Twenty four minutes of discomfort positively changed my entire life. Here’s how…
To give you an idea of the uphill battle that lied ahead of me, up until two weeks ago, my baby Milan had never once slept in her crib and we were using a baby swing for her naps. Read that again. Since Milan was born, she has never slept in her crib – EVER. We have been co-sleeping with her since day one and it wasn’t until she was around three months old that we discovered this baby swing which saved us during her naps.
After her surgery and subsequent infection, my instincts were revved up and all I wanted to do was nurture, protect and love her around the clock. There was just no way I could put her in a crib all alone by herself. She was co-sleeping fairly decent for the first five months and waking every two to four hours to feed. This was just fine with us since we were trying to get her weight up at the beginning and doing everything possible to make that happen. She was always swaddled for bedtime but once we removed the swaddle and as her first teeth sprouted up (around six months old), her sleep patterns went sideways ultra fast.
I’ve been nursing on demand since Milan was born so essentially I’ve been nursing every hour. I know that sounds insane but it’s true. Every. Single. Hour. I used to feed her in a few other rooms but made the mistake one time of feeding her in our bedroom, on the bed and letting her fall asleep while nursing. That slip-up taught her to expect to feed through the night, every night, all night long.
To say I was sleep deprived would be a major understatement. I wanted so badly to co-sleep with my baby that I was willing to sacrifice sleep and everything else just to have my little nugget next to me all night. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love co-sleeping and the extra night time cuddles that come along with it however baby M wasn’t getting the sleep she needed and I certainly was suffering from severe exhaustion. It really was more like co-awaking since none of us were truly sleeping. Between working full time and taking care of Milan with absolutely no sleep, it had taken an immense toll on me physically, mentally and emotionally. I finally hit rock bottom when I made dinner one night but forgot to turn off the oven as well as the gas stove. Thankfully my husband noticed it because this could have been an irreversible mistake and I just cringe thinking of what could have happened. Right then and there is when I made the decision to start sleep training Milan immediately whether I liked it or not.
Here’s the thing, I not only had to teach Milan how to sleep alone in her crib, but I also had to teach her to sleep without expecting or needing the breast to do so. Up until this point, we had always used sleep props in order to help her fall asleep which consisted of nursing, swinging, rocking, shushing, singing, etc… This means that we had taught her the only way to fall asleep was to rely on those props instead of allowing her to learn how to self soothe and fall asleep on her own. It’s a very common mistake that many parents make without even knowing it. We just assumed we needed to do these things in order for her to get sleepy and boy were we wrong! Who knew feeding your baby could actually be a sleep prop that could get them to sleep but could prevent them from staying asleep?! #mindblown
If your baby is nursing/feeding to sleep but waking up multiple times per night (or in my case exactly every 45 minutes), then you’ll know what I’m referring to. Babies sleep cycles are very short and what happens is they expect to wake up in the same environment as they fell asleep in. This means if you rocked, sang, shushed or nursed them to sleep and that isn’t still happening when they wake up, you’ll instantly have a crying baby on your hands and they probably won’t stop until you give them back what you took away while their little eyes were shut! See how crazy the cycle is? This is exactly why I needed to put an end to the pattern and find a solution to help Milan actually learn how to get through her sleep cycles independently.
I knew for sure that I didn’t feel comfortable with the cry it out sleep training method so after intense research, I decided that I would choose another method and stick to it fully. I had my reservations about every method but finally selected the one that I was most comfortable with. I had to have a reality check with myself and acknowledge there isn’t any sleep training method that doesn’t involve some crying because no matter what, you are essentially teaching your baby a whole new skill set and you’re doing it while they are the crankiest which is during sleepy time(s). Heck, even when you are not sleep training your baby will usually cry as they tend to resist and fight sleep until they learn that it can be a wonderful experience for them. Of course there will be resistance while learning as it’s only natural. I was ready and willing to commit the next month to sleep training no matter what it took. I changed my mindset from thinking that Milan needed my help in order to sleep and instead started affirming that she can do it by herself and that sleep was a tremendous gift and I wanted to share it with my daughter.
c/o Little Me
On a side not, I’ve had been procrastinating sleep training Milan due to her dermatitis (possible eczema) because I didn’t want her scratching her skin all night. Even when we were co-sleeping, she would wake up every hour to nurse and would scratch. Joshua and I tried swaddling her but at this age, she was just too strong and would bust out of every swaddle. We tried the Magic Sleep Suit which basically is a onsie lined with thick padding that muffles babies startle reactions and limits their movements. Not only was it super sad to watch her sleeping in that suit, it made her very sweaty and still didn’t prevent her from waking up every hour. Luckily, after extensive research and testing, I found a sleep sack that solved the nighttime scratching issue. So now that we checked this off the list, I had no other excuses. I needed to do this and the time was right now. I was pretty much taking away every sleep crutch that Milan had ever known and would now be teaching her how to sleep on her own, without relying on anything or anyone. This would be a MAJOR lifestyle change for all of us.
Here’s the process I recommend following if you are in the same boat and are ready to help your little one benefit from sleep.
STEP 1: ANALYZE / DO YOUR HOMEWORK
I spent the first two days tracking and writing down Milan’s exact schedule. I wrote down when she took her naps, when she feed and even jotted down when she got tired etc. For those two days, I studied when she showed signs of being tired (rubbing eyes, tugging at ears, etc.). This is an EXTREMELY important step because there is only a small window before babies become overtired and then you are screwed. When they cross that point, the result is hyper behavior, major fussiness, crying, laughter and pretty much everything else except for sleepiness. Even if you are not yet ready for sleep training, if you can catch the initial signs of tiredness and put your baby down right then, you will have an exponentially greater chance of them falling asleep then if you wait. (FYI, a baby might not yawn when tired so I rely more on the other signs previously mentioned.)
Next, I wrote down what her night time schedule (bedtime routine) currently was and then created what I wanted it to look like. I also wrote down my bedtime commitments, nap time commitments, and night waking commitments (more on these later). Here’s an example of Milan’s nighttime schedule: ( this should not take longer than 45 minutes)
1. Change diaper / moisturize skin: 7pm
2. Put on pajamas: 7:10pm
3. Read bedtime story (same book every night): 7:15pm
4. Nurse/feed: 7:25pm
5. Put in crib: 7:45pm
Building up to the first night attempt, I was nervous, anxious and scared. I didn’t know how it would go down or what to expect. I was panicked! Once you start this training, you cannot stop or alter from the plan otherwise it will all be for nothing and you’ll set your baby back even further from where they started. Okay, so it’s the first night and I followed my bedtime schedule exactly. I chose an 8pm bedtime because that seemed to make sense for us (at that point in time) however it’s not (continue reading to see why it didn’t work out).
Before we get into exactly what happened the first night – here are examples of my commitments:
I will put Milan down for a nap in her crib after one and a half to two hours of awake time. I will read a story and put her in her crib awake (key point here). I will repeat the phrase “sleepy time” and gently stroke her forehead to soothe her. I will sit with Milan until she falls asleep for the first three days and then will remove myself from her room so she doesn’t associate going to sleep with my presence.
After our bedtime routine, I will put Milan in her crib awake. I will stay with her until she falls asleep for the first three nights, then I will move my chair further away from her crib every three nights. I will repeat the phrase
“sleepy time” to soothe her. I will carefully touch her through the crib bars but I will not pick her up. I will wait in her room for however long it takes her to fall asleep.
When Milan wakes up at night, I will wait five minutes before I respond to her (also very important). I will go into Milan’s room and wait until she falls asleep. I will repeat the phrase “sleepy time” and will gently stroke her forehead until she has calmed down and can fall asleep. I will not feed her until 7am as she is of healthy weight and is old enough to sleep through the night on her own (please check with your Pediatrician). I will not bring Milan to bed with me no matter what.
*Waiting 5 minutes before you respond to your baby when they wake up is SO SO IMPORTANT because most of the time, they are just waking up from their sleep cycles and should be able to soothe themselves back to sleep.
NIGHT #1 – NAP #1
Now let’s talk about what happened on night one. OMG – we are doing this COLD TURKEY! As I mentioned before, I followed the bedtime routine exactly. I laid Milan in her crib at exactly 7:45pm. She cried for what seemed like an eternity but I was right next to her soothing her following my commitments. I didn’t abandon her, I knew she wasn’t in pain, I knew she had a full tummy and a fresh diaper. It was the most excruciating 24 minutes of my life and I was tempted to cave in about 10,000 times. I repeated to myself to stay strong and reminded myself that I am giving her the precious gift of sleep. She finally fell asleep after a total of 24 minutes. First time asleep in her crib, without any sleep props! This is monumental! Before I could finish processing all of this, she woke up one and a half hours later, so I waited five minutes before going in her room, soothed her and she fell asleep after only three minutes. She woke up pretty much every hour on the hour crying like she normally did when we co-slept and I stuck to the game plan and repeated the same steps. At around 1am, it took me the longest time to soothe her (nearly one hour). She didn’t cry for an hour straight (nor would I have let her) however it took me about an hour to calm her down to a relaxed state and encourage her to fall back asleep. This was very difficult and I almost broke. She was probably so confused as to why Mommy wasn’t nursing her and why she wasn’t lying next to me. This was all new to her. My heart was aching but I had to keep it together and stay strong. It was a very long and rough night for us all but we made it through and started our day at 7:30am the next morning. Words cannot describe how amazing it felt to finally be able to hold her, kiss her and feed her! This was the longest we had ever been apart and I was overjoyed to finally be together again!
The next day was her first nap time training day. I think I was more nervous about this than anything else because the only time I have to get anything done is in between her naps. Previously, she was a good napper but that’s only because we had a sleep prop – her swing. Now I would be removing that and training her to sleep in her crib because it’s important that she naps in the same place as where she sleeps at night. This way, she will know when she goes in her crib, it’s sleepy time.
Okay so the first day of her nap training, she did amazing! She took three naps all in her crib without ANY tears or resistance! I was SHOCKED and cautiously optimistic. Maybe I got lucky? Keep in mind, she had NEVER ever napped or slept in her crib so the fact that she was able to without crying was simply UNBELIEVABLE!! Seriously, I didn’t believe it. I followed her nap time routine exactly for every nap – diaper change, read a book, nurse, put down in crib AWAKE.
I think the most important lesson I’ve learned so far is you have to put the baby down in their crib while they are still awake. I used to always wonder why Milan would sleep just fine in my arms and then would wake up crying if I tried to put her down anywhere. Again, it goes back to the same environment going to sleep and waking up. I can’t stress this enough – make sure to put the baby down AWAKE. Do NOT let your baby fall asleep while nursing – this is another mistake I’ve made in the past. Now if I see her starting to doze off, I’ll sit her up and try to burp her or tickle her feet to keep her awake.
The second night, I decided start Milan’s bedtime routine one hour earlier based upon further reading. So instead of putting her down at 7:45pm, I would put her down in her crib at 7pm which means I have to start the bedtime routine at 6:15pm. I realized that she was most likely overly tired on night number one which probably made the sleep training much more difficult. From what I’ve read, babies naturally want to go to bed by 6:30pm -7pm. It was hard for me to digest this because it seemed way too early. Reluctantly, I did everything exactly like I did on night one except moved it down one hour earlier. This time, Milan fell asleep almost instantly with no tears and no resistance! O.M.G.!! She slept 12 hours and woke up at 7 am. I can’t even believe I’m saying this! AMAZING!! Keep in mind, after nursing every hour and neither of us sleeping, I would have been happy with a few hours of sleep. To know that Milan is learning to sleep for this long was pure and overwhelming joy! The third night, I once again stuck to the earlier bedtime routine and she slept for eleven hours and woke up at 6 am! I was floored. Forth night, she slept 10.5 hours. Fifth night – 11 hours. Sixth night – 11.5 hours. Now I’m convinced, this is not luck, this is the gift of sleep that my precious angel learned and accepted very quickly! I’m ECSTATIC for her!!!
I’m now on night thirteenth and have moved her bedtime to 6:30pm. I start her bedtime routine at 5:45 pm. I have also adjusted her nap schedule to 9am and 1-2:00pm. Based on her current age (9 months), two naps is recommended and the last nap should not be later than 3-3:30 if her bedtime is 6:30-7:00pm.
According to more research, there is something called Night Five Regression. It’s the baby’s last attempt at pushing back and resisting to see if you will cave and give in. Luckily I didn’t experience this however I did notice she tossed and turned more than usual on night number five but I didn’t have to go in and soothe her at all. Whew!
Important Note: The first three nights I sat in a chair right by the crib. On days four, five and six, my chair was in the middle of the room and allowed myself to get up and soothe Milan. Days seven, eight and nine, my chair was at the door and I would not get up to soothe her. I always stayed in the room until I knew she was asleep. This is one of the main differences between this method and the controversial “cry it out” method. Starting on day 10, the chair was gone and I would lay her down and leave the room.
Learn to recognize your babies sleep cues and take notice when they become tired. Do not let them get overtired. Seriously, drop everything at the first signs and get them into bed! Set a schedule that works for you and stick to it no matter what. Remove any other options so that you have no choice but to do it. I learned a long time ago in business that ideas without action are worthless. Implementation and follow through mean the difference between wishing something would happen and actually succeeding with it. Treat nap time just as importantly as bed time. Adjust your baby’s bedtime if needed. Some baby’s go to bed as early as 5:30pm so find what works best for yours.
I’m not an expert by any means, I just wanted to share what I’ve been through and what is working for us. Milan was a really happy baby to begin with but now after being able to finally sleep through the night on her own, she has more energy and seems much happier. I now have extra time at night to accomplish other things, which still feels very strange to me. Milan went from waking up every hour and nursing around the clock to sleeping through the night,napping in her crib and not waking up to nurse. She no longer uses any sleep props (no rocking, nursing, shushing or singing) to fall asleep. I never ever thought this was possible and it truly is a miracle. I’ve given Milan the gift of sleep and I am so proud of her! As the title of this post says, it really boiled down to a half hour of intense work to start the ball rolling in the right direction. A half hour. By human nature, we are programmed to avoid pain and seek the path of least resistance. How silly of me to avoid minutes of discomfort in order to gain hours, years and a lifetime of benefits.
Being a Mommy definitely is the most difficult job in the world. It also can be the most rewarding. You hear it time and time again but those who are mothers understand the truth behind these words. For those of you who love co-sleeping and it’s working our for you, good for you and keep doing it. For those of you who, like myself, it isn’t working and are ready to make the change, do it now. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones. Stay calm. Breathe. Affirm. Stay strong. You got this. Twenty four minutes outside of my comfort zone changed the course of my family’s life and I would do it all over again if I had to in a heartbeat.
Questions? Comments? Let me know below!
- This informational post is not medical advice. This post is for informational purposes only and is intended solely to share my personal experience. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health practitioner before following the advice and using the techniques described in this post.