My sleep training experience

**Note: this is an account of my experience with helping my baby to find her sleep.  I believe that the “training” part of sleep training actually applies to parents.  I trained myself to learn my baby and what worked for her, to parent her when she needed it and give her space when she needed that too.  Our experience is what worked for us and what we were comfortable with, as parents.  I absolutely encourage mothers to listen to their own instincts and decide for themselves before they try any sleep techniques.

After Mackenzie was diagnosed with reflux it was a bit of a relief off my shoulders – she was an unsettled baby that needed a lot of love and cuddles to be comfortable and to rest well. Suddenly I had absolutely no guilt when I fed, rocked, cuddled and patted her to sleep in my arms (like in the pic above).

Once medicated and her reflux was under control I thought her sleep would improve.  Surprise, surprise, it didn’t.  I tried a sleep settling method from a sleep lady whose talk I went to.  The gist was to put baby into bed and leave the room. Let the baby cry for 1-2 minutes, go in and soothe (without picking her up) for one minute, then leave regardless of success. Leave the baby again for 1-2mins, go in for two (increasing soothing time, each time), and repeat until baby is asleep. I did this for a day. Three failed naps, and on the third nap, after nearly an hour, I gave up. I picked her up, and fed her to sleep. I felt so exhausted and empty, all of that in and out of the room just wasn’t working for either of us.

At 14 weeks old, due to my low milk supply, a quote “extremely unsettled baby” and so called “bad” sleep habits, we were referred to a ward at the same hospital Mackenzie was born in called Mothercraft. I agreed to go as I was done having a baby that screamed for ages before passing out exhausted and only sleeping for 20mins. I was also done with feeling like a crap mum who didn’t have a clue about how to get past this awful cycle.
The ladies at Mothercraft meant business, and I was there to learn how to get into a good routine, ensure Mackenzie feed well, learn her early tired signs, and settle her for sleeps.

Mums will generally stay for a week and they teach parents how to guide their babies to self settle. Frankly I’d never really read about the different sleep methods but I am generally ok with some level of grizzling, and absolutely no level of screaming. At the sign of an early “tired sign” (the mystical bane of every new parent’s life) I’d do calming snuggles, a story, and then get ready for bed. That’d be a quick nappy change, then swaddle baby and a cuddle in her darkened room. Now for the scary part… baby would get tucked into bed, fully awake, I’d say “goodnight, mama loves you” and the nurse would pull me out of the room.

They said I had to give her 10mins to settle unless she was really losing her mind. That first nap, I went for a walk to make sure I couldn’t hear her if she was crying. At the five minute mark I snuck past them and went and stood outside the door – she was asleep. It was a miracle! Here was a baby who I thought needed to be rocked, fed, cuddled and patted to sleep, sometimes for hours on end.  That first sleep lasted two hours. Another miracle! I put it down to a full feed, an earlier bedtime and a calming pre-nap routine… something I’d never heard of.

I learnt pretty quickly that I wasn’t reading Mackenzie’s tired signs. By the time I got the message to get her ready for bed she was WAY overtired and hard to settle.  And then I learned that each time I was going in to shh and pat her, it was like starting nap time all over again. She’d get wound up every time I went in and didn’t pick her up, and then cry when I left the room. Me going in and out, thinking I was doing the right thing by trying to soothe her was confusing her, and before I knew it she’d be even more overtired and then totally unable to get to sleep without a strong form of comfort (like feeding).

If I’d put her to bed earlier, stopped going in all the damn time, and started listening to her instead, I’d have heard that she was winding down rather than needing me, and avoided the hours of confusion (hers), self doubt (mine), and tears. The funny thing is, a fellow friend of mine tried both methods too, except in reverse. She had much more luck going in and out of the room in 2 min intervals than leaving her son for a slightly longer period like I did. So different babies require different techniques, and there’s often a bit of trial and error required.

By the third day Mackenzie had caught up on all her lost sleep and started to fight the new routine. At the five minute mark she was still awake and making little chirps but the nurse taught me to recognise her cries – was she winding down, pausing between bouts of grizzles, and about to go to sleep? Or ramping up and needing me? She taught me how to get her to sleep in the cot rather than on me, it took one go before she responded to a side settling technique, which has worked ever since, even at 8 months old..!

All in all, I left the hospital with a whole lot of confidence and changed a few things to suit Mackenzie, like giving her a dummy if overtired and never letting her cry at night (otherwise she’d cry herself awake and be really hard to settle).  I stayed home for two weeks getting us into the new routine, and I haven’t looked back since. There were easy days, hard days and boring days. But I really don’t regret it. Letting her grizzle for five minutes max before each sleep (a total of 20mins per day) meant she was actually crying less overall than before and she was learning some good sleep habits. This meant the four month sleep regression although tough, was short – it was 2.5 weeks and I used the same old side settling technique to help her get back to sleep during the day, and resorted to feeding her back to sleep in the night until it passed.

At 5 months I unswaddled and introduced a sleepytot which was a game changer and she started gradually sleeping through. Mackenzie goes into bed fully awake and happy, grabs the sleepytot if she needs it, never makes a peep (even if overtired), and wakes up a happy smiley girl. It’s been pretty awesome and after all that hard work, I love being her mama even more than before.

What was your experience with helping your baby to sleep?
Anyone else willing to admit that they tried some “sleep training”?

3 thoughts on “My sleep training experience

  1. Pingback: The year that was… | Project māmā

  2. Pingback: I am not a natural mother | Project māmā

  3. Pingback: Springing into those same old stages | Project māmā

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