As a parent, I’m sure you’ve heard or read the saying, “You can’t spoil a baby,” or something to that effect. For me, this was a common theme every time I read about sleep training for babies. Since it was plastered all over the internet by e-parents and other anonymous people, I figured it had to be true. So for the first three months of parenthood, I cuddled my daughter at every opportunity. I cuddled her to sleep at bedtime, when she woke up in the middle of the night, and for naps. For the most part, she slept through the night but all babies evolve, for better and worse.
Around the thee month age, she was waking up several times a night, so of course one of us had to go in there and help her back to sleep. Apparently you CAN spoil a baby, because they want/need you to help them back to sleep from all of the non-spoiling love you’ve been giving them. It was exhausting. I couldn’t wait to start sleep training at four months old.
Cry It Out or Love Them to Sleep?
In preparation for sleep training, we bought a book, which was an overwhelming process in itself. With so many sleep training methods and differing point of views, you have to choose the option that is most like your parenting style. Do you want a no-cry method, or are you willing to abandon your child until they cry themself to sleep? I like to compromise, so I decided on The Sleep Easy Solution. With the lessons in this book, you get to abandon your baby incrementally. They’ll cry for sure, but it’s ok because you’re coming back every few minutes.
I found this book to be useful and informative. In my opinion, the training method isn’t anything scientific. It just adds structure.
- Put your child down while they’re awake but drowsy. Give them lots of love and encouragement and then leave.
- If they cry, come back in five minutes. Give them encouragement but don’t pick them up.
- Come back in 10 minutes if they’re still crying. Repeat encouragement and no touching.
- Come back in 15 minutes if they’re still crying. Repeat encouragement and no touching.
- Continue Step 4 until they fall asleep, and repeat the process from Step 2 if they wake up in the middle of the night.
The results for us were good. It took about 45 minutes before our daughter fell asleep on the first night. The next night it went down to 37 minutes, and every night thereafter just kept taking less time. Within a week we had her sleeping on her own and putting herself back to sleep. It was amazing. For what it’s worth, we used a white noise machine instead of playing baby sleep music. What was really useful in this book was the information about what your child is thinking or trying to communicate during the whole process. It’s worth reading and having on hand as a reference. It also provides tips for different situations, like traveling, moving, or having another baby.
Just When You Thought it Was Safe to Go Back to Bed
While we were successful sleep training, we realized that constant reinforcement is needed. But we didn’t realize that until after we had been tortured for a few nights or weeks. Sometime between age one and two, there was a time when she wouldn’t let us leave the room. She would lay her head down but look up every so often to look for us. When we thought she was asleep, we would leave. A few minutes later, she would wake up, look for us, and then start crying. So we would run back and repeat the process. We had been spoiled by all of the sleep we were getting and didn’t realize that we were getting played. Once we came to our senses, we went back to the same sleep training steps. Within two nights, every thing was back to normal.
This happened a handful of times throughout the year. It was always something different and it always took us a few nights before we realized we were straying from the game plan. The most challenging part was the eczema and the scratching. For awhile, she was waking up several times a night to scratch her hands and arms. We would go in there to put lotion and help her get back to sleep. It was necessary to prevent her from really hurting herself. After awhile we started to cut and smooth her nails each night so that we knew she couldn’t do much damage to her skin. Instead of going in there, we made the decision to let her scratch and see what happens. After a few minutes she put herself back to sleep and her skin was no worse in the morning. We’re pretty happy now that we have her eczema under control. She’s not scratching as much but now that she can talk, she’s testing us in other ways.
The most recent test was to fight bedtime and keep calling us back into the room to rub her arm or leg until she fell asleep. I get it. It’s comforting. But now that she’s older, she’s going to bed later. We don’t even get to eat dinner until after we get her down around 8pm, so having to go back in there constantly was not good. Again, it took us some time to realize what we were doing wrong, but we implemented a modified version of the steps from the book and now we have some of our freedom back.
Hindsight is 20/20 and overall, I’m happy with the way things turned out on this subject. I get that a crying baby is hard on the ears and the soul, but I also don’t believe in coddling every step of the way. A little crying, especially at bedtime, isn’t a bad thing. It’s normal. We did our checks to make sure she wasn’t hungry, wet, or sick, and that simple checklist has served as a good baseline for us to make decisions.