For most of the summer, sleep was hard to come by in this house! Finn’s sleep has been all over the map in the 4 months he’s been with us, but what quickly became clear was that it was getting progressively worse. For most of July I was at my wit’s end and something had to change. For my own mental and physical health, as well as Finn’s need for restorative sleep, I decided we were ready to teach him to sleep independently. We were ready for sleep training.
Finn’s sleep history: the good, the bad, the ugly
Back in March when Finn was born, we were advised to wake him up to nurse every 2 hours until he reached birth weight. Once he rebounded, by week 1-2, his overnights had him sleeping a good 4 hour chunk and then waking every 2 hours or so. This was consistent for a week or two.
Swaddling was our holy grail
Somewhere around week 3, we began swaddling his arms down for all of his naps and nights. We used the Halo velcro swaddle and a SwaddleMe velcro swaddle – both worked well for us. His naps lengthened, and he began sleeping between 5-6 hours straight each night, with only 2-3 wake ups total. This was fantastic for a newborn baby! We were super thrilled he was a good sleeper and I actually felt mostly human. Newborn mamas, you know what I mean!
But then our man decided he wanted to roll
Sleep was good until he started showing signs of rolling around 5 weeks old. He kept hiking his hips as if he was trying to push himself onto his belly. He had some silent reflux, so it’s possible this was his motivation – to move away from the discomfort. AAP guidelines stipulate that any indication of rolling is a sign to stop swaddling. This is for the baby’s safety – if he ends up on his belly and can’t use his arms, there is a risk of suffocation. At that point, we decided to stop fully swaddling and transition to a sleep sack.
We did a slow transition over about 1 week. We started swaddling with one arm out, then swapped and did the other arm. It was tough at first but he got back up to a 4-5 hour stretch at night. Until we jumped right into the sleep sack. He still had a strong moro reflex, so he kept waking himself up as he came out of a sleep cycle. Everyone’s sleep just went downhill from there.
The sleep sack transition was rough
Finn never slept more than a 3-4 hour stretch in the sleep sack. Just to recap: we go from 6 hours, to 5, to 4, to 3. The worst part is he became WORSE at connecting his sleep cycles and would wake up anywhere from 4-5 times a night. He wouldn’t settle on his own in his crib, so we resorted to rocking him or nursing him to sleep each time.
Nursing was far easier for the early morning wake ups, so I’d bring him into our bed and side-lie nurse. It was best for both of us to get a bit of rest. Sometimes we’d both fall asleep, but when I awoke I would move him into his crib immediately.
Bedsharing wasn’t the answer for us
No matter what we did, sleep just continued to get worse, and there were more and more frequent wake-ups. Some nights he was up every 1-2 hours, with no “longer chunks” of sleep. By the end, he wouldn’t even let me put him down in his crib without wailing. He wouldn’t sleep without my body right beside him, which meant we started bedsharing – just so we could both get SOME sleep.
Bedsharing wasn’t the solution for us, since he slept so lightly and moved around A LOT. He kept kicking me or shaking his head back and forth, which woke me up or kept me in a light sleep most of the night. I remember nights where I looked at the clock every single hour wondering when morning was coming. It was during one of those nights that I decided I’d had enough. I needed him to get back to sleeping in his crib, and I wanted to remove the crutch of breastfeeding him to sleep.
I needed to get proper sleep again, and Finn needed to get restorative sleep for once.
It was time for him to learn how to sleep independently.
Why we chose sleep training
As you can see from Finn’s history, I knew he was capable of sleeping longer stretches. He was a healthy baby with good weight gain, but he simply struggled with a few things:
- Connecting his sleep cycles
- Putting himself to sleep
I suspect that he hit the 4 month sleep regression a little early, because in the few weeks before sleep training he began sleeping very lightly. It was during that time he wouldn’t sleep unless he was with me, and when I tried to move him to his crib asleep, he would wake instantly.
I was encouraging habits that weren’t serving either of us, and they needed to change. I knew that I wouldn’t be successful teaching him the important skill of self-soothing until I just ripped the bandaid off and committed 100% to a plan.
My own mental and physical health started suffering. I needed my mother to come to our place and take Finn just so I could get a few extra hours of sleep. My husband took him as often as he could as well. It wasn’t working for anyone and it seemed that the situation wasn’t going to improve anytime soon.
I was reminded that I need to be in a good place, mentally and physically, to be the best possible mom to my son. And that he needed sleep to be his healthiest self. That reminder gave me the permission I needed to sleep train.
Sleep training: program or coach?
There are so many different sleep training options out there. Books, online programs, sleep coaches with custom programs, etc. You could purchase any number of these and receive very similar guidelines to help your baby sleep.
During the first 3 months of Finn’s life, I had read a book about building healthy sleep habits in babies and I also purchased a very popular online program for newborn sleep. But they felt too generic for us. I liked some of the suggestions but when I tried them I just didn’t have confidence that they were working. I gave up on them quickly because I never felt they were right for my son.
Honestly, what I was really missing was the 1-on-1 support. I needed someone to look at Finn’s habits, how he was “sleeping” (aka. NOT sleeping) and help me understand exactly the steps I needed to take.
I needed a sleep coach.
Coming to that realization, I hired Shanel Deslauriers of The Sleep Consultant. Just an FYI – this isn’t a sponsored post, I just honestly want to share my experience. I didn’t spend a ton of time looking around at different sleep coaches, simply because I didn’t have to.
I knew a couple off-hand, but I didn’t love their approaches and Finn was a little too young for their programs (they usually start around the 4-5 month mark and Finn was 3.5 months when he started).
Shanel’s approach was very gentle, and she was willing to customize the program for our comfort. Yes there would be some crying involved, but we wouldn’t leave Finn’s side until he started to develop those self-soothing skills. We were able to comfort him with our voice, with touch, and pick him up when he got upset.
The major benefit to hiring her? She was able to customize the program to Finn’s age and his behaviour. She also provided support throughout the 2-week program via phone calls, text and email. PLUS she provided resources for future potential sleep regressions and ‘moving forward’ as Finn gets older.
Although sleep coaches are typically more expensive than generic programs, it’s what I needed to feel 10000% comfortable that we were doing what was best for Finn.
Was it worth it? Absolutely.
The first few days were a learning curve for Finn, but he picked it up pretty quickly. His first night he only cried for about 40 minutes, and then he had a couple of wake-ups where he cried for about 25 minutes. The entire time either myself or my husband were sitting there with him, comforting him but also letting him navigate this new world on his own.
By the third night, we got an entire night of sleep. He did wake briefly around 4am but cried for a minute and put himself right back down. We didn’t even get out of bed, because we weren’t sure he was even awake. It was pretty magical.
At the end of the two week process, Finn was still having good nights and bad nights. Some nights he seriously fought going down – resulting in 30-45 minute crying sessions. He just wasn’t ready to sleep. Some nights he would wake up in the evening and have a hard time putting himself back to sleep.
Because of this, Shanel offered sticking it out with us for another week or two. She really wanted to figure exactly what made him tick and why he was so frustrated. We changed around some of our wake windows, adjusted our nursing schedule, and adjusted some of his naps. Finally his nighttime sleep became much more consistent – all thanks to the 1-on-1 support that we got.
Mike and I would both tell you – having Finn sleeping well in his crib, and putting himself to sleep on his own, has been completely worth every penny and then some! I wouldn’t be writing this post if I didn’t feel 10000% satisfied with the process and progress.
And that’s exactly why I’m sharing my experience.
Are you debating sleep training?
It can be hard to know if it’s right for you and your babe. You might be hesitant because you don’t want your baby to cry. You might not feel like you or your baby is ready. You may not want to give up some aspects of your current sleep arrangements, or how you put your baby to sleep. You may be worried about “ignoring” your baby and how that might affect them.
Honestly, I get it. I was there.
But when you’re ready, you know. You’re burnt out, and over it. The amazing wake-up-next-to-your-babe moments are great, but they don’t make up for the exhaustion anymore.
I was scared to “scar” Finn, or to make him think we didn’t love him. I was worried it would take a lot out of me to sleep train him. But I was pleasantly surprised, and the benefits have already been worth the effort.
Now we have a baby who naps longer than 20 minutes. He puts himself back to sleep when he wakes up during naps and at night. He’s a happier baby because he’s well rested. We may experience fewer sleep cuddles, but the daytime cuddles make up for them. And it’s all because we committed to sleep training.
My biggest piece of advice…
If you’re considering a sleep coach, find someone whose approach aligns with your values. There are so many ways to sleep train, but the important part is being comfortable while you’re doing it. If you’re not 100% comfortable and confident, you won’t be consistent in enforcing it. If you’re not consistent, your baby will be confused and you won’t see the benefits.
In my experience, if you’re really struggling with sleep, it’s worth doing something about it. Sleep training or not. Every mama and baby is different, and this is just one perspective, but it’s given me life again. And for that I will be forever grateful that I made the decision I did.Follow