Do you sleep train your babies? I do. And I'll tell you why I do... to keep from going totally, bat-poop crazy. Seriously. I don't know how moms who don't sleep train their babies stay human. So what is sleep training, you ask? Just the most AMAZING resource available to new moms : ) Here are the details, and how I adapt them to fit my lifestyle and my babies...First off, you need to get a hold of a copy of the book "On Becoming Baby Wise" by Gary Ezzo and Robert Buckman. Then, read it with an open mind. Obviously the authors believe strongly in sleep training since they wrote a book about it. So they are definitely bringing a bias to the table when they discuss Parent Directed Feeding vs. Feeding on Demand or Clock Directed Feeding. But if you know that and expect that before you start reading, it will make you less likely to throw the book out the window after the first few chapters. Also, I found you don't need to follow it EXACTLY by the book for it to work - so just take the principles and make them work for you and your individual baby. OK... done with the disclaimers : ) Now on to the good stuff!
The basis of the Baby Wise method is to put your baby on a regular, predictable feeding schedule, which will in turn put your baby on a regular, predictable sleeping schedule. The authors call this "Parent Directed Feeding" - basically, the parents dictate when the baby will eat as opposed to something like on-demand feeding, where the baby eats whenever he is hungry. I know, I know... it sounds harsh. But it's really not. I promise. With Baby Wise/Parent Directed Feeding, your baby will eat every 2-3 hours, which is pretty much what they do anyway, right? But here is the major difference - instead of letting your baby fall asleep right after eating, you make them stay awake for "Awake Time" or "Play Time". Then, after about 30 -45 minutes or so of Awake Time, you put your baby in his/her crib to fall asleep on their own. Let them sleep until it's time to feed again, which usually will be between 1 to 1.5 hours of sleep depending on if you are following a 2 or a 3 hour schedule. And then do it again. Eat, Play, Sleep. Eat, Play, Sleep. Every 2-3 hours for the entire day. Then, when it's time for the baby to go to bed for the night, you skip the "Play" portion and let them eat, then fall asleep. Any time they wake up during the night, just feed them and put them back to sleep. Easy peezy, right? : )
So I know what you are thinking... because I had the same thoughts/questions after I read the book : ) Here are the questions I had, and what I found to be true after going through it with Miss Paige, and now Deacon.
* How do you keep your baby awake after feeding for the "Awake/Play Time" and what does that really entail? The truth in how I keep Deacon awake after eating? By any means necessary. I sing loudly. I dance around with him. I do raspberries on his belly, neck and cheeks. I lay him down on his play mat and let Paige beat on her drum or shake her tambourine next to him. Sometimes I even whip out an ice cube to rub on his feet - that really makes him mad! But it wakes him up. The key is to break the association between eating and sleeping. Otherwise, the baby uses the breast or bottle as a "prop" to fall asleep instead of figuring out a way to fall asleep on their own. Once the baby is awake, "Awake time" can take on any form - reading to the baby, walking around, sitting him in a bouncy chair or swing (as long as it doesn't lull him to sleep), etc. Basically anything besides sleeping. After a few days, the baby doesn't fall asleep after eating and you can spend less time trying to keep him awake, and more time having fun!
* Do you really put your baby down while he/she is still awake? Isn't that ferberization? And aren't they too young for that? So, I guess it is a bit like ferberization or "letting the baby cry it out". And the first few days are emotionally taxing - trust me. Hearing your baby cry is horrible. But - when you hear them fall asleep on their own after less than 5 minutes of crying, and then faster and faster as each day passes - it makes it all worth while. After about a week, they don't even cry when you put them down. Or if they do, you know it's just that they have to let out a little energy before they can settle into sleep. Because they are tired and WANT to sleep after getting a full belly, and then playing for 30 minutes or so, it makes everything a lot easier. The authors of Baby Wise say that napping well is an "acquired" skill - that babies have to learn how to take restful, real naps and not just little "snoozes" or cat naps throughout the day.
* How does this lead to sleeping through the night? To be 100% honest, I'm not really sure. Nice, right? But within the first few weeks, you'll see a gradual progression from 2-3, to 4, to 5, to 6 hour stretches between feedings at night, and finally a full night's sleep for your baby, usually between 8-10 weeks of age. 2-3 hour intervals of Eat, Play, Sleep will remain constant during the day for a good while. It's important they get all their calories during the day so that they won't be hungry at night.
* Do you wake your baby up from a nap in order to stay on the 2-3 hour Eat, Play, Sleep intervals? Yup! At first you will have to do this a few times a day if your baby is a real sleepyhead. But after 3 or 4 days, your baby will begin to wake up exactly when it's time for him/her to eat again. Pretty much like clockwork. With this method, you are basically training your baby's biological clock to know when to eat and when to sleep.
* What if your baby wakes up early and is starving?! Can I feed him? Of course! This part really had me stressed out, because I couldn't see denying my children food if they were hungry. I was already making them cry themselves to sleep... Child Protective Services would be beating down my door if I denied them food too. So with this, I say use your best judgement. You know when your baby is having a growth spurt and needs to eat more often or is hungry and can't wait until the 2-3 hour mark. And during those times, I went ahead and fed my baby. And then I would just adjust the Eat, Play, Sleep interval to start again after she was done with that feeding. It doesn't mess anything up too bad, and it's important to use your best judgement - not just the clock - to determine when to feed your baby. Say that happens once a day or so... you'll soon figure out when your baby needs to eat more and adjust that Eat, Play, Sleep interval accordingly. It might not make 100% sense right now, but trust me that when you are in the thick of it, it will totally make sense and you'll see everything adjust in a normal way.
* Won't my baby naturally do this on his/her own after a while? Eventually, I'd imagine any child would put themselves on a schedule. But this just kind of speeds up the process and lets you (the parent) be in charge of making it happen. I think of it as being on the offense vs. the defense when it comes to parenting. I'm not constantly reacting - I can actually plan a little bit. I did it with Paige and it was great. With Deacon, I waited a few weeks to start. Not because I didn't believe in the process, but because I was so scattered between dealing with the two kids, that I wasn't really paying attention to time at all. And I was paying the price - feeling disorganized, exhausted and completely crazy. I didn't know when Deacon was going to nap and when I was going to get things done - and so nothing got done. Now I know that I'll have about an hour to get things done every few hours because he is on a predictable nap schedule. It also gives me time to spend alone with Miss Paige. I know that at certain times of the day, Deacon will be sleeping so Paige and I can spend quality time together reading books and playing. It's a win-win : )
* Does the Eat, Play, Sleep interval system go on FOREVER? Not exactly as it is in the beginning, but the concept can go on for as long as you want it to. After a few months, the intervals will organically stretch to about 4 hours. For Miss Paige, we extended the Play Time to about an hour - hour and a half after she would eat. Then, she'd nap for about an hour - hour and a half. Then it would be time to eat again. If you think about it, it makes sense: wake up at 7 a.m. and eat (breakfast). Play from 7:30 - 9:00 a.m.. Then nap from 9:30 - 11:00 a.m. And then eat at 11:00 (lunch). Play from 11:30 - 1:00 p.m. Nap from 1:00 - 2:30 p.m. Then eat again (snack). Play from 3:00 - 4:30 p.m. And then this is where we mix up the intervals to work better for us - Instead of napping at 4:30 p.m., we would keep Paige up and eat again at 5:00 p.m. (dinner), then use the "Play time" for a bath and reading books (5:45 - 6:00 p.m.) and then put her down for the night. She's been on this same schedule since about 4 months old. She's now almost 20 months, and it still works. Pretty neat, right? Of course some days it varies because I don't wake her up from her naps, or we have to run errands and stuff. But in general, I still follow the Baby Wise method with Paige as a toddler.
For me, The Baby Wise method of sleep training totally makes sense. But I know that to others, this probably sounds absolutely foolish. So like I said earlier, it's important to go in with an open mind and then take bits and pieces of the concept to make it work for you and your baby.
Oh, one more piece of advice if you are going to go down this road: Wait to start until you have a week with very few visitors, no guests, and limited plans. Why? Well as far as guests and visitors, you don't want to have to explain yourself. For this to work, you really have to stay focused and determined to see it through. The last thing you'll need is someone making you feel bad for letting your baby cry or trying to feed them and then rocking them to sleep despite your protests for "Awake Time" : ) And def try to stay close to home the first week or two so you can stick to the schedule without distraction.