Having 2 kids under 2 years old, I have had several periods of very little sleep in the past 2 years. Both of my babies were pretty good sleepers in the first couple months, but had a rough time around 3 months and became terrible sleepers after that. Nothing was helping until we tried sleep training and it worked miracles!
Helping your baby to sleep through the night can do wonders for both you and your family. Every baby can have completely different sleep habits (including siblings) and respond better to certain methods of sleep training than others. Below I will tell you the reasons why one sleep training method worked for my first baby, but failed on the second, and what I did instead.
My experience with infant sleeping
My daughter started off being a great sleeper. She slept through the night by about 8 weeks, put herself right to sleep when we put her down (with a swaddle and pacifiar), and gave us long stretches of naps. After a few great weeks, the downfall of the 4 month regression started.
She always used a pacifier to soothe, as well as fall asleep, and it worked great to help us when she was crying or as an immediate sleep aid. We could just pop it in her mouth when we needed her to calm down or fall asleep and it worked like a charm. That was until she got dependent on it.
Around 3.5 months, she started waking more through out the night when she noticed the paci wasn’t there. From then on, it got increasingly more frequent until about 5 months when she was waking every hour to suck.
I thought I would just wait until she was old enough to find it and put it back in by herself, but that day didn’t seem to come quick enough. This was taking a toll on me. I knew I needed a solution and it was to get her off the pacifier so I wasn’t waking up every hour to put it back in.
I researched a lot about sleep training and it seemed like the right thing to do. Once I started, she was sleeping THROUGH THE NIGHT within 1 day! It may not be for everyone, but anyone I know who has tried it has had success and say they wish they did it sooner.
When baby #2 came along, he had very similar sleep patterns in the first few months. He slept well up until 3.5 months and then regressed terribly. When we started to sleep train him at 5.5 months again, I figured I would just do the same method as we did with my first child and he would be sleeping through the night in one day, as well.
That didn’t happen. He didn’t respond as well to the same strategies I did with her. So I found a better method that was successful for him and within a few days he was also sleeping through the night.
Below are the strategies and guidelines that I used to get my babies to sleep through the night at 5 months old. Try these tips and before you know it, your child should be sleeping like a baby (literally)!
Tips to follow when beginning to sleep train your baby
I followed all of the same tips that I’ve outlined below for both of my children. However, I had to change the actual method of sleep training for my second baby. Once I realized that the first method would not work for my son, I tried a different option that worked successfully.
It just shows you that not one method of sleep training will work for every baby every time. You may need to try one until you find a method that works best for you and your baby. Here are some tips and advice to help get you through the sleep training method of your choosing:
Start with good sleep habits
I outlined specific tips to establish a daily routine for your baby in this post. It’s so important to get your infant on a schedule so they have a predictable day. This will lead to less irritability and a more pleasant baby. It should also help their nighttime sleeping habits.
Make sure you’re following those guidelines to start healthy sleep habits before you tackle sleep training because they go hand-in-hand.
Choose a method
There are several different methods of sleep training so you should first decide which one you think will be the best fit for you and your child. Some are more gentler and some will work faster than others.
We chose to do the Controlled Crying Method (allowing baby to cry while checking in on them in time intervals) for my first baby and it worked great. However, it just wasn’t successful for my 2nd baby. After 2 weeks of trying that, I switched to the Extinction method (letting baby cry on their own until they fall asleep).
Each method has it’s pros and cons, but they both got to the same end goal which is my baby sleeping through the night. You can find more information about these and other sleep training methods here at the Baby Sleep Site.
The difference between both methods
If you have been doing one method for more than 5 days and not seeing any results, take a break. Try the alternate strategy after a few days and see if that gives you better results.
Controlled crying method for baby #1
The controlled crying sleep training is a cry-it-out method. However it is a little gentler than just letting them cry all night because you go in every few minutes to check on and soothe them.
This was the basic strategy I used: Each nap and bed time, I put my baby down swaddled in her crib with no pacifier. I made sure she was drowsy and ready to go to sleep. I went in after 5 minutes of crying to soothe, then 7 minutes of crying, then 9 minutes, and gradually increasing 2 minutes for every interval.
For the first nap, she cried for 21 minutes total. The second nap was 15 minutes, and the 3rd nap was 11 minutes. By the time we got to her night sleep on the first day, she was crying for less than 10 minutes before soothing herself to sleep. From then on, she never woke up in the middle of the night to suck or eat.
She occasionally would cry a little when we put her down before she would fall asleep, but it didn’t last too long and she would put herself to sleep. She never seemed to cry for more than 6 or 7 minutes (usually it was even less) and the cries were not screaming cries, but more just like I don’t want to go to sleep yet whimpers. At times we would go in and have to soothe her again before she fell asleep, but this was still worlds of a difference from before and I’ll take that over middle-of-the-night wakings any day!
Soothing in time intervals
After the time interval was up, if she was still crying, I would go in, put my hand on her belly, tell her that mommy’s here and I love you, and whisper shushing sounds to calm her down. Do anything you think would be soothing to your baby.
When I went in the room to soothe, I would only stay about 1 minute. Usually she would calm down a bit when she saw me and then I would walk out and she would start crying again. Then I would wait until the next time to go in and repeat until she put herself to sleep.
Both my babies calm down from shushing close to their ear (a sound machine or Baby Shusher helps with this). If your baby is also particularly fond of the shushing sound, the Baby Shusher will really help you out. I also love my Dohm sound machine for white noise that I leave on through the whole night of her sleep.
Do the same time interval and soothing techniques if they wake up in the middle of the night, as well. When the crying starts, wait 5 minutes to go in, then go back in after another 7 minutes, then 9 minutes, etc. Don’t pick them up or feed them (at this age they are able to go the whole night without a feeding).
If you think they’re easing up on crying, don’t go in to soothe
If it’s time for you to go in and soothe and your baby is still crying, but quieting down, don’t go in! This may mean that your child is starting to soothe themselves and you want to let that happen naturally. However, if they start wailing again, then you can go in even if the timing is off.
Extinction Method for baby #2
After attempting the controlled crying method for about 2 weeks with not much success, I decided we needed to change it up. That’s when I realized there were other methods of sleep training available.
I discovered that my baby could not tolerate us coming in to check on him. While we were trying the controlled crying method, he would just get more and more aggravated every time we came into the room without picking him up. He would cry even longer and harder after he had caught a glimpse of us.
I decided to try the extinction method. So for a few nights I just let him cry without going in to console him. I would do this for naps and nighttime, both when we put him down initially and if he woke up in the middle of the night.
The cries would last anywhere from 30-50 minutes at first and gradually decreased. I never went in to soothe or console him and eventually the cries would stop. This lasted a lot less time than the other method and he then began sleeping through the night after about 3 days. He went from being awake in the middle of the night for sometimes 2.5 hours to sleeping straight through.
There will be crying
Yes, this is the cry-it-out method. I know it sounds very harsh when you say it that way (probably why they call it sleep training instead), but it really works! It is tough at first to hear your baby crying and not being able to do anything about it, but you do get used to it.
If you knew you would only have to go through your baby crying a few times and then you and your child would be promised a full night’s sleep, doesn’t that sound like a no-brainer?
When to start
In my opinion, you will know when you are ready to start sleep training. When you and your baby are getting progressively less and less sleep and it’s not getting better with any other approach, you will probably be ready to begin. This shouldn’t be before 4 months, but I have heard successful stories at any age.
You don’t want to start when they are teething because your baby could actually be in pain when they’re crying and you may not realize it. You may just think they want the attention or to suckle/eat. If you wait too long, they may be more stubborn and it could be harder to break a bad habit. When they are newborns or earlier in the infancy stage, you should use gentler methods of sleep training and soothing, not just letting them cry.
We started at 5.5 months and I think it was perfect timing. They both weren’t teething yet and not at a point where they already had a bad habit in place. At that point, sleep training worked quickly for us and resulted in a great night’s sleep for our whole family.
Related Post: Establishing Daily Sleep Habits for your Baby
Take away the pacifier or negative sleep association
Both of my kids loved their pacifiars. It helped them calm down and fall asleep. For my first child, I tried to let her use the pacifier and took it away after she fell asleep. This didn’t work because her suck would be so strong on it, that pulling it out of her mouth would wake her right up crying. Even if it didn’t wake her up from pulling it out, she would still wake up at some point wanting to suck on it because she knew it was there when she fell asleep. So step 1 of sleep training was NO MORE PACI.
When you know the pacifier or any other negative sleep association (rocking or feeding to sleep) is a quick fix to calming down your child, it can be difficult not to give in and give it right back to them when they cry, but you have to be strong! As soon as I decided to take the pacifiers away, I hid them in a box, in another box, in a closet, at the far end of the house, just to make it more difficult for me to get to them if I wanted to cave.
To be honest, my daughter was a much happier child once the pacifier was gone. Even though it was a great way to calm her down if she was upset, she became completely reliant on it. If it fell out of her mouth (even during the day) she would cry. Now that she doesn’t use it anymore, she never really cries because she’s just used to not having it.
Use a swaddle or sleep sack
Although some sleep associations are not helpful, swaddling and sleep sacks are positive. They create a safe, comfortable sleep environment for your baby and even if they become reliant on the sleep sack, it’s not something that will be harmful for their sleep routine.
Babies like the feeling of being wrapped up tight and since they can’t sleep with a blanket wrapped around them, swaddles and sleep sacks work best. For newborns up until they start rolling, these SwaddleMe swaddles are my favorite! The velcro and tightness is what made my daughter sleep so well for the first few months of her life. However, once she started rolling over, they aren’t safe anymore.
Once I had to stop swaddling her with her arms down, I used the Nested Bean Zen Sleep Sack. It still gives them the tightness around their body of being hugged, but their arms are free. By this point their startle reflex should be gone though, so you shouldn’t have to worry about them waking themselves up from flailing.
Make sure baby is full
Both my kids were breastfed, but we started giving them a bottle everyday before bedtime around 6 weeks old. A baby will drink much more out of a bottle than the breast because it’s easier for them, especially if they’re using a higher level/faster flow nipple. Giving a bottle of breastmilk or formula before bedtime will help to ensure that they are well fed and shouldn’t be waking up to eat.
Start with the first nap of the day
I woke up one morning after a terrible night’s sleep, determined to start sleep training. At that point (5 months) she was taking 3 naps a day so I started with the first nap (around 9am) and trained her for all 3 naps and then nighttime sleep that day.
Consistency for naps and bedtime
Some people are afraid to start with all sleeps so they just do nap time or bedtime, but this will just confuse them more. If you’re going to start sleep training, consistency is key! The same method and strategies should be done every time they are put down.
Your baby doesn’t hate you
It makes your heart hurt to see and hear your baby crying. It makes you feel like an awful parent and that your baby will resent you for the rest of their life for making them cry. I know because I’ve been there!
However, just wait until you see them once they’ve woken up from a good nap or full night’s sleep. They will be so well-rested and wake up with a huge smile! They immediately forget and forgive so easily so don’t worry about hurting their feelings.
Zone it out & don’t give in
Another thing that sounds cruel, but it’s for the best. During the day it’s easier to let them cry because you have things to occupy yourself so that you don’t hear it. Try taking a shower, watch tv, or make lunch.
In the middle of the night is when it’s hardest to hear because there’s nothing to distract you and you don’t want to completely wake yourself up by turning on the tv. However, if you can, do something that will take your mind off the crying. It’s not easy to hear your baby crying (or screaming), but know that this is something that will improve both of your lives!
I did these techniques with every nap and bedtime once I started and didn’t skip any. Keep it going consistently until your baby is going to sleep on their own without crying. It will happen soon, trust me!
I am so glad I tried sleep training and really believe it can work for most babies, you just have to find the right method for them. Experiment with different strategies to see what works best for you and your baby. A good night’s sleep is on the way for you and your family!
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