Investing in Sanity: Baby Sleep Training

If you have a new baby in the house, sleep very soon becomes a luxury. No matter how well your baby snoozes, your own often-interrupted sleep can begin to take a toll. Add in the fact that many babies have trouble sleeping or napping, and you have a recipe for two very tired parents. Thankfully, catching some zzz's is possible before year 18 rolls around. Let's take a look at some tried and true sleep training ideas from the trenches of motherhood.

Intro to Sleep Training

Before we get too far, it's important to point out that sleep training shouldn't begin too early. In the newborn stage of your baby's life, Baby has constant needs, and parental sleep will be a luxury. There's really no way around middle of the night feedings and round-the-clock baby care. But once Baby hits three or four months, she is usually capable of falling into a sleep schedule. Of course, capable doesn't always mean probable, so let's move on to a few sleep training tactics that might help you catch some rest (and some sanity!).

Figure Out Baby's Cries

Babies communicate their needs through cries, and each one can mean something different. Although it's tempting to tend to every possible need immediately upon the first yelp, it may be more helpful to listen to each cry individually and attribute it to each need. My daughter, for example, whimpers when she's tired, but she wails when she's hungry. Understanding each can help me put her down for a nap at the first sign of tiredness, before she becomes overtired and resists napping.

Understand that Babies can Become Overtired

While it might sound counter-intuitive, when a baby is too tired, sleeping becomes impossible. I know this firsthand because I over-scheduled my DD's little baby life to the point that she did not get quality naps. As the over-scheduled weeks wore on, she started to gradually get more and more tired (and more and more cranky), and she refused to nap. Finally, I realized how tired she was, and I spent a full day sleep training, after which my little bundle of crankiness fell back into a napping routine. For other parents, taking the time to decrease Baby's scheduled play dates can also help her re-set her own napping schedule.

Modified Cry It Out

One more tactic to consider when sleep troubles rear their ugly heads: it may be beneficial to do some hard-core sleep training with a little modified Cry It Out (CIO) training method. With this method, when Baby cries, always tend to all of her possible needs first (diaper, food, check for illness). Once they are taken care of, place the baby back in the crib and let her cry for a minute. Then console her, try to help her back to sleep, and place her back in the crib. Repeat this for as long as it takes the baby to fall asleep, gradually lengthening the time between your consoling.

For DD, CIO was the way to go, but I modified it even more to use her different cries as cues. If she cried at her top-decibel hunger cry, I fed her. But if she fuss-cried in sleepiness, I let her fuss until she fell asleep. It only took a few days of my modified modified CIO for napping to become part of her baby day repertoire once again.

How about you, MV readers: how did you sleep train your baby? We love to hear more tips from our experienced mommy (and daddy!) readers.

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Anonymous's picture

jefferson @SeeDebtRun wrote:

Tue, 11/27/2012 - 04:45 Comment #: 1

Oh.. we have been there... Our daughter (now 16 months old), didn't sleep much for the first 10 months of her life.. We were pretty much zombies, operating on very little sleep.. But eventually we put her down and let her cry herself to sleep.. It was so hard.. Just painful.. My wife and I held each other all night... But after a half an hour.. she stopped crying.. We did it again the next night.. and it was only 15 minutes.. And after that, 5 minutes.. Eventually she started sleeping, and even started napping better...

You have to fight through it.. It is so worth it.

Christa Palm's picture

Christa Palm wrote:

Fri, 11/30/2012 - 21:12 Comment #: 2

I know what you mean, Jefferson. When we were sleep training, my husband had to hold my hand to keep me from tending to my daughter. He may or may not have some nail marks left in his palm...

Anonymous's picture

Elizabeth @ Broke Professionals wrote:

Sun, 12/02/2012 - 01:54 Comment #: 3

I did sleep training with both my kids. With my daughter (my oldest), I started around six months; she went from waking 1-2x night to sleeping 12 hrs at a time in just three days! With my son (my youngest), I didn't start nearly as early - he was almost 10 or 11 months when we started. He's my baby (my husband says he'll be our last child), so I guess I held on to those nighttime hours with him longer than necessary, even though it wrecked my sleep.

Christa Palm's picture

Christa Palm wrote:

Thu, 12/06/2012 - 14:56 Comment #: 4

Aw, I can't even think about how much I'll want to hold on to those moments with my last child -- it's hard enough watching my first daughter grow up so quickly. I'm glad sleep training worked for you, Elizabeth!

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