How sleep training changed our lives

Sleep. That’s a big one. In my opinion one of the toughest parts of motherhood (parenthood) especially in the first year.

Since Raphael was always a very noisy and loud sleeper he never slept in our bedroom and certainly not in our bed. I know, most of you are probably surprised that we already put him next door when he wasn’t even a month old BUT it worked for us. Raphael slept better and so did we! Every 3 hours I got up to nurse him. Otherwise he was quite a “good” sleeper – at least the first 3 months. Then – everything went downhill.

But honestly, I can’t blame him. It has been really crazy. I mean, we traveled A LOT – we flew to Germany, Mexico and the Bahamas, we moved twice within 2 months (unexpectedly) AND on top of that Mark was traveling internationally every other week. Not to mention Raphael’s eczema, allergies and torticollis, which led to weekly physical therapy and wearing a cranial helmet. PLUS him being sick quite a lot during the last winter made it even harder. AND I really don’t want to complain about that or have you guys feel sorry for us- not at all. But that’s why it was nearly impossible for us to find a routine!
Bottom line: It was a really hard time for me – for all of us. And I’m sure Raphael could feel that I was stressed out and at my limits.

Before we started the sleep training with him I always rocked him to sleep for his naps. Bedtime was horrible. I couldn’t put him down without him protesting and screaming. I would leave and come back in, for about 5 to 6 times before he would fall asleep, sometimes I was holding his hands or padding his back to help him fall asleep. Even though he would fall asleep eventually he woke up every 2 to 3 hours hungry and I had to nurse him. Luckily he was never “awake” for a long period of time during the night. When I nursed him he would go back to sleep pretty easy. Even though he wasn’t drinking a lot I had to nurse him, otherwise he got really upset. At that time it was the path of least resistance and I’d rather nurse him every 2 hours than having him scream and protest for 30 minutes or even longer in the middle of the night. Even though it was really exhausting I just accepted it as the new normal.

After moving to Ann Arbor I realized I could NOT rock him to sleep anymore. He was getting really heavy and was already 9 months old. I started putting him down for his naps and it took me a few days to get him used to falling asleep by himself but looking back on it I was lucky that he adapted pretty well. Once he could put himself to sleep on his own Mark and I decided to sleep train him for the night – while Mark was at home in the beginning of the new year.

Regulating his naps during the day helped a lot with his nighttime sleeping schedules. So – here is how we sleep trained Raphael:

  1. We created a calming sleep environment: Raphael always needed his own space. He could not fall asleep when we share a room with him. Also we put a white noise machine in his room which helps him sleep through the night.
  2. We started to create a simple bedtime routine: Bedtime is usually between 7.45 and 8.15 PM. Before putting him to bed we’d give him a bottle, brush his teeth, put him into his cozy PJ’s, reading the same good night story, and playing the same good night lullaby.
  3. We put him into his crib when he was tired but still awake: After reading the story, I’d give him his pacifier, turn on the lullaby, turn off the light, sing to him, give him a kiss, and said “I love you” and “good night” and I’d leave the room. The key to help them fall asleep on their own is putting them down tired but NOT ASLEEP.
  4. We let him cry but still gave him comfort: As soon as I said “good night” and walked away he started crying. After about 2 minutes I’d go back in, talk to him and pad his back and then leave again. Do not pick them up but offer comfort so they know that you are there and that they are not alone! I’d continue to do this until he fell asleep increasing the time between getting out and going in. It takes time, patience AND especially consistency. Now Raphael is falling asleep without crying. I’d put him down and leave and he just falls asleep all by himself.
  5. Be patient and stick to the plan: Be prepared that it will take time and patience AND that you have to accept that the first days/weeks (depends on how fast your baby can adapt) will be a mess and really hard on all of you – you are going to be completely committed if you decided to sleep train your baby. Stick to the plan because you really don’t want to start all over again. And it’s so worth it! We were lucky that Raphael picked it up really quick and would sleep A LOT better already after 3-4 days.
  6. We weaned him for the night: Actually THIS was key and the GAME CHANGER for us! And it has nothing to do with “Refusing to give my child food even though he is hungry” Raphael used to wake up every 2 hours for nursing even though he wasn’t hungry – I noticed because he wasn’t drinking a lot. So Mark and I decided to only give him food once a night, roughly 6 hours after he went to bed (that’s around 2). For a whole week Mark banned me from Raphael’s room. When Raphael cried he went over to calm him. When it was time to nurse, Mark brought him to our room, so that Raphael wouldn’t connect his sleeping environment with nursing anymore. I nursed him and then Mark put him back in his crib. The first 2-3 nights he still woke up crying but after only 4 days he already slept through the night the first time and we decided to weaned him completely for the night. From nursing 4-5 times (sometime even more) for more than 9 months straight to sleeping through the night is pretty damn amazing!!

I know that a lot of moms are strictly against sleep training and against letting their baby cry for a little while. I wrote this post because I want to support those parents who are struggling and really don’t know what to do. I want to encourage parents to give “sleep training” a try. Every child can learn how to fall asleep on their own. And I am convinced that it is SO important that they learn it and even more important that we give them the chance to do. They have to learn that when mommy or daddy leaves the room for naps or nighttime that they will come back! I am not a big fan of “nursing to sleep”. Of course he used to fall asleep while nursing when he was younger.

The thing with nursing to sleep is that when you nurse your baby to sleep and put him down. He’d wake up in his crib and would be super confused about it. He fell asleep on you and now you’re not there anymore?! Of course he’s confused. That’s as if you’d fall asleep at home and be waking up somewhere else. You would be confused as well – especially if no alcohol whatsoever is involved! 🙂

Now, Raphael sleeps through the night which is really amazing. I really could not imagine going back to those sleepless nights which was neither restful for us nor for Raphael. Some nights he would still wake up and cry but only once and he falls asleep shortly after without us even going in. If he cries longer then Mark or me would go in, give him his pacifier, and leave. Usually, he would go back to sleep without any crying. But actually he’s not even crying at night a lot anymore. He has a really restful sleep and in the morning when he wakes up he doesn’t even cry – he’d play in his crib and wait until I come in and pick him up.
We are so happy that we can all find some rest now. I am convinced that if we would have done this sleep training earlier with him he would have slept through the night sooner.

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