Whoever coined the phrase “sleep like a baby” was an idiot. Seriously.
Any parent knows that getting their munchkin to sleep on a consistent schedule for predictable amounts of time is enough to make any reasonable, sane person fantasize about solitary confinement just to catch some zzzz’s for longer than, say, two hours at a time.
Having worked as a nanny for over ten years before having my little bundle of joy, I knew that sleep training was necessary evil that had to begin the moment of our exhausted but triumphant return home from the hospital. The reason I placed so much importance on establishing a sleep schedule for Inés was largely due to the myriad family and kid-related issues I had observed during my time as a nanny. Without fail, the kiddos that were sleep trained early were consistently happier and hit milestones faster. Not to mention that their parents demonstrated more patient behaviors with their kiddos, had a set time to spend on getting ready for the day in the mornings (shower time, glorious shower time!), and seemed to have generally happier marriages.
Of course, while these behaviors could be attributed to a vast range of healthy habits, seeing the day-in and day-out shifts in behavior that happened when their kids’ sleep habits were disrupted or changed was enough to convince me that sleep training was going to be an integral aspect of my parenting mantra.
At this point in her short but exciting little life, Inés sleeps consistently through the night from about 6:30pm until 7:30am and takes consistent naps during the day, which makes this professional mom and dad very happy. More importantly, it makes Inés a happier baby because she’s getting enough sleep to enjoy activities and focus on new developmental tasks during awake times. That being said, don’t be fooled into thinking that this happened overnight or that she’s just a “good baby.” Uh uh, this sleep schedule was the result of a consistent and hard-fought nine months of training our kiddo the skills to sleep through the night.
I’ll be honest, sleep training both is and is not a proven science. There is a certain amount of “intuition” involved when it comes to reading your baby’s disposition, bodily cues, and googly sounds. Nevertheless, there are few tried-and-true tips that have worked wonders for creating my independent and consistent little sleeper.
- Supplement your presence with a doudou: A doudou – the French term for our concept of a “security blanket” – can be a small blanket, stuffed animal, or even a piece of your clothing. The idea is to have your baby connect with and find comfort in that object rather than needing you to fall asleep. For an infant, I suggest a small object to avoid any potential suffocation risks. Perhaps the best piece of advice I received from a fellow mom was to give your baby a piece of your clothing or put the doudou under your clothes while sleeping. That way, the object can smell like maman. 🙂
- There will be crying: Oh yes, there will be crying, and lots of it. There is no amount of mental preparation that makes hearing your baby cry easier. However, as long as you and your partner are on the same page and you are consistent with the sleep training techniques, you should only have to put up with roughly 3-5 days of feeling like the worst parent on the planet until baby falls asleep without a fuss.
- Always, always, always wait at least 5 minutes: For sleep training, if you’ve put your little one in a safe spot like a bouncer, swing, or crib, rest assured that they’re safe and sound, despite the whining you hear in the next room. If they’re talking to themselves or cooing, let them have some chill time. If they’re crying, remember that falling asleep on their own is a tough but necessary life skill. Set an alarm, put in some ear plugs, or ask your partner to take over this round and let the five minutes run its course. For playtime, allow your children the chance to figure out tasks on their own rather than falling into the inevitable habit of doing it for them. This waiting technique is so important because it instills patience and respect – key traits for fostering a lasting loving and healthy relationship between parents and kids.
- Talk to other parents and do your research: When we were sleep training Inés, I thought we were doing everything wrong. She would sleep like a champ for two months and then mysteriously develop more erratic daytime and nighttime sleeping behaviors. I would spend about a week feeling frustrated, confused, and scared that this would last forever and then she would go back to her previously awesome sleep patterns. Remember that your kiddo is going through a stunning array of physical and mental changes, which means that their sleep patterns will shift and change periodically. Don’t freak out, just remain consistent and don’t hesitate to look to others for support.
- Be consistent: If you’re going to co-sleep, then co-sleep all the time and research the best ways to instill healthy sleep patterns with this style. If you choose the crib, then make sure to consistently place your baby in their own little space while sleeping rather than developing a habit where your baby requires endless rocking, soothing, or singing to fall asleep. Giving your tiny person a chance to fall asleep on their own will pay off in the long run by keeping night wakings to a minimum, which means more restful sleep for the entire family.
I’d be a liar if I said that I came up with these tips on my own. The truth is, I have to credit all those families that let me hang out with their kiddos during my time as a nanny, fellow moms, as well as a couple key materials like the book Sleep Sense and Alexis Dubeif’s brilliant blog, Troublesome Tots.
Remember, rest assured that you are already the best mom you can be and that your munchkin thinks you’re the coolest person alive.
What do you think of these tips?
Have any advice of your own on sleep training?
Share below in the comments section! 🙂