I’m a little nervous writing about this topic because we sleep trained pretty early on, but I’m hoping my experience will help those who felt as conflicted, lost, and broken as I did those first couple months.

I didn’t read any sleep books while pregnant, so I ended up reading about 8 different sleep books the first month after delivery!  I was obsessed with baby sleep, and desperate for sleep.  That first month, Noelle would only sleep in our arms.  The moment we put her down anywhere, she would wake up and cry.  For naps, I often strapped her in my Ergo and let her sleep in there while I sat on the couch watching episode after episode of Friday Night Lights.  I couldn’t eat or pee or do anything without holding her.  She didn’t like the swing, she hated the bouncer, and she only wanted me.

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We had a twin-sized bed in her nursery, so at night my husband and I would take turns “sleeping” there with her on our chest.  It was the only way she would sleep.  We often brought her into our bed and co-slept with her too. Anything to get some sleep (and maintain a semblance of sanity) right?  When she was on our chest she easily slept for hours, and I would have to wake her to get her to feed. When we didn’t sleep with her we were waking up every 2-hours for cuddles and feedings.  This situation didn’t allow any of us to have quality sleep; Mr. Heels and I pretty much slept half-awake because we were so worried we would accidentally roll over and drop her on the floor!  And it was impossible for me to sleep through her baby sleep noises.  We knew we couldn’t do this forever.  Or rather, I… I couldn’t do it forever.  I was the one with the boobs attached.

I talked to a lot of seasoned parents about this subject, and most of them were in the “sleep-training” camp, and many recommended not co-sleeping because they said it was so hard to get their kids out of their bed as they got older.  Those conversations, along with some other resources, played a big role in our decision to sleep train.  I do want to reiterate that every baby is so different, and I am not against co-sleeping.  Every family needs to do what makes sense for their family dynamic, and should also consider a baby’s natural temperament when deciding how to approach baby sleep.  Your mama instinct knows best. 

My two favorite books on sleep were Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth, and Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child is filled with tons of research, but it doesn’t tell you how to implement anything.  It tells you the how come behind the science of sleep.  The biggest take away I got from this book was the idea that sleep begets sleep.  One major point that Dr. Weissbluth makes is, “the major fear that inhibits parents from establishing an earlier bedtime is that this will cause their child to get up earlier to start the day.  In fact, the opposite will occur.  An earlier bedtime will allow your child to sleep later, just as a too-late bedtime will eventually cause a too-early wake-up time.”  

Secrets of the Baby Whisperer is also a wealth of useful, practical advice.  Her tone is so gentle and warm, I felt like I was listening to a wise grandma speak when I read her book.  Hogg recommends that you follow an E.A.S.Y. schedule for daytime (does not apply at night!).  E.A.S.Y. stands for Eat, Activity, Sleep, You.  The basic idea is not to create the association between feeding and sleep.  You want them to eat, then play, then sleep because you don’t want them to be dependent on eating to fall asleep… or you might just end up a human pacifier.  I created an E.A.S.Y. template for my own use to keep track of how long she took to eat, play (activity), and sleep.

Hogg also has a great chart that lists/describes all different types of baby cries (are they hungry?  tired?  poopy diaper?  in distress?).  It was helpful for me as a new mom who had a hard time distinguishing her cries initially. Hogg also touches upon the topic of “accidental parenting,” where you use props to soothe your baby to sleep.  They eventually become bad habits that are difficult to break.  Other ideas mentioned in her book are “dreamfeeds” and “cluster feeding” to help your baby sleep longer at night.  I found that cluster feeding worked for us, but dreamfeeds did not.

Other helpful resources:

  • The Baby Sleep Site – It’s chock full of good insight on sleep training.
  • Sleep/WT Chart – Take the time to understand this chart and it will be your holy grail.  It’s a little confusing to read at first though.  Every few months I referred back to this and would adjust/readjust Noelle’s routine as needed.  For example, if your baby is less than 2-months old it tells you that their max wake time should only be .75-1 hour long, and they’ll do best on 4 naps.
  • My E.A.S.Y. Template – If you’re interested in following the E.A.S.Y. method, this was an easy way for me to track everything.  I was not overly strict about following exact times in the schedule, but the basic premise of this is following a pattern… activity should always come after eating, no matter how short that activity is.  Even keeping your newborn up for 5-minutes after eating helps!

Here is a sample sleep schedule for Noelle at 2-3 months.  I kept track of her routine for the first 8-months of her life and would print it out – that way a caretaker could easily understand what to do if I wasn’t around.  I linked some of her other schedules below the image if you’re interested in seeing how our schedules shifted as she got older.  Times are approximate.

N’s Schedule: 5-months
N’s Schedule: 6-months
N’s Schedule: 7-8 months
N’s Schedule: 8-months

In order to get her into a routine, I also worked hard to make sure she didn’t have her days and nights mixed up.  This meant making the house bright as can be during the day, and quiet and dark during the night.  I never had the TV or anything stimulating on at night.  Also, some people believe you should never wake a sleeping baby, but I often woke Noelle up at set times to feed and it really helped her adjust to a more structured schedule.  I was amazed at how quickly her body caught onto the rhythms we put in place.

In Part II, I will discuss the specifics of our night training.

Did you or do you plan to sleep train your baby?