Sleep training my baby was one of the first goals I had set for myself as a new mom. I had managed to put BabyZ on a good sleeping routine within six weeks of her birth, which I considered one of my biggest achievements in life, considering what hard work it was. But she needed me alongside her to fall asleep. I had to swaddle her, hold her, make the Shhhhh sound and rub her back. It wasn’t very difficult but it was still a chore I had to take out time for thrice a day. When she was probably five months old, I talked the Husband into letting her sleep on her own. We put her in her crib in our room and crept to our bed. She saw us and within a minute started screaming as loud as she could. It was more a scream of anger than anguish and she probably meant “How dare you? You think I am stupid?” I jumped and picked her up, apologized profusely and put her to sleep. The Husband and I decided that all babies are different and this probably isn’t for our child. That was our first attempt at sleep training.
When BabyZ turned seven months old, I decided enough is enough. If she is capable of falling asleep on her own when she wakes up for her late feed in the middle of the night, then she is capable of doing it throughout the day. Moreover, I had been reading of the tremendous lifelong benefits to babies of falling asleep on their own. I made up my mind to do it one day and didn’t look back. No amount of cajoling or pained looks from the Husband deterred me. Yes, the entire family cried, the Husband and I quarreled and maybe the neighbors heard my baby screaming, but I was a mom on a mission. This continued for six days, three times a day and on the seventh day, my baby figured out that there’s no point in crying. She learnt how to put herself to sleep without getting agitated. Now we follow her bed-time routine, the Husband kisses her and leaves the room, I carry her and hold her close for a minute and then I put her in her crib with her blankie. She smiles and sometimes sits up as soon as I put her down, but I leave the room nevertheless without saying anything. I still keep the monitor close to me and it is very rare that she cries herself to sleep now. Most of the times I hear her talking and singing happily until she falls asleep, which takes no more than 7 to 10 minutes.
I believe my accomplishment in this area qualifies me to teach a course in sleep training. Well, maybe not. But in case the fictional institute of baby sleep issues ever invites me to deliver a lecture on sleep training, this is what I have prepared:
Step 1: Pre-planning
- Establish a good bed-time routine for your child. It does not matter what it includes, as long as you are able to stick to it every day. It can be a bath, feeding, story and cuddles in dim light. Having a routine is key to successful sleep training, so launch and follow one as soon as possible.
- If you have planned to sleep train your baby, introduce a comfort toy as early as it is safe. This can be a small blankie or a stuffed toy that your baby likes. The idea is that your baby should find comfort in this object, so she has to be very familiar with it. A few days before you start the training, keep the blankie on your bed when you sleep, so that it starts smelling like you and also keep it close by when your baby is feeding. Make the blankie a part of the bed-time routine, so that the baby associates it with sleep.
- Make a conscious effort to understand your baby’s sleep preferences and patterns. You should be able to tell the signs she gives when sleepy, how covered she likes to be when sleeping and what is the optimum temperature of the room for her. Having this information in advance will help you immensely on the day you start the sleep training exercise.
Step 2: The day of
- I recommend choosing a day time nap instead of the night time sleep to start the sleep training.
- I also recommend doing it when the father isn’t home or send him out for a walk or some grocery shopping. Trust me he is not going to be any help, rather he will make you feel like a monster for inflicting this torture on the apple of his eye. Under extreme circumstances, he might also barge into the baby’s room to rescue his offspring from the tentacles of your injustice.
- Follow the established bed-time routine and make sure that your baby is well fed, is wearing a fresh diaper and appropriate clothes and most importantly, is safe in her crib.
- Also ensure that the conditions in the room are conducive to your baby’s sleeping requirements. This includes temperature and light level.
- Put your baby down in the crib when she begins to show signs of tiredness and leave the room immediately. Do not linger around to see how your baby reacts. Turn and walk out.
- Be prepared for your worst nightmare to begin as soon as you shut the door. Your baby will start to scream bloody murder and that is going to break your heart into a million pieces. Get away from the door.
- Have the monitor close by but keep the volume low. You do not want to hear your baby’s screams blaring from the monitor; that will weaken your resolve.
- Always leave a task for yourself to do while your baby is trying to sleep. If you sit looking at the monitor, there is a big chance that you will not be able to resist your baby’s screams. I always kept myself busy in the kitchen when I was training BabyZ. Let it be something that requires your attention but is easy to walk away from, if necessary. A call to the best friend will also do.
- If your baby is crying, wait twenty minutes until you go to her room and then just pick her up without saying anything. Cuddle her until she stops crying, put her back in her crib and walk out of the room. This will ensure the baby that you are around but you are not going to put her to sleep today.
- She will start screaming immediately, but wait another twenty minutes before you go to her. Repeat thrice and if it doesn’t work, put your baby to sleep as you usually do and try again on the next nap. Follow the steps above until your baby understands how she has to put herself to sleep. And have faith that she will.
Keep in mind:
- Once you decide to sleep train your child, you have to do it at every nap and sleep time. Do not make an exception under any circumstances.
- Your baby is not screaming because she is in pain. This is all very new for her, so rest assured that she is not being damaged by this experience in any way. When she wakes up from her nap, her mood or disposition will not be affected by the crying episode at all.
- It is Ok if you cry in the process. This is definitely not easy and no one, except you understands how you feel when you hear your baby screaming and you know that she is crying for you.
- Stay strong and never lose sight of your reasons behind the entire exercise.
Step 3: Every day after your baby is sleep trained
- Always stick to the routine.
- Plan your exit strategy when you are putting your child to bed. Do not stay in the room once your baby is tucked in. Everything that you need to carry out of the room with you such as your phone or the bottle your baby used should be in a place where it is easy to grab and go.
- Do not be worried if your baby sits up or stands when you put her down. She will play a bit and eventually fall asleep.
- Congratulate yourself. Yes, every day! I still do it four months after my baby learnt to sleep on her own. This is a big deal and only you know how hard this was on your tender mommy heart and your super sensitive nerves. Job well done!
The steps above are only my perception of sleep training and this is how I trained BabyZ to sleep on her own. I got these ideas from multiple sources which include The contented little baby book and various blogs that I read for guidance. I am not an expert on this subject by any means, so feel free to let me know what else works. Go forth and conquer!