Sleep Training Follow Up

In my last blog, Sleep Training Gets a Bad Reputation, I put forth some reasons why sleep training is a good idea, but hadn’t actually tried it firsthand. To give some backstory, our little boy Gabriel was about 6.5 months old and had over the preceding few weeks only been sleeping in 2-3 hour stretches and only after being carried for long periods of time. He would often wake when he was put down and sometimes would need to be nursed all night to stay asleep. My son was a perfectly normal weight and length and had no need from a nutritional standpoint to be nursing this frequently, but it was a strong sleep association for him-meaning he needed it to get to sleep and every time he woke he had to have the breast or be carried endlessly. Needless to say my husband and I were ragged from not sleeping. My husband was actually much worse off than I was since he is currently the stay at home parent – he would be up walking him all night, getting very little sleep for himself. Naps were also hit or miss despite our best efforts to be very consistent with them. We had started a bedtime ritual consisting of breastfeeding, then highchair time with Mom and Dad at the table where he gets some solids, then a diaper change/change into pjs, then singing/rocking/walking, with the goal of having him in bed by 7:30pm. We found putting a bath into his bedtime ritual to be too stimulating for our boy, as he just LOVES to play hard in the bath.

Over Labor Day weekend my husband and I resolved after much discussion, to try Weisbluth’s Cry It Out method for nighttime sleep. We picked this weekend because I would be home with him for several days in a row (I also took a vacation day on Friday giving me a 4 day weekend, so my work day wouldn’t be disrupted if things didn’t go well).  The first night we did our bedtime ritual as normal, but instead of rocking/walking him to sleep endlessly until he was completely out, we did it until he was very relaxed, but not asleep, put him in his crib, walked out, and closed the door. The next hour was very hard. My husband and I listened to our baby cry for 35 minutes which was horribly torturous. Had we not both agreed that this was the best thing for him and our family it wouldn’t have been possible because I’m sure if either of us had insisted, it would have ended there, with one of us going to get him. However, we persevered and after 35 minutes his crying stopped and he slept from about 8pm until 1am without another peep. When he woke at 1am he was changed, fed, and put back into his crib. He cried for about 15 minutes and then slept soundly until 7am! This was a first for us, we woke several times in the night expecting him to cry but he didn’t. Needless to say my husband was very happy to be back in bed, sleeping soundly for more than 2-3 hours at a time.

Over the next few days, our son had less and less crying at bedtime and woke more easily and happily in the morning. We decided that even though he didn’t need to be fed in the middle of the night, that I wanted to keep 1 night feed to maintain my milk supply, so we tracked when he was waking and have been getting him about 10 minutes before he normally wakes and bringing him into bed so I can nurse him, after which he goes right back to his crib. Currently (about 6 weeks later) there is zero crying at bedtime (or after his night feeding), he wakes happy and babbling in his crib and amuses himself until we come get him to change and feed him in the morning.

As difficult as those first few nights were, I know that everyone in my family is much happier, especially our son. Giving Gabriel the gift of an uninterrupted night’s sleep and allowing him to learn how to put himself to sleep has made him even more energetic and happy than he was before. Having my husband well rested also allows him to be more attentive to our babe in the waking hours, rather than simply praying for a nap so that he could grab a few minutes of sleep himself (this is something I remember all too well from my days staying at home with Gabriel).  This method may not work for everyone but it has worked wonders for our family.

For more information on Sleep Training I recommend these resources:

  • Ferber, Richard. Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems.
  • Weissbluth, Marc. Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child.

Dr. Jamie Brinkley, ND