Ask Amy – Sleep Training Babies

Sleep Training Babies? | RaisingArrows.netToday, we have this question from a reader…

What is your take on sleep training babies?

She goes on to say she enjoys rocking and nursing her 8 month old to sleep, but she is tired and feeling pressure from well-meaning Christian friends who fear she will reap bad fruit from her methods.  She asks what my take on sleep training is, how I encourage my babies/toddlers to sleep, and how I get enough rest myself.

First of all, this question is quite controversial.  Everyone seems to have an opinion about what does and does not constitute spoiling a child when it comes to sleep habits.  I’m going to tell you right off the bat, I don’t think this issue is so black and white that you can definitively say one method is superior over another or that one method is pure evil while another is pure perfection.  Every situation is unique and generalizations that condemn or elevate one method over another are rarely helpful.

All that said, I’ll give you my experience and opinion, but remember, I have only my set of circumstances to take into consideration.  You need to look at your own set of circumstances and do the very best you can with what you have been given.  And above all, try not to stress and agonize over your choices.  This one issue is not going to make or break your parenting.

So, what is my take on sleep training?

I don’t do it.

That is, I don’t do it until they are older, and even then, I don’t do it the way the “experts” tell you to do it.

I don’t like the idea of trying to force an infant into a schedule.  They find a natural rhythm and that rhythm typically includes a couple of middle of the night feedings.

So, the next question is how do you as a tired mommy deal with middle of the night feedings?  Personally, I bring my babies to bed with me when they wake up that first time and there they stay.  It’s what has worked for us, but it’s not the only answer.

With one of my babies, I had a super comfy chair near where she slept and I would put on some soft music and sit in that chair and doze off while she nursed.  Eventually, I would wake up and put her back in her crib, and head back to bed.  I have very fond memories of listening to the music and my baby suckling in the stillness of the night hours.

But, there does come a time when I begin to feel my babies need to start working toward longer stretches of sleep at night.  However, there are many factors involved.  You have to make sure baby is ready to sleep through the night.  You have to make sure their tummies are full enough to make it through the night and they aren’t actually waking out of true hunger, rather than habit.  You have to make sure it isn’t their diaper or the temperature of the room or Daddy snoring (yes, I’m serious!) that is waking them up at night.  All these things can factor in and that is what makes Cry It Out (CIO), also known as the Ferber Method, less than ideal.

You have to take into account that your baby could be waking from something other than habit and those needs have to be addressed.  To use the snoring example, we realized our 7th child, who slept in a crib in our room, was waking up in the night because Daddy was snoring.  We moved him into another room and suddenly, he was sleeping through.  Another one of our children was waking up in the night because he was hyper-sensitive to wet cloth diapers.  We put him in a disposable for overnight and the problem was solved.  It would have been ridiculous for me to ignore these things with the assumption that my child was just being willful.

So, how do I encourage my babies/toddlers to sleep through the night?  Well, I don’t expect it at all until they are 10 months or so.  And even then, I know a stray night here and there is going to happen.  I also know that some children just don’t sleep as well as others.  My child with sensory issues didn’t sleep through the night until she was 5, but I did find many wonderful suggestions that helped her in this book:


The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley
(she also has a toddler version I have not read)

The biggest thing I took away from this book is having a bedtime routine that is calming, as well as having something that is associated with sleep (toy, blanket, etc).  Play relaxing music at night.  Turn down the lights and speak quietly.  Read devotions together and say prayers as a routine thing that triggers little one’s brains to know it is time for bed.  Have a special pillow or stuffed animal that comes out at night as they begin to unwind.

Even with babies, we do these things.  I swaddle our babies at night.  The house slowly winds down and becomes darker and quieter.  Eventually, baby falls fast asleep and we take him to his bed.  He has a routine that is relaxing for both of us.

If nursing and rocking your baby is relaxing for both of you, it is a win-win situation, but if one of you isn’t relaxed, then it’s time to rethink what you are doing.

Personally, as my babies get older, I stop rocking and nursing to sleep.  If possible, I nurse them and let them be up a bit longer before laying them down awake.  This encourages them to learn how to fall asleep on their own which translates into how to get back to sleep when they wake in the night.

When I have had an older baby who either fights going to sleep or wakes in the night out of habit, and I know they simply need to learn how to go to bed or how to soothe themselves back to sleep in the night, I follow a routine that looks something like this:

*Take care of all their nighttime needs (ie diaper changes, nursing, jammies).
*Follow a calming nighttime routine that includes the rest of the family.
*Carry baby off to bed, preferably at the same time each night.
*Lay baby down awake, with lights off and give them whatever “lovies” they are used to (doll, blankie, etc).
*Speak quietly and soothingly and do not linger.

If I have to help them a little more to get to sleep or sleep through the night, I go into their room without the lights on and often without speaking.  If I do need to say something because they are crying or jabbering, I speak very quietly and soothingly.  I don’t linger and I don’t pick them up unless I have to.  If they are standing up, I lay them back down gently and calmly.  I pat their backs and smooth their hair and hand them their lovie and I leave (again, not lingering).  I will do this over and over and over again until my little one realizes mama isn’t a lot of fun in the night, but she sure is quiet and calming.

This reader also asked how I get enough sleep.  Frankly, there are seasons in a mama’s life when sleep is a precious commodity.  Sometimes you get it.  Sometimes you don’t.  Besides co-sleeping with baby through the night, I also like to take baby to bed with me for a nap during the day if I can manage it.  I also institute Rest Time during baby’s first year where all my children are required to lay down for 1 hour during the afternoon.  My olders can read a book or draw, while my littles take a nap and mommy dozes.  If I have a toddler who might get into trouble while I’m sleeping, I bring them to bed with me or hold them in the chair while I sleep.  You can also sequester yourself and your children in a bedroom that is free from hazards and ways to get out and roam the house.  This way, you can doze a bit without worrying (too much) about the little ones.  Eventually, you will have older kids who are able to hold down the fort while you catch a few ZZZ’s.  Hang in there, mama!

Now it’s your turn!  What sleep advice do you have?

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23 thoughts on “Ask Amy – Sleep Training Babies

  1. I’ve never, ever met another mom who uses *exactly* my “method,” and yet here you are! :) Amazing!

    We have just had baby number five, and sleep is less concerning to me with each child. I was a bit of a fanatic with my firstborn, reading everything under the sun about infant sleep and feeling desperate to get her to sleep better. I kind-of surrendered all that ridiculousness by baby two, snuggled her up in our bed, and ended up fairly well-rested and very connected to that wee one. Since then, I just accept that I am going to have interrupted sleep (more intensely for a few months, and then now-and-again for the first few years) when we have little ones in our house. Funny…I think all my resistance to giving myself “fully” to motherhood (and the attempt to regain my loss of control of my own little life!) was more exhausting than just accepting matters and working to gently, slowly parent the babies God gives me. I don’t even think much about sleep anymore, and I’m rarely exhausted. Just a bit tired here and again.

    I, too, bring nursing baby to bed with me in the middle of the night at the first feeding, and rarely do I stay awake long enough to know how long that feeding lasted. Baby sleeps with her head on my upper arm, and we both wake up rested and happy in the morning. I also find that I am extremely sensitive to her safety in the middle of the night, keeping her close and having a “sixth sense” about my husband’s elbow turning her way or things of the like. So, I don’t have any fears about co-sleeping.

    Sometimes, my poor husband does wake up in a damp bed because my milk has continued flowing while baby has drifted off to sleep. Hoot! It is a good laugh for both of us. I mean…can you get much more romantic that milky sheets? :)

    I also recommend “No Cry Sleep Solution”, because the author genuinely seems to like mothering and think about the needs of her children. That book was a blessing to me. Additionally, we are total believers in the power of the soothing nighttime routine. This has been the key for all of our kids…and lets us predict bedtime, which we enjoy. By 3-6 months, we can *plan* when the baby will go to bed, which makes for nice home date nights for us as a couple.

    Thanks for addressing sleep in your typical gentle, sweet way. This can be such a hot button among parents. I especially like that you addressed the fact that poorly sleeping baby does not equal “bad child”, “willful child”, or “parenting fail.” We have (mostly!) obedient children who we *really* enjoy, and several of them would have been classified as poor sleepers…per the parenting books.

    • My thoughts and experiences exactly. Accept, with good nature (!), the lack of sleep (or good sleep) and NURTURE. A rhythm to each little life eventually shows itself. In my eight, I’ve had several-times-a-nighters and a couple-of-times-a-nighters but they’ve all worked it out and are good settlers at bedtime and good sleepers now.

      I think the stress of trying to get babies to sleep well early on is more tiring and tension-building than just getting up and feeding/settling them.

    • Ditto to all this. I spent a lot of time trying to get my 2nd sleeping independently. I finally accepted that eventually, she would learn and kept bringing her to bed with me. By 8 months we could put her down in her crib and at a little over a year she would sleep all night, most nights. The only thing I regret, is that she used a sippy cup as her “sleep prop” and comfort. She drank a LOT in those days, resulting in many diaper leaks.

      I am a lot more relaxed with #3, he has fallen into his rhythm and even takes naps in his co-sleeper! I never could have put #2 down like that or she would wake right up. I think it depends on the personality of the child–she is more clingy, #1 and #3 are more outgoing.

      One thing that was great for me was a sling–baby took naps in it and Mommy got things done and both were happy. :)

  2. Amy – I love your balance and your openness to more than one way. Each one of mine was different and had their. own sleep routines. I also enjoyed the post on the Knight Feast. Will tuck it away for the grandsons – would be a great b-day party.

  3. Thank you for being so realistic and having the courage to offer support for those mothers for whom the “experts” may not hold all the answers. My son, now 15, was a good sleeper as a baby, but every now and again would be wide-eyed and bushy-tailed as his “bed time” would come and go. It was my dad, actually, who said to me early on “Take him in with you when you need to. It won’t last forever.” He was right. Being snuggled up in bed with my son was comforting for both of us and eased my first-time mother worries. Moms: encourage each other. Share. When a young mother reaches out in her frustration, exhaustion and passionate love, take a minute to remember the unique, intimate and non-comparable feeling that in the wee hours of the morning there is nothing sweeter, nor more sacred, than you and your baby. God is so physically close in those moments, would you not agree?

  4. I think this issue shouldn’t be as controversial as it is. My children were given to me, not another mom. I have a similar take on it as you do. One of my sons was extremely colicky until he was well past the age of “colic.” Until this little guy was 8 months old, he threw up every time he ate, so I knew that if he was awake and crying, he really needed his mom to get him through it…he had a genuine tummy ache. My own mother kept telling me to let him “self-soothe.” I simply explained to her that although she was an experienced mother, this little guy was mine and I could tell he really needed me. In contrast, my fourth child had to be woken to feed because he would have slept through the night (or at least six hours) just about from birth. Some kids respond well to scheduling, but like you said, they aren’t just all being willful. I think in most cases, they aren’t. In fact, my little colicky guy had issues after he got over his colic because his crib mattress was vinyl. I solved it with a mattress pad (he was about a year old and it wasn’t a deep pad.) I also think it is easier to “train” a child who understands what you are saying. For those of you on child #1, sleep training books may be very tempting, but you wouldn’t potty-train your 4 month old because you know he or she isn’t capable of understanding the commands (or physically capable of carrying them out.) I think the same goes for any kind of training. Just remember that there is a season to everything. And for those of us to have larger families, it seems like we keep getting the same seasons just when we thought they were over ;-) My two year old sleeps quite well, but I don’t think his baby brother will once he gets here in a few weeks.

  5. It is interesting to read the many different methods for sleep training. Whether we realize it or not, we are all training our babies in one way or another from the day they are born.

    When we had our first, we had heard about 6 success stories from people who used Babywise and their babies slept through the night very early– by 6 weeks or so, 8 weeks at the latest. So we did that. And both our children have slept through the night by 6 weeks. Now that they are 5 and 2, we look back and thank God for the flexible schedule that we began from their very first hour after being born (at home) They are fantastic sleepers, and my 5 year old will even put herself to bed if we have company over. But I love that I say time for bed, and they both run upstairs and get their jammies on and wait for me or DH to go up and say prayers. And naptimes have never been more than saying ‘naptime’.

    I have seen so many friends struggle with sleepless nights, well into the first (even second or third) year and I think– there is an easier way! In fact I keep copies of the book to give out. We are expecting joy again in August and I look forward to having only 6 weeks of up in the night phase.

    But as a caveat, I had a lot of anxiety about getting no sleep for months on end and DH and I were HIGHLY motivated to have children who slept well. To this day, I cringe when I see someone rocking or nursing a newborn to sleep, though I know that many people enjoy that time of falling asleep together. I am just so afraid of the consequences of being tied to a rocking chair two years later for every nap and bedtime, which I have seen first hand in a very frustrated friend, who would rock for up to two hours every day!

    • I want to follow up to my comment after reading the other comments. I believe this IS so controversial because there are so many people who are struggling to get their children to sleep once they are toddlers, and it is so painful for family and friends to watch the struggles go on for years, and it can extend into childhood as well if they can’t get it worked out.

      I remember my good friend rocking her daughter at age 2 to get her to sleep for her naps and being in tears that she absolutely could not put her down and had to rock usually for an hour, sometimes more for naptime, knowing she had to do it again in just a few hours for bedtime.

      It can affect the number of children they have, and greatly affect their relationship with the child. I think that is why people are so sensitive about it. My cousin suffered the same thing, needing to do a very detailed routine including rocking all the way through early childhood EVERY single night. That is draining on the entire family, and mom starts to resent it. I know that many mothers are able to avoid a schedule and still have success getting them to sleep in the first year, but many mothers do not have success and the impact is enormous.

      Or conversely, beginning a simple eat, wake, sleep pattern from their first day can allow moms to know when something is genuinely wrong when the baby alters the schedule, allows mom and dad to get back into their own loving routine quickly, and most importantly, allows the baby to get a full nights sleep which their growing brains need as soon as their stomachs have grown large enough.

    • I don’t think this is fair. Not every baby responds to scheduling and there’s no reason to “cringe” when you hear of babies nursing to sleep. I read Babywise with my first. I am on my third baby who is almost 3 months, they have all been very different. My first fell into a schedule relatively easy. My second was colicky and scheduling did not work for her, she fought it, CIO so many times that I’m embarrassed to say how much. :( I wished she would have nursed to sleep! My third is fed on demand, sleeps when he’s cranky…. and he’s already sleeping 10-12 hrs at night, all on his own. Be careful about judging other people’s parenting choices, God has a way of humbling us through our children….

  6. This is very similar to what I do with our kiddos. I have a lot of friends who have babies sleeping in a separate room right home from the hospital. That is great if that is what works. I have felt silly mommy guilt over co sleeping in the past. Now that we are having our fourth I ave given up spending energy on caring what others thing is “best”, and just do what works for us. I personally LOVE sleeping and snuggling with my babies and don’t start transitioning them to a crib/pack & play until I am done with morning sickness of the next pregnancy. I know that I will be snuggling the new one at night and I don’t want it to be too close to the birth of the next baby. I start by transitioning nap time alone first. Then alone in our room. They may stay in our room in a crib for a while, even with baby in our bed. Then when they are big enough to join the big girls in the big girl room (so far we have all girls). Like you said even then we get middle of the night wanderers that end up in our bed. That is why we have a kind sized bed! We don’t mind. In fact as long as they are not kicking us we enjoy the closeness. I am so thankful my husband and I feel the same about co-sleeping. I’m many other countries co-sleeping is more common. I say what ever works for you and gets you the most sleep is the way to go!

    • By the way, right from birth all of my babies and I have slept well at night. When they are next to me I don’t have to wake up to nurse them for the night time feedings. We all get great sleep at our house!

  7. Thanks for sharing this! Baby #4 is four months old now, and I feel SO much pressure to get her to sleep through the night…and while I will be happy when it happens…I really don’t care that much! I stressed SO much with my first little guy, and have cared less and less with each one! For now, I too, will enjoy my sweet suckling baby girl in the quiet hours of the night. There will be many babyless years in my future for sleeping!:)

  8. How does a momma of littles get enough sleep? She doesn’t! At least not usually -according to the world’s standards. Rather than focus on how much sleep “they”(insert any number of people, studies, etc) say I need and focus instead on God’s promises to supply all that I need for life and Godliness (2 Peter 1:2-4). I pray as I go to bed each night that God will provide and supply the REST I need regardless of how much sleep I actually get. He is faithful. I have birthed and nursed 5 babies in six years and by His grace I am still strong and healthy. I DO struggle with tiredness and exhaustion but God is always there to sustain me. A low point for me was with baby #4 -he had severe allergies at birth that we did not know about and for the first two months of his life slept only 15-30min at a time around the clock. I do not know how I physically made it through that time -I should have truly lost my mind and had a nervous break down from little sleep and a crying baby but my husband and I held onto God’s promises and cried out to Him -often literally and He brought us through. Where God leads, He provides. It is not always easy but putting your babies needs before your own will bring fulfillment -even if it doesn’t bring sleep! :-)

  9. I wish I could have read this, and the comments, when my kids were babies. It would have been so encouraging. You all have great input. Everyone around me was doing the rigid scheduling and I fell under pressure to try to schedule my inconsolable baby who cried every day for months (I cried a lot too!). Others judged me since he was my first. I feel like another reader who knows she only made it through because of Jesus! That crying baby is now 15 and he sleeps great! I had to work to get all my little ones to be good sleepers but it paid off. We had lots of exhausting bed wetting years (we survived that too, but the washing machine didn’t!). My encouragement is to not be too rigid, enjoy your babies and try to relax, but work on scheduling them because God is a God of order. I’m a believer in working with the kids to be good sleepers so you can protect your marital relationship. You still need time and space alone with your husband. I have had great success with doing a consistent bedtime routine. Even with our oldest at 15 we still have a bedtime routine, though it changes as they get older. My sister is always surprised that my teenager doesn’t do the sleeping till noon thing. I think the consistency pays off even when they get older.

  10. I think this is such a great read! This is something I have been thinking about ALOT lately, and over the past fews years I have come to so many different conclusions! I am not a mom, but I have been a nanny to many, many newborns. I currently started a new job as a night nanny (getting up with newborns during the night so their mom can sleep) and so all of this information is more relevant then ever! After watching so many different moms I have to say I completely agree with you that each and every situation is different! I have seen babies who co-sleep that are fantastic sleepers, and babies who co-sleep that are horrible sleepers. I have seen babies who’s parents used babywise that are fantastic sleepers, and parents who used similar sleep training methods and their babies still cry themselves to sleep every single night at a year and half old.
    My biggest suggestion though is to read up on ALL metods! I know some mom’s who will read on just one metod, try to use it and it just does not work for them, and they end up becoming frustrated. Going along with that, I would say, whatever method you choose to use, be prepared for it. If you choose to use babywise, be flexible. If you choose to rock your baby to sleep every night, realize, that you will most likely be rocking your baby to sleep every night for at least a year.
    Also, please, please don’t judge other mother’s and their choice of sleep training! As I said above, I know babies who have thrived on almost every method out there! There ARE some mothers ( I have babysat for many!) out there who just need their sleep to be good mothers. Babywise or some other sleep training might just be the best choice for them. And there are other mothers who enjoy rocking their baby to sleep every single night, and if they want to do that for the next year or so, I say more power to them!
    Of course it will depend on my future husband, but I personally think I might do a mix of the above mentioned. I have seen how beautiful co-sleeping can be, and I hope that I might get to do it someday with my babies. At the same time, I have also seen how good it is to give the gift to a child of the ability to put themselves to sleep, and I hope to use some gentle methods to teach my babies to do that from the beginning.

  11. I think sleep training is a way for writers and publicists to make money. It is compelling. But, I found it lead me down a path of selfishness. When I allowed God to change my heart, I no longer resented my childrens night wakings. Instead I cherished them. Also, if they went 4 hours at night I would have to wake up to pump. I DEFINATELY would rather nurse my baby than pump. :)

  12. I am so glad to see you recommend this book, the no-cry sleep solution. Actually, I havn’t read it myself (having had no need for “solutions”, I’ve been blessed with great sleepers I guess) but I have heard it recommended from several friends as a book that – finally – gives helpful, gentle and respectful (of the children) advice.

    I’d like to reassure the reader asking the question, that taking the time and folllowing the childs lead is in no way a recipe for disaster.

    My personal approach to the sleeping issue has been very simple, co-sleeping :) We’ve done it wtih all our children and it has worked beautifully. No scared or crying kids, no overtired Mommy from getting up at night – the kids just simply nurse half in their sleep and me too.

    People will tell you that the kids will never get out of your bed and that you need to train them to sleep in their own bed. Obviously that’s not true. You need to train them, if you want them to do it before *they* are ready, but if you’re fine with waiting, they *will* choose their own bed eventually. My 12 and 8 yo since long aren’t in our family bed anymore ;-)

    The younger ones still sleep in the family bed, and it is a wonderful, positive, no-fuss way to sleep – for all parties.

    I recognize that as with all things it won’t work for everyone, but it does for many :)

    Blessings,
    Maria

  13. Amy,

    I love your blog! I am the mother of 14 children and have found the best way for me and my baby to get sleep is if we sleep together! Around the age age of 10 mos. or so, the baby will migrate to an older sibling’s bed. Everyone in our house has a “snuggle partner”!

    Thanks for your ideas and God Bless!
    Cynthia