I decided to sleep train my baby out of pure desperation. I needed sleep. I was utterly exhausted and wasn't sure how much longer I could handle our seemingly endless bedtime routine. Every night the baby ended up in my bed, and I'd lie awake for hours on end as a result. Unfortunately, I wasn't very good at teaching my baby to fall asleep on their own, either. In fact, in so many ways I think I actually set myself up for disappointment during sleep training.
My first mistake was waiting way too long to get started. When my oldest babies were little I thought that my babies needed me at night. I even ended up bed-sharing, because it was the only way for everyone to sleep even a small amount of time. And now, well, they still want to sleep in my bed. They're 5 and 9. And when my youngest was born and I started considering sleep training, I bought into the idea that it would somehow hurt my baby, so I felt guilty for wanting sleep or find a solution that would help everyone sleep separately. Luckily, I was able to get over that guilt, because by the time I finally caved I was so sleep-deprived it was starting to impact my mental health.
My baby needed to learn to fall asleep without me. I needed to learn to be consistent and to trust the process. I failed big time, though, and sleep training was much more difficult as a result. But in the end, I am happy to say that I eventually figured out how to get my toddler to sleep and get some much-needed sleep myself. Before that happened, though, I totally set myself up for disappointment in the following ways:
I Waited Way Too Long
I learned that the longer you wait to sleep train, the harder it is. Partly because both you and your baby will have sleep associations and bad habits to unlearn, but also because babies have phases where they will seemingly hate sleep and trying to sleep train a baby after they reach one of these growth spurts, sleep regressions, teething episodes, or developmental leaps is a nightmare.
I Was Ambivalent
I am not going to lie, at first I was not invested in sleep training. In fact, I thought it was potentially a really bad idea. As a result, I wasn't committed to the process, didn't do enough research, and ended up not really putting a whole lot of effort into sleep training. In the back of my head I knew there were other strategies I could fall back on — like feeding him, rocking him, or walking around the house with him in a sling — if it didn't work out. I totally set myself up to fail.
I Set My Expectations Way Too High
As moms, we often set our expectations way too high, and then are way too hard on ourselves when things don't work out as we planned. So once I did decide to sleep train my baby, I thought it would only take a few nights. And when it took much longer, I was so disappointed I thought it was a sign I should just give up and go back to our old exhausting routine.
I Worried I Was Hurting Him
For me, the worst part of sleep training was the worry in the back of my mind that letting my baby "cry it out," even for a few minutes, would hurt him. I know logically that he would be fine, but my mama bear instinct took over. It was horrible for my anxiety, and even worse for my confidence when I experienced a sleep training set-back.
I Depended On Crutches
Sleep training experts call the things you ultimately do out desperation to get your baby to sleep "sleep crutches." I used them all the damn time, and I have no idea why I thought falling back on old habits and bedtime routines that didn't work the first time was a good idea. Still, in the moment it seemed easier to give in and ultimately, give up.
I Was Inconsistent
Consistency is key for most things related to parenting a baby or toddler. I was so not consistent about sleep training, though. The only thing my baby learned was that if he cried I would almost always give in and pick him up. He was training me, not the other way around.
I Gave Up When It Didn't Happen Instantly
I gave up way too easily, only to try a few days later and then give up again. I had no idea that this starting and stopping was getting in the way of sleep training my baby, but I caved under the pressure and disappointment.
I Thought I Had To Do It Alone
As a culture, we seem to always associate babies and bedtime with moms. It wasn't until I handed off the task of sleep training our baby to my partner that we actually had some success. It hasn't been perfect, but I totally wish I had thought to get my husband involved before I started sleep training. Turns out, he is way better at it than I am.