I am way overdue for an update for A: how sleep training with Thea is going and B: what I am doing with Baby #2 to hopefully avoid the pitfalls I ran into with Baby #1.
This post will be for point A. (Otherwise this post is going to be insanely long).
Thea is a CHAMP! Seriously, she has become so amazingly independent and relaxed when it comes to bed time now. She is now about 18 months old, and we have enjoyed smooth sleeping for months now. The only tyrants we have to worry about now are teething and sickness; and thankfully, I am now experienced enough to the point where when Thea suddenly struggles to go to sleep, I know that something is wrong instead of assuming that she is going back to old habits. Cheers to ibruprofen.
Honestly, I do and don’t know how to explain what worked. Lots of little changes. Lots of repetition. Lots of consistency. The biggest thing that helped bring Thea out of the bad sleep habits I [unknowingly] taught her where these things: weaning her off sleep props, a consistent bed time routine, and making sure she was actually tired enough to go to bed.
Sleep Props: My baby sleep guru (Rachel at mybabysleepguide.com) talks a lot about the dangers of sleep props. My problem was I learned about the concept of sleep props too late in the game. A sleep prop is anything your baby needs in order to fall asleep. Sleep props become a bad thing only really if the sleep prop is something they can’t do or get on their own. A snuggie is an example of a good sleep prop because your baby can have it without you doing anything with it. Rocking is an example of a bad sleep prop because if your baby needs rocking in order to fall asleep, guess who has to do the rocking–you. And guess what happens when you lay her down once she is asleep and the rocking (sleep prop) stops–babe wakes up. I had Thea reliant on waaaay too many sleep props that were associated with myself. And the hardest one to wean her off of was myself: she had to be touching me in some way in order to fall asleep. So I started just not holding her to sleep but putting her in her crib and letting her have my hand. Well, that got old fast. I was to the point where I had a sleeping bag next to her bed so I could sleep with my hand in her crib so we could both sleep.
The way I found to get her to sleep without touching me was to let her cry. It was hard, but it worked, and it only took one night. I went through our normal bed time routine, and I let her hold my hand for a couple minutes. She wasn’t falling asleep and I didn’t know what else to do. Then, I had the prompting come to mind that this was the point where I had done everything I could to help her get to sleep. Only she could go the rest of the way. So after she held my hand for a couple minutes, I squeezed her hand, told her I loved her and that she could do it, and I went and sat in the rocking chair. The room was dark, dark. The door was shut and the window curtained closed. As she stood at the side of her crib crying for me to come to her, I would talk to her and soothe her verbally until she was quiet. And then she’d start crying again, so I’d talk to her again, and just shh-ed her to calmness, like I would when I rocked her. And then she’d start crying again. So I’d talk or shh for a minute and then, just let her cry. And soon, my talking or shh-ing was simply to let her know I was still there, not to calm her down. So if she’d start crying again, I’d say, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” And then nothing else. And eventually, she’d quiet herself down and lay down. And the better she got, the less I talked, to the point where she’d start crying, and I wouldn’t do anything. And I could tell, after a bit if she was going to need to hear me to calm down or if she would be okay on her own. And just like that, after 20 minutes, she put herself to sleep. I just snuck out of the room. It was really that easy.
The next night, she knew what to expect and it went pretty smooth. And the next night, too. And then she got sick, so then we had to just make things work again, but once she was better, she would recognize the new drill to where it just became standard that I would lay her down in her crib and then sit in the rocking chair until she put herself to sleep. Now, I don’t even have to stay. Some times I do, but most times I lay her down and then go pick up Rose out of her swing and go in my room. If Thea cries out, I’ll either call to her from the hall or her doorway, or I’ll go back in and sit in the rocking chair, usually laying her back down with a hug. And if she needs to hold my hand for a minute, I let her, but I always squeeze her hand to signal to her that I’m taking my hand back and going to sit in the chair. She used to scream at that, but now she knows I’m not going to leave, so she accepts it. Long story short, weaning off of my sleep props was a LOOONG battle, but once I figured out a way that would work with where Thea was at developmentally, and once I, too, understood how to read the situation and know where to give-and-take based on how she was doing, we did it.
Her sleep prop now is her binky. And, to be honest, I love knowing that a binky is going to settle her down and get her on her way to sleep. I hope she’ll just grow out of a binky when she is ready and that we won’t have to do another training session, but we’ll play that by ear.
Routine: We have a routine for bed and a routine for naps, both similar, but constant. Through all of the changes and trial-and-errors we went through throughout this sleep training process, the bedtime and naptime routines, once fixed, never changed. That, I believe, was the only thing that really allowed for much progress to happen. The routine let Thea know what was coming, obviously.
Bedtime: jammies, sit in rocking chair, bottle of milk, book, scriptures, prayers, lights out, sing four songs, lay her in bed (still awake).
Naptime: sit in rocking chair, bottle of milk, prayer, scriptures, lights out, rock until she closes her eyes, lay her in bed (still awake, but dozing).
I don’t know why, but Thea almost always falls asleep while we rock for her nap, but doesn’t in order to go to bed; she’d rather lay down in her crib for bedtime. But it works. Even today, Thea wasn’t falling asleep in the rocking chair for her nap and kept wanting to play, so I put her in her crib and she tried for like ten minutes and then stood up and started crying, so I took her and rocked her again, and her eyes closed within minutes. We just talked about sleep props, right? I’m not sure why rocking isn’t a sleep prop for bedtime, but it seems like it still is for naps. I just know rocking is not enough of a sleep prop that she wakes up when I lay her down (mainly because I don’t lay her down asleep, just drowsy.)
But the routine and some simple sleep props are what allow me to get Thea to sleep no matter where we are staying, be my parents’ house, my in-laws’, a hotel, (going to try a tent this summer…). It’s money.
Making sure she’s actually tired: Finding out the right times to try to get Thea to go to bed or to take a nap was a little brutal for a spell. There was a secret that I wasn’t aware of: babies’ nap times and bedtimes change as they develop. The dirty! Right as I was honing everything in, suddenly Thea stopped going to sleep as good as she had been. It drove me crazy! Until I moved the time back that I put her down. Then it went back to normal. I also realized that her energy was increasing, meaning that I had to make sure I get her busy enough to burn some energy before I tried to put her down. Leave it to Andrew to be able to look at her and see, “Her mind is still active even though her body is tired.” So now, in the morning, we work/play hard, setting her up for a good nap. So now, if I try to put her down for nap time because she has been yawning here and there, and Thea just wants to wiggle and fight it, I don’t push it. It’s not worth it. I’d rather let her be up and moving (even a little grumpy), and then try again later. I also don’t let her nap past 4:00 pm (unless I’m desperate), so make sure she’s tired enough to go to bed at 8:30 (which recently just shifted from 7:30)
(Which for the record, daylight savings time is pest, just sayin’)
Maybe this is helpful to somebody out there. And seriously, check out mybabysleepguide.com. In my experience, it is worth knowing stuff instead of just trying to figure it out on your own. If nothing else, it at least gives you some foundational ideas to pull from in this great changing game of sleep training.