Are you a new mom? Mom of multiples? Mom with a kid that won’t sleep without you? Do you and your whole house need sleep? If so, my response is sleep train, sleep train, sleep train because it will completely change your life. Don’t be put off by the word “train;” think of it more like teaching and enabling your baby to fall asleep on their own because that is what you will be doing. I pretty much counted down the days and marked it on my calendar for when I could sleep train my twins. I couldn’t have been more excited.
First things first: when you decide to sleep train, you need to commit to it and make sure you’ll be ok with them crying because there will most likely be crying and sometimes screaming. Know that it will be ok, mama. Know that you have to go through the rough to get to the good sleep for everyone. The other factor is that you cannot sleep train until your little one has turned 16 weeks from their due date. So if your little one is a preemie, you’ll have to wait just a little longer. We had to wait an extra four weeks and it was killer. Why 16 weeks you ask? It’s because their sleep cycles don’t solidify until then. Before 16 weeks you go off of a combination of sleep cues and wake windows. You also do whatever you have to get them to go to sleep.
I don’t think I had decided to sleep train my twins until they were about two or three months, and was just fighting for time with my toddler and well-rested babies. The first month is great because babies sleep all the time and usually fall asleep easily because their wake windows are about 45 minutes. Once their wake windows start to extend and they notice the world around them, it gets harder for them to go to sleep and they need help. Start setting yourself up for success in the first few months. Once you’ve helped them differentiate between day and night, start putting them to sleep in a dark room, use a sound machine, pacifier (if they need it), swaddle or sleep sack, and rock them to sleep. All the consultants will tell you that you cannot spoil a newborn (age 0-16 weeks), so do ALL the things for them to sleep.
At about three months is when the crap nap starts.
The crap nap is when they only sleep for about 30 minutes at a time. Just keep telling yourself “this too shall pass.” When they are in this phase, you want to get them back to sleep. When you do this, you are teaching them to connect sleep cycles. Even if they only sleep for another 15 minutes, that’s a win. Imagine doing this with two newborns and a toddler. My daughter watched a lot of TV those first months and when I did get both of the twins down and could play with her, one of them would wake up a few minutes later. I didn’t try to extend their naps every time because, to be honest, I just couldn’t.
Trust me; sleep training is better for EVERYONE.
I felt like I was treading water for the first five months. My son caught on pretty well to all the things I tried to get him to sleep. My daughter on the other hand, had so many eating issues that she never slept for long in between feedings. I couldn’t work with her as early as I did with her brother, but it didn’t take her long to catch on and give into sleep. Most days it would take me 20-40 minutes to put both of them down, but by the time the second one was asleep, the first was already part way through their nap and I wouldn’t get long before they woke again. There were days where it was almost 2 o’clock and I realized I hadn’t eaten lunch. Then, I would realize my toddler hadn’t eaten lunch either. It was a LONG five months and 16 weeks couldn’t come quickly enough.
I read and reread over all the information. I made schedules, watched day in the life videos, and asked all the questions. They turned 16 weeks on April 1st and I had originally decided to get through Easter before sleep training, but I couldn’t wait. I started that Friday and it only took one night of full-on crying. I decided on the Ferber Method, which is when you put them in their crib, leave the room and if they start crying you set a timer. At the end of the timer you go in, soothe them, and leave again. You continue doing this until they fall asleep. I ended up doing a combination of two methods. Audrey was asleep within 30 minutes from when we put them down for bed. William, on the other hand, kept screaming. He screamed for another 30 minutes before going to sleep. With William, I realized that continually going in to soothe him was not helping, so once Audrey was asleep, I used extinction with William. They slept most of the night and only woke up once to eat! This was amazing because William used to wake multiple times a night and I now see that it wasn’t because he was hungry, but instead because he didn’t know how to go back to sleep. Once they knew how to fall asleep, going down for naps on their own happened almost immediately. Another plus was that about two weeks later, they slept through the night! This won’t happen for everyone because every child is different, but I was thankful.
Audrey goes to sleep pretty much right away whereas William always takes 5-15 minutes of fussing, but as he has gotten older, it has gotten better. Will this be the experience for everyone? No, your child may not catch on as quickly and that’s ok. You need to stick to something for at least 5-7 days before trying a different method. Do we have perfect nights of sleep all the time? No, especially when they are sick and teething. I had to rock my son to sleep a few nights this week because of his teeth, but that hasn’t affected his night or daytime sleep. Even sleep consultants don’t have perfect nights of sleep with their kids.
I now have my time back during the day and can spend actual time with my toddler. Know that the first month of sleep training is always rough. You’re trying to figure out schedules, wake windows, and troubleshoot issues, but once you weather the storm that first month, it gets much better. Some things that helped prepare me were The Peaceful Sleeper and Taking Cara Babies; both offer programs that you can purchase as well. The Baby Sleep Site is also very helpful. There, you’ll find sample schedules, wake window charts, and sleep training methods there. Get yourself a video camera, a portable sound machine, and travel blackout curtains for when you travel or go to the grandparents.
My advice is to sleep train at 16 weeks and not wait because the older they get, the harder it can be to break habits. It’s not impossible to sleep train an older baby or toddler, but it’s harder. Again, set yourself up for success and it will be much easier. I think that’s why my twins caught on so quickly.