Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sleep Training: I'm the Baby Drill Sergeant

“I love sleep training.  I love sleep training.”  This is what goes through my head every time Henry sleeps through the night.  “I hate sleep training.  I hate sleep training,” is what goes through my head every time he doesn’t.  With Henry’s pediatrician’s go-ahead, we started sleep training him at 4 ½ months.  Sleep training requires persistence and consistency, which happen to be the two things I obsessed about daily in my pre-baby life.  Routine is my middle name.  Starting around 2 months we had already implemented a nighttime and naptime routine of feeding, books, song and sleep.  At that time, he was not yet on a schedule, but the second I saw signs of sleepiness (eye rubbing, yawning, fussiness) I would start the routine.  Henry’s naptime and bedtime routines are similar, except at night he gets a bath every other day.  Each time, I zip him up in his sleep sack, we sit in the rocker, read a few books, I put him down in his crib, turn out the lights and sing him a song.  He pops his thumb in his mouth, hugs his Ugly Doll, Babo, and falls asleep. 
Starting from birth, I charted Henry’s feedings, poos, pees, and sleep.  Once he started showing a general pattern I would put him down before he showed signs of tiredness.  Two weeks before we started officially sleep training; I night weaned him.  Each night I nursed him for a few minutes less and prolonged the time between feedings.  The start of sleep training coincided with the end of Henry’s pacifier, which was a relief, as running into his room 10 times a night to replace the nook each time he lost it was getting old.  He barely noticed it was gone. 

Once we began a blend of the Weisbluth and Ferber cry it out methods, it took 3 nights.  On night 1 we let him cry for 3 minutes, then went in to pat his chest and said, “Momma loves you,” and left the room.  If he continued crying we let him cry for 5 minutes, then went in and repeated the comforting ritual.  If he continued, we let him cry for 10 minutes, etc.  Each time he woke crying, we would begin the 3, 5, 10 and 15-minute increments again.  On night 2 we used increments of 5, 10, 15 and 20 minutes.  On night 3 we used increments of 10, 15, 20, and 25 minutes.  On night 4 he slept from 9pm until 5am without a peep.  Hallelujah, it worked!  Once he was sleep trained at night, we moved on to sleep training him for his naps. 

What was peculiar about our sleep training experience was that Chris was not allowed to participate.  This is odd considering Chris is an extremely hands on father.  He loves getting down and dirty with the baby.  Normally, moms don’t participate in night sleep training, due to the fact that the smell of her breast milk might upset the baby even more.  Although he did everything he could to help, we discovered that Chris has a mental and physical affliction in the middle of the night – he can’t use his brain to direct his bodily functions.  He would forget to put on his glasses and rush into Henry’s room clumsily.  On multiple occasions he walked his lanky frame into doors, lamps, bookshelves, walls, etc.  He often woke up franticly feeling around for Henry in the bed telling me to be careful, even though we never slept with Henry in the bed.  Chris even picked Henry up out of his crib once, which is a big fat no-no according to Dr. Ferber.  If you pick up baby during sleep training, he will think that if he cries long enough, he will get what he wants – and all that crying he did the last few days would be for nothing.  We finally came up with a rule that Chris was not allowed out of bed between the hours of 11pm and 5am.  His job at night was to give Henry his last bottle of the evening and occasionally wake me up when Henry started crying – I am a very heavy sleeper.  

Choosing to sleep train is equivalent to selectively fighting in a never-ending war. He sleeps great for two weeks, and then when he is sick or we are traveling he gets off schedule, and we have to sleep train him all over again.  On occasion Henry wins – I give in and rock him back to sleep (last night), but for the most part we hold the victory flag (this morning he cried for 20 minutes during his nap and fell back asleep).

Listening to his cries gets more heartbreaking as he gets stronger and more stubborn.  As his screams get progressively louder and more dramatic, I feel a knot in my stomach.  I imagine that he’s thinking “Momma, where are you?  Momma come snuggle me!”  It is agonizing.  It sounds disturbingly similar to some sort of baby boot camp, and I’m the drill sergeant, but I know he’s OK in the end, because he wakes up giggly and spry.  I suppose Henry is more regimented than most kids he knows, and it’s probably because I’m obsessive about feeding him and putting him down for sleep at almost the same time every day.  It’s an interesting balancing act.  When he’s off schedule he gets overtired and fussy, but we have to be flexible when we travel and when we visit with family and friends.

If I had to do it all over again, I would.  I hear too many stories of babies who wake up to feed in the middle of the night at 12 months old, and I thank my lucky stars that Henry has been sleep trained since he was 5 months old.  I need my sleep too.

Tip:  The darker the room, the better baby will sleep.


  1. Your story is an inspiration to me!
    The biggest adjustment I am facing is interruption of daily routine. So far I don't work so it's probably fine. But I'd like to have some sort of schedule no matter it is day or night.
    My son is 7-wk old and wakes up at least twice at night from ~10 pm to ~7 am. He wakes up for two reasons: hungry (during the day he eats every 3-4 hours) or reflux. I am wondering, even you know your baby is hungry, you still let him cry out? This seems a bit extreme, but I'd like to hear your opinion.
    Another thing is his nap. He only naps 40 min every time and would wake up crying, until someone picks him up. At this point it's difficult to put him down. So we end up holding him for his second-half nap time. I can tell he is tired, but he won't fall asleep until someone holds him. I know I probably shouldn't feel annoyed, but I am sometimes. Do you use CIO for his nap time too?

  2. You are doing great! Your baby is still too young to sleep train. Most books advise that you wait until your baby is around 5 months old. Around 3 months, some pediatricians will allow it, if your baby is heavy enough. At 7 weeks, Henry was eating 3 times a night, so you are ahead of the game. When he was hungry I fed him.

    Regarding his naps, I did use the CIO method, but not until we got the go-ahead from the pediatrician. We often rocked Henry to sleep when he was 7 weeks old, and let him sleep in our arms. At some point, our pediatrician said it was OK to let him cry for a little bit - 5 minutes - to see if Henry would fall asleep on his own. You should ask your pediatrician what he or she thinks.

    Don't feel bad that you are exhausted from holding your child. It is normal! Do you have a swing or a buzzing chair? A lot of young babies find the motion soothing and it helps them fall asleep. It might help to remember that soon he will be too heavy to hold for long periods of time, and he might not want to be held once he's mobile -- this is where we are now and I miss the little baby stage!

    Thanks for your message, and enjoy!

  3. Hi Joyce,
    Thanks so much for your reply. I check your blog from time to time. It's a fun blog! I have one for my little one too, but it's mainly for family and friends to see his pictures.
    I enjoy reading your blog. You let me know what might be ahead of me!

  4. Hi Joyce, Hello to you from Singapore! I stumbled across your blog and am so interested as it sounds a lot like me obsessing about my childs schedule. she has been on a schedule since 2 months as well but recently her pacifier habit is really annoying me! Now my daughter is 5 months old and am thinking of sleep training. My question to you is, when you have to re-sleep train every time after a holiday etc, is it just as hard as the first time? because sometimes i wonder what is the point if that is the case.

  5. Hi Samareen! Thanks for your comment. Yes, we usually have to re-sleep train after he is sick or after traveling. The good news is that it is much easier to do once he's accustomed to putting himself back to sleep. The initial sleep training took 3 days, but after a trip or a cold, it usually takes half a day to a day to get him back on track. Good luck with the sleep training! I'm a big fan.