Sleep training

Sleeping at the WRONG moment!

Sleeping at the WRONG moment!

Oh controversy… we have found thee, and thy name is sleep training. Do what you will with your own family.

Our reasons for sleep training:

Principally, because Sam’s sleep was getting worse. He was waking more frequently in the night and eating less each time (i.e. it wasn’t hunger). Not only that, but getting him to go to sleep in the evening was getting worse. It was moving from a 30 minute ‘story-bottle-cuddle-crib’ routine, to a 60 minute ‘story-bottle-fuss-bottle-scream-wail-anger-come downstairs-fuss-fall asleep downstairs-go ballistic if he woke up again in his crib’ routine. OK, it wasn’t always that bad, but there were elements of that, and it was heading that way.

It was clear that Sam had figured out when bedtime was, and didn’t want to go to sleep. It wasn’t really a problem yet, but I have seen the result of when it is a problem in older babies, and that was potentially on the horizon. Further, it was clear to us that Sam’s problem was sleep. Just sleep. Not being in his crib (he would happily play in there during the day), not being on his own (never normally bothers him, plus we stayed in the room with him at bedtime), and not that he was hungry (he was not eating much, and we waited out the extra wakings to see they were growth spurt related). For sure, sleep (he would similarly fight sleep in the day, when out and about and he would start to go mad if he suspected sleep was on the cards for him).

Now sleeping in the WRONG PLACE!

Now sleeping in the WRONG PLACE!

On a deeper level, I guess the decision to sleep train reflects Wes & I’s shared philosophy that while it would be great if we were all living in the plains as we are probably designed to do… we don’t. We live in a modern world, and part of our job as parents to to help Sam figure out how to fit into the modern world, while also loving and protecting him, and helping him be an individual.

In a general sense, we also felt Sam was ‘robust’ enough to deal with it. He was a solid, happy baby. Screaming fits didn’t upset him beyond when the reason for the screaming fit had passed. He didn’t need lots of reassurance in his life. He was along normal developmental lines: sitting, almost crawling (a slithering thing), loving tummy time, not babbling yet but reaching for toys, and moving them around. So, he saw no reason why he would not be ready.

NOT one of our reasons for sleep training:

So we could sleep through the night. I actually think that if you are really suffering from lack of sleep, this is a very good reason! But, for the record, Wes and I were not suffering because we had fallen into a neat switch in-and-out routine that got us both a decent amount of sleep and went something like this:

10.30: I go to sleep, Wes feeds Sam

12.30: Wes feeds Sam & goes to sleep

3.30: I feed Sam and doze with him in his room

5: I feed Sam

6ish: Sam wakes

7: I hand Sam to Wes and I go to sleep

9ish: We finally are all up.

I guess it was easier for us because I could sleep until 9 and still be in work on time (10) 🙂 So, we were both actually pretty rested.

How we sleep trained:

One sleep training day... he seems to be OK with it.

One sleep training day… he seems to be OK with it.

I didn’t read any books, so I don’t know that this is exactly what we did, but I think we ‘Ferbered’. Or ‘Ferberized’ our baby, which sounds more horrendous than it is. Basically our plan was (read our experience below, it was a little different!): Sam goes in his crib. If he cries, he is left for 3 mins, then we come in and without picking him up, reassure him. This is repeated next after 5 minutes, then after 10… and right up to 40 minutes. At night, if Sam wakes, we leave him, unless he sounds hysterical. I think that is Ferber? I don’t know. I think he also has more specific routines or something.

Why we ‘Ferbered’:

Sam after being Ferbered (or Ferber-ished)

Sam after being Ferbered (or Ferber-ished)

Main reason? Our pediatrician told us to. We trust him, as he does not have a harsh / strict philosophy overall. His sleep philosophy up to 1 month is to do anything the baby needs: feed to sleep, cuddle to sleep, love on as much as possible. He told us not to Ferber at 2 months. He says that during the day, it is ‘impossible to spoil a child under 6 months’ and so you should go to them whenever they cry (if reasonable) and pick them up as much as they need. He thinks parent-led routines are not a problem, but not necessary. So, he is very gentle in his approach, but he really felt Sam needed to be sleep trained before 6 months, when he said it would (or could) all get a lot harder.

We had also tried other methods. Sam got wise to everything. We tried the patting, we tried to Hogg ‘pick up and settle and put back down’ as much as possible, we tried sleep cues, we tried a loving bedtime routine, we tried ‘cuddling to Sam to 98% asleep then laying in his crib’. Sam wised up to it all – as soon as he figured out it was leading to sleep, the screaming would start. And things were not slowly getting better. I truly believe that Sam is not a kid who would have naturally picked up a nice bedtime routine given some more time – he is just not a good sleeper. Even in sleep, he seems to fight it, and struggle to give in to sleep.

I also asked a number of very experienced mothers. I have a friend with three children. They are all happy, well adjusted, extremely well turned out children. She ‘Ferbered’ two of them, and the third is still, apparently, her worst sleeper. I asked my Mum – she said that she did the same to me (although it did not have the catchy name then) but way younger – she believes it is fine as a method. Even Wes’ sister-in-law’s-mother told me to do it – that it works well, and she wished she had done it for the elder child, whom she was still rocking to sleep (sometimes all night) at 2 years of age. I trust all these mothers, and their input was invaluable.

Our sleep training experience:

Bathtime. Part of the nighttime routine.

Bathtime. Part of the nighttime routine.

In reality it didn’t go quite as planned. Because we did something I think is key to raising a kid: adapted the plan to suit us and our baby. For what it is worth, here is how it actually went for us:

Night 1: Sam was put in the crib awake, and left alone. He fussed in his crib at bedtime (7 pm). I left him for 5 minutes, went up, and was just in time to see him put himself to sleep. He fussed at 12 and it took him a while to put himself to sleep. He fussed at 3.30… and then cried for about 40 minutes. This was horribly heart breaking, I cried, and I might regret that part of it. But he did put himself to sleep, and woke up at 7 am.

Night 2: Wes told me that Sam had been going crazy at nap time during the day, and I saw it at bedtime. He didn’t just cry, but SCREAMED. So, I didn’t leave him alone, but sitting with him didn’t help. I brought him down while we had dinner, and then took him back at about 7.40. Put him in his crib and he SCREAMED again. After about 5 mins, Wes came in and patted his back and said a loud ‘shush’ until he went to sleep. That took about 15 mins, and I decided that the shush and pat routine was better than sitting by him. I don’t think he woke at 12? But he did wake at 4 and cry. I felt bad. Quite miserable. He cried for about 40 minutes, then he woke up at 5.30 again and I went and fed him.

Night 3: I moved to a ‘shush and pat’ routine at night. So, Sam got a bottle, and a hug on my chest until very sleepy. I laid him in the crib and every time he went to cry, shushed and patted him until he went to sleep. I stayed in the room the whole time. It took about 15 minutes. Then I went down, ate dinner and went to bed dreading the night cry. I woke at 7.15 am to the sound of giggles 🙂 Sam had woken at about 6.30, made such little noise I didn’t wake (he fussed and grunted) and Wes had fed him and they were playing in the nursery.

Boom. From then on every night has been the same. A shush-and-pat bedtime with me in the room. He’ll often wake once or twice within 40 mins after I leave, sometimes with a real yell. But I go in immediately, I don’t pick him up, but I shush and pat, shush and pat. He will go to sleep. Sometimes it seems like a long time, but has actually never been more than 5 minutes (and he has never cried alone for more than the 20 seconds it takes me to run up the stairs). He sleeps until 6.30 (boo) – 7.30 (yay!). I have seen him wake and settle himself back to sleep. And rather than wake up in the morning and scream miserably (as per before sleep training) he wakes up and watches his mobile until he is bored, when he fuses for us (unless he is hungry when he yells… no mistaking that).

He is still not a fabulous sleeper, and will wake several times in the night, or grunt and whine and fuss in his sleep. We deal with this by having turned the baby monitor off. Thus – this doesn’t wake us, but we do hear if he actually cries in distress, rather than just complains.

Note: we do a ‘dream feed’ before we go to bed at 10.30-11 (Oh, how we are party animals) but essentially, our wee one sleeps through the night.

How I feel after it:

Shark bathrobe before bed

Shark bathrobe before bed

It was hard. But I am glad we did it. Sam now has a nice regular bedtime, that seems less distressing than before. Before he would wail and cry for ages, stay up until he was over tired and so on. Now he fusses (occasionally yells) for a brief period, during which he is not alone. I don’t think it is bad for him, he is telling us he doesn’t want to go to sleep, and we are saying ‘tough buddy, you have to’. But, we are staying with him, and reassuring him, and loving him. Bedtime is easier for us all, emotionally.

He seems less stressed in general to be in his crib. I has been told that if we Ferbered him he would still be very distressed in his crib, he just wouldn’t express it – having learned that his cries would not be responded to. Well… I don’t believe that for Sam. He wakes up and indeed doesn’t yell now, but this is a picture of how Wes found him the other morning (‘scuse the infant Tylenol stains on the bed):

Good morning Sam

Good morning Sam

Rather than thinking that his cries go unanswered, he seems not to need to cry.

He sleeps better during the day too – he is easier to put down (note: easiIER not easY!) because we follow the bedtime routine, and as a previous 1-cycle sleeper (awake after 45 mins) he will now sometimes put himself back to sleep and get 1.5-2.5 hours. So, he feels better during the day.

He is just as happy, and just as giggly during the day. He loves me just as much. He loves Wes just as much. He cries as much as ever during the day for exactly the same reasons (bored / hungry / tired / I accidentally bashed his noodle into the door frame [happens way too often]) but not any more than before.

I honestly just feel like we have taught him to do something he found very difficult.

The only downside is that I miss the little critter! I miss out nighttime cuddles and morning snuggles. I hate knowing that when I put him down at 7, I won’t se him for 12 whole hours! Boo! But that is why I have my new puppy (the subject of the next blog post).


What I think about the Ferber controversy:

Beh. I read a lot about sleep training, and how harmful it could be, and I really took it all into consideration. At the end of the day, I felt Sam was a naturally bad sleeper: he never slept well (day or night) and actively fought bed / sleep. He regressed, not progressed. I think if we had left it, he would either have NEVER been a decent sleeper, or we would have had to teach him when he was older, and found it much harder to learn. So, I think this was the lesser of two evils.

And I don’t think it was that much of an evil. I think it worse for me (oh, I cried!).  Sam had some crying periods, which I am sure he doesn’t remember now, and has emerged as a child who can negotiate going to bed, and being in his crib, with way less angst. He isn’t silently unhappy, because he keeps giggling and grinning when he wakes. He is just fine.

I do know about the infamous cortisol study. In brief, they took two groups of parents: one who did cry-it-out sort of as we did (going back after 5, then 10, then 15 etc minutes) and one group who did not (I forget what they did). The cry it out group got all their kids to learn to sleep very quickly, but when the researchers measured salivary cortisol, it was higher in the cry-it-out infants, even after they had been sleep trained. The conclusions drawn not by the scientists, but by the popular press (gotta love ’em) was that the babies were miserable, but silent about it, and this was going to cause them anxiety problems in later life.

Stepping aside of the small sample size, lack of randomization and the lack of replication, and taking these results as if they were scientifically valid, here is the thing: we stress our babies all the time. Cortisol is not new to the baby. Hands up if you have ever been stuck on the interstate, and you can’t pull over, and your baby is going ballistic (*raises hand*). Cortisol. Got a baby who goes through periods of deciding he / she doesn’t want to be in his car seat, but you put them in anyway? Cortisol. Every time. Doesn’t like having their diaper changed? Or waiting for their lunch? Or having their vaccinations? You got it: all stress.

Oh, he is smiling now. But, man does he sometimes hate his seat.

Oh, he is smiling now. But, man does he sometimes hate his seat.

We subject our babies to stress because, sadly, they have to deal with the modern world. There is good stress and bad stress. Bad stress is pain and cruelty. Neglect. Good stress is necessary to adapt to living in the world. Or as some night say: learning. I like to think we have just taught Sam how to manage cortisol in a good stress situation: because he has gone through it. He has learned how to sleep. He is happy.

And asleep. He is currently asleep, and will be for the next 8 hours. *smug*



(1) Yes, be consistent, but at the beginning reevaluate and figure out a routine that works for you. We adapted the bedtime routine, but stuck with the nighttime routine.

(2) Involve your pediatrician. Find out what they recommend, knowing your child. Also, then, if it is not working after a set period of time, you can contact them. I would not have left Sam screaming for weeks. It is supposed to be a brief period of discomfort, to get them to a more comfortable place. Not agony.

(3) Rope in support. My Mum, Brenda, Alanna and Laura were all huge supporters, and Johanna and Frances all reassured me I wasn’t damaging Sam. Definitely build up a support network to go to – it was 2-3 days for us, but they were not easy.

(4) Read up before hand, make your own decision, and go for it. Remember that you know your child, and your family best.

(5) Be prepared to be lonely at night now! Get a dog. And wine. Dog + wine + Love Actually uninterrupted = benefit of sleep training 🙂

3 thoughts on “Sleep training

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