Sleep is precious. You don’t realize just how precious until you don’t have it anymore, right mamas? You find yourself sitting in bed at 2am, crying through another feeding while simultaneously ordering anything off Amazon Prime that promises to help your baby sleep longer stretches at night.
You’re just not going to get much sleep during those newborn days; that just comes with the job. However, you don’t have to live the rest of the first year that way (or through toddlerhood!).
I have several friends who did not sleep train their little ones and now have 3 and 4 year olds who still aren’t sleeping through the night regularly. That means 3-4 years of those mamas not getting quality sleep regularly. They’ve told me time and time again how much they regret not sleeping training their little ones when they were younger. Between these sweet mamas telling me what not to do and other mamas telling me what they did that worked, I gathered a lot of great advice before my twins were even born.
What I share below is exactly what I did with my twins. I know that every baby is so very different and has different needs. However, I will say that my twins had very opposite sleep personalities and it worked great for both of them. I say that to give you sleep-deprived mamas hope!
Before I break it down and show you how we did things, I want to say that this isn’t the best way or only way – it’s just my way. You as a mama have to do what you feel the most comfortable with! If sleep training just isn’t for you, then by all means, don’t sleep train. BUT before you make that decision, hear me out, and read this entire post as it’s not as intimidating as it may seem! Every baby has different needs, and, at the end of the day, you have to trust your mama gut – God gave it to us for a reason!
The biggest reason some mamas choose not to teach their little ones to self soothe is because they have read or been told that babies physically cannot lean to self soothe. Instead, the myth says that when babies appear to self soothe, it is actually them just giving up on anyone coming for them when they cry.
Some mamas believe that sleep training damages their child emotionally and developmentally due to “toxic stress”. For the average child, this is simply untrue. You don’t have to take my word for it though – Harvard and The American Academy of Pediatrics has proved that toxic stress (which causes damage to a child’s long-term emotional well being) does not occur from sleep-training in a loving and nurturing environment. If you struggle with the idea of sleep training for this reason, I highly recommend checking out this link which puts these claims to rest!
My twins were preemies, so everything for us was adjusted by two months (meaning every stage lasted about two months longer for them. HELLLOOOO no sleep the first six months!). However, for the benefit of the average reader, I’ve listed everything out in terms of if they weren’t preemies.
Oh man, it’s so tough to even let my mind think back to this time. With having my husband working/living out of state and feeding two preemie babies around the clock, Lord only knows how I survived. Lord knows how any of us survive these sleepless days! Mamas are just tough.
When one of my twins woke, I woke the other (or, more than likely, the first one’s screaming woke the other). I heated both bottles, changed both diapers, and then got situated to feed them simultaneously (a not so fun task, let me tell ya!).
Since they were preemies and, you know, there was TWO of them and all, it took 90 minutes to complete a feeding, and they needed a feeding every 2.5-3 hours. If you do the math, you’ll quickly see why I never slept. The left over 60-90 minutes between feedings were spent pumping then getting myself back in bed and finally falling asleep with maybe 15-30 minutes left until they would wake for the next feeding.
Your focus shouldn’t even be on sleep training at this age as newborns are so little, and their needs are so great. The biggest challenge during this time is teaching them day from night by creating a consistent night time routine. I tried to incorporate as many of their senses as possible to really drive the point home:
Sight: I turned off the lights for their last feeding.
Sound: I played the same lullaby songs during their last feeding.
Smell: I sprayed baby-safe lavender scent in the room for their last feeding.
Taste: I warmed their night time bottle a little more than all the others.
Touch: I gave them a bath (or warm washcloth rub down) and gentle massage right before their last feeding.
Did all of these steps actually help teach them night from day? Who knows. Just being real. Mine never really confused night from day, but honestly, I don’t know if that can be attributed to the nighttime routine or just by chance. Either way, it’s common for newborns to go through periods of sleeping more during the day and staying up at night. Just know it’ll pass!
Months 1-3 Summary: Teach day from night, and just focus on surviving.
While it isn’t recommend to begin full sleep training until 6 months old due to their developmental age, this is the time that I became a lot more focused on practicing good sleep habits. I didn’t want to create any sleep associations for them (things they begin to need in order to fall asleep). This is the biggest mistake that is made during this age, especially out of desperation! However, I was determined to be consistent, so they could learn to put themselves to sleep without any crutch. Here are the key things I made sure I was or wasn’t doing:
1. I always put them down drowsy but awake. This lets them learn how to fall asleep on their own (so that when they wake up at 2am, they don’t cry for you to come hold and rock them back to sleep!).
2. I didn’t let them fall asleep during a feeding for the same reason as above.
3. I stopped giving them a pacifier. They used it in the newborn days but around this age, I gradually stopped giving it as I didn’t want them knocking it out of their crib and crying for me to come get it for the next several years. (Again, it all comes back to wanting them to learn to fall asleep by themselves!).
4. While I didn’t let them full on cry-it-out at this age, I did let them fuss a little.
5. I started having them take all their naps in their cribs in their rooms at four months as I wanted them to be comfortable with their own beds and rooms. (They slept in our room in bassinets or swings for naps until this point).
6. I started having them sleep in their own rooms at night at 5 months old. I never planned to move them out of our rooms this young; however, they kept waking each other up. Since SIDS rates are higher amongst preemies, the only reason I felt comfortable doing this was because we had the Owlets which I truly can’t recommend enough. If there was only one baby item I could ever have, it would hands down be the Owlet. I truly believe it saved my baby girl’s life when she had stopped breathing shortly after coming home from the NICU.
My boy dropped his last night feeding about a month and a half before my girl. Once I noticed that she was only taking in a few ounces each 3am feeding, I knew she no longer needed it, and it was just a comforting habit. To stop the habit, I put one less ounce of milk in her bottle every two nights until we got down to just one ounce. The next time, I just didn’t go in her room when she woke up for that bottle. I let her fuss (not scream as, like I said, I didn’t do full cry it out until later on), and after about 15 minutes, she fell back asleep. She has never cried out during the night since (and she’s close to 2!) Every baby is different, and it may not go that easy for your little one. I know how easy it is to get down and frustrated, but my biggest advice is be consistent.
As for a schedule, it’s tough to have an exact timed schedule at this age; so, I followed the eat-play-sleep routine during the day which worked really well for us.
Months 4-5 Summary: Start napping in crib. Start good sleep habits. Fussing is okay.
PRODUCTS WE LOVED AT THIS AGE:
Black Out Curtains – Mine still use black out curtains in their rooms. Huge help during summer’s late sunsets and daytime naps!
Sound Machine – This is the one we used (and still do!). I like it better than others I’ve seen because it’s loud. My little ones are so comforted by the white noise, and it prevents them from being woken from all the noises in the house (especially when we have people over!)
Love To Dream Swaddle – Alright, y’all. This was a God-send for us. The first night my boy wore it, he slept through the night for the first time. Both my twins LOVED this and would get so excited when we put it on them. Plus, they look so stinkin’ adorable in it. Babies natural sleep position is hands over head and hips open. This allows them to sleep that way (unlike the standard swaddle), yet still limits their startle reflex. Plus, when it’s time to wean them off it, you can simply unzip the arms! (We started using these around 3 months!)
As soon as my twins turned six months, I started the cry-it-out method when needed. I will say that this is a much easier process if you have practiced good sleep habits from the beginning. If you are starting cry-it-out at 11 months old or 2 years old, it is likely going to be very difficult. It can definitely still work, it just may be more challenging!
My twins typically went down pretty well for night time but had some trouble for naps. This is when I introduced cry-it-out. There are a few different methods to this depending on what you are comfortable with and what your baby responds to best.
The Ferber Method is a very popular one which lets them cry for a predetermined amount of time before going to pat their back or talk to them (The key is to not pick them up). 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 25 minutes, whatever you are comfortable with. It’s hard for a mama to hear their baby cry, so having the timer set really calmed my heart to have a goal or end-time to reach. There were definitely times I had to give my husband the monitor while I went outside because it can be hard not to give in, but that is the biggest key to all of sleep training: consistency! Fortunately, crying it out worked very well for my twins and only took a few times before they wouldn’t cry anymore before going down for naps.
It’s important to make sure your little one isn’t crying for any other reason before letting them cry it out. Make sure they have a clean diaper, aren’t hungry, aren’t sick, and aren’t teething. If you know all of these things aren’t going on, it makes it a little easier for your heart to hear them cry when you aren’t second guessing yourself.
If they are sick or teething, it’s important to put a pause on sleep training as they need lots of comfort and snuggles during this time. It is touugh because it can make everything take a big step back in your progress, but I like to say that everything with babies is two steps forward, one step back.
Sleep training isn’t always easy, but keep telling yourself that this temporary hard is for a forever of great. They need to learn to soothe themselves to sleep. You need your sleep. Babies and toddler will naturally wake many times during the night during sleep cycles, and they will either feel safe and content in their beds and put themselves right back to sleep or they will cry out for you to soothe them back to sleep. So, think of it this way: by letting your little on learn to self soothe and letting them cry-it-out right now, you are actually minimizing the stress and crying of your little one in the long run.
This is a great age to start a very consistent schedule and routine. Babies and toddlers do very well with consistency and knowing what to expect next. This has been proven to help their sleep habits tremendously!
6-12 Months Summary: Cry it out. Be consistent.
12 months +
As my twins got older, I wanted to ensure that they love to be in their cribs. Even if they don’t actually sleep for the entire nap time, I want them to stay and play in their cribs for the full duration – same goes for mornings when they wake up. (Mama’s gotta work!) I never do “time out” in their cribs for punishment as I do not want them to associate their cribs with anything bad.
Once my twins reached one year, we felt comfortable giving them their blankie to sleep with which they love! This also makes it easier for them to sleep in different cribs when we travel since they have their special blanket that is familiar and comforting.
I am a big believer in early bed times for little ones for multiple reasons: They need a lot of sleep, and marriages need quality time together. My twins are now 21 months old and their bed time is 7pm and not a minute later – with the exception of a late night out every once in awhile (and by that, I mean 8pm haha!).
12+ Months Summary: Keep their cribs a happy place. Early bed time.
Have any questions or tips for other mamas? Leave them down below in the comments!