With my first two babies, I followed Babywise principles* to put them on a schedule, and it involved a fair bit of crying-it-out, especially with Scout Kid (the Feral Kid sucked his thumb after about three months, so cried a lot less). When the Blue Jay Baby rolled in, having hung around with a lot of gentle/attachment parents and perhaps with a little of the indulgence that comes with your last child, I very much wanted to avoid all that crying. At the same time, I’m a lousy mother on little sleep, and having been used to scheduling, I wasn’t exactly ready to let sleeping-through-the-night disappear over the horizon, so I wondered– could I train the Blue Jay Baby to sleep all night without using crying it out?**
At just shy of five months, the Blue Jay Baby is STTN most nights, though occasionally we still get a waking sometimes between 4 and 6am. So, yes! I can. Here’s what I did:***
- Sleep-Eat-Wake Schedule: Starting from birth, I fed on demand, but strove to do two things: provide a full feeding (so, feeding her as long as possible, which meant changing diapers between sides, sometimes undressing/joggling/talking to her to get as much milk as possible into her before she fell into that unshakeable newborn sleep) and trying to have a wake-time after feeds. (Again, at the newborn phase, sometimes that just doesn’t happen, but we’d do bathtimes, changes of clothes, chats, etc., immediately after feeds.) Key in this system (Babywise calls it ‘Sleep-Eat-Wake’, or SEW) is not doing a waketime during the night. This means that by the time baby is two weeks old, they should be in the habit of falling right back to sleep after their night feeds, and having their more wakeful/alert times during the day.
- Emphasized Timing of Sleep: I used the first month to focus on the that of sleep, and the when of sleep, before worrying about the where of sleep. That’s a fancy way of saying, I was quite happy to do whatever it took to help her sleep, instead of worrying much about ‘good sleep habits’. What this looked like for us was co-sleeping in the early weeks, plenty of wearing her in my Moby wrap and my (lovely, lovely, highly recommended!) Beco Gemini, and rocking her. I did try to put her in bed when she was drowsy (so, babywear/rock her until she was on the edge of slumber and then transfer her to her crib. That way she was still accustomed to dropping off to sleep in her bed, and wasn’t freaked out waking up there.)
- Assisted Her In Falling Asleep: I was never reluctant to help the Blue Jay Baby when she needed it. Knowing she was used to sleeping in her bed, and accustomed to doing her drifting off there, if she was crying, I’d go and rock her. If that didn’t settle her, I’d nurse her. Having learned that overtiredness releases adrenaline, I figured nursing would release calming hormones to counteract that, and that I’d just left her too long, past the point when she could go to sleep without help. Some days, this was frustrating, when it was clear that she was tired but couldn’t seem to get off to sleep, but these times have gotten less frequent as she grows older and more comfortable with her schedule.
- Let Her Fuss Sometimes: Although I never left her if she got into full-blown crying, if she was just fussing (off-and-on, fading/gentle crying vs. constant crying in increasing intensity) I’d let her do this for about 10 minutes. Often it was just the grizzling of a sleepy baby (and she’d even have been doing similar in my arms before I put her down) and she’d put herself to sleep if left.
- Miscellaneous: I try to put her down after she yawns a couple times. Sometimes, it’s a miscue, but often it is a good indicator that she’s ready. If she won’t sleep when I think she’s tired, I will try an extra feed. Sometimes what I mistook for tired fussing was hungry fussing, and with a milk top up, she can be awake and happy for another 15-45 minutes. She sleeps with a blackout curtain and white noise– I’ve been told they learn to sleep through noise, but I’ve never seen it, and I certainly don’t expect that of myself, so why would I of my baby? Lastly, the Blue Jay Baby slept on her tummy from birth (except when we were co-sleeping.) I know many wouldn’t be comfortable with the SIDS risk, but we were fine on all the other risk factors (ethnicity, gender, temperature, sleep environment, substances, etc) and I decided I was comfortable with the small risk. She would startle herself awake all the time on her back, even tightly swaddled.
- Timing: The Blue Jay Baby started STTN with reasonable reliability at about four and a half months. The Babywise CIO method is supposed to get results around 12 weeks, but honestly, with neither of my older babies did I find they were really reliable until after seven months, and so this time I was willing to trade off the angst of feeling like they should be sleeping through because they already had against the later STTN the Blue Jay Baby did.
- Where We Are Now: The Blue Jay Baby is on a rough schedule in which she has three naps a day. Usually at least one is two hours, and the other two are between 45 and 90 minutes. I put her down no less than an hour after she wakes up, but sometimes it’s longer than two hours before she’s ready. She goes down around 7pm, and wakes around 7am the next day. She sometimes needs me to rock her to the edge of sleep, and sometimes she can get there without help.
So, that’s what worked for us. I hope it’s helpful for someone. Happy to answer any questions or provide more details on how it all played out, just ask away in the comments! And if you have any tried-and-true baby sleeping tips, again, love to hear them.
*I don’t like the tone or philosophies of the Babywise books much, but from a practical scheduling perspective, they worked for me.
**I’m not against some fussing and as a third baby, the Blue Jay has to deal with waiting for her siblings, so it’s not like she’s never left to cry, but I’m not using it as a sleep training method. Just, like, a ‘well, sometimes life is tough,’ thing.
***Every kid is different, of course, so please don’t read this as me saying, ‘Oh, here’s how you get your baby to STTN.’ I’m sharing this in the hope that some of these tips will be helpful for some people, not to suggest this is the only way.