sleep training | our experience

Tuesday, February 11, 2022

Seeing that Olivia is almost 9 months old (seriously?), I thought it was time that I shared a post about how we sleep trained her. Although, by the grace of God, I wouldn't necessarily call it "sleep training," as looking back it doesn't feel like we really did anything too special in particular, but in my opinion, it is worth sharing, in the hopes that it will bless someone, somewhere, who is going through what we went through.

Like many others, during my pregnancy, we had done a lot of research on various sleep training methods. Dustin and I both read "Babywise," and planned to follow various aspects of that method. We also briefly read Harvey Karp's "Happiest Baby on the Block," and planned to incorporate some of his suggestions also, namely swaddling. Karp's theory behind swaddling is that it soothes babies by providing them with the same feeling they experienced in the womb; they love that confining environment and often grow fussy when given "too much space" after birth.

We did a lot of reading and talked openly about our intended methods because ultimately, we hoped for a baby that slept through the night, every night. But really, who doesn't? (Although...some nights now, I secretly wish V would wake up just so I could snuggle her like I used to when she was first born).

Olivia was born May 23, 2021 at 38w2d. I remember the first night in the hospital she slept like a total champ. I was shocked and amazed, wondering why she wasn't up every 20 minutes to nurse like I had expected she would be. Then came night two in the was wild. And probably the most exhausting night of my entire life (at least up to that point). I recall laying in my hospital bed, tossing and turning and so uncomfortable, with little Olivia in the bassinet next to me -- nursing off and on all night, crying and not easily soothed, and an exhausted husband on the couch next to me. The nurses had all said that the second night would be tough; it wasn't until I was experiencing it that I understood what they meant.

On Saturday, May 25 we were discharged from the hospital and excited to bring our squishy little babe home. We didn't plan to really begin sleep training until 8 weeks, because I knew the first 8 weeks would be crazy -- just adjusting to being a mom, learning to breastfeed, having time to recover physically from giving birth, and adapting to a new routine. I wanted to give myself (and Olivia) the time (and grace) to learn, to be flexible and to see how the first 8 weeks went before prematurely adopting all these methods.

The first 6 weeks looked a little like this:
(I should preface this by saying the type of nurser V was made it extra difficult, because although she had a great latch, she was definitely in no hurry to nurse and we ended up with cluster feedings that went on forever)

10pm-4am || Olivia & I were up most of the night, nursing 15-20 minutes every hour as she cluster fed all night long (she slept in our bedroom in her bassinet at my bedside)

Around 4-5am || Olivia would finally be ready to sleep for more than half an hour, so she would sleep 2-3 hours straight while I slept also
8am || More nursing, then another short snooze for the both of us
10am || Nurse again, snooze again

Noon || Finally, our day would officially start -- nurse, bath for V, shower & quick lunch for me, nurse again, playtime, nap time, etc. 

So naturally, Olivia slept more during the day than the night, because she would nurse all night and nurse much less during the day. I began to wonder if she had her days and nights mixed up. I couldn't help but think she did, but then I wondered how that was even possible if she was only a few weeks old. 

This routine went on for about 6 weeks. 
Believe me, after 6 days I didn't think I could make it another day, let alone another week. I was beyond exhausted -- I had lost over 20 lbs in the first month alone not only because I was nursing but I believe because of the stress I was experiencing. I was down to less than my pre-pregnancy weight by the time V was two months old. I struggled with sleep, supply, and mild PPD. I had such a difficult time being up all night and nursing constantly, when it still seemed like Olivia wasn't getting enough milk. Looking back, I can completely see it was because she wasn't getting enough milk. The stress and weight loss alone plus add in not having time to eat definitely didn't help me from a breastfeeding perspective. (I never thought it would be possible in life to not have time to eat... but I quickly learned it was!)

After 6 weeks, I made the decision to start pumping almost exclusively. I had been pumping since she was two weeks old (more on that later) but then around 2 months, I moved to exclusively pumping - 8 to 10 times a day. At first, I would nurse a few times a day and pump afterward. But because Olivia was still slightly underweight, day by day I cut down on nursing and moved solely to pumping. When I was nursing, we were unsure of how much milk Olivia was actually getting and clearly, I wasn't producing enough milk, so pumping seemed like the best option. Honestly, it was heartbreaking for me to give up breastfeeding. I cried and cried. I cried to Dustin. I cried to my Mom. I'm pretty sure I even cried to Olivia. I was so sad to give it up and I felt like I had failed. Beyond that, it didn't take long before I despised my pump. I hated to pump. It was a million times worse than giving birth, worse than any other task I'd had to do my entire life, because it was every day, all day, for what seemed like forever.

On the positive side, once I was able to transition Olivia to bottles of breastmilk, a few things happened:
(1) I was able to keep track of the amount of milk she was actually getting

(2) I was able to sleep more often because Dustin could bottle feed her in the evenings and throughout the night (although I was still getting up in the middle of the night to pump)

(3) I was able to feed her larger amounts of milk (3-4 oz in a bottle instead of 15-20 minutes of nursing) which led to her sleeping more consistently and for longer periods of time.

(4) I was able to establish a feeding routine, which I believe is one of the keys to establishing a sleeping routine; one good routine goes hand in hand with the other.

So at 8 weeks old, Olivia was getting 3-4 bottles per day of 3-4 oz per bottle of breastmilk. Pumping was still exhausting, but at least I didn't have to nurse hour upon hour all night long. 
It was then that we decided it was time to being our sleep training.

Below is an outline of what we had gathered from all of our reading & research and what we planned to implement:

(1) The Pattern of Feed // Wake Time // Sleep (versus wake time // feed // sleep)

(2) Putting your baby to sleep when drowsy but still awake and eliminating sleep props such as swings, rocking, nursing to sleep, etc.

(3) Swaddling 

(4) Finding a feeding routine versus exclusively feeding on demand

(5) Being open to the Cry-It-Out method and believing that Olivia needed to learn to put herself to sleep on her own without our comforting

(6) Being consistent -- sticking to our routine even if it seemed like it wasn't working immediately

Here is a breakdown of how it all unfolded:
(1) The biggest eye opener to me was learning that babies should be given "wake time" AFTER feeding and BEFORE being put to sleep. My whole life I believed you fed a baby and then put them down. Where did we ever come up with this idea? This was a KEY in our sleep training. We gave Olivia plenty of wake time after her bottles during the day and it led to longer periods of sleep. Before bed at night, the wake time was reduced so instead of 30-45 minutes of wake time the way she had during the day, I would give her 10-15 minutes of wake time and then put her down 

(2) Although we used her Snug-a-Bunny swing on a regular basis for short little naps, for the most part we didn't rely on sleep props and we put her down when she was drowsy but not when asleep. Fortunately for us, if she had fallen asleep after a bottle and I put her down, she would wake up and then we would give her time to get herself back to sleep.

(3) We planned to swaddle but it was way too hot in our MN summer so we didn't begin to swaddle until Olivia was 4 months old in September.

(4) Around 8 weeks, when I moved to exclusive pumping I was finally able to establish a feeding routine. I had been feeding on demand from birth-8 weeks (all night long, remember?) and it clearly was not working for us. So establishing a feeding route was a major key in our success to sleep train Olivia. 

(5) Olivia has never been a major cry-er, so that has been a blessing. At the most, she would cry half an hour. I would always give her a minimum of twenty minutes to get herself down. I would set my iPhone timer to 20 minutes and have my video monitor on hand. This would be an important time for me too - I would go downstairs, where I could settle in to peace and quiet. I could clear my mind, take a short break and recharge. After 20 minutes, I would check on her in the nursery if she was still crying, but I wouldn't necessarily pick her up. If she was okay, I would give it 20 more minutes. That second set of 20 minutes almost never ended without her already being asleep. 

(6) Obviously, it took a few tries before our routine was successful, so it was key that Dustin and I had agreed to faithfully stick together and follow through with our plans. Olivia made it very easy on us, but I believe it is still extremely crucial to be in agreement with your husband when it comes to how you are going to approach sleep training (and parenting in general).

From 2-6 months, Olivia slept like a champ. 

At 8 weeks, she began sleeping 8 hours through the night, from about midnight to 8am. I quickly learned she was a night owl just like her Mom. I couldn't figure out how to get her to go to bed earlier, even if I gave her a bottle at 8pm, she was still up until midnight. I continued doing exactly what I had been doing and gradually, she just got the hang of it and starting going to bed earlier. 12am became 11pm. 11pm became 10pm. 
From 2-4 months, 10pm was the usual bedtime but around 4 months, she finally was ready for bed closer to 9pm. 
A similar (but reversed) pattern existed in the length of her sleep -- 8 hours became 9, 9 hours became 10, and 10 hours became 12. As she was awake for longer periods during the day, she slept longer periods at night. 
At 2 months old, we transitioned her from our bedroom in her bassinet to her nursery in her bassinet; (she was transitioned to her crib around 5 months old). 

By four months, Olivia was sleeping (in her crib in her nursery) 12 hours through the night, from 9pm to 9am. 
Half the time during the night, she would wake at 4am for a bottle and then sleep from 5-9am and half the time she wouldn't. There were stretches of days where she wouldn't wake up and then stretches were she was up every morning at 5am. Additionally, she would take two 2-3 hour naps during the day (late morning/early afternoon and late afternoon/early evening)

Around 6 months old, things changed. 
Olivia was still napping at her regular times during the day but her nighttime habits had reversed. Olivia began waking up multiple times during the night. It would start as a mild cry, turning into a loud scream. I would give it time but then would break my own rule and go in to pick her up. I would feed her an oz or two, burp her, rock her and then put her down. Three hours later, same story. This went on for a few weeks and I had become so used to it (and truly, part of me didn't even mind because it was time I got to be with my baby) that I didn't even realize what I was doing!

The problem with what I was doing? I was allowing a behavior to occur that I knew I didn't want occurring long term. I knew Olivia could sleep through the night, because from 2-6 months, she had. And I knew she didn't need milk from a nutrition perspective, because she was at a great weight (even above average). That only meant one thing...I knew she was waking for comfort and cuddles, versus out of hunger. Her and I had both grown so used to our routine that after a month, I was concerned. Had I undone all that we had achieved over the past four months in just a few weeks? Was I going to have a baby that was a year old and still up 3-4 times a night? I surely didn't want to continue on with that pattern, so I sat down with Dustin and we had a serious talk about what was next.

We agreed that we were going to let Olivia cry it out, regardless of how long she would cry. I knew in my heart that she was up at night seeking comfort, so I had to follow what I believed to be the right decision and trust my gut. Now, making the decision to implement the CRY-IT-OUT method was difficult. Actually implementing it was even harder. I remember telling Dustin to help me and encourage me, because I knew as a mom who wanted to soothe and comfort her baby girl, I would struggle hearing her cry, especially after the past month where her crying efforts had succeeding in her getting attention and a bottle.

So that night, we did a few things:
(1) We agreed we would let her cry-it-out; we would cap it at an hour if it went on that long but before an hour, we would just watch the monitor and let her work it out herself, knowing she was fully capable.

(2) We agreed that the past month had been a deviation from normal and that Olivia needed to learn to get back into her routine that she had from 2-6 months of age.

(3) We prayed over her and for her, declaring that she would have sweet sleep because she is God's beloved. 

Now, being in agreement with your husband (in any area of your life) brings about so many blessings. But the power of prayer is incredible, because I can honestly say, that was the first night in about 5 weeks that Olivia slept through the night, 12 hours, just like she had been before. 

Night after night, her pattern continued and she naturally fell back into her routine. Some nights, if she wasn't exhausted, she would cry for 20-30 minutes and then give up and fall asleep. Some nights, she would go to sleep calmly and quietly. Some nights, she would wake in the middle of the night, cry for a few minutes and then fall back and sleep until 8 or 9am.When she would cry, my heart would ache for her; I wanted so badly to soothe her and cuddle her like I had been before. But I knew that would be selfish of me. Because looking back to the previous 5 weeks, my head had known what was right -- that I should've let her cry it out, but my heart wanted to be with her, hold her and bond with her, so I would give in and then it quickly became a habit. Reminding myself that I was doing the right thing for Olivia in a long-term sense is what helped me help Olivia reestablish her routine.  

From 7 months on, she was back at it -- sleeping like a champ the way she had the first night in the hospital. At 8.5 months of age, she currently goes to bed around 9pm, after a warm bottle and some bedtime books and snuggling. She doesn't cry much anymore, but instead talks to herself and cuddles her bunnies. She has never taken a pacifier, but she loves her A&A security blanket. She is in a Halo sleep sack and has been since 6 months. From 4-6 months she was in a Halo Sleepsack Swaddle. She seems to love her sleep sack and it gives her extra warmth at night. 
On an average day, she naps from about 11:30-2pm and again 4:30-6:30pm. 

Occasionally, she still wakes and cries at night but faithfully, she always goes back to sleep. 
I listen and watch her, just as I did when she was first born, but I also trust myself as her mom -- I know her better than anybody and I know what she is capable of. If I had never given her the opportunity to reestablish her sleeping routine, she may still be up 3-4 times a night the way she was from 6-7 months. 

As a Mom, it's important for me to remember that I need to give Olivia the space and time to learn to do things on her own, so that she doesn't depend on me for every need -- whether it is sleep or any other part of her life. Of course I'll always be her mom and I will always be there for her, but I have peace knowing she is able to get to sleep on her own and stay asleep through the night on her own. Because that is an extremely critical part of a child's life -- the ability to obtain quality sleep.

Honestly, it's amazing what a baby can learn if they are given the opportunity. And I am extremely grateful that she makes it as easy on us as she does, because it's safe to say I am probably in the minority when it comes to babies that establish such great sleeping routines so easily and so naturally. It wasn't without tears (on my end and hers) and it definitely took trial and error, but with the prior knowledge Dustin and I had gained throughout my pregnancy, the agreement we had with one another, our optimism, the flexibility we practiced, the positivity we tried to always exhibit (around each other and around Olivia), and the endless support of one another, we were blessed with exactly what we had hoped for -- a baby that sleeps through the night, every night. 

I believe that no matter what your experience has been with sleep training, and regardless of how you are choosing to approach it, as a Mom, you are making the right decision for you and your baby. Finding what is "normal" and establishing a sleeping routine looks different for every family, but trust yourself as a Mom -- you are doing the best you can with what you have! 
And that is more than enough.

1 comment :

  1. Great post!! Jase did not do so great his first night in the hospital. Haha. He screamed the ENTIRE time! But he was sleeping through the night by seven weeks!! And he loves his swaddle sleep sacks too!! They seriously are the best! I called them baby straight jackets at first, but now I think they're miracle workers! ha!


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