*NOTE* I meant to publish this nearly a year ago (soon after J started sleeping through the night), but now that he’s almost two, I figured I’d better finally hit publish on this post. Below is what I wrote earlier this year (and finished today so I can’t remember the details as well now) and I hope it will possibly help some sleep-deprived parent out there.
After 13 and a half months, it finally happened–Jaylen slept through the night! We didn’t really do any kind of sleep training, but I did start following a “plan” in January (after Jaylen got better from having hand, foot, mouth disease) that I somehow found online. It’s from Dr. Jay Gordon, who supports attachment parenting.
Since Jaylen started drinking cow’s milk after his first birthday, I wanted to start weaning him from night nursing. We didn’t really like the “cry it out” method, so when I found Dr. Gordon’s article, I thought it sounded more do-able for us. He doesn’t advocate doing any kind of sleep training until your baby is older (like 12 months or older), which makes sense to me. I also continued to night nurse because I wasn’t pumping as much milk during the day when I was at work since Jaylen was at least 8 months old and knew he wasn’t taking in much milk while I was gone. Obviously he could go for 11-12 hours without drinking milk, but I was concerned he wasn’t getting the daily amount of milk he needed so I think he really needed to get those calories and nutrition at night. Even though it means I didn’t really sleep well for over a year, it’s worth the sacrifice. Plus now I sometimes miss those nights when I’d get to hold him in my arms because now he’s usually still sleeping when I leave for work (if I don’t need to drop him off at the babysitter’s) and that means I don’t see him for nearly 24 hours when I get home!
So for parents who want to try this more gentle version of sleep training, basically Dr. Gordon says you should choose a period of time when you want to get continuous sleep like 11 pm to 6 am. I also went with those hours because sometimes I’m still awake before 11 anyway. So after you put your baby to bed, if he wakes up any time before 11 pm (even at 10:58), you can go in and do whatever you usually would do to help him sleep (rock, nurse, etc.). Then between 11 pm to 6 am, you follow the following guidelines:
If your baby wakes, you can nurse, but do it for shorter periods of time. I would go in and only nurse him for one minute (it was also easier for me to keep track of this since I was counting the seconds in my head). Then you can hug him, rock him, etc. but make sure you put him down awake. That wasn’t a problem for us because even after nursing, Jaylen usually went down awake and would fall asleep on his own. He was typically waking 1-2 times a night at this point. For these first few days, you can only repeat this pattern after the baby has slept. This can be challenging if your baby fights this new way of sleeping (understandable though), but stick with it!
Again, stop nursing to sleep at 11 p.m. When your baby wakes, hug and cuddle him, but do not feed him, and put him down awake. Since I’m writing this part nearly a year after we did this sleep training, I can’t remember exactly how these few nights went, but eventually Jaylen did sleep without needing to eat. I think I also offered him water instead of breastmilk at night. When he realized he wasn’t getting milk, he decided to just sleep. It was hard staying in his room to comfort him when I’d rather be sleeping, but in the end it was worth it.
We didn’t even have to continue the plan (which has instructions for nights 7, 8, 9, and 10). At this point, Jaylen started sleeping 11-12 hours straight a night. Of course, I thought the first night was a miracle and tried not to expect it to happen again (from past experience), but it did! We do have our moments and weeks of not sleeping (like from sickness or random night wakings), but they are fewer and definitely nothing like those first 13 months of his life.
I recommend reading Dr. Gordon’s article since he gives better descriptions and instructions than I do here, but this method worked for us and if I have another future kid that’s not a great sleeper, I will definitely try this again after the baby turns a year old.
So if you are currently a sleep-deprived parent of an infant, don’t worry–you will sleep again someday. It definitely won’t be the same kind of sleep you got before you had kids, but it will be better than now. My only problem now to getting more sleep is getting myself to bed earlier!