Thursday, October 27, 2011

I Believe in Sleep Training

Perhaps a controversial post title, but its true.  Despite the wondrousness of snuggles and cuddles, I don't believe that we are doing our children any favours if we don't teach them the skills to fall asleep on their own and begin to soothe themselves when they wake.  That said, I also don't believe in letting my children scream indefintely in an attempt to teach them said skills.

I want them to feel supported, loved and cared for, I want them to fall asleep knowing that I am there if they need me.  It may sound like a contradiction, but sleep training means many different things to many different people and for us, all of this is achievable.  I use the Baby Whisperer's pick up/put down (pu/pd) method as a general guideline.  Pu/pd doesn't mandate crying it out, in fact you are instructed to go to your child if they start to cry.  The trick is not to revert to soothing your child back to sleep, but rather allow them to do that for themselves, once they settle.

I recognize there are many methods of sleep training, and many people both for and against it; regardless, here are some tips and tricks that work for us.  It's been just over a week and already the baby boy has started falling asleep without me in the room, at least most of the time.
Establish a strong 'sleepytime' routine.  For us that includes a diaper change, a swaddle, a book, a quick snuggle and lullaby then upstairs and into the crib.  Be consistent with your words and signs (if you are using them) so your baby can begin to recognize what is happening.  I always tell my boys when we are getting ready for 'sleepytime' and tell them 'night night its sleepytime' whenever I leave their room.

When you put the babe into the crib, there is no need to just drop them and get out of dodge.  Provide a little comfort, let him feel your presence.  Rhythmically pat his belly (or back) while making a soft shushing sound, if the baby seems unsettled, I often tell him 'its ok, its just sleepytime' and sometimes I even sing a lullaby while I pat his back.  The first few days the baby boy fell asleep while I patted him, and that's ok.  Don't worry, as you settle into the routine you can cut the shush patting shorter and shorter, in fact you likely won't even need it after a while. 

Pick him up
Quite simply, if your baby is crying and needs you, go to him.  Pick him up.  Try not to rock, pat, sing or otherwise soothe your child. This is hard and I sometimes break this rule but its worth trying to do.

Put him down
As soon as he settles, put him back into his crib and use your key words: ours are 'night night, sleepytime'.   Give more shush pats as needed.  If the baby starts to scream on the way back to the crib, lay him all the way down before you pick him up again so that you aren't rewarding the crying.

Grumbles vs cries
Know the difference between a grumble and a cry, they are very different things.  If your child is making noises, lightly crying or whining he may be either playing or trying to settle and soothe himself.  Don't go into the room, he's ok.  If however he srarts wailing and pulling on your heartstrings, don't hesitate, go to him.

Leave the room
If your baby seems to be settling with the shush pats, don't linger, leave the room.  You may not get very far before he calls you back the first few times, but he'll get used to it.  Use comforting and consistent words when you leave and don't be afraid to use a mobile or white noise if your baby likes it.  The baby boy likes the heartbeat sound and if he doesn't seem to be acting sleepy, but I know he is, I'll turn on the mobile when I leave.  I haven't had to go back in the last 4-5 times I left the baby boy watching the mobile, what a good boy.

Don't stop
Finally, the most important thing, once you start sleep training, don't stop.  Don't give in.  Don't revert back.  Even though it may seem easier in the moment, every time you revert back to your old sleep methods the babe is winning a little battle.  At my house, I try and keep the cards stacked in my favour, I want to win those battles and you should too.

For us, sleep training works, not only does it give my boys essential skills, its gives Mom and Dad a little bit of a break.  I did sleep training with the boy at 5 months, we went from 45 minutes of swaddling, rocking and cuddling to sleeping on his own within a span of just over two weeks.  The baby's sleep routine was much shorter than the boys, so I didn't officially begin sleep training until he was almost 6 months old.  After just over a week, things are going smoothly, we are falling into a good sleepytime routine and the baby's starting to fall asleep on his own.

How do you feel about sleep training?  Do you belive in it?  Has it worked for your family?  What are your tricks to make it work?