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That's right, you heard me. I failed at sleep training and I don't care.
Let me be clear, it hasn't always been like this. In fact, sometimes I still question if I'm doing it all wrong, if she'll ever sleep through the night, and if I'm too soft.
I support you if you're sleep training…
and I support you if you're not.
I want to start by saying I 1000% support anything you have done with your baby. If you're a nurse to sleep, bedsharing mama: you do you. If you're a cry it out, baby in their own crib from day one: you do you, girl! Each family has its own needs, own comfort level and ultimately the baby will be raised by YOU and your family-style.
Here's the reality, you can find research to support whatever parenting style you want, and that's great. Believers of the cry it out method will find reasons why it's great and how bed-sharing is dangerous.
Bed sharers will find research to support how the CIO method is harmful and how bed sharing is natural. Decide what you want, find your people, don't judge others.
I'm writing this to explain how I failed at sleep training and that I don't care, because what we do works for us! I hope this gives the other Ma's out there who are doing baby-led sleep some support. It seems like everything I see on Instagram is either your infant is sleeping through the night, or you're a failure.
Why we do baby-led sleep instead of sleep training
Have you ever plugged a destination into your GPS and when you're nearly there the street sign says “Terminal 1 next right”, but your GPS says no, it's the second right?
So, you follow the GPS (obvi) and when you do, you end up on a highway headed nowhere fast?! Please tell me I'm not the only one.
I always follow the GPS… even though the signs IN REAL LIFE are telling me to turn now.
This is how I feel about following a sleep course “to the T” versus listening to my baby. My baby is yawning, rubbing her eyes, and trying to nurse an hour and a half after she woke up… but my course said her wake window for this age is 2-3 hours… what do I do?
BABY LED, we go try and take a nap!
1. Is your baby sleeping through the night?
She wakes up 2x/ night, about every 3-5 hours. But here is the thing, she's “up” for 5 min, snacks, and then falls right back asleep. Usually, I'm still up working for her first wake. For the second, I bring her into our room, and she nurses back to sleep. About 11-12 hours after we put her down she's “up up” as we say it. Which means she's not going back to sleep. It's pretty consistent: bed at 7 pm, wakes at 10 pm, again at 2:30 am, and then “up up” at 7 am.
Does it bother me? Not really. Did I think it was a problem? YES.
We tried a modified “cry it out” method from one of the sleep training courses. Basically every 2 min we would intervene to try and make her feel better. It was a hellish night for all of us. Worse than the two wake ups honestly.
So for now, we will do what is working, what feels right and comforting for us, and most importantly what works for our family! If I had to work 9-5, it might be a different story. If Seth was not okay with it, it might not work for us.
2. Have you sleep trained your baby to fall asleep on her own?
Nope. When she wakes up in the middle of the night, I go lay on her floor bed with her and nurse her back to sleep, which usually doesn't take too long. Sometimes I go in there and do a dream feed which helps her to sleep through the first wake-up.
She has never taken a bottle and she still doesn't. We're working on that one but because I work from home, it's almost easier to just feed her when she's hungry or needs to take a nap.
Nursing back to sleep works great for me, however, Seth sometimes gets frustrated that he can't help put her to sleep. When we've talked about it, we've decided it is what it is and he can have bath time, go get her when she wakes up from naps, etc. No sense in being upset about something we're not going to change. Instead, we figure out how to make it work for us.
I love it because there is very little crying, we go in to take a nap or go to sleep and I “read” her a story from memory and sing her two songs on repeat until she dozes off. We lay down until I can ninja roll away!
Would I rather that I was able to walk into her room, kiss her on the head and walk out? Sure. Is it enough of a headache that I'm willing to do something to change it? Na.
Will I try something different when we have another baby? Maybe.
3. What I wish I'd known about baby sleep from the start:
+ Sleep regressionS:
Holy sleep regression. Two words I had never heard before my little lady was born but something I learned very quickly. Let me tell you more.
To start, I'm fairly certain if you googled “924-month sleep regression”, the interwebs would scream YES! IT'S A THING! I swear, every time her sleep started to get wonky I'd google “is there an X month sleep regression?” and it was like YES!
From what I know (based on our experience), there is a 4 month and 8 months. I also kind of remember googling a 6 month.
The 4-month sleep regression will rock your world. Around 3-5 months is when your baby switches to an adult sleep cycle. Up until this point, your baby has had 2 sleep cycles: awake and asleep. This is why babe could be sleeping in the middle of the living room and you could be having a full-blown conversation and she would sleeeeep. Likely, around this 4-month sleep regression, this is no longer the case. Babe now wakes up easier and more often and has a harder time falling asleep.
I've found when you know what to expect it makes things a little easier!
Crying. That is one thing you might expect. I remember it being a very hard week. But we got through it. This was about the time we started a nap and sleep routine before she'd go down (more about that below).
Another resource to help manage your expectations is the Wonder Weeks App and am getting the book, which I've heard is a deeper dive. They also have a diary if you want to track it!
The next sleep regression, which we're currently in the middle of (8 months) honestly seems to have been going on for weeks.
For us, she basically refused to sleep during the day and has been a little trickier to put to sleep. In the thick of it she was waking up more, but still going back to sleep (There were 3 different days that she was “up up” once at 10:30 pm, another time at midnight and another time at 4:30am). I made sure I was feeding her enough during the day and that helped. Other than that she usually sleeps just fine at night.
+ Bedtime Routine:
One positive that came from the 4-month sleep regression was that we gained a bedtime and nap routine.
For naps, I change her diaper and put her into warm clothes (her room tends to be a little cold).
We go into her blackout room, I turn on the sound machine and give her Vitamin D (once a day), then I rub a little lavender on my shirt so she can smell it.
Then I “read” a book I have memorized and sing her two different songs on repeat until she falls asleep.
Then at bedtime, we start with a bath and repeat the routine above. When I was transitioning her into her room, she would nap in her room and at night I would do all of the routine in her room until she fell asleep then I'd bring her in our room and put her down. Because she sleeps with us, I wanted to make sure we had a safe and non-toxic mattress and loveeee the one we ended up getting. Plus, it's adjustable and so comfortable.
+ Awake window:
I wish I'd known more about “awake windows” so I could tell when she was likely going to fall asleep.
I was literally like, huh, she's asleep!
Huh, now she's awake!
If I had known there were approximate awake windows for each age I could have brought her in her room for her naps (drowsy) and have her get used to falling asleep without nursing. All you need to do is google “awake window for X month old” and you'll find the charts!
+ Sleepy cues:
This was another one I wish I'd known! Sometimes I would try and put an overtired baby to sleep because I was completely missing the sleepy cues that were telling me to bring her up to a dark place and sleep. Truly, before 4 months they can sleep anywhere, which is fantastic! It's also great to get them comfortable in their room.
If it's working, go with it.
Listen, as a first time mom maybe I'll read this in a year and be like, oh girl… if only you knew. But I'm going to take the next few months of what's working and roll with it.
If you are miserable about how your child's sleep is impacting your day and desperately need something to change (first, that's okay). Second, there is nothing wrong with sleep training. I wanted to write this to also let you know there is nothing wrong with you or your baby if you don't!
If it's working, don't worry about it. Seek advice from people who parent like you parent.
Sleep (and sleep training) is controversial
I hesitated to write this because sleep is controversial. I was nervous to share that we don't use a crib because people have strong opinions about how your baby sleeps in your house. When I tell people my babe isn't sleeping through the night (meaning 12 hrs without a cry or nursing) I'm instantly given resources to help.
I get it, it's assumed I need the help. But the ‘help' is stressing me out. I took a VERY popular sleep training course, multiple from them actually. And my worst moments were after those courses. My baby wasn't doing “what she was supposed to” and we were in the red for what we were supposed to be doing. Seth would ask why I was so stressed out about her sleep all of a sudden. I'd explain what the course said and he basically told me to leave it alone and do it our way.
As long as you and your partner agree on how to have the baby sleep, I say you're doing it right. The best plan is one you and your partner choose.
Until there is a problem or you're not happy with how things are going, and changing it would be better. Then seek out help for that.
Motherhood = Emotional Dissonance
Oh, and another thing I've learned lately is motherhood is simply feeling two conflicting emotions at the same time. Yes, I'm mad at my baby for not napping right now, but there's also nowhere else I'd rather be.
Good luck out there Ma, it's a wild ride, it's hard AF, and we are so lucky.