Hallelujah, the sleep Gods are upon us! Up until this point, Esmé and I are still sleeping in the living room. She is waking up every 45-1.5 hours. I am exhausted and basically just trying to survive.
Emmanuel and I made the decision to try some sleep training around 3 months. Let me clarify a few things about sleep training before anyone gets in a tizzy over this.
Often times, when people hear "sleep training" they think of leaving your baby to cry for hours on end in their crib alone. Yes, this is one method of sleep training but there are several other methods as well.
When Esmé was around 3 months we started the "softest" type of sleep training which was just practising good habits around naptime/bedtime, sleep and her sleep environment.
We followed a program from Little Ones: The Baby Sleep Experts. The main things we changed were:
1. We started following wake windows. Wake windows are the maximum time your baby can be awake at one time based on their age. For a baby around 3/4 months, they can be awake for about 1.5-2 hours at a time.
3. We implemented a bedtime routine: feed, change into jammies, read book, bed.
Esmé's Sleep Schedule
Esmé's sleep schedule looked like this (the times would change based on when she woke up but this was a rough estimate):
7am: Wake up
7-9am: Feed & play
9-10am: First nap
10-12pm: Feed, play, feed again
12-2:30/3pm: Second nap
2:30/3pm-5: Feed, play
5-5:30pm: Third nap
5:30-7pm: Feed, play & get ready for bed
Now before you start thinking 7pm-7am sleep means Esmé started sleeping through the night....let me just clarify...NOPE.
Esmé did not sleep through the night until she was around 7 months (which is still amazing) but at this point, Esmé still woke up 3x a night to be fed. She would wake up sometime around 10:30-11:30pm, 2-3am, and 5ish.
I should also note that we dropped the third/last night of the day around 4/4.5 months. Esmé started to fight it SO much and would only sleep if I brought her out in the stroller. Once we dropped her last nap, we started to extend her wake windows to 2.5/3 hours and pushed her morning and lunch nap back a bit. Esmé transitioned really well to having a 4 hour wake window in the afternoon and it didn't seem to bother her at all.
How Did Esmé Go To Sleep?
We did not do any form of crying or letting her self-soothe at this age. We would rock her to sleep and let her sleep with her soother.
This is what I would do: I would put my headphones in and put a podcast on, stand in the walk-in closet in complete darkness, and rock her back and forth until she was asleep. I would then very gently lay her in the bassinet and sneak out like a ninja. This could take anywhere from 20mins to an hour and there was nothing more depressing than getting her to sleep and then hitting something on the way out or running into the door and it waking her back up. Beyond that, the downside of this was my back absolutely killed from rocking her several times a day.
The other thing to note is that because Esmé was so used to sleeping whenever she wanted, she would fall asleep all the time during her wake time. It was actually quite funny because she would be dozing off constantly and we had to keep waking her up. I know some people might find that mean to wake her when she kept falling asleep but it was the only way to get her on a schedule. One thing to note is that sometimes your baby isn't actually tired enough to sleep for an extended period of time. They're just a bit tired or even bored and may take a quick cat nap and then be fine for another hour or so. So instead of letting her cat nap, we kept her awake for as much of the wake window as we could and then would put her to sleep for a long, restorative nap. To keep her awake we would play with her, switch activities anytime she started to get sleepy, take her outside etc.
The reason I am really excited to even talk about this is because two really awesome things happened when we started following her wake windows & implementing a schedule:
1. Her sleep windows started to get longer. She went from sleeping max 1.5 hours to 2-4.5hours at a time, which is a HUGE improvement (for all of us!).
2. Also, she had a witching hour around 5:30-6pm everyday that would result in her crying uncontrollably and there was nothing we could do to help her so we would just hold her and walk around while she cried. Her witching hour disappeared once we implemented the sleep schedule.
How Seriously Did We Take The Sleep Schedule?
Very seriously. We followed it as best as we possibly could whether we were at home, at my parents, my sisters or out and about. We planned outings based on her sleep schedule. We made sure we were home in time for her naps or planned to do a nap on the go. We basically lived her schedule.
I think if you're going to follow wake windows/sleep schedule, you need to be pretty much all-in, at least in the beginning when they're learning and adjusting to the schedule and then you can take your chances when they're older. Esmé's almost 9 months now and we still follow her wake windows pretty closely. We try not to deviate too much because it just results in her being either really overtired and grumpy or under-tired and not sleeping well.
Not everyone likes the idea of being so rigid and that's ok but then following a schedule is probably not the best thing for you. For us though, it didn't feel rigid because it meant all of us were sleeping better and Esmé was happier...which means we were all happier.
The story doesn't end there though. If there is one thing I have learned through this whole journey is to never assume anything will stick or that what is happening now is the new normal. Babies have a tendency to surprise us at the worst possible moment by changing their routine.
Around 5 months Esmé went through a sleep regression that had her getting up 5x a night. It was awful and it led us to a new sleep training program.
Stay tuned for next week's blog post where I will talk about that.
Before you go...I just wanted to say one more thing. Sleep is probably one of the most discussed topics in regards to babies and toddlers. People are always curious if they're sleeping through the night and if the answer is no, that can leave moms feeling discouraged or inadequate.
I just want you to know it's actually perfectly normal and ok if your baby doesn't sleep through the night until they are older. Some babies genuinely need to be fed through the night for a while. Some moms don't like having their baby cry at all and won't let that happen so it limits sleep training options. There is nothing wrong with either of these. You are not inadequate or doing anything wrong.
The only thing I would encourage you to do is if your current sleep routine/amount is not working for you, explore the options. See what's out there. Try different things. As I said above, some babies actually do need to be fed multiple times a night but sometimes things are just habits that can be broken.
I'll talk more about this in my next post but I just wanted you to know that just because your neighbour's 10 week old sleeps through the night and your 10 month old doesn't, it doesn't mean that mom is doing something right and you're doing something wrong. Every baby is different. It's more important we find what works best for us and for baby and just go with the flow.