Sleep training - setting the stage for good sleep habits

10:15 PM

Sleep training is a lifetime lesson you can teach your baby. Sleeping well helps in their development, moods and thus eventually makes for a happy baby.

But, sleep training takes time, patience and determination. Also it may toughen you up a little as you hear your baby crying a bit during the process. I will walk through many nights of sleep training which took me more than a month, and was not my first attempt. Then, I will list out what I learned that other moms can use. 

We chose to take a difficult path of a middle ground. We did not let the baby cry too much, but some parents find it easier and effective, to do so. You can research other techniques and chose the best approach for you.

Sep 8, 2015 (day one):

I'm tired but I feel like writing. It is day three of sleep training. From the past few days, we have started 'sleep training' again. This is our second attempt in the past three months. During our first attempt, S was not as stubborn and more easily tired and sleepy. It wasn't very easy, but he wouldn't cry more than a minute or two and would fall asleep after being just a bit restless.

Now that he is almost seven months, things are way way different. He has recently started to crawl. He is also starting to try and sit up, and keeps rocking his bum whenever he gets a chance. Plus, it's summer. Maybe he's just more hungry. I know. I'm giving excuses for his getting up every two hours again. Maybe it's another of his sleep regressions. Maybe it's a growth spurt. Ugh. I don't know. It's just sad that we have to go back and train him, yet again..

Now Mr. S, my baby, is a stubborn one. He always gets his way. He looks innocent, but really he is, only when he closes his eyes to sleep. Otherwise, he is always giving me a side look and a sly grin. He will be tired, but he still wants to explore. He will fight sleep. He will only sleep at the breast. He will not drink, he will use me as a human pacifier. It is hard.

My mother in law is helping us out and he will use her to rock him back to sleep. He also refuses to be put down, unless he has fully passed out. He will get up suddenly and be shocked that we aren't still holding him. Then, in the middle of the night, he will get angry. Angry that he fell asleep again. That we tricked him again. I know no way out. I wish I could follow my doctor's advice, and put him in his bassinet awake, but drowsy. Real life with him doesn't really work that way. He will fight sleep. He will keep playing. He will keep rubbing his eyes and stare with sleepy eyes. But he won't sleep.

Then he'll start crying. In a few minutes, he will be at the boob. Then he will pass out. After two hours, he'll be up because he didn't really eat, and also he will realize by that time he's sleeping alone. I repeat, this is hard.

Sep 12, 2015 (day four): We have tried to set a pattern before he sleeps. The minute he gets cranky or yawns after around 6:30-7 pm, we dim the lights, and decrease play time. This helps set the mood. He still cries a bit but we don't hold him as much now. He also knows what to expect and sleeps more easily. It's late at night, and I cannot sleep. I'm worried he will get up and cry. Will try to get some sleep and update this post during the weekend.

Sep 18, 2015 (day ten): There is a slight improvement. S has figured out he's not getting any more of mom at night. He keeps getting up though, because he is still figuring out to sleep. He is also a bad sleeper at day, and when he doesn't sleep well during the day, the nights are even worse.

October 15 (more than a month):
So I decided to come back and give an update after trying for more than a month. Below are some tips on what I did to finally 'sleep train' my stubborn one.

How to know if your baby is ready: After six months of age, babies can drink enough to not feel hungry for at least three hours. You will realize that your baby is getting up more, not to feed but probably because it is a habit. Both of you are tired and cranky. Then, you know it is time to sleep train. 

- Cut one feed at a time. And keep the gap between feeds slightly more than usual. It took us about a week to extend an hour each. We started off in September, and only in October were we able to see results of him sleeping for around five to six hours.

- Keep pumping at night if you want to keep your supply. Otherwise, expect your supply to drop. Your body will adjust itself in a few days, which is pretty fast considering the fact that I have been (mostly) exclusively breastfeeding since the last eight months.

- Feed him well during the day. 
As you are trying to cut the night feeds, some babies may still nutritionally need about 30-32 ounces of milk each day. Which means, if they feed more during the day, chances are they wouldn't have to compensate at night. 

- Allow your baby to try to sleep on his own. 
Let him/her be cranky, fussy and try to sleep for a bit. No harm in letting him try to self soothe. It is amazing how babies know exactly what ticks them on or off.

- Notice the hints he gives that he is sleepy.
My baby can start shaking his head, rub his eyes till he can barely open them, or scratch his ears. Then he will start crawling and take breaks, lying on his belly and looking at me for help. While I feel a huge gush of maternal love, I give myself  (and him) a minute or two to figure it out. Before, it would take me an hour, if not more to make him sleep by rocking. Now, I just wait till he is really ready, and then give him a good feed. Then I burp him and pat his back, and he is usually peacefully sleeping.

- Daytime naps are important. 
Strange as is may sound, ensure that baby takes their scheduled naps. Each baby has a schedule, we just have to figure it out.

Mine usually sleeps till three or four am, then feeds once. Some days he will wake up and try to play, but usually falls asleep once he realizes mom (and no one else) is in the mood, and it's dark. That brings me to the next two points.

- Set an ambiance and schedule. 
Dim the lights, set his bed, and lay him down. Slowly, he will figure out when it's nap time and when it's not. Some parents even set a bath and play schedule a few hours before sleeping, but it hasn't worked for me.

- Ensure baby is awake, at the last feed of the night. 
And feed him well. This really sets the mood for him to not be hungry and crying at night. This way, you can be sure that if he gets up every two hours, it probably is out of habit and not out of hunger.

- Do not offer him anything to replace mom/bottle:
Which means, no pacifier, water or any other food. Otherwise he will get up for that, and pacifiers are another bad habit to get rid of.

- Let someone other than mother of baby handle the baby at night. 
If the mother holds him, it is almost impossible to not feed the baby. They cry harder as they get older, and if you give in, they know this behavior works. If the baby knows dad/someone else is holding, he knows there is no one to feed him. My little one still gets up, sits up and even crawls some nights searching for me. Initially, it was very hard to see him cry even for a few minutes, but slowly the duration of crying lasted just a minute or two, and now if he is restless we just pat him before he wakes up.

- Small babies have small sleep cycles. It gets better with time.
 As they get older, they can eat more, be more active and also sleep for longer. However, they need to learn how to sleep on their own. It is important that they do so. My baby has fgured it out at 9+ months, but it took us almost three to four months to get two night feeds cut and help him sleep on his own.

- Be consistent.
Don't give in two days, and then try to sleep train the next few days. Be consistent. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit, so consistent behavior daily will show him what is expected and what's night. It will also help him understand sleep time vs other times better. For instance, don't start sleep training if you plan to take a long trip.

- Be patient.
Be prepared to spend more sleepless nights trying out 'sleep training', than feeding every two hours. It is easier to co-sleep and feed baby and give in to each want of baby, than it is to set a schedule.

- Toughen up for their own good.
If you are one of those parents who never wants to let kids cry, remember some times children cry because they're not familiar with something. A child may cry on her first day to school, when he/she falls from running, but it is essential they they still do it. Be there to offer comfort, but teach them they need to figure it out on their own eventually.

- Baby will sleep through the night when he/she is ready
  'Sleeping through the night' or 'STTN' is overrated. They grow big fast and this is an important phase for them. Never try sleep training on a baby that is smaller than six months. That is downright cruel if cry it out tactics are used. Babies also go through growth spurts, so make sure that if they are usually good sleepers and are having some sort of sleep regression, it might be a growth spurt.

There will still be some bad nights.

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Welcome to Sleepy Mom Bliss, written by Amrita. I wanted a platform to share all my experiences, struggles and memories of being a mom.

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