Sleep training for cuddly babies

Me and Lukas are big on cuddles. I am not saying it just to make you gag, I am saying this because just a few weeks back, after we had a massive fuddle (family cuddle), I told Lukas: isn’t funny how two people that love to cuddle more than anything made a child who loves the same? Lukas was like: Nah, it’s not weird, we have just cuddled her into it. So when sleep training gets compared with babies that are left in institutions, where they have no response after they cry out, I really think that’s a massive exaggeration. Apologies in advance for a long intro to the potentially useful information. You don’t need it, I do, for the peace of my mind. 

First of all, this is all based on my opinion and experience and everything I have done is to the best of my knowledge of babies’ needs and nutrition. However I am by no means an expert on this topic. You are likely to benefit from this article if you are a similar type of mum, which is: 

you love your baby more than anything in the world, but you also care for yourself
you are not one of those people, who can function on five hours of sleep and boast about it
in fact, if you get less than eight, you turn into the lava monster from Moana
you appreciate the relationship you have with your partner and you’d like your bed to still be your bed
you are unable to listen to your child cry for long, but you can handle a little bit
you also like your body and your boobs and you know where to set your own boundaries

When trying this out, it’s ideal to wait for your baby to be on solid foods. That’s because when they are just born, everything is so new to them, you just do everything to make them feel safe and nurtured at all times. When they are not on solid foods yet, it’s not certain whether they have all the nutrition throughout the night and maybe they really need breastmilk. It’s also good to have a perfect growth rate and have this confirmed by a specialist. For us it meant we didn’t start our sleep training until Josie was 9 months. At 9 months she was the perfect weight and height for a baby her age, she was super happy and comfortable without me and eating every possible food given to her. Whenever she woke up in the middle of the night (about three times at night) she was given the boob for about two minutes and went to sleep again. This showed that she did not in fact needed it, but also that she does not yet have the skill or a way to snooze back to sleep on her own. Our aim was to give her this skill and also to get some sleep as I was getting exhausted. It was also harder and harder to go back to sleep after these one minute wake ups.

I read on this topic from one mother: “After 19 months of no sleep, I have collapsed of fatigue, but I would never sleep train my baby.” Well, maybe she could still function as a collapsed mother, but I highly doubt that. How can you have enough energy, love and happiness for your baby when you break down? Also when people say things like that, essentially judging the ones who do try, I always wonder: Did she drive a car and if so, hopefully she did not drive with a baby in the back seat. Did she have the energy to prepare home cooked nutritional foods, did she manage to keep her child off screens for most of the day? Does she have her family around her? Of course I will never have the answers, however for me, who has no family around for thousands and thousands of miles, collapsing definitely was not an option.

I also can’t help myself in saying this: if you can co-sleep with your baby in your bed and both you and your partner love it, just do it! It’s fantastic and I am super happy for you and yes it’s probably the best thing for your baby, but you are not a better person nor a better mother for it, you are just doing things differently.

People, who are ok with waking up several times at night and are able to do this for extended periods, are really awesome and really strong. I really loved Phillipa Perry’s: the Book you wish your parents had read and I absolutely agree with her on pretty much everything. She talks about sleep training as conditioning of the baby to a certain behaviour i.e. not good. Well she has a point. However there are ways to do it and I think the one we chose is definitely not “crying yourself to sleep”.

Now finally! Here’s on the method the lava monster used:

First three days – pat the baby to sleep. 

This was actually more than three days because I felt like she needed more time to adjust and that’s ok. If your emotions are telling you it should be certain way, just go with it. Patting baby to sleep, in my case, looked like me lying next to her cot with my hand in it and gently patting her bum or the mattress saying sssshhh. In the end I have started to use a white sound on apple music called shh baby, which was virtually just a person saying shh. This sound we have used for a long time after and it was her comfort white noise. Initially, when she wasn’t getting the boob, she would cry and stand in the cot, but eventually she would lie down towards the hand and fall asleep. I would not stop until she was sound asleep. Of course this can take a little bit of time. Sometimes they lie down and then get up again and when you feel like there’s no way they will EVER fall asleep again in their life, that’s when they fall asleep. I think the longest tapping session was 40 minutes. However never 40 minutes of crying. It was important for me to distinguish the type of cry. Especially when it’s stopping, you know you are on the right track. I have placed a blanket and a pillow next to her cot so I could be comfortable when comforting her. 

Josie uses a dummy, I regret that we didn’t take the dummy away and replaced it with a more suitable comforter like a blanket toy at this point. Especially because every now and then when she loses it, we still have to go to her room and find it. However I hear the Easter Bunny will take it away next month so let’s see how that goes. We used the tapping method for seven days before moving onto the chair method. Gradually we needed to tap less frequently, for a much shorter time and within these seven days we had at least two days when she completely slept through or days when she just didn’t cry at all. 

The sit in the chair method. 

This method takes away the taps and contact but gives the child assurance of your presence. You can still use a gentle shushing sound and sometimes comfort the baby by saying “don’t worry darling, I am here” or whatever you like. So this method did not work for me, she seemed to be extremely annoyed with me being there. Lukas tried once and she immediately calmed down and went to sleep. So maybe try a dad if you feel like you are not getting anywhere. 

The check in method. 

On day 10 we have started the check in method and on day 13 we have completed our training. Since then, not only Josie started to sleep through the night, but also to look forward to going to sleep, which was pretty amazing. We could see that she has a healthy relationship with her bed and bed toys. Even during the day she would try to climb into her cot on her own, which was incredibly reassuring and made me feel like we did the right thing, not just for us but for her too. Yesterday for the first time ever, she told me she’s ready to sleep in the evening and I couldn’t believe it.

So the check in method is putting baby to sleep and leaving the room. Unless she falls asleep straight away, checking in on her in 3 minutes, after in 5 and taking it all the way to 10. This was definitely the hardest one for me. Thankfully for us, it only happened twice or three times that she was unhappy for more than ten minutes. Basically you put baby to sleep and you say goodnight and leave the room. You then come back after 3 minutes and choose your soothing, maybe a hug, kiss or a few words and then put baby back to bed. If it doesn’t help, you come back after five minutes and then ten minutes. The minutes are irrelevant, you can always shorten the time if you feel like it’s too much. For me it was not ideal, I always tried to be busy so I didn’t have to think about it or I waited on the balcony. 

I think it’s also important to mention that since she has the skill to put herself to sleep, when it happens that she cries for any reason, we no longer use any of the above methods. We simply go to her immediately to find out what’s happening so she knows the parental presence is always there whenever she needs it and she will never have to cry herself to sleep. 

I am happy to answer any questions you might have.

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