Today we are talking sleep training! Ultimately, how we got Hendrix to sleep through the night and how we are enjoying having our evenings for us again. It’s definitely not been an easy ride, but so worth it and so rewarding.
While every baby is different, and it is truly up to you as to when and if you want to sleep train, the basis of sleeping training is teaching your child to fall asleep on their own. A skill they will learn and use throughout their life.
Let’s jump in…
Sleep training. Oh sleep training. Not for the faint of heart, but definitely good for the soul, your relationship and emotions (down the road).
We started sleep training Hendrix when he was three months old. He had been waking up once per night for a while, but then started waking up twice a night. It felt like a regression that I just wasn’t ready to accept, and after a few extra bad nights, I decided sleep training was going to start that evening.
I had a girlfriend who had hired a Sleep Consultant, months earlier, for her four-month old, and in turn, she helped me a lot. She outlined how to get started and offered the support (encouragement!) I so badly needed throughout the process. We modified things a little to fit our babe, but there are some key tips that are imperative to any baby and getting them to sleep. So, today I’m hoping I can be that girlfriend for you.
Sleep training involves three main components: naps, feeds & routine.
Are you surprised I didn’t say sleeping through the night? Obviously, that is the goal, but consistency in the three main components is imperative to obtain the ultimate goal of sleeping through the night.
Let’s dive into how to get those established.
Create a Nap Schedule
First things first, creating a nap schedule is all about timing your baby’s wake windows, and putting him/her down around them. Wake windows are the allotted time your child should be awake, always dependent on age. At three months, Hendrix’s wake windows were 1.5 hours. Now at five months, he’s up to around 2 hours. Each month, your wake window might increase a little, so keep an eye on your little (this chart is also helpful). This also means that a nap should take place at the end of each wake window.
I know some mom’s prefer to stick to a strict clock schedule, but I found it most helpful to let Hendrix wake when he would, and plan the naps according to that. Some days he wakes at 6:30am, and other days it’s 7:30am. Planning a nap for 9am if he’d been up since 6:30am would have been too long–so just adjust as needed and of course, like anything, do what works best for your family.
Before we started sleep training, Hendrix would not nap, and it was a huge cause of stress for me. I also had no idea what I was doing. I was worried he wasn’t getting the rest he needed, unable to see him squirm/cry if I did try to put him down, and in turn, was burning the candle at both ends as a new mom. Now, burning the candle is pretty much inevitable, especially in the beginning, but being aware of when your baby is tired (especially if they don’t look tired) based on the science of time–priceless!
Enter wake windows and a sleep training routine, and the ball started to get rolling.
Do: Monitor their wake window; feed 20 minutes before the nap; create a mini routine; watch their cues (rubbing eyes/getting cranky/yawning/less energy); put down in their own bed
Don’t: Go beyond the wake window (this will create an over tired baby that has even more trouble falling asleep); feed to sleep
Here’s what our naps look like:
Naps should take place in the same place they sleep at night. This gets them used to their own bed for evenings, and serves as a place that triggers the brain for consistency. For us, Hendrix was still in our bedroom when we started sleep training. Everyone says once they are in their own room, everyone sleeps better–but we weren’t quite ready for that. So, in our room he stayed for the first two weeks.
Creating a mini routine for naps has been instrumental for winding down in a short period of time and offering comfort. As Hendrix approaches the end of his wake window, I can now usually tell he’s ready to go for a nap. This has taken a while to pick up on his cues as well, so don’t get down on yourself if you aren’t aware immediately–that’s normal, just go by the time.
The mini routine is as follows: I carry him up to his room, say a few repetitive phrases I always say when we are headed there (“Time to go for a snooze”), and change his diaper. Then I put him in his sleep sack in his crib, say a few repetitive phrases, give him a kiss and leave. He’s awake when I leave–which is important. The goal is for them earn to fall asleep on their own.
When you first start out, and maybe for a while, they will cry and be upset. Going for a nap may be new and unfamiliar, and the unknown is uncomfortable for them. Rest is so important though, and if you stick with it, a happier baby they will be.
If they cry when you leave, set a timer for 15 minutes. If they are still upset, you can go in and soothe crib-side until they fall asleep. Try not to pick them up. Aim for them to be in their crib for 30 minutes. If they don’t fall asleep at that point, you can try pulling them out and starting your next wake window. If you’re feeling ambitious, you could try to nap them again.
Remember: Everyone says that naps are the hardest. If it’s a struggle, it’s normal. Keep at it–consistency is key.
FEEDS DURING THE DAY
‘Filling the tank’ is probably the most important part of sleep training. If your baby isn’t getting enough to eat during the day, they aren’t going to last through the night–so feed often, especially when starting out.
As soon as they wake in the morning or from a nap, feed. Then 20 to 30 minutes prior to the next nap, offer a feed. That means you’re feeding twice in each wake window.
Do: Offer a feed upon waking and 20 minutes prior to a nap; feed in a room other than their nursery (or where they sleep)
Don’t: Feed to sleep
THE ULTIMATE ROUTINE
The ultimate routine is as follows:
Morning Wake-Up – Feed – Play – Feed – Nap – Wake – Feed – Play – Feed – Nap… etc.
Keep in mind your baby’s wake window is going to depend on their age. Creating a consistent routine as above, helps them fill their tank, burn off energy, and learn to fall asleep on their own.
When you take them for their nap, be consistent each time, offering the same wording or order of actions. Bonus points if it’s a pared down version of what you do at bedtime–it really helps set the tone for sleep.
Remember: Encouragement and praise go a long way! Greet your baby with a big smile when their nap is over, even if they didn’t sleep or do that well. Showering them with compliments that they spent time in their crib will only encourage them to keep trying and get better at it.
HOW TO PUT YOUR BABY TO BED
Bedtime is when you may want to incorporate a few other things to the routine–such as a bath, a book, a song, and a bedtime phrase. These are optional, but should be the same every night (except bath, that can be every night, every other night, once a week–whatever is best for your family).
The bedtime routine should start at the same time every night–or, before the wake window closes. For instance, Hendrix currently has a wake window of two hours, and we want him in bed by 7pm. If he wakes up at 5pm, and bedtime routine takes 30 minutes, the ideal time to start would be 6:30pm. Keep in mind, an overtired baby will (1) not look tired, and (2) have a harder time falling asleep. Don’t let them get to that point. Better an earlier bedtime than usual (if naps don’t align) than keeping them up longer beyond their wake window.
Our bedtime routine takes about 30 minutes but we budgeted an hour when we started, and is as follows:
Enter dim nursery with soft music playing & fan going
Undress on change pad
Lotion, diaper & pyjamas on change pad
Feed in rocking chair
Turn off music
Put into sleep sack, in crib, awake
Turn on sound machine
Say bedtime phrase & leave the room
When you leave the room, set a timer for 5, 10 or 15 minutes. It’s up to you–we started with 5 minutes.
Bedtime can be hard and painful (it has been for us!), and hearing your baby cry is the hardest thing to swallow. I would set a timer as soon as he started to cry. I’ll be honest, some days, after a long, hard day, I was able to let him cry for a while. Other days, I really struggled and went back sooner than I should have. Marco and I often had opposing views, depending on the night! One night, I’d be weak and want to give in, and other nights it would be him. Ultimately, it’s up to you as the parent to decide how long you want to wait.
Once the timer has gone off, enter the room. Ideally, you keep the room dark and do not pick them up. Soothe them crib-side until they fall asleep. This can involve anything from shushing, rubbing their head, belly, pretending you’re going to sleep 😉 etc. I tried not to speak because I had read that a different part of their brain deciphers language and it could wake them up more. The first night, I sat by his crib, shushing and rubbing his head for 50 minutes. FIFTY. MINUTES. Insert brain exploding emoji here. Guys, it was brutal, I’m not going to lie. I probably cried as much as he did… but, the next night it only took 15 minutes of soothing. The night after that, 7… so, there’s hope.
Lastly, don’t expect them to sleep through the night on the first night, but do plan for it to happen soon. It took us a while to get Hendrix into his routine, but he almost immediately started sleeping longer stretches than ever. When he was still waking up hungry once per night, we started to incorporate a little baby oatmeal + bottle before bed (along with the rocking chair feed). It was that little bit of extra food in the evening (right before bedtime routine) that got him sleeping through the night–hoorah!
Do: Put them to bed awake; set a timer if they start to cry after you leave; soothe them until they fall asleep, if needed
Don’t: Pick them up out of their crib after you’ve put them to bed; feed to sleep; expect them to sleep through the night on the first try
In the morning, no matter how bad the night went, greet them with excitement! We always said things like, ‘You did it! Good job!’ etc. Be happy to see your baby, and they will be happy to do better for you soon.
A few things I’d recommend buying to make sleep training easier:
Sleep Sack | Putting them into a sleep sack for naps and bedtime helps cue the brain that it’s time to sleep. Bonus, it’s something you can bring with you when you travel/other’s homes to help when surroundings are unfamiliar. The one I linked above we have for the next age bracket, I also love the brand First Wish from Winners/Marshalls & this three-pack is under $40 (love this brand as well).
Mobile | We only recently incorporated a mobile into his room and turns out, he loves it! It’s something he can look up at and we also spend a few minutes admiring it before each nap, before I put him in his crib. Ours doesn’t move nor play music, but with the floor fan on in the room, it gently sways which is perfect.
White Noise Machine | This thing has come in so handy, not just for naps and bedtime, but also when he was an infant to hook on his carseat when we went places. It has three different sound functions, volume controls, charges via USB and has a small nightlight built in. Definitely a must have!
Change Pad (for the nursery) | This is likely something you already have in your baby’s room, but if not, I find it really helpful as it is the starting point of the routine, when you enter the room. When he was starting out, and still in our bedroom, I changed him on the bed in the same spot each time.
We originally had this change pad, but now that he’s moving (squirming!) around when we change him, he doesn’t love it because it’s too hard. Plus the way he throws his legs down with a thud!, it’s is less than comfortable. We swapped it out for something like this (with a plush cover like this; also love this budget-friendly two-pack).
Fan | We have this really basic one, but it does the job. It’s not too loud and I read that a fan in a baby’s room can help prevent SIDS.
Wine | Just kidding! But really…
Remember that sleep training is hard, but with consistency, you are all going to be getting some much needed rest very soon. Know that your baby can and will sleep 12 – 14 hours a night, if you teach them the skills they need to learn to fall asleep on their own.
Patience & consistency — you’ve got this, Mama!