Sleep Training–It’s a Gift

sleep training, pacifiers

yeah, I know. I gotta tackle the pacifier thing soon....

If there is one thing I am evangelical about in motherhood it’s sleep training. I want to spread the gospel far and wide. I want to convert those who don’t believe. I simply don’t get why moms (or dads) would rather suffer and put themselves through Guantanamo Bay-sleep torture by choice.

In fact, I don’t think you should complain about being tired/up with your baby at 3 a.m. if you choose not to sleep train (this excludes the first few months when you hunker down and deal with it). And there are exceptions: illness, special needs babies, adjusting to travel, etc. But at a certain point if you choose not to sleep train it’s like complaining about you’re unhealthy diet and eating donuts all day. Makes no sense. Especially because you’re not doing your child any favors–I mean, babies need sleep. Humans need sleep. We need uninterrupted sleep.  It is essential to life, to our well being.

I didn’t always feel this way. When I first had Fia and my pediatrician suggested letting her cry it out all night, I gasped in horror. And changed pediatricians. By three months I was the walking dead. By four, my husband threatened a padded room and straightjacket. Our strong marriage foundation was getting weaker with each anguished night. Many of my friends had sleep trained. They were gentle with me and would simply say, “If you do it right, it works.” I thought they were monsters.

My new pediatrician said the same thing. But she cautioned: you must do it right and you must be ready. She went on to give me a few options. Go full throttle and let them cry it out all night or, do a more gentle approach that I could handle better–like Ferber. The advantage to the first method is you get it over with quicker. The downside is you might not be able to handle it. So know your limitations. I would have lost my heart. It would have fallen right out of my body. A gruesome thought, to say the least. So believe me, I get it. It’s not easy. But I know in my mom-heart that sleep training is absolutely essential to anyone who values a good nights sleep for themselves and their baby.

To the people who think they’re protecting their child, think again. You’re doing the opposite. You’re not giving them solid, uninterrupted sleep. In letting them cry for a few intervals for a very finite time (7 nights tops) you are giving them a gift that cannot be overstated: the gift of teaching them to fall asleep and stay asleep. I mean, would you rather your baby be groggy all day like you are? Or down the road, rely on drugs to put them to sleep? (Okay, I’m not saying that will necessarily happen. I’m sure over time, like by the time they’re 5 and you’re completely insane, they may learn to go to sleep on their own).

And after a certain age and weight (consult Ferber or Sleepy Planet for specifics, but typically no later than 5-6 months), the nursing or bottle-feeding in the night is pure habit. Guess what? If you ate a pizza every night at 3 a.m., your internal clock would wake you up expecting that. Babies are no exception. Same with getting to sleep. If they fall asleep on the boob or bottle every night, or with you rocking them, then that is what they get accustomed to. And they don’t know how to put themselves back to sleep without your help. And, by the way, where is the rocking chair–or better yet, the boob, when they’re 5? (Hopefully not still in their mouth!)

Now I know this is a controversial issue and I don’t expect to make a lot of friends in this post. But let me say a few things: Ferber works. And he is not, let me repeat: NOT the cry-it-out-all-night dude. He has a gradual approach where you go into your child’s room in 5, 10, 15-minute increments until they fall asleep. You stay in for 30 seconds or less and just reassure them that you’re there. I think it’s more for us than them, but it made me feel better. You keep doing this until they fall asleep.

When people tell me, “Oh we tried. It didn’t work,” I know that’s not so. Because I’ll say it again: if you do it right, it works. If you cave or do it half-ass, you only create more bad habits.

For us, it took 3 nights when Fia was 4.5 months old. I needed to get rid of crazy me and feel like a human again. I was so beyond clarity at that point, I actually welcomed the challenge. So did Phil, as he was about done with me too. We had a stopwatch and a pad of paper. We were armed and ready.  ”Bring it on baby!” we said. “Show us what you got!”  I took the first shift, Phil took the second.

Night 1:

From about 9 pm-1:30 a.m. it was tough. She’d fall asleep for 45 minutes, then wake up and cry. 5 ,10, 15 minute intervals I’d go in. Rinse repeat.

From 1:30-4 she slept.

From 4-6 Ferber ferber ferber again.

The next day I was completely freaked out. And irrational. Fia was so fussy and wouldn’t nap. I was sure I destroyed my beautiful baby. I called a friend in tears. “I think I damaged my baby.” She had done sleep training 2 weeks prior and talked me off the ledge, and gave me the strength to continue.

Night 2:

Cried for 5 minutes, slept for 5 hours. Repeat.

Night 3:

Cried for 3 minutes, slept for 10 hours. I felt like Helen Keller when she first put her hands under the water and learned to communicate. It was a miracle. Except it’s not. It’s science, it’s proven and it works.

From then on, she stopped crying and now actually reaches for her crib. She goes down like a little lamb. Wakes up like a lion 12 hours later.

To each their own…but just don’t complain if you’re unwilling to do something about it. No one said parenthood was easy. It just has to be worth it. And for us, having a rested and happy baby and mama is beyond worth it. It is life changing.

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  1. by Heather

    On July 20, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    I absolutely agree. We did sleep training with Mason and it was the best thing for all of us — and I’m thrilled that I’m giving him the gift of good sleep habits.

  2. by Kiley

    On July 25, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    I think it depends on how you choose to parent. I knew I would never be able to listen to my daughter cry, even for 3-5 minutes if there was something I could do about it. It turned out for us that after 16 months of waking 3-5 times a night to nurse, one night of telling her at the first waking that mama’s milk was sleeping so she needed to sleep too led to 30 seconds of crying and a toddler who now sleeps 9-10 hours, comes to our bed and sleeps for another 1.5-3 hours.

    I was able to function on a small amount of sleep, but I do know that other mothers are not able to function.

    I will say that all along my daughter was well rested, and the only change that I have seen is that she eats more solids now that she is not waking to nurse as much at night.

  3. by Jody

    On July 25, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    When my yongest was born, it seemed as though he had my wife and I trained. No sleep, walking into work bleary eyed and miserable. We tired of this routine of no routine, and did the exact same thing you talk of in your article…visited him in increments of time, to let him know that we hear him and love him, but that he wasn’t getting picked up out of the crib because it was time to sleep. It worked!

  4. by Stephanie

    On August 11, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Actually, most recently Ferber said babies shouldn’t be sleep trained until they are AT LEAST 6 months old. If you plan to post information about the technique, at least make it accurate. Babies younger than 6 months still need calories at night.

  5. by Deanna

    On August 17, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Quick question. We started basically doing this last night – my husband went first and basically winged it, but she was asleep after an hour. My turn is tonight! I want to know if you say anything when you go in, or are you supposed to stay quiet?? My situation in a nutshell, our daughter is 17 months old and wakes up every night and I bring her into our bed. This has to stop for all of our sakes, so we are trying this method. She woke last night at 1:30 a.m. and was asleep for the rest of the night by 2:30 a.m. I think that’s pretty darn good for our first try – I was surprised at how quick it went actually. Thank you and wish me/us luck!

  6. by carole

    On August 17, 2011 at 10:32 am

    I think you get to a point where you’re so desperate that you don’t care about having to listen to the baby cry. I have an almost 6 month old little girl who is the complete opposite of her older sister in terms of sleeping. Never had a problem with the older one. This one, well, we had to cry it out for about a week before she started figuring it out. Now, she still cries initially and sometimes I’ll hear her in the middle of the night, but give it 5-10 minutes and she’s asleep. We were just so exhausted and so tired that we had no choice. We just turned up the TV and let her go – obviously checking on her from time to time. Now…If we could just get her to nap, everything would be perfect.

  7. by Monica

    On August 17, 2011 at 10:40 am

    We tried this when my son was around 5 months old and it was horrific! Every time I would go into the room to reassure him, he got even more upset, screaming bloody murder for the entire night. We tried again the next day and it was the same thing. Now that he is almost a year, I would like him to sleep in his own crib and not want to sleep with us. Any suggestions on stubborn little boys? I hear girls are a little easier in this arena.

  8. by Carole

    On August 17, 2011 at 10:52 am

    The trick is to check on them and not let them see you. My little girl did the same thing. Still does if she sees me. You can’t give in. Just know that eventually they will all fall asleep.

    Lullabies help – our girls tend to like classical music and jazz for some reason.

    But you have to be patient. Its not always going to work in 2 nights. We had to deal with this for an entire week – I think more actually. She still cries, but she falls asleep. Be strong, try again and remember, check on your little boy without him seeing you. That makes all the difference in the world.

  9. by Cherie

    On August 17, 2011 at 10:53 am

    You are sorely misinformed. And you are a selfish piece of work. Sickening that you could do that to your child. It has nothing to do with your child needing more sleep. It was all about your selfish needs.

  10. by andrea

    On August 17, 2011 at 11:09 am

    We did sleep training for three nights and it worked! First night cried for 18 minutes, second night 14 minutes, thrid night 5 minutes and has been sleeping thru the night ever since. I knew she was not wet or hungry so I had peice of mind that she was ok. Best decision I ever made. It is for everyones benefit, hers and ours. Thanks!

  11. by Deanna

    On August 17, 2011 at 11:19 am

    I still haven’t received an answer to my question. Do you say anything when you go in the room or just stay quiet? Thanks!

  12. by Sandy

    On August 17, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Hi Deanna,
    I’m not sure of the Ferber method. What worked for us is no eye contact and I just readjust her to her sleep position and walk out. J tries to smile at me and puts her arms up, but as hard as it is, I don’t give in and she falls asleep almost instantaneously now. Sometimes I say, “time to sleep” when I go in to readjust her. I find, the less interaction, the quicker J falls asleep. J is 10 months old and sleeps 11-12 hrs straight through. Good luck!

  13. by Kelly

    On August 17, 2011 at 11:49 am

    I’ll try to answer your question – I’ve read both ways but I think at this age, you want to talk and soothe – you can stand by the crib and rub her back – I think it is when they are older and actually getting out of the crib that you put them back without speaking or looking at them. The idea is that any attention, even negative, reinforces the waking. They just want to be with mama afterall! I read the Mark Wasserstein book and it seemed to make the most sense. He believed you could nurse to sleep and that would not lead to problems with night waking. He is right. I still allow my 19 month old to nurse for a few minutes in my arms every night to fall asleep (note that she does NOT nurse any other time of the day). When I stand up and put her in the crib, she wakes up slightly and then turns on her tummy and gets comfortable. Generally she sleeps through the night, or if she wakes, she settles herself back down after a minute or two. Now and again, she will really cry for Mommy over and over. If I can tell it’s a bad one and she is not going back to sleep on her own – maybe a bad dream woke her -I will go in and help settle her down. If she goes bezerk when i leave, then at that point I will let her cry – because she knows that I came when something was really wrong but that I’m not going to just stand there with her all night. That “second” round of crying usually doesn’t last long but to be honest, I have heard her cry for 45 minutes before falling back asleep and it just kills me.

    Because I know she is capable of crying for, like, forever, and not just a few minutes like these books tell you, I haven’t done the real sleep training when going to sleep – just in the middle of the night. I think there is something to be said for her knowing that going to sleep is safe and happy – and she gets that while snuggling with me in the chair. If I have to work late and my husband puts her down, he also lets her snuggle and listen to music until she falls asleep. I don’t believe there is a correlation to making them go to sleep on their own at the beginning of the night and sleeping through the night. We are living proof!

  14. by Deanna

    On August 17, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    Thank you so much, Sandy and Kelly! I appreciate your answering my question.

  15. by jill cordes

    On August 17, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Hi Deanna. I think both Sandy and Kelly’s advice can work depending on your baby. I have done both with Fia. We go through stages. Sometimes I go in and rub her back a little. Or if she is really crying, we call it her “encore” and go pick her up. I would say once you get the initial sleep training down, you can modify from there. But to actually get baby to learn to sleep on own, probably stick as close to Ferber as you can. But as we all know, Mama knows best! (well, hopefuly). Good luck and keep us posted. I always like it when people are so excited when they see it works!

  16. by yettie

    On August 17, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    I have a 11month daughter who sleep all night before but since Monday she wakeup 5hrs after bedtime and demand for more food and sleeps back immediately after the food.I feed her with home food because she enjoys eating with the family what do you think I can do to stop this quickly.please I need a reply.

  17. by Patricia Dasilva

    On August 17, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    Hi, my baby is 9 months old, she eats at least twice in the middle of the night, I would like to know if is still time for me to use this method? Beacause when I tried not to give the milk she scream and sit on the cribb, when I give the milk she cry and I give her the milk she doesn’t wake up she eat sleeping, but I’m really tired for not sleeping in all those months.

  18. by Kania Rusadi

    On August 17, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Hi Jill, I want to ask you something: at the 1st night, did you put Fia to sleep on the crib, or she fell asleep on first and then you put her on the crib? I have a 3 month old daughter and I really want to sleep-trained her. Thanks!

  19. by Alicia

    On August 17, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    Did you know that babies in Russian orphanages don’t cry? That is because they’ve learned that no one cares enough to come comfort them. I’d have a really hard time teaching my child that lesson.

  20. by Julie

    On August 17, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    My son got the cry it out method at 3 months. He woke up once a night to nurse and slept 12 hours. He stopped nursing at night around 5-6 months. He’s now 18 months (today, time flies) and begs to go to bed and sleeps at least 12 hours without waking! Best decision I ever made was way back when he was 3 months old! :)

  21. by Amanda

    On August 17, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    I know this works for some, so go for it if you think you can handle it. My daughter slept easily in her bassinet at first, but then spent a week in my husband’s and my bed…now several months later, she’s still in our bed. The few times we’ve tried to let her cry it out, her behavior during the day was totally terrified of being left alone. To even put her down on the floor with us sitting right next to her led her to a horrifying cry session. So we stopped trying to let her cry it out at night. I couldn’t bear it (my husband was another matter as he could SELECTIVELY hear her or not).
    A little over a month ago, we tried it again and she ended up with a bloody lip because she started trying to get out of her crib (she’s not able to, but she doesn’t know that), bumped her chin and bit down hard on her lip. After that, I’ve been terrified to put her in her crib when she’s that upset. Recently, we’ve started putting her down in her crib for a nap in the daytime after she’s nursed. When she wakes up, I quickly comfort her and she’ll go back to sleep. I’m hoping that daytime naps where she is comforted in her crib will eventually lead to her sleeping in her crib at night…at least without me worrying that she’s going to get hurt, since I’ve seen it before. I’m looking forward to the day in which she’ll sleep at least part of the night without “searching” for Mommy…and then eventually all night.

  22. by Jo

    On August 17, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    We tried everything…sleep training included, to get our baby to sleep through the night. It just doesn’t work for every child (so our pediatrician reassured us) and after two weeks of her screaming bloody murder all night long, getting no sleep and being so inconsolable we had to drive her around for an hour to calm her down, we gave it up. We were on the verge of going insane, when at 12 months she just decided to go to sleep in her crib and stay there until 6am! She stirs some nights and I’ll go in and rub her back, but she goes right back again. I have to say I’m not a big advocate of sleep training, but obviously if it works for your child, then it’s worth it in the end. It just didn’t work for us!

  23. by Deanna

    On August 18, 2011 at 8:06 am

    Hey Jill and Everybody! I have an update from last night. Just to recap, night before last, my husband was on baby duty. She woke at 1:30 a.m. and was asleep for the rest of the night at 2:30 a.m. He basically just went in and soothed her and came back to bed and repeated that over and over until she fell asleep. Last night was Mommy duty and I expected more of a fight, but prayed about it and tried to stay positive. She woke up at 12:01 a.m., so I went in and layed her down, patted her and left the room. She protested, but I waited 5 minutes before going back in. Did the same thing, but stayed with her a little longer this time to calm her down. I left the room, she protested, but I waited 10 minutes this time. Went back in and repeated everything, left and came back 15 minutes later. In a nutshell, she was asleep for the night at 12:36 a.m.!!! I was so happy. Tonight Daddy is on duty and I’m expecting it to be even better. Thank you, Jill for EVERYTHING. Because of you, we are on the road to blissful sleep for the whole family. I am so excited and very grateful.

  24. by Kelly

    On August 18, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    Deanna, I am glad to hear your update. Keep us posted. Question, though – this sounds like what we did for sleep training in the middle of the night, but as I mentioned, we have not done this at the beginning of the night (initial sleep). What are you doing to get her down to begin with? I might like to try to eventually ween her off the nursing to sleep. Thanks….

  25. by Deanna

    On August 22, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    Hi Kelly, you are right, this is what we do in the middle of the night because she wakes up and wants to come to our bed, so we are trying to ween her off of that. To put her to bed at night, we turn on a fan – she needs that noise, and we play a lullaby CD. I rock her to the first song and say our prayers, then I’m just quiet. When the second song starts, it’s night night time and I just put her down asleep or awake and she goes right down. If she fusses at all, I just pat her tummy and she will close her eyes and go to sleep. Good luck and I hope this helps! Please let me know your progress.

  26. by Karen

    On August 24, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    When I was a baby, my mom let me “cry it out”. She didn’t let my little sister cry once she came along because she didn’t want her to wake me up. We are both pretty well-adjusted adults and mothers who have not for one moment doubted that we were loved and cherished by both of our parents. Just sayin’.

    Also, we tried Ferber at about 8months and I am ON THE BUS with this one! We are *all* well-rested and so much happier. Did it take a few nights of holding each others’ hands? Sure. But it was SO worth it. And re-ferberizing after a nasty bout of teething (5 at once! UM, OW?!) wasn’t nearly as hard as the first time because we knew it’d work!

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  35. by Cassandra

    On January 12, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    I read most of the sleep books, and Ferber was the best. He’s the father of sleep training. All others are just re-packaged Ferber rip-offs. I don’t know why he has a reputation as being harsh… If you read it, you will see he cares about your child first and foremost and he wants your baby to sleep for your baby’s sake! Solid sleep is one of the most important things for a child’s growth.

  36. by Kimberly

    On January 22, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    I tried the Ferber method, but it never worked for my daughter. Once she saw me come in the room and then leave she’d cry even more. I spent entire nap times doing this. It just didn’t suit to her personality. However, what did work was the CIO method. I let her CIO and at about the 45min mark she fell back to sleep. The next night it was down to 30min crying before going back to sleep. The 3rd night she slept through the night! This was all at 4 months. I would do this sleep training again in a heartbeat! It is so important for your child to get a good nights sleep! My sister-I-L didn’t do this with her children and now all three are having to use melatonin drops to be able to fall asleep! I’ll take a few days of listening to my baby cry rather than sentencing her to a lifetime of sleep problems!

  37. [...] to blog about giving up on breast feeding or having an epidural. When a friend of mine wrote about sleep training her daughter, one mom called her a “selfish piece of work.” She said it was “sickening that you could do [...]

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  39. by anon

    On July 20, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    I appreciate sleep training when it works for some, people but do not say if it didnt work you are not doing it right. Not everything works the same way for every baby, my pediatrician warned me it might not work on my child and it didnt. My child would smash herslef into the crib so hard she left bruises all over her head and almost seriously injured herself. All children are different.

  40. [...] a Ferber fan, and we did it with Fia. But I am not excited to do it with Emmett. Unfortunately, our window is closing. He’s 4 [...]