The things I wish I knew before I started sleep training

At Lissie’s 9-month well-child check-up this, her doctor was going through the list.

Can she pick up items with her thumb and forefinger? Check. Drink from a sippy cup? Check. Crawl? Her version of it, at least. Then came that question —

Can she sleep through the night?

No, doctor. Definitely not even kind of.

Sleeping in the car

I’ve thought about writing a post about helping my infant sleep many times over the last nine months. And depending on when it was, what I thought would say would change. Every time that I thought we were doing something right, it would get hard and complicated and awful again.

If there is one thing that has been constant about her sleep, it’s been my obsession with her sleep.

The first baby book I read was Bringing Up Bebe. This was my downfall. The author spends at least a chapter bragging about how French babies sleep through the night at four months of age, and I thought that it would be so easy and natural for us, too. I could be confident and self-assured like a French mom!

When we brought Lissie home from the hospital she slept in a bassinet by our bed and I woke up every 3 hours to feed her, as you do with a newborn. At about 5 weeks old she was sleeping for long enough stretches — 4, 5 hours — that we put the bassinet in her bedroom. And things were good for awhile.

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I remember going back to work at 12 weeks and thinking how I was only able to handle it because she was sleeping better than she had at the beginning.

Then at about four months she outgrew the bassinet and we needed to move her to the crib. That transition was so tough, and even tightly swaddled she was unhappy in the big crib. I would try to put her down in her crib to go to sleep, but I wouldn’t let her cry in her crib, so it could take 30-60 minutes of putting her in the crib, picking her up, and putting her down before she would relax and fall asleep.

Most of her naps at this time were in a car seat — from her father rocking her, or from a stroller run, or a car ride.

After we all got sick in January I gave up and just started nursing her to sleep all the time. It was easy enough then (5 months) but by the time we went on vacation in March (7 months) it would take nearly an hour to get her to fall asleep.

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Progressively the periods she was staying asleep got shorter, too. That 5 hour period we got when she was 5 weeks old, well, I was lucky if she stayed asleep for 2 hours at the end of February. I was beside myself.

Then we went on vacation, where she barely slept 2 consecutive hours at all, and I am so grateful for grandparents that will take their awake granddaughter at 5 a.m.

After that I was done. I read three books on sleep training over that trip. When we got back, I said, I was ready.

I put her to bed at the usual time, with the usual routine, when we got back. But instead of nursing her to sleep, I put her in her crib and let her dad come and reassure her after I said goodnight.

Then, when she woke up in the night, we would go to her and reassure her but I only brought her into bed to feed her once per night (after 2:30 a.m.).

There were a few nights of crying. There was a lot of questioning if we were doing the right thing. Because it was hard. But 6 weeks out, I look back on that time and it was so worth it.

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The things I wish I knew before I started sleep training

  • I’d know when it’s time. I don’t think I was ready to do it until I absolutely couldn’t take another day of no sleep. And I don’t think I could have waited another day longer. I look at her now and there is no way I could nurse her to sleep today.
  • I can trust my gut. I agonized over whether or not it was right or fair for me to let her cry.
  • It only took a few days. At night when I put her to bed, I distinctly remember that she never cried longer than the process of nursing her to sleep used to take (1 hour).  That makes it sound easy, and it wasn’t, especially when she woke up in the middle of the night. But after a few rough nights, I could put her to sleep every night on her own with no crying.
  • I’d do what was right for my baby. I read so much on this subject. Every baby is different. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all method that works for every baby.  I paid attention to what her cries were like, and I learned a lot about what she was telling me in the process.
  • I don’t need to nurse her constantly. Up until this point I was trying to nurse her with every fuss, trying to fill her up before she went to sleep so she’d sleep longer. Except that didn’t work at all. She was waking up earlier and earlier. Now I nurse her once in the morning when we wake up and once when I get home, and that’s it before bed.
  • She’s happier with a consistent routine. I wanted her to feel loved and that her needs we met. And giving her the ability to fall asleep on her own is a part of that.
  • Sleeping through the night isn’t something you just ‘achieve.’ Good sleep, as I learned, comes in fits and starts. Two steps forward, one step back. She can go to sleep on her own now almost all the time, but there are still nights where she wakes up 2, 3 times before morning.

It’s been nine, almost 10 months, and I still haven’t had 8 consecutive hours of sleep. I never thought I would be able to function this long with this little sleep before I had a baby … but here I am. And it is getting better. 🙂


Pattie Reaves

About Pattie Reaves

I'm a new mom and renegade fitness blogger at After the Couch. I live in Brewer with my husband, Tony, our daughter Felicity, and our two pugs, Georgia and Scoop.