This post is for the tired mom out there who are wondering 1) when should I sleep train and 2) is sleep training really traumatic for my baby? Everyone else, come along and share your own thoughts in the comments!
It’s human nature to want the best result possible with as little effort as possible. In fact, that’s pretty much what efficiency is. Figuring out how to do as little as possible and still have a great result. I agree with this because I’m exactly like this. I go out of my way to find the easiest way to do something that will give the best possible outcome. I’m not too lazy to do hard work, but too smart to work hard unnecessarily. I heard someone say the other day a good strategy in life is to design for laziness.
This doesn’t mean to become a lazy bum. Oh no. It means doing the smart work beforehand so – when your lazy moment hits – you’ll already be reaping the benefits of hard work done. It’s a cleaning caddy in one place instead of supplies spread around the house. It’s meal planning so you don’t have to get take out. It’s automating your bills and giving so you don’t forget or overspend. It’s sleep training early so you can reap the benefits later when you need it instead of taking shortcuts for a few moments’ rest. It’s thinking about the result you want later, and doing it now. This delayed gratification means the hard work comes first and then you’ll consistently reap the benefits.
Now, of course I’m not saying that mothers who don’t sleep train are lazy. I’m actually saying mothers who don’t sleep train are working harder than they have to. I won’t give a timeline for sleep training since every situation is different, but I will say this. It will eventually have to be done and the older they get the harder the fight.
A major reason crying it out (or controlled crying) has a horrible reputation is that people wait until they have toddlers to sleep train. At this age, the process can be highly traumatic for everyone involved. This is not usually the case with babies. In fact, my youngest pretty much sleep trained from birth with minimal crying. I put him down when he was tired, he went to sleep, and that was that. And it’s not because he’s just perfect (which of course he is), it’s because sleep training works.
1. Know what sleep training is and what it isn’t.
Sleep training is teaching your baby to fall asleep on their own using their tiredness cues as a guide. This might be gently rocking them until they’re drowsy but still awake, and putting them in their crib. It is watching for signs of tiredness – eye rubbing, yawning, etc. – and putting them in their crib after kisses and cuddles to fall asleep on their own. It might be following the 4 S’s (setting the stage, swaddling, sitting, shushing). It might mean waiting outside the door a few minutes while your baby settles into a nap.
Sleep training does not equal letting your baby scream for hours in a dark lonely room away from family to teach them some kind of lesson. Sleep training is not depriving your child of time or contact with you. I smother my babies with love and hugs and kisses and always have. Sleep training is not making your baby sleep when they don’t want to, it’s helping them get to sleep when they need to.
If your children (whatever their age) are good sleepers you’ll agree, babies and children that sleep through the night are a blessing to everyone in the house. Do you love them less if they’re up every hour? Of course not, how ridiculous. But why on earth do they need to be up every hour?
2. Don’t wait until they won’t nap.
Even with older children nighttime sleep can usually be sorted within a week if you get down to business. However, if you wait too long they may never get into a good napping routine. They may try to drop naps altogether earlier than they should, or fight tooth and nail to be put down. Babies who are used to napping become toddlers who go to bed willingly. Not because you are threatening them with no candy, TV, or Lego, but because they know what it feels like to be tired, and it’s not as pleasant as being rested.
The earlier you get your children into a good napping routine the better nappers you’ll have. It’s great to have children who sleep all night. It’s even better to have children who sleep all night and take naps during the day.
3. Sleep train in a way you are comfortable with.
Every mother is different, and there are more sleep training “methods” than can be talked about. Some moms put their baby to sleep and return every few minutes if the baby cries, lengthening the time between trips. Some mothers will rock their babies into a drowsy but slightly awake stage then put the baby in the crib and walk out. Others might sit down with their babies, or some may lie down with them for a time, still allowing their babies to go to sleep on their own.
I don’t think it matters how you do it. What’s important is that when possible you’re teaching your baby to fall asleep on its own.
4. Avoid props.
A sleep prop is something your baby needs to sleep that eventually becomes a crutch. Crutches may include breastfeeding your baby to sleep, rocking to sleep, or even a pacifier. Some mothers won’t give their babies pacifiers for this very reason. We do pacifiers at the beginning of naps or nighttime, but don’t go in to reinsert it. If your baby wakes up for the pacifier multiple times throughout the night, you know it’s time to send it back to the stork.
If your baby won’t take full naps or wakes frequently during the night looking for their “fix”, they have a sleep prop. Once you’ve identified the prop you can work towards removing it.
5. Keep your eye on the prize.
If you’re feeling sleep deprived or dealing with a baby who seems to fight sleep, be encouraged. There is a way forward and you can get there! Our bodies are created for regenerative sleep. It’s a great thing, not torture. Babies and children enjoy being well-rested, and our job is to help them remain in that state on a regular basis. Keep a close eye on your children’s sleep cues, and act quickly to make the window.
If you go in to soothe a baby that is being weaned from nighttime feeds, remember you feed them well during the day, and are working towards their well-being, not against it. Feed them well during the day and you’ll know they don’t need milk at night. If your 20-month-old says they don’t need naps anymore, even though it’s obvious they’re tired, put them down anyway. Remember, it’s for their own good and they’ll probably wake up happy.
There’s no real right or wrong way to sleep train. I’d encourage you to start as soon as you are comfortable because the earlier you begin the sooner it’s finished. And the later you begin the harder they fight. Even adults fight against what’s best for us at times.
Ezzo gave this quote referring to credit card parenting, but I think it applies here as well.
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