Today, 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 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?