I want to tackle this subject, although I was a bit hesitant, as I know people have some very strong opinions about the subject. I want to preface this post by saying that we all parent our kids differently and we each do what is best for our kids and for our home environment. I know what might work for one family might not work for another. And that’s ok. I’m ok with it and hopefully you are, too. We need to stop judging each other and accept that we are all trying to do this parenthood thing the best way we can in our own way. With that being said, I do want to share my experience with sleep training my boys and hopefully it will help other mothers, although, in the end, we have to really rely more on trial and error.
I have three young boys and my husband and I were able to get all 3 sleeping through the night at 3 months and for each it took roughly 1-2 weeks. We used the Ferber method to help sleep train our boys, which is also known as the “crying it out” method. In more technical terms, it is a technique invented by Dr. Richard Ferber. It involves “baby-training” children to self-soothe by allowing them to cry for a predetermined amount of time before receiving external comfort. Many have the misconseption that this method involves putting a baby in its crib and just letting them cry all night with no intervention. That is not the case, but because of this notion, I have heard people write and say that this type of parenting can be cruel or hurtful to the baby. I completely disagree and that misconception, in my opinion and experience, is inaccurate. What we did was far more complicated than sticking our babies in a crib and just letting them cry for hours on end. It was actually very difficult and much more strategic than that and we spent many sleepless nights close by our babies while we helped them each learn how to self soothe and not expect instant gratification by picking them up or feeding them at every cry. On the contrary, we actually did have to go comfort the baby throughout the night, but not by taking them out of their crib, as you will read in the steps below. The consistency of sleep training not only is helpful for the baby, as they adjust to a routine and also can sleep more restfully for longer periods of time, but it also helps with the overall family schedule.
Below are the steps we followed for all three boys and while it may or may not work for other babies, we were pretty impressed with how well all three did with this same method. Before I move on with the steps, another disclaimer. By no means, did we ever let our babies cry it out when they were not feeling well. We have spent many sleepless nights with our boys when they were sick, holding them and comforting them throughout the night. So there are most certainly exceptions. Also, all babies are different. Some are more fussy than others, some have colic, some are breastfeeding every couple of hours, and some have other issues that would make this method difficult or impossible to apply.
These are the sleep training steps we took with our babies:
- Decide on timing – We decided beforehand that our boys would move from our room to their nursery at 3 months. It helps to have a specific transition point so you can have a plan that you can stick with, whether its 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, or longer. That is a personal decision you’ll have to make that is the most comfortable for you and your family. We decided on 3 months because it was old enough to be able to sleep for long periods of time, but young enough where they hadn’t yet gotten too attached to our room. In the first few months of a baby’s life, there is no schedule or routine. You are at your baby’s beckon call and are pretty much holding him most of the time. My babies were in my arms or right by my side day and night after they were born. However, 3 months was the transition point. So, although it was difficult to have our boys leave our side, we decided on 3 months and stuck with it.
- Transition from your bedroom to nursery – Once they hit the 3 month mark we transitioned them from our bedroom to their nursery. The sooner they get used to their sleeping environment the better and more comforted they will feel, as they will grow accustomed to it. The alternative is that they grow accustomed to your bedroom, which makes it harder to transition them to their room later. We also had a monitor in their room so we could hear eveything.
- Establish a nighttime routine – This one is a big one and it requires consistency. Routine is key for babies to grow accustomed to a certain schedule. For us, we kept the same routine with each of our boys. In the evening around 6pm, we would have tummy time for a while with the baby to help with their neck movement and stability, which in turn helped with tiring them out a little. We would then bathe them and let them splash around in the tub for a while. Water usually wears them out too, especially if they are kicking and splashing around. Once they were out of the bath, I would lather them up with lavender scented lotion, which is supposed to help soothe and make them feel sleepy. I would then dress them in a comfy sleeper. Then they would get their last bottle of the night around 8:30-9pm and put to bed after. If you are consistent every night with a routine, they will quickly get used to it. Do it in the same order every night and they will learn to expect each step of the process.
- Change daytime napping habits – Babies sleep a lot, especially in the first few months of life. All of my boys slept a lot during the day and I didn’t really mess with that sleep schedule. They would typically drink their bottle, stay awake for a short while, then sleep again. That would pretty much happen all day. However, when they turned 3 months, I changed their evening napping pattern. I didn’t allow them to sleep after 5pm. If they were already napping, then I would wake them up at 5pm and keep them up until it was time for bed. Now, I know “they” say never to wake a sleeping baby. But I don’t agree with that in this case. By keeping them up longer in the evening, they were more tired at night and more likely to sleep longer at bedtime. For most of the day, I let them sleep as much as they wanted, but when evening time came around, mama didn’t let them doze off. Given that they were sleepy around that time, we had to really play with them and keep them entertained so they wouldn’t fall asleep. Luckily it was close to the time that we started their nighttime routine anyway, as stated in Step 3 above: tummy time, bath time, lotion, comfy sleeper, last bottle, then bed time.
- Crying it out – Now this is the hardest part. A mother’s instinct is to immediately comfort their baby and of course, it was super difficult for me not do that…at least not to do it immediately. Just as they did during the day, our boys would go to sleep at night, then wake up, then fall asleep again. However, I knew that they were ready to sleep at night for longer periods of time without feeding because their daytime naps were sometimes several hours long. So what would happen at night is that we would put them to bed around 9pm – 10pm, then they would wake up crying after a few hours. When they woke up crying, we had to resist the urge to go in there and immediately pacify them. We would always time it. We would say ‘ok, lets wait 15 minutes and if the baby is still crying we will go in there’. Usually, the baby would fall back asleep on his own. Then another couple hours would pass by, and again the baby would wake up. And again we would time it and say ok, lets wait it out 15 minutes. Again the baby would fall back asleep within that time. This would go on throughout the night. If the crying went past the 15 minutes, we would go into the nursery, pat him and try to soothe him by talking or singing for a few minutes then leaving the room. We wouldn’t pick them up though. They would usually fall back asleep not long after that.
- Decide on a morning feeding time – In the beginning of sleep training we would try to make it until 4am before feeding them. That was our marker. Once they were crying around that time, that is when we would get them out of their crib to feed them. We would make it a point not to feed them any earlier than 4am. Once they adjusted to that, we would push it to 430am, then eventually to 5am. After about a week or two of following the routine, the boys realized that nighttime was for sleeping. That is how long it took to get used to the routine and for them to start sleeping through the night. Sleeping through the night started as 10pm – 4am, then eventually, as we pushed the time, 930 pm – 4:30am. Then eventually it extended to 9pm – 5am. My youngest is 7 months old now and he sleeps very soundly from around 8pm – 6:30am, so as they get older the timespan will continue to grow and adjust.
Sleep training is not for every mother, and that is completely understandable. As I mentioned before, there are many circumstances that would make this method very difficult and almost impossible to apply. However, this is what we did for our boys and it worked each time. I was happy to have well rested babies and the rest of the family was also happy to be able to sleep restfully after surviving all the sleep training.
What you choose to do for your little ones is your perogative as a mother. Whether your method of choice is co-sleeping, keeping them in your room until they are toddlers, or this Ferber method, it is all ok, in my opinion. I only share my own experience because we’ve had success in this area, and it may be helpful to some mothers.
What worked for you? I’d love to hear your experience. Comment below!