So we’ve already established that some of you will cringe at the following blog entry (and YES, we’d like to hear from you), but we promised we would share our experiences in sleep training our babies. You’ve already seen our entry on night nurses, which is one way of sleep training your munchkin. However, if your pockets won’t allow it, or you simply would rather do it yourself (or you’re stubborn like one of us was), then you may have opted to do it yourself. This blog post will share those experiences.
“My husband and I are big sleepers. When I say big, I mean we were used to our 12 hour night sleep (weekends of course were another matter). Then came along our gorgeous baby boy- who didn’t seem to share in this alien sleeping ritual. Worst yet, he possessed the inability to discern day from night. The world, as far as he was concerned, revolved around him 24 hours a day. During this time, we patiently followed the “Your Baby Week by Week” book, which gives you tips on developing healthy sleeping habits for your baby, but basically expects the baby to naturally sleep on its own at some stage.
That stage couldn’t come soon enough for us. So, 2.5 months in, when we realised our perennial bickering was due to our lack of sleep, we pleaded our parents for help. What we got, was the next best thing to a ring on the doorbell telling us they were taking over (they don’t live in the UK like us), we got a magical book on sleep training from Dr. Eduard Estivill called “5 Days to a Perfect Night Sleep For your Child”. He is a renown Spanish paediatrician and expert on infant sleep disorders and took his knowledge of sleep cycles, eating cycles, and babies development to create a very simple to follow book.
He argues that sleep and eating habits are interlinked in a baby, and that it is a parent’s responsibility to teach their children to sleep – an acquired skill like anything else. If you think about it, when you teach your child how to eat, everyone teaches them in the same way: you take a spoon, you pick up the food, and you bring the spoon to your mouth, not to mention the fact that you usually eat around the same time every day. However, when parents are trying to teach their baby to sleep they rock, sing, cuddle, push a stroller around at night, walk around the room at 5 am, etc, and they try to do this by taking a little munchkin’s queues (someone who doesn’t know night from day!) The point? Consistency in methodology is of utmost importance. It helps if you have a constant location for the baby to sleep in (so that once you start traveling they continue to have familiar places and things), which is why the moomboo is so helpful to support this process. But in addition to consistency in location, everyone in the house needs to be in agreement and adhere to the same approach. And boy do you need that agreement. Dr Estivill’s method can be hard to stick to, because, yes, it does entail your baby crying a little bit. As a Spaniard, you can imagine that loving, cuddling, and ensuring your baby is full of self esteem is of utmost importance, so his method is all about empowering the baby to acquire a skill that will carry them through life, while feeling entirely loved through the process (the crying is extremely controlled to ensure the baby never feels abandoned or hurt).
Here is how it works.
- Identify 2-3 external objects that you want your child to associate with falling asleep (could be a pacifier and a comfort blanket, or anything you like so long as YOU are not one of those objects- i.e. you don’t want your baby needing you at 3am to fall back asleep when they are just linking sleep cycles).
- Introduce those objects to your baby in an assured voice with a big smile, explaining (s)he will now fall asleep with these two new friends. Then with a big smile let your baby know you are going to leave them to sleep with their new friends and will be back when its time to wake up. They will have no clue what you are saying, so your voice and facial expression is what will convey the comfort and confidence they need.
- Then walk out of the room. Your baby will complain, but you need to stay strong and walk out.
- Then the hard part begins- turn your gaze to your watch and wait 2 minutes. You MUST wait those two minutes. I/my husband used to take our iPad into the room next door and tried to read or watch videos – anything to distract ourselves. We’d support each other to ensure we did not walk in before the 2 minutes were up. This was definitely difficult, but we reminded ourselves that we were doing this for our baby’s own good. We were teaching him something, and it wasn’t going to be easy, but we owed to it to him to give him the best.
- If your baby is still crying after 2 minutes (and the first nights they usually will be), then walk back into the room. Tell them that you love them, are there for them, are teaching them how to sleep, that you know its hard but you know they will learn, and that you are leaving them with their objects (just name the objects you selected in step 1) to fall asleep. Then you walk out again.
- Look at your watch and wait 3 minutes and repeat this process as often as necessary until the baby falls asleep. Although book recommends to wait 3 minutes in the 2nd go and to progressively increase the time intervals, my husband and I did not feel comfortable leaving our baby to cry for longer than 2 minutes. So we adhered to a 2 minutes wait and went back in as many times necessary.
It usually takes a baby 2 hours to fall asleep on the first night. This, however, will reduce drastically the next night, and in 5 days if you’ve stuck to this method (no matter what time the baby wakes up) then you will have a sleeping baby that knows how to fall asleep on their own! Besides finding it hard to wait those 2 minutes, we found it very hard to stick to this method in the middle of the night. All you want is for the baby to go back to sleep so you’re tempted to nurse, rock, or cuddle. If you do that, you will waste all your hard effort, and you’ll be short changing your baby. This is where a short term sacrifice will make the world of difference in the long term, and this is where you most need your partner to support you. I won’t lie, we had our difficult nights in that sleep training week, but overall we supported each other and got through it.
I know, I know -you’re probably thinking “I can’t do it”. I thought exactly the same. I remember second guessing myself, thinking I was a horrible parent, and having to deal with my friends glances when they would come over and see me trying to put the baby down for a nap looking at my watch to count down those dreaded 2 minute crying intervals. However, we stuck to our guns and our baby learned how to sleep on his own in 1 week.
Today our 9 month old couldn’t be happier, falls asleep on his own without crying, and sleeps through from 7pm-7am without fail. He no longer needs us to fall asleep, and he looks forward to bedtime – just one more opportunity to put his acquired skills to use. I am convinced that this has made him more confident and self assured rather than the opposite. He has certainty that we will never abandon him and he knows that when we leave we always come back. This is why, I believe, he doesn’t suffer from separation anxiety when I leave the room, and it is why he will happily continue to play with his baby friends if I am out of the picture for a bit.
Sleep training is a very personal decision, but for those considering it, I can not recommend it enough. Ultimately, it helped our marriage as we now have uninterrupted evenings to ourselves. We can also confidently leave our baby with a babysitter as he sleeps through and requires no specific instructions to fall back asleep. Better yet, we know that every morning our adorable baby boy wakes up with a big smile on his face looking forward to the day ahead”.
Please share our thoughts with us. If you’ve sleep trained your baby, we’d love to hear from you. If you haven’t and are adamantly opposed to what is written on this post, please also share your thoughts with us. Our aim is to facilitate information and give parents choices. Please join the debate!