The most important thing I have to say about sleep training: it works.
That being said, we are only four days into it, but we have already seen dramatic improvements. Let me begin at the beginning.
Since my last post about sleep, things went from bad to worse. We were spending most of the evening every night trying to get the girls to go to sleep and stay asleep. They would typically fall asleep while nursing around 6 or 7 at night, sleep for 20-30 minutes, then wake up crying. Sometimes we would get them, hold them, and try to get them to go back to sleep. Other times we would let them play for awhile and wait until they seemed sleepy again before trying to put them back into the crib. Neither method was having better results than the other. I decided that we would start sleep training over Christmas break.
Leading up to Christmas break, Siren had some terrible nights. She would start out sleeping in her crib, but once she woke up, we couldn’t ever get her back into the crib. Will or I would end up holding her until she fell asleep. Then we’d try to put her back into the crib, and she would immediately wake up and be extremely upset. Around 11 at night we’d finally get desperate and put her in the swing in our bedroom, and she’d go to sleep there.
In case you haven’t read past posts, we have tried putting the babies in the crib “drowsy but awake” like all of the sleep experts suggest. After they turned about 4 months old, though, our girls had no tolerance for this. After a few tries of drowsy but awake, only to be met with tears, we started holding them until they fell asleep and then putting them down. This, of course, only contributed to their sleep problems, but when one person has to put two babies down for a nap, this was the only way to get them both to sleep.
We should have started the sleep training immediately after break started, but I was still very nervous about it, so we decided we’d start after Christmas. Unfortunately the problems got worse and worse, especially with Siren. We were on our fourth night of spending four or more hours trying to get her to go to bed before finally giving up and putting in her swing, when I reached the end of my rope.
Ironically, the first chapter in Ferber’s book uses just that phrase, “the end of my rope.” And that’s just where I was. I recommend that if you are considering sleep training, that you begin before you reach this point. It was the night of the 22nd. The babies had gone to sleep around 6:30 after nursing. Will and I were trying to cook food for Christmas Eve when both of the babies started crying. Will and I went upstairs, he took Imogen and I took Siren. We split up, because we’ve found that we have an easier time getting the babies back to sleep if they can’t see or hear each other. Will took Imogen downstairs, and I stayed in the babies’ bedroom with Siren.
I held Siren for a few minutes, and then she fell back asleep. I put her in the crib, and she woke up crying. I picked her up, she stopped crying, fell asleep, I went to put her down, and she woke up crying again. I changed her diaper, then attempted to put her down a few more times. Every time she woke up again, crying and becoming very upset.
Not my finest moment, but I decided then that we were beginning sleep training, NOW. I waited until Siren had calmed down and was almost asleep. Then I put her in the crib. She immediately started crying, so I left the room and went out into the hallway. I set my watch, and I let her cry for three minutes.
Fortunately, even though we hadn’t planned on starting then, I had already done all of the reading, and did have a plan that we were going to follow. If not, I probably wouldn’t have started. Siren cried for three minutes with no signs of calming down. I went back into her room, picked her up, and she immediately stopped crying. That was my sign that nothing was actually wrong. I held her for a minute, then put her back in her crib and stepped out of the room.
I went downstairs and told Will, “So, we’re sleep training. I let her cry for 3 minutes, now I’m letting her cry for 5.” Will jumped on board. Imogen was awake, so he sat with her. I went into Siren’s room after 5 minutes of crying. I picked her up again, she stopped crying. I held her for a minute, and then I set her back down. The crying immediately started again. At this point, I felt like the worst parent in the world. I didn’t feel good about what I was doing, but I knew if I stopped, any of the crying we had already done would have been for nothing.
I went back downstairs, I took Imogen, and after 7 minutes, Will went back upstairs and did the checking with Siren. He held her for a minute or so, then set her back down, and she began crying again. He left the room, but this is when it started working. He was prepared to go in again after 7 more minutes, but Siren started to calm down, and then the crying stopped. We never had to go back in. We checked on her after it had been a few minutes, and she was sleeping in her crib.
Imogen had fallen asleep in my arms at that point, and we were able to set her down in the crib, and she stayed asleep. We went to bed shortly after that, I think it was around 11:00, and we slept until around 4 in the morning when the babies woke up. Very fortunately we were able to feed them and put them back in their cribs without a fuss.
The next night went very similarly to the first. The babies fell asleep while nursing. We were able to put them into their cribs, and they stayed asleep for almost two hours. Then they woke up. We changed diapers, then Will took Imogen and I started the checking process with Siren. It’s hard to remember the exact events, but I think I ended up nursing them both somewhere in the process. I ended up trading babies with Will, and he started doing the checks with Siren while I sat with Imogen. We were still trying to decide if it would be better to sleep train both babies, put them to sleep in the same room, or to keep them in different rooms. At that point, we decided to just focus on Siren. Will ended up checking on Siren once, and then was at the period where Siren would have cried up to 12 minutes, but she never cried for that long. She fell asleep before that point, and Will didn’t have to go in and check on her. Imogen fell asleep shortly after that, and we were able to put her into the crib.
Both of the babies woke up once during the night that night, I don’t remember exactly when. We were able to feed them and then put them back into their cribs while they were asleep. They woke up Christmas Eve morning around 7:00.
That morning nap was the first time we followed the sleep training process at nap time, and it was the first time we tried it with Imogen. For nap times, Ferber recommends following the same crying it out with progressive checks, but after 30 minutes, you end the nap time. If the baby falls asleep later, that’s fine, as long as she falls asleep on her own, not being held or rocked. This is when we saw that sleep training had definitely made a difference for Siren.
The babies nursed at 9:00 and fell asleep. We tried to put them into their cribs, but they began crying. We let them both cry for 5 minutes. Technically we should have waited 7 for Siren, but it was easier to start them at the same interval since they were both in the same room at that point. They were still crying at 5 minutes, so Will went and got Siren. I got Imogen, but I brought her downstairs. I put her down into a pack n play. Will put Siren back in her crib, and she cried again, but she fell asleep a few minutes after that.
I let Imogen cry for 7 minutes, and then had to pick her up. I put her back down, and she cried some, started to calm down, then cried more. After 10 minutes of some crying and fussing, I picked her up and ended nap time. Siren stayed asleep, though, and slept for almost an hour before waking. Success!
That afternoon Will and I were trying to get ready for our Christmas Eve celebration. My sister and her husband were over, and Will and I were trying to fix dinner. Around 2:00, the babies still hadn’t gone down for a nap. We decided not to mess with sleep training, and my sister and her husband took the girls in the stroller, took Nieve, and they went for a walk. The babies slept on the walk. This was definitely not following the plan, but it allowed us to get through Christmas Eve without a melt-down.
The babies were up late that night between the church service and present opening. We brought them upstairs to nurse around 10:00. They both fell asleep. Will brought Siren into her bedroom. She started crying when she hit the crib. Because she was crying, I didn’t want to bring Imogen into the bedroom. She heard Siren anyway, and she started crying while I was holding her. I held Imogen in our bedroom. Siren fell asleep in less than 5 minutes. Imogen fell asleep while I was holding her. I was able to put Imogen into her crib, and she stayed asleep.
We saw the results of sleep-training again that night. Siren had fallen asleep on her own in her crib, and she slept straight through until 7 that morning. Imogen had fallen asleep in my arms, and she woke up twice that night. Fortunately both times I changed her diaper, let her nurse, and she fell back asleep with no trouble.
This brings us to Christmas Day, yesterday. For both naps, we put the babies down in cribs in their bedroom. We ended up cutting off their morning nap after 30 minutes. They fell asleep nursing at 12, which is before their usual afternoon nap time. They slept for about 30 minutes, and then they woke up, so we didn’t try any sleep training during that session.
Last night was Siren’s fourth night, and the first night we really did it with Imogen. Both babies fell asleep nursing around 6:30. We were able to put them in their cribs, and they stayed asleep. They woke up around 7:30. We started with five minutes, then seven, then nine. And then we didn’t have to go in after that. Both of the babies fell asleep before they cried longer than nine minutes. And then came the magic: they slept until about 4:30 a.m. Siren woke up first. Will changed her, I fed her, and she went right back to sleep. Imogen woke up right after that. I changed her, fed her, and put her back in the crib. She cried just a couple of times, and then she went back to sleep.
Siren slept until 6 this morning, and Imogen slept until 7:30. Will and I got our first night of good sleep in quite awhile. And this is all of the evidence I need that what we’re doing is working, and that it’s not cruel. The babies are happier getting some good quaility sleep, and they’re learning to fall asleep on their own. I was so nervous about beginning this process, but now I wish we had started it a little sooner. We didn’t need to let it get so bad before we began solving it. But since I can’t change the past, I’m just glad that we finally did get started.
If you are struggling with your baby and sleep, I really recommend reading Ferber’s book. I can’t promise that his method will work for every baby. I’ve heard of babies who only get more and more agitated when allowed to cry it out, so this might not be a good solution for every baby. I also know that if I only had one baby, there are many strategies I could have tried (and would have had more patience and energy to try) so I could have avoided the problems leading us to need sleep training in the first place. I also never would have tried this process when the babies were younger than six months old (even though many people say it’s ok to begin when babies are younger.) But I’m so glad that what we’re trying is working. I feel completely different after one good night of sleep, so I’m very hopeful that if we stick with this, we’ll turn the corner on this sleeping problem.