Once again, I am offering take it or leave it advice on motherhood. This one is about getting your baby to sleep through the night. A friend recently asked me about sleep training and I gave her tips that worked for my kids. So far, she is enjoying better sleep and her baby is doing just fine.
If you are like me and miss your uninterrupted sleep, and you feel like being a zombie is not your speed, then I hope this will help. However, if you are the type of mom who can’t stand to let your baby cry (even if it is done very purposefully), then you may have vehement objections to this article. In case you are neither of the above and just curious, read on…
I have four kids and I am pregnant with a fifth. Sleep training is a matter of survival. If I don’t sleep train, I won’t be able to fulfill some very important duties…like prioritizing my husband and caring for my other kids. Too many people need me at this point so I can’t kill myself by neglecting a good night’s rest.
When I was a rookie mom, I had no idea about sleep training so I suffered for almost 2 years and aged, oh, a good 10 years! My son, Elijah, woke up to breastfeed every night and I gave in because I thought, well, that’s what good mothers do. Looking back, I was right and wrong.
Good mothers do make sacrifices. But they don’t have to be martyrs. A really good mother loves her children unconditionally and purposefully addresses their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs. Having said that, sleep training is a purposeful way to meet a child’s physical needs. And there is a way to do it without neglecting their emotional needs either.
By the time a breastfed baby is between three and six months old, they have put on a significant amount of weight, their stomachs can take in more milk, they have had many hours and days of bonding with you, and they don’t spend the entire day asleep (unlike newborns). Therefore, it is an opportune time to regulate their sleeping and feeding patterns, especially at night.
During each feeding, they will probably take in 4 to 6 ounces of milk. Depending on their weight, they will be drinking between 24 to 36 ounces per day. They still need to sleep about 15 hours a day.
Here is what worked for a 3-hours-in-between-feeding schedule for my last baby, Tiana:
6 AM – Feed / Play
9 AM – Feed / (2 hour nap)
12 PM – Feed / Play
3 PM – Feed / (2 hour nap)
6 PM – Night time routine / Feed (3 hour sleep)
1O PM – Last Feed / Sleep through the night (8 hours)
Please don’t feel like your baby has to have the same schedule. Every infant is different. Some feed every 1.5 to two hours. Tiana happened to do fine with 3 hours in between feeds. So I worked with this.
I let her take two significant naps during the day and by evening, we had a night time routine. She would be given a nice warm bath, we would read a story, or I would sing her a lullaby. The lights would be turned down low and no one was allowed to make loud noises or barge into the room during this time. After feeding her, I would put her down even before she dosed off and she would put herself to sleep.
She learned to do this because during her day time naps, I would let her soothe herself to sleep as well. So she didn’t have to be pat or held to fall asleep.
To train her to sleep through the night, I let her cry out the 2 or 3 AM feed that she got used to in the first few months. She would cry for about 15 to 20 minutes then fall asleep again. This happened for a couple of nights (not more than a week) until her body regulated itself and she took in more milk during her other feeding times. The same process happened with my boys, too.
Of course it is always unpleasant to hear an infant crying. You feel like you might be damaging or hurting your baby somehow. So here is a good checklist to put your conscience at ease before you try sleep training:
Do I spend a lot of time with my baby during the day?
Is my baby alert, active, and healthy?
Is my baby gaining the appropriate amount of weight and growing just fine?
Am I still feeding her at least 6 to 8 times per day?
Is she wetting her diapers regularly?
Do my husband and I have the same conviction about sleep training?
If you can answer yes to the above questions, then rest assured that a few nights of letting them cry is not going to have long-term, negative impact. You have lots of time during the day to bond with your baby and assure her that you are present, available and that you love her. Remember, you aren’t depriving your baby of breast milk, sleep or attention. Babies will adjust to their feeding and sleeping schedules so they get enough milk and sleep. You are simply helping her develop a rhythm that allows both of you to enjoy each other more.
In the long run, training my babies to soothe themselves to sleep and sleep through the night made it easier to transition them into napping and sleeping on their own as toddlers, too. I didn’t have to stay in the room with them and they didn’t need bottles at night either. When it was time to sleep, I could put them down awake or tell them to go to bed. Then I would leave them alone to fall sleep.
Personally, I feel that sleep training before my babies turn 4 months is the easier route. But remember, every mom is different. All moms have an instinct for what is best for their baby. What is comfortable for me may not be comfortable for you. Or, you may have qualms that have not been addressed here, so do your research on sleep training and decide for yourself. Sleep Training Options