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Sleep training has such a negative connotation to it, but I want that to change. I think people see the words “sleep training” and automatically assume that means “cry it out”. While cry it out, or CIO, is a form of sleep training, it’s not the only one.
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There are quite a few forms of sleep training and this post will be about the Ferber Method. This method involves some CIO, but it’s not about completely letting your baby scream their head off. In fact, this method encourages you to pick your baby up if they start screaming.
Plus, and this is something I firmly believe in, you can really adjust any of the methods to fit YOUR needs. Every baby and family is different so applying one single method doesn’t really make sense to me. You need to adjust and accommodate to what works for you.
With all that being said, our baby is 9 months (almost 10 months) at time of writing, and I wish we did this sooner! Since about 6 months, Liam has been waking up multiple times a night to eat. From age 4 months-6 months he actually slept well – but then he got an ear infection and hand-foot-mouth and his sleep habits totally changed. And then, of course, he got used to those habits and couldn’t break them. But we couldn’t stand it – getting up at 10, 1, 3, 5, and then 7. It’s not sustainable and if you’re in this same boat I encourage to continue reading and implement these steps to help you and your baby sleep.
By the way these steps are not meant for one certain age – although if you have a newborn then this likely won’t work well for you. Newborns are still getting used to life outside the womb and barely know day from night so sleep training will be difficult and not recommended.
Before you read any further, I highly recommend checking out my post on sleep tips for babies. It includes 19 things to try to help your baby sleep - maybe you don’t really need to “train” your baby yet! Maybe you just need to implement some of these tips – especially useful for those with newborns!
Okay, so how do you sleep train a baby? It’s honestly not that hard but does require patience and consistency. The first few nights will be the hardest but after that, it’s smooth sailing! Some people find it’s easier to start with naps and that’s absolutely okay – do what works for YOU.
I wrote this post with the intention of giving EXACT steps on what to do. A lot of posts I was reading didn’t lay out EXACTLY what I needed to do so that’s is what I did here.
One disclaimer: Many experts believe that babies under 8-9 months will still need food overnight. I’ve even read that after 6 months they no longer do. I’m not advocating for one or the other – but if your baby is getting the right amount of ounces during the day, they shouldn’t need any at night (unless they are under 4 months).
How to successfully sleep train your baby
1. Make the room conducive for sleep – dark, quiet (or with a noise machine), comfortable temperature. This is truly the first step and even if you’re not sleep training, you should be doing this.
2. Do not feed your baby right before bedtime (or naptime). They should not be associating eating with sleeping. This is CRUCIAL. Feed your baby at least 30 minutes before bedtime, or even better: 60 minutes.
3. Ensure your baby has had enough food for the day. This will depend on their age, of course. But if they have enough in the day, they shouldn’t need any more overnight (difference sources have different ages where this is true.)
4. Put your baby to bed drowsy but awake. I know this is easier said than done, but again, consistency is key here. Rock them gently, sing a song, say “I love you”, and put them down. They may cry and I KNOW hearing your baby cry is heartbreaking. But here is where the sleep training comes into play (this is the exact way we did it):
a. The first time they cry after putting them down: let them cry for 3 minutes. Use a timer.
b. After 3 minutes, if they haven’t settled, go in the room and soothe them but don’t pick them up. Rub their back, shush them, give them their pacifier – whatever it may be. Only soothe for 1 minute.
c. Walk out after the 1 minute, even if they are still crying.
d. Set your timer for 5 minutes. Repeat steps B-C if your baby continues to cry.
e. Finally, set your timer for 10 minutes and repeat steps B-C.
f. If your baby SCREAMS, pick them up! I find that letting them scream is not conducive and does nothing but make it worse. Rock them, let them know you’re there and put them back down.
g. If after the 10-minute timer, they still are crying, continue with the 10-minute timer until they fall asleep.
h. Repeat the next night.
This should only take 2-4 nights, depending on the baby. Here’s how our nights went before sleep training and then after:
Before sleep training:
A. Liam goes to bed at 7-7:30. Eats a bottle right before bed, and even in bed (BIG NO NO!)
B. Liam wakes up at 10-11, doesn’t settle until we give him 1-2 oz of formula (so we do).
C. Liam wakes up around 1-2. We give 1-2 oz again.
D. Liam wakes up around 4. We give 1-2 oz again.
E. Liam wakes up at 6 or 6:30 for the day.
The first night of sleep training :
A. Liam goes to bed at 7-7:30. We start his bedtime routine around 6:30 and give him his bottle at this time.
B. The first night, Liam still wakes up at 10-11, we set our timer for 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes. He doesn’t calm so we give 1 oz of formula at this time. We figure he’s used to it so we need to slowly wean him of this habit to make it easier on him and us.
C. He wakes up at 1-2; we set the timer and by 10 minutes, he isn’t calming, so we give 1 oz of WATER this time.
D. He wakes up at 5; same as above; we give 1 oz of water.
E. He wakes up at 7.
The second night:
A. Same as above A.
B. Liam wakes up at 1 am. We set the timer for 3 minutes. He calms himself.
C. He wakes up at 4, we set the timer but he’s calm halfway through the 3 minutes.
The third night:
A. Same as above A.
B. Liam wakes up at 3 am – we set the timer but he’s soon quiet.
So it took us 3 full nights to get him to only wake up once and it was barely a whimper! I’d call that a success. As you can see, we didn’t feed him right before bed and we slowly tapered off his nighttime feedings. We even gave water (our pediatrician okay’d this) a few times. The problem was, he was used to using food as a comfort and obviously we couldn’t keep doing that every night!
The point of sleep training is get your baby to soothe themselves. This is honestly such an important skill to have for now, and for later. They either find their thumb, pacifier, lovey, or they just calm down through other means. When we constantly go in there, we are teaching them that there’s no other way to be soothed, which then puts them in a pattern that they may take with them through toddlerhood.
I hope these steps help any mama’s (or dads!) in need.
I also have a few books I’d recommend to help understand sleep training, associations, and soothing and you can read about those here.