Sleep training was and is one of the hardest things we have faced as parents. I often feel like being a parent comes with a lot of guilt. Guilt about stuff I never even thought about before I had a baby. There is just so much new territory to cover and it’s hard to know where to get directions from. Books? Websites? Friends? Family? I have spent a lot of time wondering whether I am doing what is best for L and whether or not I am messing him up. Sleep training was and still is one of those times.
At about five months, our pediatrician told us that the cry it out method was what would be best in the long run. He assured us that L would suffer no psychological repercussions from being left in his crib alone sobbing. He also told us not to feed him every time he woke up at night because he should be able to make it 6-8 hours. According to him, feeding the baby teaches the baby to fall asleep to the bottle and makes it difficult for him or her to self-soothe. We were given a handout that explained that we should let him cry for 5 minutes, check on him, let him cry for seven minutes, check on him, etc.
A friend described her cry it out method which was basically put the child in his/her bed and don’t go in for any reason. She has extremely well-behaved, obedient children that don’t seem psychologically scarred.
My own mother and many other women I know told me that they just couldn’t or chose not to do the cry it out method. They favored cuddling, nursing, sleeping with the baby, or watching movies as an alternative. I turned out fine, I think, so that must work too.
The internet was full of variations of cry it out methods, no tears methods, shuffle methods, and just let your kid sleep in your bed until they are 10 methods.
It is hard to know what to do.
So, after much anguish and advice and study, we decided to try the doctor’s handout first. The first time we left L in his room sobbing I sat on my bed sobbing. Nick told me that he really couldn’t handle both of us crying at the same time. So, I went and got him and we both cried and I thought about what I should do for a few more days. We decided to try it again but I had to leave.
For several days I hung out in the one room in the basement that is quiet regardless of what is going on the rest of the house. And guess what? L started going to sleep on his own. There was crying for a few days but then he started just going to sleep. And we had it made. . . .
Nope, then he learned to crawl and sleeping was no longer on his agenda. So, we did it again. For a while when he was learning to crawl I had to put pillows next to the bars in his crib so that he wouldn’t repeatedly ram his skull into the wood. Then I would watch him on the monitor until he stopped ramming and sneak in and move the pillows. (I am not advocating that, it is just what we did at the time.)
Eventually, he was retrained using a combination of cry it out and Shawn the Sheep (that is the highly sophisticated method of Daddy watching Shawn the Sheep on mute with him in his dark bedroom).
Then he got teeth, or learned to walk, or got sick . . . and everything fell apart again. But, we were able to fix it each time after a few days.
Solutions. . .
Now, I am not about to suggest that there is a right way or wrong way to sleep train. I know people in many camps who feel very strongly about their own methods. I think that the cry it out method can work. I don’t think it is inherently evil (I have heard that). I also don’t think that there is anything wrong with having a safe family bed. I have come across research backing up both methods (not to mention the five billion variations of each).
What I do want to say is that there are two questions you should ask yourself before you decide how you want to go about sleep training (or not training) your child. The first question is: What can I live with? The second is: What does my own child need?
What can I live with?
When I was studying methods and alternatives for the “cry it out” method. I came to the conclusion that I could not live with a perpetually screaming child. So we decided that ten minutes was our max time. If he made it crying for a whole ten minutes we would go in and check on him. We also decided that if he was sick or having a particularly tough time, that there was nothing wrong with extra loves and cuddles.
On the other hand, we decided that we could not handle being up with him late every night like we had been. We both needed some time at night to do our own things and regroup. I am also the type of person who needs a good chunk of sleep to function and be civil. I never got used to that newborn stage of no sleep and it was hands down the most difficult part of L’s life (for me). So, we needed our own time at night and more uninterrupted sleep.
What does my child need?
After some sleep training experimentation, we figured out that there were a few things L needed to have a successful nights sleep. Food was the first. So, having a bottle became part of his night time routine when we put him down at 8:00 pm. We didn’t put it in his bed or let him fall asleep with it. We just fed it to him while we read scriptures. Then, we figured out that if we woke him and fed him another bottle around 11:30, more often than not he could sleep until 8:00 am.
We also realized he slept better with the sound machine on. Then later he needed a nightlight and eventually a stuffed animal. As he has gotten bigger and we have gotten better at listening, we have also learned that he has different cries and can recognize them. He has tired cry and we are comfortable letting him cry longer than 10 minutes if it the tired cry. He also has a panicked cry and a sick cry and a pain cry. Those cries merit more immediate attention depending on the circumstances.
After a lot of trial and error and guilt, we finally have a system that works for us and L (it also changes slowly as he gets older). Figuring it took some time but it was worth it because it is a large part of what keeps us sane. I need that three hours at night to have something akin to an adult life. I love playing with L all day, and keeping up with the house and yard aren’t bad, but it is so nice to have a few hours of time each night to spend with my husband or develop my own skills or work on projects. To me, those three hours were definitely worth training L to sleep at a specific time in his own bed. The sleep training also helps us get large chunks of undisturbed sleep. That is what we can live with.
That being said we are not super strict. We listen carefully. Sometimes he cries, sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes we get him sometimes we don’t. Occasionally we watch Moana until ten or go on a walk if the night is really hard (see post here). We can all live with those choices and L goes to sleep without issues 6 out of 7 nights. Those odds work for me and my family.
Do your research but don’t expect to find a magical correct way to sleep train. There isn’t a right way for everyone. Do what works for your family. Be prepared to be flexible if the need arises. Stop feeling so guilty, you are doing your best.
I am not a medical professional and don’t submit this post as medical advice. This is just what I have learned after 15 months with kid one.
Comment below with sleep training tips and methods that have worked for you.