trends and provides bespoke sleep tips based on your baby’s sleep data. I will do a full review on this soon. (Get $20 off your order using my link)
- Owlet Smart Sock– my all-time favourite baby product that we’ve been using since the day we brought Lily home from the hospital. It monitors her heart rate & oxygen levels and is linked to an app on our phone. Worth its weight in gold! Again, I will do a review on this very soon!
- Ewan the Dream Sheep– he’s been with us since day one and 10 months in he’s the gift that just keeps on giving! As soon as she hears him, she knows it’s bedtime.
- White Noise Machine– another fantastic gift we were given when Lily was born, I love this because not only does it have 3 different sound settings and volume control, its super neat and portable.
- GroEgg Room Thermometer– I love the fact that this doubles as a (super sensitive) room thermometer and also a very handy night light.
- This Works Baby Sleep Spray– creating healthy sleep associations is so important and I feel like scent is just another part of that. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have ever thought of this myself but we got it as a gift when Lily was born and I started using it consistently once we started sleep training.
- Small cuddly toy. As I said Lily loves her Charlotte doll from Cuddle + Kind. I’ve seen her on the monitor reaching out for her in the middle of the night and giving her a cuddle, so I think having something comforting and familiar (that isn’t me!) in the cot with her has been a nice addition.
- Sleeping Bag– for obvious reasons we don’t use bedding of any kind, so a sleeping bag is the perfect solution to keep her warm & cosy. I recommend the ones with the poppers at the shoulders and zip that goes around the outside so nothing gets up under baby’s chin.
Overall, I’m so glad we took the plunge on sleep training. It worked a lot quicker than I expected it to, and it although it wasn’t a walk in the park at first, it was nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be. Some people were surprised I was even doing it since Lily has always been considered a ‘good’ sleeper, but since I put her into the cot already asleep, she never learned how to self-soothe and that did bother me. I think it’s such an important skill for a baby to have, especially the older they get.
We still do have the odd night where she’ll struggle to go asleep, or she’ll wake up earlier in the morning that normal, but buying large she is now pretty self-sufficient in the sleep department. I know we’ve created some really healthy habits when it comes to her sleep in general which was my ultimate aim.
We are traveling home next week for a 2 week trip so it will be very interesting to see how we fare in the sleep department then! Hopefully we’ll be able to maintain our routine and she’ll adapt ok, but we shall see. Im kind of prepared for it all to go Pete Tong! (any tips for keeping baby’s sleep intact when traveling please send them my way!)
Lastly, obviously I am not a baby sleep expert, Im just a mama sharing my own personal experience. If you’re thinking about sleep training your little one, you should of course do your own homework and then make an informed decision on what the best approach is for you and your family.
And if you’ve questions at all, please don’t hesitate to ask x