When you talk about having a baby, it usually takes roughly .00003 seconds for someone to mention that you are going to be tired.
They love to say it like it’s a big gag:
“A BABY? HOOOOOO-boy! Get used to not sleeping! YUK YUK YUK!”
Okay, to be fair, they might not actually be that obnoxious. But by the 78th time you’ve heard someone make that comment, they all start to sound like an uncle from a Home Alone sequel.
The point is, babies = not a lot of sleep. It’s a thing. People know this.
Which is why, when you tell someone you just had a baby, one of the first things they usually ask is if they’re sleeping through the night.
Has anyone else read Bringing Up Bebe? It’s one of my favorite books I read pre-baby. There’s a whole section about sleeping and how French babies tend to sleep through the night within the first couple of months. But the chapter opens with the writer (an American living in France) talking about how all these French parents used to ask her if her several-week-old baby was sleeping through the night, and she thought it was just kind of a cruel form of teasing until she realized that they really did expect the baby to sleep through the night.
That was a long way of saying that, when your baby is not sleeping through the night, it feels like a cruel joke whenever anyone (French or non) asks if she is.
To be honest, Vivi was never a horrible sleeper. She went through a few weeks where she was actually only waking up once or twice a night. That increased to about three times a night in her second month. It wasn’t so bad because she usually went right back to sleep after being nursed.
Side note: Can I just tell you that there are few moments of despair that compare with the feeling you get after feeding your baby at four in the morning, only to look at her and realize that she is just WIDE AWAKE WITH NO INTENTION OF SLEEPING EVER AGAIN? You just sit there, in the dark, staring at each other, like some bizarre game of sleep chicken. (For the record, the baby always wins.)
But the point is, I counted myself lucky that my kid didn’t scream for hours on end at night and was usually pretty amicable about dozing off again without too much fuss.
So when our pediatrician suggested we start thinking about sleep training at her 2-month appointment, I was fully on-board. I actually knew the conversation was coming because it was discussed when we went for our pre-baby “meet the doctors” appointment, and I had always been pretty in favor of the philosophy. Not because I relish the thought of letting my baby cry it out a bit (I’d probably rate it somewhere above a bikini wax but below coming face-to-face with a cockroach), but rather because I’ve seen her sleep seven-to-eight hours at a stretch, so I know she’s capable, and I’m a big believer in anything that teaches a person (infant or otherwise) to self-soothe.
Granted, I knew the idea of sleep training was probably going to be a lot easier to take than the actual practice. Like I said, I don’t love hearing my daughter scream. In fact, I’d put it pretty high on my list of least favorite things, right above bikini waxes and right below coming face to face with a cockroach. So I approached the first night of training with a bit of trepidation, but I tried to think positively because some people (the French included) believe your attitude can actually make a huge difference in the training’s success. And, not gonna lie, I would do anything to make this easier.
And it went…well, here’s how it went:
I don’t want to scoop my own anecdote, but the first night went better than I ever could have imagined.
After our bedtime routine (typically nursing, jammies, book, nursing again, sing a song, prayer, and then put her down…every few days a bath is thrown in there), I put Vivi down a little before 8 p.m. awake (per my pediatrician’s instructions). She dozed for about ten minutes, and then awoke with a veangence. This was honestly one of the hardest moments of the whole process. Vivi screamed for twenty minutes while I sat on the couch with silent tears rolling down my face. I had to keep reminding myself, nothing is wrong; she’s just pissed off. Because babies are creatures of habit, and she was used to eating whenever she accidentally woke herself up, regardless if she was hungry or not.
After 20 minutes, she dropped off suddenly into sleep, and I poured myself a glass of wine to cope with the trauma. (Kidding.)(Sort of.)
She woke up again around 3 a.m. and cried for an hour, but this time, I could tell her heart wasn’t really in it. It was mostly a whining kind of cry before she fell back asleep. I went into her room around 7:15 the next morning to find her awake but contentedly scooting around her crib and hungry. I considered this a great first night.
While on the second, third, and fourth nights it took Vivi only five minutes to put herself to sleep (and without any of that unsettling screaming), she would wake up sometime between three and four and just never really go back to sleep. Instead, she would cry for about 45 minutes, JUST seem to doze off, and then suddenly jerk herself awake and cry 30-45 minutes all over again. This pattern typically went on until around 6:00, when I would finally crack (telling myself at least it had been the minimum ten hours the doctor recommended) and going in to nurse her.
I was worried I was undo-ing the process. I was worried my baby was legitimately hungry and maybe too young to start this process. I was worried. In short, I was being a parent.
So I called the doctor for some backup. A very nice nurse listened to my concerns and calmly told me that, more likely than not, the baby was just testing me. She really did not need to eat for up to 12 hours each night because she had been gaining weight well. She really could sleep that long, and I really had to stick with the process for a week-and-a-half to two weeks to see serious results.
The nurse told me to do whatever made me comfortable, but to remember that whatever pattern I created now, the baby would ultimately stick to. So I took a deep breath and steeled my resolve anew.
I was really nervous about this night because, that day, we were actually driving to Ohio to visit my family. I wasn’t sure how nine hours in the car was going to upset the process, but I knew my baby was not a big fan of changes to her schedule.
Miracuslously, though, this was the first night Vivi slept 11 hours straight. I literally woke up in almost a panic when I realized it was 7:30 and I had gotten about nine hours of sleep myself. Again, though, she was awake but happily wiggling around in her bassinet.
The next week went by with slightly varied but still pretty good success. Vivi would occasionally wake around 5-6:00 a.m. but usually could put herself back to sleep within half an hour if I waited.
But here’s the really good part: The last two nights, she has slept TWELVE full hours. Without waking up at all in the night.
And while, yes, I realize that by even putting those words into print I am probably cursing the entire process, I do feel like, at the very least, we aren’t starting from scratch anymore.
Though, my newfound positivity could just be the result of getting 19 collective hours of sleep over the last two nights. I feel like I could climb a mountain right now.
The point is, for us, the process worked. I didn’t invent the idea of sleep training (I would be much richer if I had, I’m sure), but here are a few things that really helped us should you want to try this method yourself:
1. Routine, routine, routine. We wind down for bed almost the exact same way every night. The only true variable is the bath, and I always feel like she sleeps even better after a bath. She’s too little to get one every night (at least I think so), but when she’s older, I definitely see this as a regular part of the routine. The point is, Vivi knows what’s coming starting around 6:30 in the evening. Lately, she has been dropping off to sleep with maybe a single cry or none at all.
2. Consistency. Even when it breaks your heart. Yes, you really, really, really do have to just tough out the moments when they’re crying. Obviously, have a video monitor if you can so you can reassure yourself nothing is actually wrong, but just remind yourself that any time you go into that room after you put them to bed, you’re creating an expectation in them. And it will be just as hard to break the next night. But if you’re consistent, it really does get easier.
And if that isn’t enough to keep you out, remember this: The older they get, the bigger the tantrums get. And the more likely it is they will be able to call you by name. (So much worse than just crying.) And the more likely it is that they will try to climb out of their crib, possibly injuring themselves. These were all thoughts that helped me.
3. Remember: Sleep begets sleep. The better my baby slept at night, the better her naptime routine became during the day. It seems like the opposite would be true, but the fact is, she got better at going to sleep period, and her entire schedule became more consistent. Which just makes life as a whole go more smoothly.
Granted, this is what worked for us. I’m not saying your baby will have the exact same experience. It might be harder. It might be easier. As my nurse said, you have to do what makes you comfortable. But if you do go this route, hopefully this is helpful.
Other mommas: Have you tried sleep training? How old was your baby when you started? How did it go?