One mom’s day-by-day account while using a coach to gently sleep train her baby
Context is everything when it comes to baby challenges. Some things just hit you harder than others. Sleep is my thing. Everything else we faced so far as new parents, I handled, to the best of my ability, with grace and patience. I accepted developmental milestones and understood they were both good signs and necessary. We weathered breastfeeding challenges with determination and optimism. But, take away my ability to rest, and remove my much-needed eight solid hours of daily self care at night, and the worst version of myself showed her face. Every little setback felt like a huge catastrophe, I was snappy, my moods could not be tempered, and to make matters worse, I was losing patience and lacked genuine energy to really be present with my baby during waking hours.
I knew something needed to change, but I had no idea where to start. When I became pregnant and did all the preparation I thought I needed to do, I hadn’t anticipated were all the theories, methods, and philosophies that just the first six months alone can entail. With each question asked of me by fellow parents (examples, just to name a few: “How do you feel about vaccines?” “When and how do you plan to introduce your baby to solids?” and the all-important “When will you sleep train? What method will you use?”), I felt a little more unprepared and overwhelmed. In short, I had no idea.
When my son’s sleep issues started to become more and more apparent, and I realized that I was losing too much of myself by waiting it out to see it improve (it also started to get worse), I told my partner it was time for some reinforcement.
Listen, I never even knew sleep coaches existed before having a child. I thought babies slept if you took care of their needs. Some better than others, but ultimately, the saying “Sleeping like a baby” suggested to me that it wouldn’t be a problem. Reality gave me something much more frightening, so much so, I’ll never use this expression. I did a lot of reading between December (when the sleep regression took hold) and March (when things got worse than I thought possible, and our sleep training attempts proved futile). I knew that cry it out was not for me, and likely going to be ineffective for my son (who showed me his tenacity when he cried for three hours when stuck in traffic on Thanksgiving). I knew that developmentally, I shouldn’t really start trying to train until he was six to six and a half months old. I knew that some, maybe even most, babies work it out by six months. When it got to be too much, I turned to a professional and a little over 15 days in, I can say with certainty that it was the smartest, and best, parenting decision we have made thus far.
Read below for my sleep-deprived account of our experience over the past two weeks with a sleep coach to help us get some zzz’s.
Unofficially, we’ve been practicing the first part of our personalized sleep plan (see Disclaimer) for a few days before our launch to sleep training. Surprisingly, he’s taken to the initial adjustments fairly easily even though we didn’t really have a set routine in place while we were out of town for a few days.
Tonight was the first night of our sleep plan, but anyone who has had to execute a sleep plan or use a sleep coach may know that we really got our start from the moment he woke up this morning. That awake time sets a timer for me to plan our baby’s first nap, which is about 2 hours from wake time. Because I’ve been getting up 10-12 times in the night (I sh*t you not), my partner’s been taking on the early morning Daddy duties with baby while he gets ready for work This hour to two hours SUSTAINS me (I wasn’t able to do it the other day because he had to leave early and I about died).
The biggest hurdle during the daytime is making sure our son gets between three and three and a half hours of sleep, and that he gets a nap in within a three hour window before bedtime. He’s good about napping, but doesn’t nap too long. This means we need to find creative ways to get him to hit that three-hour nap goal. Today, it meant driving around for an hour while we did errands and timing it just right so there would be between 2 and 3 hours before bedtime.
A lot of math and time keeping is involved, I’m learning. Tonight, our math checked out. We managed to get him to sleep at bedtime without falling asleep on the breast also, which was another goal. Mission accomplished. He woke up for the first time an hour and ten minutes later, which means that progress is looking slow but, I’m feeling positive….for now.
I had to help our baby 14 times in the night to keep him sleeping in the nursery. 14 times over a 11 to 12 hour period! This has been the norm the past few weeks, hence the dire need for sleep coach. I told my partner this morning that, were it not for the sleep coach, I probably would be near nervous breakdown levels of panic. Instead, this morning, I’m feeling very optimistic. Dare I say, even, proud.
For starters, in the past, especially lately, I’ve been so tired that I fall asleep with the baby in my arms while nursing in bed. It doesn’t help that this has been the best way to ensure we both sleep longer than 40 minute stretches at night, sometimes even up to two hours. Of course, my whole body would be cramped and tense when I would wake up, we’d both be sweating, and yeah, SIDS risk, so I did not like the way I felt the next morning knowing I had done this multiple times in a night. Still, easier said than done in the moment, especially when the little one revolts with the strength and will power of 1000 men to ensure he is not placed on a surface but my arms in the middle of the night. He has more stamina than I in those wee hours. HE ALWAYS WINS.
Last night, he didn’t win (but ultimately, that is a win for us both….ah, parenting). I got creative, and my partner and I slept in the guest room right next to the nursery instead of our master bedroom, which is down the hall from the nursery. Proximity proved key. For every waking, I made sure to take my robe (so I wouldn’t be uncomfortable/freeze), and made myself sit in the rocker for feedings, which is a less comfortable sleeping apparatus for me. I used my phone to keep me alert, and am happy to report that he didn’t keep me up longer than 20 minutes. So, 14 wakings, but all under 20 minutes, made for a tolerable night shift.
First, a quick report on the night. Eight wakings. Down from 14! Part of the reason though: three of those were over 30 minutes. One waking lasted 38 minutes (and felt like five hours). We had an unexpected breakthrough to top it off. Arlo found out about rolling over and sleeping on his tummy. I’ve been told by other moms that this was the only way their children learned to sleep through the night, but I was unsure Arlo would get there. Everything I read told me to wait until they did it on their own. Well, out of nowhere, he did it last night. He wouldn’t even let me put him down on his back, he’d be rolling as I lowered him down. I barely slept all night because I checked his monitor incessantly (and that’s even with the Owlet Sleep Sock), but I’m pretty excited.
Today, the fatigue has returned or rather is taking its toll. My attempts to get our child to nap on schedule and at a reasonable length have been futile today. At 3 PM, I was feeling exhausted and that familiar dreadful defeated feeling as I rocked my baby in the nursery. I’ve developed a sort of PTSD-response whenever it’s time to put him to sleep. I have this slightly unsubstantiated fear that it is very possible he will just NOT go to sleep, ever, and I’ll be up for a full 12 to 24 hours with my baby wide awake but crying and fussy and me helpless. Eventually, falls asleep and the fear dissipates for at least 60 minutes.
We deferred from our routine, and come 2:40 PM, I was feeling all sorts of regret, angst, and utter fear about that. By this time, he hadn’t slept more than an hour collectively in the day, meaning I needed to find a way to get him to sleep another two hours of day sleep to set him up for a successful bedtime. BUT I WAS SO TIRED.
Fast-forward to the evening, and we did it. We successfully had a two hour nap. I say “we” because I too slept on the floor of the nursery for the first hour and a half, before I brought him with me to the guest bed for a 30 minute siesta/dream feed. It worked and we got to log in our time.
Today is the most tired I’ve been in at least a couple weeks, but at 9:38 PM, I feel renewed. Dad was able to get baby to sleep in 13 minutes! Tonight was the first night for Dad to be responsible for putting baby to bed, and that meant I needed to relinquish control for the first time. I set a 20 minute alarm for myself, before I’d go upstairs to wait and see if he needed help with the “drop” before starting to stream Amazon (to help drown out any fussing or tears). About ten minutes passed by and I turned on the monitor to get an update. Just as I did, I saw my hubs slowly lowering baby into the crib. Baby kicked once and then flopped over to his side, asleep. I WAS SO PROUD.
About 40 minutes later however, I heard the familiar stirs and groans that signaled a waking. I gathered my things downstairs and prepared myself mentally (still feeling positive about the easy bedtime execution). I hadn’t even left the living room when I realized that our child put himself back to sleep! I DON’T THINK I’VE EVER BEEN THIS PROUD. He fell asleep at 7:28 PM, it is now 9:42 PM. I can assure you, my son has not slept this long without needing one of us to go in the room in a month, maybe more. I don’t even know what to do with myself. Sleep. Go to sleep, woman.
All weekend, I was looking forward to our first check-in call with our sleep coach. It happened today and for some reason, since the call, I’ve felt a little deflated. Things have gone so well that I was expecting to hear immense accolades. We were praised and told we were doing great, sure. But, we also were reminded that things might go backwards as our son is getting closer and closer to crawling. Teething is also just about to rear its ugly head, I can feel it. My husband is starting to show fatigue and now we’re moving ahead with cutting back feeds, which our sleep coach warned might mean increased wakings. Our end goal is to be able to put him down awake, but we’re not there yet. Until then, it’s just hang in and focus on the small changes. Today, that’s feeling just a little bit tougher.
There’s always a rainbow after a storm, and this evening, maybe a half hour after I said good night to my son, my partner came down from upstairs and quickly turned on the baby monitor. We both watched (me in mild horror) as my son rocked on hands and knees in the dark. “He’s still awake,” I told my husband. He was not supposed to leave him awake in the crib. That wasn’t part of the plan. “Go back up,” I told him. But then just as quickly, I realized that our baby was not making a peep. He was just rocking on his knees then plopping down on his belly. Up again and then plopping back down. He was trying to put himself to sleep, and this time, he didn’t feel the need to call out for help to do so. Sure enough, he succeeded on his own.
This day was another special challenge for our family as I had a pre-planned commitment to go to Los Angeles for the day, not expecting to return until late into the night. I’d be gone at least 12 hours, which is the longest I’ve been away from our son. I wasn’t too worried about how Dad would handle things in my absence, but a little nervous about if my absence would increase wakings, reduce nap time, and essentially set back all our progress.
All that worrying made it easy for me to forget an essential part to my breast pump which made it impossible for me to pump while away. I was only able to hand express to relieve discomfort. After a brief panic, I calmed myself down. Luckily, things back home seemed to be going better.
I got short updates and some pictures and videos to inform their progress. I held back my impulse to tell my husband that bathtime was an hour later than we had discussed, which made dinner time and bedtime later than we normally do. Once I stepped away from my impulse to critique, I was filled with pride for both my boys. It might be nice to feel needed, but it’s almost a better feeling to know that things don’t crumble without you. My son adapted to the changes, was fine with Dad, and our sleep progress continued as normal in my absence.
As I shared yesterday, being gone thankfully didn’t have any real impact on the progress we’ve made with sleep training. Once I was home and able to pump, I settled back into bed with enough time to feed my son for his 2nd/last feed of the night. How did he let me know everything was okay? He allowed us all to sleep in until 7:30 AM. We had to wake HIM up. What a nice change.
Now, I am about to have to go up and wake him again because he’s been napping for two hours! I’m also kicking myself for not sleeping when baby sleeps especially since I am running on only a couple solid hours of it from last night.
It’s been ten days today and looking back to when we first started, I am a little perplexed, a lot cautious, and also so proud to see that we’ve essentially gone from 10 to 14 wakings per night, all nursed to sleep and on-demand, to five to six wakings in total with two of those being scheduled feeds. Our son is sleeping in the crib pretty exclusively, and maybe only gives us a hard time once in the night.
We’re not done, maybe just a third to halfway through our plan, but for the first time in forever, I am feeling optimistic and hopeful that my son will be able to sleep well in the night, and that sleep for me, real sleep, is on the horizon.
Last night was Day 2 of only one feeding per night. The first night was a little wonky because our baby woke up at 5:00 AM and did not want to go back to bed, which led to an early wake up and early nap and had me a little rattled. Last night, however, our son only had one waking around 10:30 PM. At 3 AM, I woke up a bit terrified. My husband was out of the bedroom and it was 3 in the morning and I hadn’t been woken up since that 10:30 PM waking. I checked the monitor and saw my husband sleeping on the floor next to the crib. My son was still sleeping. After a little while, I went in and decided to do a “dream feed” with my son to make sure he was able to sleep through to his 6:00 AM or later wake up time (I also woke my husband and told him to get his butt back to bed).
After that one feeding, my son slept in until 7:00 AM. He woke up and quietly played and cooed in the crib for a few minutes before we went to get him. I’m a bit awestruck just typing this.
Then, tonight, when my husband was getting him to bed at bedtime, he again was able to leave him in the crib awake but quiet and sleepy. He rocked a little on his knees, changed positions here and there, but eventually fell asleep on his own. I wouldn’t believe it myself if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.
Our son had a night similar to the night before. Only one waking around 10 PM and another at 3:30 AM, with that 3:30 AM time his one scheduled feed. I find myself now feeling so much more positive, with a better outlook on sleep, hell, a better outlook on life and on parenting. Sure, who knows how long it will last before something else becomes challenging, but we have come out on the other side of a bad, long fog.
15 days. I keep telling myself that because it’s really quite remarkable to believe it myself. I’m sure it doesn’t always work this quickly for everyone. But, I’m also certain that it isn’t as necessary for a lot of people either. There’s really no way of knowing from an outside perspective. I will say this: back in December, my instincts told me that my son’s sleep issues would require more attention and professional help. I knew in my gut that he was not going to figure it out on his own. I hung in there until I felt he was ready to do it successfully. Still, even though I was optimistic, I wasn’t expecting this much progress so soon.
One other thing I didn’t expect was how much these 15 days improved my relationship with my partner, whom I have probably been unnecessarily hard on. I felt lost over how to get our son to sleep, but at the same time, I got frustrated with him when he appeared aloof or distressed about how to help me. Now, I see a new confidence forming in him as a parent and my trust in him has grown exponentially. Having someone coach us helped guide us, and now I rely on my husband more. He’s actually much better at handling calming down our son than I have ever been without offering the breast. As a family, we are enjoying the bedtime routine we’ve put into place and I no longer feel the mix of dread and relief when it’s time to get him to bed. To have so much change in such a short period of time still has me a bit nervous about things reverting back to what they were. But, even when that fear sets in, I remind myself that we now have the tools to help our son, and our son now knows too what he can do to get to sleep on his own. He’ll definitely still have moments throughout his childhood where he needs our help or comfort at night (we wouldn’t have it any other way), but now we can be more at ease about nurturing him during thought rough times without the fear of sacrificing months of sleep in the process.
If this was tl:dr for you, here’s a quick summation: our experience with a sleep coach was worth its weight in gold. We’re still not done, but the end is in sight when it comes to the training part of our son’s sleep journey. With these 15 days behind us, I am feeling much more restored having gained back precious hours each night of sleep, and we are equipped with a deeper knowledge of what our son needs and the person he is becoming.
For those of you debating whether or not it is time to pull the trigger and reach out to a sleep coach, I would wholeheartedly say, “DO IT!” If the fees are a concern, our sleep coach has workshops both online and in person that she offers, which can provide enough information to give sleep training on your own a try. Whatever you decide, don’t suffer alone, moms. Ask for help, but be careful where you get advice and how much. Though people have the best intentions, every baby is different and every household, schedule, and parent is different. Advice can only go so far if you don’t also find a way to tailor it to fit your child’s needs, your needs, and your family’s needs.
May the counting sheep, cow jumping over the moon, and twinkle little stars out there grace you fellow sleep-less parents with more sleep-filled nights than even your wildest dreams can imagine. Hang in there. One day, one day…
Loved to Sleep: Nurture Your Baby to Sleep with Minimal to No Crying, by Jen Varela and Andrea Strang