My husband and I decided to really start sleep training our son at around 4 1/2 months of age, after he had entered into the dreaded 4 month sleep regression. For a solid month, we tried one approach to sleep training that I had read about, and it did NOT work for us. So we decided to switch things up. My lovely friend and mama of three, Mckenzie Mangus, has had incredible success getting her babies to sleep through the night from early on, so I reached out to her and asked her what her secret was, and she told me. I applied some of her suggestions to our own sleep training and it worked! So I asked to her to share her wisdom here with a guest post.
Great Sleep and Baby
Written by Mckenzie Mangus
Great Sleep and baby are not words you commonly hear together in a sentence. It is not as easy as 1, 2, 3, but if you are willing to put in some hard work and dedication in the short term, you and your baby can be sleeping through the night just a few months after birth. Hard to believe, I know, but in my experience it is absolutely possible.
When I was 5 months pregnant with my second baby, a friend suggested that I read Bringing up Bebe, by Pamela Druckerman. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, but what struck me the most was that according to the author, who is from the States, many French babies are able to sleep through the night by two months old. I had never even imagined that this was possible. Until that moment I had never heard from a friend, doctor, book or any other source that this was something babies were capable of doing. As far as I knew from my own experience or had heard from friends, family and strangers, babies don't sleep through the night. You always hear that old refrain as a new parent, "Oh, you have a baby. You must be totally exhausted by sleepless nights!"
After reading Bringing up Bebe, I thought that if the French could do it, so could I! I just needed to figure out how I was going to do it. Considering that with my first daughter, I co-slept and fed on demand and she didn't sleep through the night until she was 5 years old, I didn't have a very good track record.
I was desperate to find the "key" to this amazing discovery. Unfortunately, I also didn't know any French people who I could ask. It was by chance one day that I told an acquaintance about my discovery. She said, "I usually don't tell people because they give me a hard time, but all my kids (she has 5!) slept through the night at two months old." I was confused as to why people would give her a hard time about it, because to me it seemed like a gift from the heavens. I felt like the luckiest person alive to now have a first-hand source to call upon for all of the essential details about how to pull this off. She recommended I read On Becoming Babywise: Giving Your Infant The Gift of Nighttime Sleep, by Robert Bucknam. She cautioned that the book has a less than perfect reputation (that's another story), but I ignored the more controversial parts of the book, and for the sole purposes of a sleep/feed schedule it was very useful. I have since discovered there are other helpful books such as Moms on Call.
In Babywise, the fundamental principle is that starting from the day your baby is born, you can begin a schedule where they eat around the clock every three hours. Then, according to different age ranges, you can start eliminating night time feedings with the goal of getting your baby to sleep through the night by two or three months of age by working toward the last night time feeding occurring around 7pm and then not again until 7am. Here is a quick outline of the schedule I used:
For the first month or so, feed your baby every three hours around the clock.
Aim to start at 7am, then again at 10am, 1pm, 4pm, 7pm and so on.
During the day, you will feed your baby and then have awake time (play, tummy time, etc) and then baby naps after playtime. The only time you feed your baby before putting them down to sleep is at night.
It is helpful to set an alarm on your phone (day and night) to remind you of feeding times, although your baby will usually begin to fuss close to their feeding time.
Once this is established, begin to merge night time feedings by doing one feeding at 3am rather than one at 1am and another at 4am.
Eventually you will eliminate that 3am feeding so that you do a dream feed around 9/10pm and then the next feeding will be at 7am.
The last step is to take out the dream feed, and add in an additional daytime feeding instead to account for the calories, making the last feeding of the day before bedtime at 7pm.
Some babies wake a lot at night in between feedings (like my toddler did when he was a newborn) and take some extra soothing, and other babies, like my third child, sleep really well at night and merge the two nighttime feedings on their own with little hassle. Either way, do your best to stick to the schedule. If you baby is still asleep when it is time to feed, wake them up and feed them. I know that seems like a crazy thing to do but it makes a positive difference down the road if you stick to the schedule in those first months.
Another key component is that you do not nurse your baby to sleep. Instead you put them down for naps and bedtime awake so that they learn how to put themselves to sleep. If you successfully use this technique, you will never have to slowly creep out of your baby’s room on tiptoe because you are terrified that they might wake up. When I put my kids to sleep, I kiss them good night and dance right out of their room, singing if I want to because I know they are going to be able to fall asleep all by themselves. By using this schedule, I feel I have given my kids the gift of sleep. I am amazed at how well little ones will sleep if you give them the tools they need to achieve it!
If you are breastfeeding, do not use the breast as a soothing method and risk becoming a human pacifier. If your baby starts to cry in between feedings, find other ways to soothe them. This is where your partner can really step in and be involved in the newborn process. For me it has been liberating to have babies who can be soothed in many ways without needing to be nursed every time they whimper. Even with a newborn, I could leave her at home with her grandma, her dad or a babysitter and go out into the world because I knew she wouldn't "need me" until her next feeding.
I find the schedule also helps create a healthy family dynamic, especially if you have more than one child. I loved having a newborn and still having time for myself, for my husband and for my other kids. There are no more endless hours of agonizing over getting the kids to sleep. I used to dread bedtime with my oldest. It was quite literally a two hour ordeal every night, and I am so grateful with my last two that I didn't have to experience that again.
However, it didn't take long for me to discover why my friend had resisted sharing her sleep success with the world at large. One night I told another friend about my plan for getting my baby to sleep through the night and she yelled at me, claiming I was going to be abusing my child. My mom, who was overall supportive, was genuinely worried my baby might suffer from malnutrition. My home birth midwife's assistant saw Babywise sitting on a shelf, and said, "I really hope you aren't planning on doing this to your baby." My pediatrician, who I really respect, gave a little frown when I told him about my plan. My husband, thankfully, has been super supportive and helpful. To him, a schedule made sense, and the idea of getting a good night’s sleep was very appealing.
I can't say exactly what it is about our culture that makes people opposed to this type of approach to sleep. There is a lot of negative talk about the "cry it out method." I do not believe that the schedule I’m talking about falls into that category. In my experience I have found that if you start babies out on a schedule, you can completely avoid a "cry it out” situation. My babies never knew a different reality. To them it was normal to breastfeed only when they were hungry and sleep when it was night time. Sure, there can be difficult moments when you first start to take out night time feedings for example, but I was always there for them. I soothed them by rocking them or giving them a pacifier, and on nights when they were more difficult to soothe, I would hold them and bounce them on an exercise ball. I believe, however, that it is okay and actually important for babies to be able to cry sometimes. As a parent you begin to learn the meanings of your baby’s different cries, and you can allow them to cry a bit if you don't feel that they are too distressed (I am not referring to newborns here.) In my experience, my babies rarely cried for longer than a few minutes before they were able to calm themselves. I think it's important to give babies space to figure out how to soothe themselves. There was never any doubt that their nutritional needs were being met.
There are also sleep consultants who can come to your home and spend time with you to figure out the best approach for your family to get your little ones to sleep better. This can be very helpful for families who have older kids, and I have friends who have had great results as long as they are willing to stick to the plan they create with the sleep consultant. Although I followed the schedule in Babywise, I also developed some of my own ways to achieve success that felt were important to me. For example, I brought my baby into bed with me for the 7am feeding. We would get sweet cuddle time and then fall back to sleep together. (click here for a list of helpful tips and useful products)
I have found that as I share more and more about my positive experience using this method, many moms consumed by sleep deprivation have reached out to me asking me to share with them what I have done to get my babies to sleep all night, and many of those moms have had great success as well.
I have now had two babies since first reading Babywise and am proud and quite ecstatic to report that it is possible to have a new baby and actually get an entire night of sleep. You must be dedicated and unwavering to be successful. Both Bringing up Bebe and Babywise talk about how kids need and appreciate boundaries. Once you have strong clear boundaries in place, you can have a lot of flexibility within those boundaries. For example, my two year old who sleeps 12 hours a night and takes a 3 hour nap, can go to sleep at 10 pm one night if need be, but easily goes to sleep the next night at 8 pm (his usual bed time).
Many people say to me, "You have had easy babies. That's why they sleep so well." After doing this twice and talking with other people who have also had success with their kids, I don't think it is a matter of having an easy baby. If you are blessed by birthing a healthy baby, there is no reason why you, too, can't succeed with this schedule. You just have to want it. Sure, some babies will take to the schedule easier than others, but it really comes down to the parents’ motivation. I feel compelled to note that there was nothing traumatic about this experience for us or for our children. The transitions were seamless and everyone is happier after a good night of sleep!
One moment that really stands out for me was a day when I put my son down for a nap when he was a year and a half old. As I laid him down in his crib, he looked at me smiling, and with his cute little hand blew me kisses goodbye. One minute later he was sound asleep.
Good luck, and may the force be with you!
*A few other tips Mckenzie recommends are to do your best to stay awake at night while you feed your baby. Sit up while you feed and set your alarm for 12mins so after you feed on one side if you fall asleep you wake up to make sure you feed on the other side too. And to make sure your baby is actually eating. Tickle their feet or their neck to wake them up. This can be hard when they are newborn but it's important they eat as much as possible for each feeding. Try to do around 12 mins. per side.