I became a parent 3 years ago, and realized very early on that there is no such thing as “sleeping like a baby”. My story might turn into a very long blog post, so I’ll break it up. First, I’ll share with you my research and the methods I learned how to teach a baby to sleep. I’ll share my various attempts and talk about what finally worked to get my son to sleep in his own bed for 11 hours straight. It was a long time coming and we tried everything! I’ll let you know how you might want to set up the bedroom and give you my recommendations for baby cameras, noise machines, black out blinds, essential oils, etc. to make the environment work.
If you’re a new parent and struggling with sleepless nights, read these pages. You can send me a message or leave a comment if you have any questions, and I’ll get back to you. I’ve been there, and I can say with absolutely certainty that it gets better. Trust me, a full night’s sleep is in your future!
What the research and “Experts” told me
I’m not a doctor or an occupational therapist, but I consulted both (and more) when my son was an infant.
My son slept anywhere and everywhere the first month of his life, but as he aged, we became concerned because he would only sleep while in our arms. We (my husband and I) literally held him in the crook of our arm, or rested him on our chest, for the first year of his life. Imagine for a moment not sleeping more than a 3 hour stretch, and only while holding your child, for the first year of his life. We were desperate. I consulted my family doctor, his pediatrician, met with a lactation specialist, and the early years nurse. I attended a sleep seminar hosted by a reputable occupational therapist and others hosted by the public health nurses, I read countless books, and eventually paid for 3 separate sleep training plans from 3 different sleep “experts”. I also took advantage of a number of free phone call interviews with other certified sleep experts and compared all the advice. In the end, our own modified version of the Ferber method finally worked; and only when my son was ready.
Sleep consultant number one
We hired and later fired the first sleep consultant we met with. She gave us a plan to follow when our son was 5 months old which led to one of the worst nights of our lives. She advised us to settle our son into his crib after his bedtime routine had come to an end and stay close to comfort him on timed intervals until he fell asleep. We weren’t supposed to pick him up, and we were only supposed to check in quickly when the time was up to let him know that we were close. We could pat him on his bum repeatedly to calm him; my son loved to bounce, and we still own 3 exercise balls that we bought when he was young. We used to sit on one while holding him and bounce. The sleep consultant felt he would like to be patted on his bum as it would simulate the feeling of bouncing. We could stay in the room, she said, but we should try not to pick him up. We could comfort him by repeating our agreed phrase,
“it’s sleepy time, you can do this, it’s sleepy time, we love you”
and we could rest a hand on him or pat his bum or leg. She warned us that it might take a couple hours and said I could nurse him after two hours to reset him. Well … he cried for 7 hours straight!
He never fell asleep and neither did we. We tried again a second and third night, with similar results. The only difference is that we only committed to staying up until midnight and decided at that point to take everyone into our room so we could all get some sleep. My son never fell asleep on his own during these 3 days. Thankfully, he never held this experience against us. We took a break from sleep training at this point, agreeing that he just wasn’t ready. I was so broken from this experience that we brought our son back into our bed and my husband and I took turns holding him for a couple more months before giving it another go.
Sleep consultant number two
A good friend gave me the book that comes along with a popular sleep program. I read the book, and later subscribed to the plan. After going through what we did with the first Sleep Consultant, I couldn’t follow the advice I was being given, nor could I be consistent.
My son was 8 months when we tried to sleep train him again. I refused to take away his soother (the guilt from our screaming sleepless nights was still fresh) and I gave us a time limit. If he wasn’t asleep by midnight, we would give up. I didn’t go into this with confidence and I’m not surprised that it didn’t work.
We pulled the queen mattress from the spare bedroom into our son’s room and placed it on the floor. Instead of sitting on a chair to comfort him, as the plan recommended, we laid down on the mattress. As you can imagine, he was back in our arms before morning and we were all asleep on the mattress on the floor.
We were supposed to take him to bed between 7 and 8. Go through our routine, which for us is a bath, PJs, story, a song, and to bed. At the time he was still nursing, so I was supposed to nurse after the bath and before the story to make sure we were putting him into his crib, sleepy, but awake. Then, we were supposed to pull up a chair and comfort him with our words to give him the space and time he needed to fall asleep by himself. We weren’t supposed to move the chair and leave the room until he fell asleep. If he woke up in the middle of the night, we were supposed to return to the chair and talk him through it again. We were allowed to pick him up if we felt that was best, and we could also leave the room if we needed to. The most important thing is that we were to be consistent, and we weren’t supposed to give up. I wasn’t ready, nor did I have the energy to make any significant change that night, and so we went on, sharing our bed for a little while longer.
Sleep consultant number three
Still with me? Thank you! When my son was 12 months, he still wasn’t sleeping without our help. This is when I contacted The Baby Sleep Site and ordered a personalized plan for him. Our plan covered the bedtime routine;
“it’s important that you don’t over complicate the bedtime routine and that your baby is in his bed before 8PM”.
Next we had to tackle his sleep associations. Where to start? He had his soother, but he knew how to put it in his mouth by himself so we bought a lot of soothers and put them in every corner of the crib. The room was (and still is) very dark, this way he can feel around for a soother when he woke up throughout the night. He would always settle if we held him in a cradle position and bounced on the exercise ball. We were supposed to get rid of the exercise ball. I think we agreed not to bounce unless we had picked him up and were trying to reset him, after at least one hour in the crib. We had to make sure he was going into his crib sleepy, but awake. He was. We had the timing down pretty good.
I wrapped myself in his sleep suit and held his stuffed monkey for a couple evenings leading up to our training day to transfer my scent to his clothing and toy. We had a noise machine set up in his room, a humidifier, and a diffuser that was spreading the sent of lavender and chamomile to help him sleep. When it came to training day, we stayed in the room, repeated our phrases and left the room, standing outside the door only if it got too hard. We went to the side of the crib to check on him during timed intervals, at 5,8, and 10 minutes (for example). I can’t remember how long we tried this, or when we gave up for the night and returned to our family bed. I do remember sitting on the floor in my son’s room crouched with my knees to my chest and practicing deep breathing while I coached my son to sleep. Or tried to. I would tell him that,
“I’m breathing deeply to get sleepy”
and ask him to breathe with me. He didn’t at the time, but he does now. My husband spent quite a few nights asleep on the floor in my son’s room during this time. We brought up our therm-a-rest (a camping mattress) and stuffed it into our son’s closet along with a pillow and a blanket. As if we were admitting to ourselves that this wasn’t going to be easy. Needless to say, he still wasn’t ready to sleep the whole night in his crib.
What finally worked
After reflecting on our experience, I can give credit to our journey (and all the advice provided to us up to this point), coming together with The Ferber Method, and ditching the crib. You see, our son never slept the entire night in his crib. We went shopping with him for his big bed, a twin, and bought a small wooden frame from Ikea that is close to the ground. We found a mattress that didn’t need a box spring and made sure our son could get in and out if it himself. He was 18 months old. We bought the inflatable bed rests from Shrunks. He could get into bed himself and couldn’t fall out accidentally. I also bought fun transportation themed microfiber sheets, (the nicest sheets in our house). Finally, I made a sticker reward chart and we hung it in his room at his height. He got a sticker for getting into his pjs, taking his bath, and brushing his teeth. He would get another sticker after spending the entire night in his room.
When it came time to training day, we explained to our son that he was going to sleep in his bed all night. He was very verbal, very early, and we prepped him enough that he knew something was about to change. We went through the bedtime routine, sang our song, gave him his water (which has a leak proof lid), told him that we loved him and left the room. Then we held his door shut, and he got up and ran to the door, trying the handle (unsuccessfully) while screaming,
“Daddy, Mommy, help”!
Talk about heart breaking!! We opened the door after 2 minutes, hugged him, practiced our deep breathing, and walked him back into bed. We sang another song, and made sure he was calm. We told him that we loved him and repeated our goodnight phrase. Then we left again. This time we held the door shut for 5 minutes. He screamed for us the entire time. We went back into to room and repeated what we did previously. We left again once he was calm, and returned after 8 minutes of crying. Then 10 minutes, 12 minutes and 15 minutes. We were prepared to go another 15 minutes, as that was our maximum time, but he fell asleep!
Hallelujah, he fell asleep!!
In the middle of the night he woke and protested for 11 minutes, or rather, 2,5,8,10. Success! He was 18 months old and he slept in his own bed for the entire night. We did a similar pattern on the second evening, only we started by going into his room after 5 minutes of protesting. He lasted until the 12 minute check in on the second evening. On the third night, we came in after 8 minutes and he fell asleep following the 10 minute check in. By night 4, we weren’t holding the door shut, and he was staying in his bed. He still complained, but fell asleep quickly, and without a lot of fuss. Hooray!
One piece of advice that I have for you is to sleep train your child before they can scream,
“Mommy, help me”! 😫
We went through a bad sleep regression when our son was 2 years old, and a mini sleep regression right when his sister was born. We stuck to our plan, and eventually got back on course.
Today, he is 3 years old and a negotiating, stalling toddler. Even so, we start the bedtime routine with a bath, then we put on our pyjamas and we read three stories (we caved a little). Then it’s lights out, and we sing two songs, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and “Hush Little Baby”. We kiss him goodnight and we leave. His door stays open, he’s awake when we leave, and he eventually always falls asleep.
His baby sister took one night to sleep train and cried for about 5 minutes at the age of 7 months. Every child is different. We still have good nights and bad ones, healthy days and sick ones, but through it all, we remain consistent.
If you have made it this far and you’re thinking about sleep training, I’ll include links to the books I read. I recommend Dr. Ferber’s book. I will also follow this blog post with a post all about how to set up the bedroom, which will include recommendations for noise machines, black out blinds, and essential oils to help set you up for success.
Here’s to a restful full night of sleep. Sweet dreams everyone ❤️ .
By Richard Ferber
By Elizabeth Pantley