Before I dive into my experience with sleep training, I want to acknowledge and respect that everyone's parenting style is different. There is no "right" or "wrong," and we as parents all want the same thing; for our children to be safe, healthy, and happy.
What I'm about to talk about has worked for me for the past 3+ years, but it's not to say it's the only way to get your child to sleep through the night. If you have ANY specific questions regarding sleep training your child, please refer all of them to my incredibly experienced night nurse Desiree Nessline who I will introduce you to later in my post!
IT WAS ALMOST 4 YEARS AGO... on Christmas Eve 2013, when I brought my first daughter Charlotte home from the hospital. There wasn't much "sleep" going on in my world, and I can remember counting down the minutes until my newborn nurse came in to help. I will NEVER forget the moment she first saw me, and no joke asked, "Are you okay? Did you eat today?" I felt like I had been through war and seriously could not remember what I had for dinner and it was only 10p.m. I was THAT exhausted!
I thank my lucky stars every day that my husband was open and honest with me from the moment we found out we were pregnant. He told me, "I love you, but I will not get up in the middle of the night to help you in any way." <insert the shock and gasp of disgust all you want> but my husband IS A GENIUS!!!! With his crazy work schedule, he just couldn't afford to lose any sleep, so instead, he told me I could get a newborn nurse to help.
I had never heard of a newborn nurse. What did they do? I hopped on my computer and started researching and found that Newborn Care Specialists are individuals trained and skilled in newborn care and sleep training. After calling around, I found a group of Newborn Care Specialists (NCS's) here in the valley and started my interviews.
I could go on and on about the interview process, but I'm just going to fast forward to almost 4 years later. I currently have 3 children, the youngest, just 2.5 months old, who are ALL SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT! A FULL 12 HOURS!!!! Amen!!!
I know that not everyone has the means to have an NCS come into their home and help sleep train, so my goal in this blog post is to help you identify some key factors that can help your little one sleep through the night. All of the information I'm about to give you has been knowledge I've gained over the past 3 years from my NCS's and from personal experience training my 3 children to sleep throughout the night.
I'm going to split this into four categories: environment, routine, swaddle, and self soothing. I feel that each of these categories are key, and without one you will have a hard time getting your little one to sleep.
This is the foundation of sleep! Without the proper set up for your baby, he or she won't be able to go down. What I mean by environment is the temperature in her room, how much light is getting into the room, and white noise. These three things are so important! I always keep my baby's room temperature between 70-75 degrees fahrenheit. My rule of thumb is, would I be comfortable sleeping in the room with pajamas on, or would I need a blanket? Your baby's body temperature is similar to how you feel. If you feel like you need a sweater in his or her room, adjust the air, or put them in a sleep sack.
Speaking of temperature, another thing to look out for is air vents! I never put any of my children's cribs directly under an air vent, which is a no no if you didn't already know. However, I did have air ventilation shooting directly towards my daughter Clementine's crib when she was a newborn. I had my night nurse point that out to me and had to have my husband pull out the ladder and re-direct the air to shoot out in the opposite direction. So CHECK THAT if you haven't already.
The next thing to look out for is light. I cannot stress the importance of a blacked out room. I had my 19 month old daughter who had been sleeping through the night for the past year, all of a sudden regress. She was getting up at 5 AM, screaming and crying. I started getting up and trying to soothe her but she would't go back to sleep! A NIGHTMARE!!! After re-assessing her environment, it turns out there was a lot of light seeping through her curtains and under the door to her bathroom and the entrance into the hallway. I purchased door draft stoppers to block the sun from getting into her room. A total life saver! Once I completely covered all the light sources she was back to sleeping through the night until 7am.
Lastly, get a good white noise machine. White noise replicates the sound an infant is used to hearing in the womb, so it helps soothe them to sleep. I know it may seem noisy at first, but trust me, it drowns out any noise that may be going on in you house, plus babies LOVE it! I've tried a handful of them, but I've found the ones made by homedics are incredible! They are super cheap, they can get REALLY loud, they last forever, and they are flat and easy to travel with.
My night nurse Desiree put Russell and me on a method called "EASY." The "E" is for eat, "A" is for awake time, "S" for sleep, and "Y" if for you time. Depending on the age of your baby, his or her "EASY" routine will be different. For example, the amount of wake time for a newborn vs. a 4 month old is different because developmentally a newborn sleeps a lot more.
You also have to take into account how much formula or breastmilk your child is taking during the day. Is he or she getting enough? Or are they constantly nursing or "snacking" not giving you enough time for yourself? Something that helps me is I keep a little log book of Russell's day. You can even do this in your phone in the "notes" app. I keep track of what time he starts his day which is typically 7am. I write down how much he ate, how long he's awake for after he nurses, and then what time he starts showing "sleepy signs." Sleepy signs are things like yawning or rubbing of the eyes for an older child. I don't let him fall asleep in my arms because the goal is to help my little guy get used to the routine of being put down in his crib. He might fuss a little, but after a minute or two he usually falls asleep on his own after showing me those sleepy signs.
There is a method to the routine, and AGAIN it is all dependent on your child's age. If you have any questions about your child's routine please refer to my NCS who offers thorough over-the-phone consultations. Her info is at the very end :)
I thought I knew how to swaddle until I saw my NCS do it! My first daughter was wiggling her way out of every swaddle I put her in, until I bought a miracle blanket. AKA what I call a "Hannibal Lector straight jacket," you'll understand if you've seen the movie Silence of the Lambs. LOL! Ok, but in all seriousness these swaddles are THE BEST! They are so important for helping your baby stay asleep, because when they wiggle their arms out of a swaddle they wake themselves up! Not good!
Another tip about swaddling, especially my first time parents reading this. There is really no such thing as swaddling "too tight." Your baby will love a tight swaddle because they have been in tight quarters in your tummy for the past 9 months! They looooove feeling secure in a good, strong, swaddle.
I feel like this is the category where parents get a little "sensitive." There are a number of methods to self soothing including using a pacifier and letting your baby cry for a couple minutes to see if they can put themselves back to sleep. I have tried both methods, and for my kids, none of them were interested in a pacifier. It's wonderful if your child takes one and it helps soothe, but at the same time you don't want them relying on it.
While it's really painful to listen to as a parent, I let all of my children "cry it out" in order to put themselves to sleep. It's a painful 5-10 minutes but for my little guy IT WORKS. It also worked for both of my daughters too. I know your next question is, "OK, how long do I let my child cry before I go in and save them?" The answer is, it completely depends on your child's age. The older your child is, the longer he or she can self soothe themselves by crying. If you're reading this and thinking I'm a horrible parent, again, there are many ways to do this, but it is so important to allow your child to teach themselves how to fall back asleep if they wake up. Otherwise, you'll continue your sleepless nights for a VERY LONG TIME.
THE BRAINS BEHIND SLEEP TRAINING
My incredible night nurse Desiree Nessline does in home and over the phone consultations for all my momma's in need! Desiree has over 25 years specializing in sleep training infants to 1 year olds. I linked all of her information here so if I was vague or mentioned, "It depends on your child's age" please send your specific questions to her! She genuinely LOVES helping parents get their sleep back, and seeing their babies happy.
I hope this helped you, and please know that if you and your little one are struggling with sleep you aren't alone! I'm willing to answer any questions you may have from my own personal experience so please feel free to send me an email any time!