A quick word on our sleep training journey and how despite the tumbles, we would do it all over again.
As first time parents we had no idea where to start when it came to identifying and meeting our baby’s needs. Everyone was throwing the word “instinct” around like it was some magic ball that was going to tell us exactly when and how to do things. We were riddled with concern, worry and anticipation. What if in fact instinct did not kick in? What then? Of course we were surrounded by friends and family who were quick to offer advice, but a pattern slowly emerged. We noticed early on was that everyone gave advice that worked for them and their family. They never asked us how we wished to parent or what our priorities were. They never asked questions to help ascertain our particular child’s needs and wants. Basically they were telling us how to raise a child the same way they did, even though we were completely different families!
Luckily for us, as we navigated the minefield of delved advice, our friend Jeanne came to the rescue. Jeanne had given birth five months prior. She had endured sleepless nights that were tainting the first few days of what should have been postpartum bliss. Not able to endure another sleepless night, she had sought the advice of a sleep consultant. At first she was reluctant to put us in touch with them. I had wondered why she was hesitant to give us their contact details. We later understood her reasons. Parents can be quite a judgmental crowd and we soon understood her reluctance to divulge the details of how she had managed to get her baby to sleep so soundly. Soon we were to come under the very same fire she did.
Our baby was only four weeks old when we filled out the intake form sent to us by the sleep consultant, garnering as much information as possible about our routine, parenting style and baby’s needs.
We were talked through a plan devised especially for us based on what we were willing (and not willing) to do. Our environment, parenting style and child’s needs were taken into consideration. We were talked through not only how to implement a routine but what to do when said routine veers off track. Within a few days our baby was napping restfully and sleeping through the night. We were able to organize activities around his wake hours ensuring that every minute we spent with him was a precious one focused on care and bonding. We even took a few transatlantic flights with him and enjoyed family time not marred with exhaustion.
When our baby cried it was very easy to eliminate factors such as hunger, cold and tiredness. The carefully devised schedule and our adherence to it meant that when our baby cried we were well rested and coherent enough to focus on his needs. We watched one particular friend who had delivered her child just a few days prior to us suffer immensely. She simply did not know how to start soothing when her baby began crying. It was a constant guessing game. Was he hungry? Was his irritation due to tiredness, illness or discomfort? She was always at a loss and of course this also took it’s toll on her, compounding feelings of failure and desperation inherent of new moms.
Sleep training gets a bad rep. Words like “cry it out” are constantly being thrown around. Parents buy sleep manuals or mainstream books hoping to carry out instructions (that were never specific to their own child, parenting style and home life). They become anxious and frustrated when their attempts fail. For us, it quite possibly saved our baby’s life. We had no idea about setting the ideal room temperature and it was extremely high. We had set it as such beleiving that the warmer the better. We had no idea we had dramatically increased the chances of him suffering a heatstroke. Under the advice of the sleep consultant it was reduced and he has been sleeping soundly ever since.
I will never be able to thank my friend Jeanne enough. It was she who suggested I undertake the services of the sleep consultant. They not only gave us the joy of sleep but helped us emerge unscathed from what can be a very trying and testing time. We were able to embark on transatlantic journeys, date nights and short trips all carefully timed around our baby’s routine. This made everything easier when it came to anticipating his needs and fulfilling them on the go. Meals were enjoyed in perfect bliss as restaurant reservations were timed around his feed and nap times. Once we had put him to bed at 7.00 pm we knew he would sleep blissfully for his sitter while we enjoyed some much needed adult time.
Maybe we had an “easy” baby, but one thing we are certain of is having a routine and striving to stick to it really made a difference to us. We know where we stood and where we were trying to get to, not just taking a stab in the dark when it came to our baby’s needs. Not having to second guess things like feeding times and room temperature took a huge weight of us. Being taught how to set the ideal room ambience and how to comfort him without creating a sleep crutch was priceless.
One of the most challenging things about having a baby that sleeps through the night thanks to the implementation of a set routine is facing judgement from other parents. We were accused of being selfish and trying to “buy” our way out of sleepless nights. We were told that our son would face abandonment and neglect issues brought on by our refusal to bring him into our bed every night. This was all very difficult to hear when all you are trying to do is add some structure and certainty to what can be a very unsettling time.
The second most challenging thing about having a baby who sleeps through the night is coming into contact with parents who haven’t slept a wink in weeks. To look at a bleary eyed mom and restless baby both exhibiting clear signs of sleep deprivation and not sing the praises of sleep training is an impossible task but one we have had to learn to master. We soon understood that not everyone who complains is seeking a solution.
Most people think the most rewarding part of sleep training is putting your baby to bed. For us it is the exact opposite. We enjoy the mornings when we go into his room and flood it with sunlight as we sing him good morning. Some times he is already awake, sometimes he isn’t. In either case he is happy to see us and greets us with a beaming face of a well rested and happy baby.
There is nothing that brings more peace and joy to our little family than putting our son to bed every evening, kissing him goodnight and turning off the light. We walk away to the sound his babbles hot on our heels as we close his bedroom door. We listen on the other side just for a minute and he chuckles himself into a peaceful slumber.
Eleven months on and he still enjoys the same restful and undisturbed sleep he enjoyed since he was eight weeks old. To be honest there are times we observe him sleeping though the baby monitor and wish he was awake playing with us. We wish we could sneak into his room and pick him up for an evening of fun and games. At that precise moment we realize why we did this. It was for us but it was also for him. In a world plagued by stress and insomnia we wanted to make sure our baby has good sleeping habits in place early on.
What sleep training meant for us;
- Guidance and help in setting the right sleep environment for our baby.
- Knowledge and confidence in making choices for our baby regarding setting a routine.
- Learning to “read” the needs of our baby accurately, this eliminated so much of the guesswork needed in identifying what our baby wanted.
- Confidence in moving our baby from co-sleeping with us into his own room.
- We received guidance on how to implement an appropriate bedtime routine with minimum fuss.
- Teaching our baby to sleep without unwittingly creating a sleep crutch such as rocking.
- Encouraging our baby to sleep through the night and to stop night feeding content that his nutritional needs had been met.
- Putting in place appropriate day time naps, extending nap times and an appropriate feeding/meal schedule. Knowing we had times to adhere to made implementing and sticking to a routine much easier. Again, no guess work.
- Identifying any underlying medical considerations such as reflux and colic. As our baby was always content any signs of discomfort or illness were easy to pick up on as they were not disguised as hunger, irritability or tiredness.
There is much more to sleep training than the much publicized “cry it out” methods. Investigate the possible options and liaise with recommended experts so that your journey of sleep nurturing is expertly guided, safe and effective.