My biggest fear when becoming a mom was the sleepless nights that many had warned me about. Going all night with no sleep and only a few naps during the day did not seem very appealing to me, and thinking about how many hours of sleep I would lose would give me anxiety some days. Pre-mom life, I could have been a professional napper, napping any where at any time, so having that nap window greatly reduced after becoming a mom also sparked some reservations.
Flash forward to my daughter’s birth. From day one, my husband and I struggled to get her to sleep. We would take shifts throughout the night to stay up with her; half the time, I think we were deliriously monitoring our daughter. We had to fix this sleep deprivation and fast or we were going to go insane. I was nursing her still, and it was recommended to me by a friend to bed share with her so we could finally get some sleep. For the next seven months, my daughter and I slept in the same bed, that way I could nurse her more easily — sometimes, I didn’t even wake up from her nursing. My husband chose to sleep in the guest room in fear of hurting our child in his sleep.
This past March, however, things started to change again. My daughter was nearing eight months old and she was waking up five to six times a night. She was rolling and become more mobile, which was keeping me up. The exhaustion was setting in again, and we decided it was time for her to sleep in her own bed. Over spring break (my husband and I are both teachers), we decided we would try gentle sleep training methods to get her to sleep in her own room. The first couple of nights went well, but quickly, she learned that many tears and wake ups throughout the night would get her and back into bed in our room.
We were becoming overwhelmed and chose to hire professional help: a sleep consultant
I was referred to a sleep consultant in Illinois called Restored Sleep Consulting by a former co-worker. Our consultant’s name was Carrie, and she was truly a life saver! She was offering a free 15-minute consultation to talk about our daughter’s sleep issues and how she might be able to help. My husband and I met with her on the phone and fell in love. She was extremely reassuring and told us she could help. We scheduled our official consultation for a few days later to set up a sleep plan for our daughter. We filled out a questionnaire about our daughter and her sleep habits: from how much she eats to how many naps she takes a day. Then, we had the “official” phone call. During that call, a very detailed plan was laid out specifically for our daughter’s needs.
One of my biggest concerns was not letting my daughter cry it out. There are many opinions surrounding cry it out, and I do not judge any parents for the choices they make, but I knew that if I took the cry it out strategy, I would have not been able to continue the process and would have given in and put her back in bed with me.
Knowing this about us, our sleep consultant suggested the chair method of sleep training. This was more my speed and felt like something I could handle in helping my daughter learn to sleep on her own. In the chair method, I was able to use touch and my voice to comfort my daughter when she was struggling to fall asleep; I stayed in the room with her for the first week and a half. Eventually, my husband and I learned that it was best to let her cry a little, and the more we tried to talk to her, the more upset she would get.
We followed the plan that was put in place for us for two weeks. We tracked every nap, feed, and sleep in a spreadsheet that was shared with our sleep consultant. Every day, we would email back and forth and chatted on the phone a few times to make adjustments to her daily schedule. Although we stayed in contact for two weeks making slight adjustments here and there (mainly to nap times), it only took about three days to get her sleeping 10-11 hours at night!
A few tips our sleep consultant gave us that were the keys to helping our daughter get better sleep
First, her room was not a proper sleep setting. Her room had too much light coming into it. Her curtains were quite shear, and we also used a night light. The light was confusing her and keeping her awake. We ended up taping trash bags to the window, getting rid of the night light, only using a sound machine for her to sleep. Reducing as much “extra stimulation” as possible makes it easier for her to fall asleep any time, day or night.
Second, we implemented a routine. Before, we were just waiting for her to get tired and then I would nurse her to sleep. Now, we have a strict routine we follow for every nap and another routine that we follow for bed. This triggers our daughter’s brain to realize that she is about to go to sleep. Our nap time routine is as follows: sleep sack, sound machine turned on, and a short book. Her bedtime routine: bottle, bath, pajamas, book, sound machine, and then sleep. We also put her down FULLY AWAKE — not drowsy, not partially asleep, but wide awake. This has taught her how to put herself to sleep and not needing stimulation to go to bed.
Third, and most important in my opinion, is following her wake windows. I truly did not want to be a rigid and scheduled mom. I wanted her to nurse when she was hungry, sleep when she was tired, etc. People had told me that eventually she would get herself on her own schedule, but with our crazy schedules, this never seemed to happen. I learned, not as quickly as I should have, that there is a reason babies need a schedule. We were keeping her up way too long in between naps and not making her sleep long enough stretches at a time. She was becoming overly tired, which was affecting her night time sleep. By tracking her sleep and meals with our sleep consultant, we were able to adjust her schedule and see where she was struggling. Having a professional help us decipher the information was extremely important to our success.
Our daughter is now eleven months old and we have had zero night wakings ever since hiring our sleep consultant. She still struggles with naps some days, but overall, she seems to be much happier and more playful.
My husband and I know that our baby’s sleep will not always be rainbows and butterflies. Sickness and new teeth can always bring sleep regressions as well as growth spurts. Before long, she will be in a toddler bed with the ability to get up and crawl back into our bed. However, we have new tools in our tool box we can pull out when needed that will hopefully help us guide her back to sleep.
Although I miss my bedtime snuggles with my little girl, having my husband back in bed with me has helped our relationship and getting a full night’s sleep has made me a less grumpy mommy!