If you’ve been following along, you know that we “sleep trained” from the get-go. And when I say ‘sleep training’, I mean we taught our daughter how to sleep and always promoted good sleep habits with her. I felt that it would be so much more beneficial as well as easier to teach her how to sleep from the start as opposed to reversing bad sleep habits later on. So that’s the “method” I went with and I was very strict about it. So here’s what we did/didn’t do the first time:
- We didn’t bed-share.
- We avoided swings and rockers like the plague.
- I made it a priority to put her down if she fell asleep in my arms.
- We minimized rocking her to sleep as much as possible.
- I never woke her to eat (this is only okay if your child has zero medical issues and is gaining weight appropriately).
- We started a bedtime routine from the get-go (this routine is still the same today at 15 months).
We had Allie sleeping through the night by 5 weeks old and then by 3 months, she could put herself to sleep without issues. We experienced a couple of rough patches with teething and the normal regression periods, but nothing lasting longer than a week or two.
*Side note for anyone who is curious: we put Allie on a nap schedule at 4 months old and she slept in a pack n play in our bedroom from 0-6 months. From there, she was moved to her crib in her nursery.
Her training lasted until 13 months when we traveled to Maine for a week, visiting family. It was just her and I and between the time difference, traveling, being in a new place, teething, and all the new people, it was very easy for her sleep to go off course. That week, I did what I had to do to get her to sleep while there and figured we’d get back to our routine once we were home in California.
Two months later, her sleep hadn’t improved too much and we had gotten ourselves into some not-so-great sleep habits. The biggest issue was that she needed us to sit next to her crib and rub her head until she fell asleep. She could no longer just be laid down and left alone. In addition to that, her naps were becoming shorter and shorter and she kept ending up in our bed at night (anywhere from 1-5am). It was honestly worse than having a newborn.
This led to sleep training round two so let’s get into the Ferber Method, what it is and our take on it!
What Is Sleep Training?
So first off, what is sleep training?! Simply put, sleep training is simply the process of teaching young children to fall asleep on their own. Some may also use sleep training as a way to wean them off of night feedings and get them to sleep through the night.
It’s actually quite a controversial topic among the parenting community. It’s not something every parent has to do and there are a lot of parents out there who are completely against it as well. But there can be so many benefits to sleep training. One can argue that teaching your little one how to sleep and promoting good sleep habits if one of the best things you can do for them. Critical brain-development periods are dependent on adequate sleep.
Sleep is not only important for your little one’s development, but it’s also important for you and your significant other as well. If everyone in your household is sleeping well then you’re far less likely to feel overwhelmed, anxious, stressed, and/or depressed.
For us, we knew from the start that we’d sleep train Allie and promote good sleep habits with her. So we did our own version of sleep training with her as mentioned above. We didn’t use any formal methods. Instead, we simply followed her cues and taught her how to sleep from the start. We then did a more formal sleep training later on which I’ll get to in a few minutes!
How Old Does My Baby Have To Be To Sleep Train?
Most doctors and professionals will tell you to wait until your baby is at least 6 months old prior to starting any form of sleep training (this is especially true if you’re using the Ferber Method). Prior to that, it’s essential to promote good sleep habits as it will make the sleep training process much easier later on.
What Is The Feber Method?
The Ferber Method is a “cry-it-out” method of sleep training created by Richard Ferber, MD. In short, this method involves leaving your child alone in their crib to “cry-it-out” at increasingly longer intervals. For example on day one it is recommended to check on your baby after three minutes, then five minutes and then 10 minutes. The second day, you’d check in at five minutes, 10 minutes and 12 minutes. By day seven, you’d wait a full 20 minutes on the first try before checking on your baby. This process is called “gradual extinction”.
During each check-in, it’s important to calm your baby, but not pick them up. And it’s important to leave the room again while your baby is still awake. According to Ferber, this process should take about five to seven days and it should lead to your baby being able to put himself to sleep on his own as well as sleeping for longer periods of time.
Why Is The Ferber Method Controversial?
The Ferber Method is easily the most controversial sleep training method out there. Some swear by the Ferber Method and say it’s the only way they were able to get their baby to sleep through the night. Others will compare the Ferber Method to a form of infant torture and there are some studies that show that the Ferber Method could have long-term psychological effects on the child. I know a lot of parents biggest concern is having a child that doesn’t trust them. They feel that making a child cry-it-out will teach them that you’re never going to come for them if they need you (but I’ll explain more about my view on these studies and opinions in the next section).
My Thoughts On The Ferber Method
First and foremost, I want to say again that it is so important to use a method that works best for you and your family! What works for us may not work for you and that’s totally okay! Now with that said, we do not agree with the Ferber Method for babies (under the age of 12 months). That’s probably not the answer you had anticipated given the title and content of this post, but let me explain!
For ages 0-12 months, I do not believe in letting them cry-it-out because (in my opinion), they’re much too young for that. I’m a firm believer in teaching babies how to sleep from the get-go as opposed to waiting until they’re 6 months old and letting them cry themselves to sleep. Babies just don’t understand at that age. But again, if it works for you then do it! Every family is different so don’t let me stop you!
Now for the toddler age, I’m exactly the opposite. Toddlers are a whole new ballgame because they know how to play you! They know you’re not gone forever when you leave a room and they’re able to self-soothe much more effectively as well. Lastly, by this age I find it to be much more challenging to do a “gentler” sleep training method for the simple reason that they’re older and understand how to get their way more easily. We tried for two months to gently get Allie back on track, using the same methods we had used from birth and had zero luck. So this now brings me to how we sleep trained the second time…
How We Sleep Trained The Second Time Around
For our particular case, we chose to go with a modified version of the Ferber Method with Allie. Since she was much older this time around, I felt that the Ferber Method was going to be the best option in getting her sleep under control again and in the quickest way possible.
The big reason we chose this route is that she had both of us wrapped around her finger. As mentioned earlier, she had gotten to a point where we couldn’t just lay her down and walk out anymore. She was very very clingy to us and needed one of us to sit next to her crib and rub her head until she fell asleep. Some nights it would take 30 seconds and other nights it would take 30+ minutes. She also knew that she if cried or tossed her pacifier out of the crib or whatever it may be then one of us would always come running every time. So it was getting super exhausting.
At 15 months, I decided she needed some more formal sleep training to fix the issues we were having (we also used this time to drop the pacifier!). So after doing some research, I decided to go with a modified version of the Ferber Method. Rather than going in every 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, etc. I decided to not go in at all. And here’s why:
Knowing my child and the issues we had been having those two months, I knew that going in would make the situation 10x worse. And it did. I caved in at the 30-minute mark because I felt horrible and it was like starting from square one again. She cried 10x harder and louder once I left that room again so I couldn’t even imagine if I had been going in every 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, etc. It would have made the process take so much longer than it had to.
In addition to deciding not to go into the room at intervals, I also decided to give her a 1-hour limit. So if she wasn’t asleep within an hour then I would go pick her up, turn off the noise machine, open the blinds, etc. and pretend that nap time was “over”. I would then bring her downstairs and let her play for 30 minutes and then do the whole process all over again. I know that sounds so tedious, but I firmly believed it would help us so much more than all the intervals.
The first time we did it was for nap time. Zack was at work so I decided to tackle it on my own. She cried nonstop for the first 10 minutes and then from there, she began crying for a couple minutes and then she’d whimper for a bit, and then she’d go back to crying and then calm down again. This showed me that she was at least trying to soothe herself which was great! That’s what I wanted her to do.
At 55 minutes, she was still crying so I texted Zack feeling a bit defeated in thinking I’d most likely have to go upstairs and get her. But at 59 minutes, the crying had stopped completely. I looked at the monitor and poor girl had fallen asleep standing up (as pictured above). I gave her a few minutes and then went up to lay her back down and she was out for 2/2.5 hours.
That night at bedtime, I decided to pass the monitor off to Zack so I could take a hot shower rather than listening to the tears for another hour. Since I had done the naptime shift, it was his turn with bedtime. This time, Allie only cried for 15 minutes before putting herself to sleep. Half of me was super impressed and happy while the other half was annoyed that she cried an hour for me and only 15 minutes for him! But it is what it is. The following day, she only cried 5 minutes at naptime and that night for bed, she cried for maybe 60 seconds.
24 hours. It only took 24 hours using cry-it-out to get our daughter back on track and let me tell you, it was a huge game-changer for us!
2 Months later
It’s now been two months since we re-trained Allie and let me tell you, life is a million times easier. I had done her training about 2-3 weeks before we moved cross-country which I honestly thought would be the worst time to do it. I didn’t want to spend all this time sleep training and then have it all go out the window once we were in the car for 7 days or once we arrived here in Maine and she wasn’t sleeping in her own room or in her own crib.
But it’s now been 2 months and I am SO happy I did it when we did. It made traveling with her a million times easier. There were some tears at bedtime which made me feel horrible for those in the rooms surrounding us, but the fact that we didn’t have to sit there and rub her head until she fell asleep was so incredibly amazing. Same deal when we arrived in Maine. We’re staying with my MIL at the moment and Allie sleeps here no problem regardless of who puts her down. She’s also slept at Zack’s grandmother’s house which was a little more challenging, but not bad at all.
Nowadays, she doesn’t even whimper when we put her down. She actually gets excited to crawl into bed with her teddy bears at night and for nap time. While I still don’t agree with crying-it-out for babies under 12 months old, it worked wonders for our toddler. And it didn’t affect her trust in us in any way nor does her independence make her any less cuddly.
At the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for your family and your child. Every family is different so what works for us may not work for you. And that’s okay! I’d love to know in the comments…