First things first, I am a proponent of sleep training. However, being a "fan" doesn't mean there aren't a few things I wish I knew before I started sleep training my daughter. For example, I know my daughter would be a totally wonderful human being if my partner and I didn't choose to sleep train her. Still, I naively thought sleep training was the only way. While it did work for us, I've learned over the last year and a half of parenting that there are other ways that might work for other parents and other babies.
I don't regret sleep training our daughter at all, nor do I regret sleep training the foster babies we had in our care over the last year. I don't believe it's cruel if it's done properly and safely. In fact, I believe it has made our lives, from the children under my care to my partner to myself, more sane.
Last night, my daughter slept from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. without a single peep. That doesn't happen every night, but it happens probably 80 percent of the time, and I credit sleep training for her ability to peacefully go to bed on her own and stay there all night. Sometimes she cries out, and when she does we try to meet whatever need she has. However, when all is said and done I can say we had a good experience with sleep training, but there are still things I wish I had known before we started. Here's a handful of them, just in case you're about to embark on your own sleep training journey.
That It Wouldn't Be The Only Time
I (very naively) thought that once we sleep trained our daughter, she would be trained and we would be done. Thinking back, I'm not sure how it didn't occur to me that there might be situations where we'd have to remind her how and when to sleep. We travel a lot, and each time we landed in a new place, we had to make sure she knew where she was and that she was safe sleeping there. Things like bringing her sheets and always making sure she had the same lovey and little lullaby bunny helped tremendously, but still, one sleep training session wasn't the end of the story.
That It Might Not Take So Long
People talk about sleep training as though it's a marathon. Realistically, it might not be such an arduous or long process with your baby, especially if you put in place some good building blocks before you dive in with something like crying it out. For our daughter, she was going to sleep on her own within a week, and only the first two nights were really tough.
That It Was All About Detective Work
Sleep training, for us, was all about putting in the detective work so that we knew when our daughter was ready for bed. We also worked hard to figure out what cues worked for her. We knew she needed to be swaddled, and she needed the same routine every single night. We also knew she liked to have a soft thing to rub against her face as she fell asleep, so we made sure she was safe from suffocation but had something close to her face she could sort of nuzzle.
That I'd Need My Partner More Than Ever
In the first few nights we were sleep training, I desperately needed my husband to give me pep talks and remind me that this was the right thing to do. I knew that it was right for our daughter's temperament and developmental stage, but I still needed moral support.
That It Really Would Work
Lo and behold, it really worked. She really does sleep 12 hours nearly every night. She falls asleep on her own in her crib, usually talking or babbling to herself for a little while. In fact, sometimes one of the most fun parts of our day is listening to her rehash her adventures to herself and practice all her new words.
That I Didn't Have To If I Didn't Want To
I do wish that I had at least considered that there might be other ways to get our daughter to sleep on her own, before settling on sleep training. Sleep training is something my husband and I decided we would do long before we had kids (after watching some particularly painful and sleepless situations around us), so I never thought there might be an option living in between zero sleep for years and full-on sleep training. I think we would still have landed on what we did, but I wish I hadn't seen the situation as quite so zero sum.
That It's All About The Script
Sleep training is all about the script. For my daughter, we used a simple script repeated every single night, and every time we had to go in and settle her and remind her what was happening. Then I had my own script I repeated to myself inside my head whenever she was fussing for a while so I could calm myself down. Both scripts were crucial.
That It's A Really Contentious Subject
I honestly had no idea how many opinions there are about sleep training methods. If I had known how much ire crying-it-out can draw, I definitely wouldn't have talked about it publicly quite so much. There was a phase I was even a little insecure talking about how well our daughter slept, because I didn't want to have to explain how she got that way.