How to Train a Monster (aka, your nighttime, never sleeps, monster BABY)
(Content guide - postpartum mood disorder, infant loss related to sleep safety mentioned briefly)
My name is Lizzy. I’m 36 years old, and on September 4, 2017 after 27 hours of labor and a c-section, I gave birth to the sweetest baby boy I’d ever laid my eyes on.
Little did I know: that sweet baby boy was really a monster in disguise.
The beginning months were the usual struggles – the nightmare that is breastfeeding (it didn’t work for us; lots of tears.) The stress of being new parents. The sleep deprivation.
The sleep deprivation.
My monster took this to a whole new level. It took us almost 11 months to get this “child” to sleep through the night. We did it all. I’m certainly no expert in sleep training, but here are a few tips I learned along the way.
The Rock N’ Play, Friend and Foe
In the beginning, this is the only thing the monster would sleep in, and when he was sleeping in it, he slept well. Things were great; I imagined ways to create a larger one for him to transition into. I imagined him bringing it to college. Our pediatrician shut us down around month four when she told us it was time to get him out. “He’ll roll and suffocate,” she said. My postpartum anxiety felt personally attacked.
Transitioning him from sleeping in a cozy half propped position to a flat, wide open position was a nightmare. Even in a swaddle. He woke up every hour, for three days straight. Three days. Some peoples babies transitioned like it was nothing. We are not talking about them, we’re talking about monsters. Monsters don’t transition to anything without a fight. Use a bassinet or the crib from day one. Learn from me.
Do a little Research
There’s a bunch of different ways to give this a go – Ferber, extinction, the sleepy lady shuffle. There are a few Facebook groups out there dedicated to sleep training. WARNING: Facebook sleep training groups are, in my experience, pretty… well... extreme. Take what you can from it and leave the rest.
To cry or not to cry
That is the question, right? Sleep training is awful, there’s no denying that. But it is your friend. We tried to sleep train baby monster at four, five, six, and seven months old. The first night was horrible, so we bailed. Consistency is key. If we had stuck with it the first time, our chunk would’ve powered through it and it probably would’ve taken way less time than it actually did. If you do it when they are younger, they still have their swaddle to keep them cozy. Oh, and: they can’t stand up. That’s a big one.
Also, once you decide which method you want to do, you can change it if it’s not working. We tried Ferber and every time we went in there, our son would get so pissed, he would scream with the fury of a thousand suns. He couldn’t settle himself down after. When we did finally sleep train him at 10.5 months old, we did extinction, and it worked like a charm.
Give it time
Lots of sleep training books, apps, or (worse) sleep training Facebook groups love to tell you that it only takes about three days to sleep train your baby. While every child is wildly different, I will say three days is probably not true. For us, it took 13 days to go to bed without drama. 13 days seems like a very long time, but for about eight or nine of those days, there was about max 10 minutes of crying, and it wasn’t real crying. We started to think of his end of the night crying as him processing his day. Babies can’t do it like adults, so who’s to say that he’s not in there thinking about that second animal cracker he should’ve eaten instead of thrown on the floor? After about 13 days, he went to bed without a peep. Just a big kiss and he would lay right down. We do let him have his bottle in his crib, which we will be weaning him off. (Pediatricians don’t recommend this for dental reasons, FYI. At this stage in the game, I don’t give a rat’s ass because it helps him get to sleep.)
You do you, Boo
Listen, everyone and I mean, everyone, has an opinion about how to teach your monster how to sleep. It’s all a bunch of horse shit, really. You have to do what works best for you. So, if co-sleeping is your jam and you’re doing it safely, then snuggle in! If you just can’t bear to listen to your child cry, I hear you on that one too. Your baby will eventually get there. The question really is, how long can you last without sleep?
Hang tough, lil parents
Teaching your monster, or even just your regular baby, to sleep is extremely difficult. It’s hard on you. It’s probably not that hard on them, though. Every day my monster wakes up, its with a big smile on his face and a giant sloppy good morning kiss for me. I haven’t noticed any changes in his behavior due to letting him cry it out and there’s lots of evidence out there that says it’s not harmful for your baby. My monster is a new man when he wakes up from 12 hours of sleep or one of his two daytime hour naps. He loves to sleep in his room and in his crib, something I literally never thought we would achieve, ever, because we had so many sleep problems prior to this.
You are still good at this
Hear me now, you are still a good parent, even if you’re up all night with your eight month old. I used to always say, “I’d feel like I was a successful parent if he slept through the night.” That was really cool of me to just discredit all of my hard work during the day because he would wake up two or three times a night, right? NOPE. You’re crushing this parenting thing, its super hard and super stressful and you are slaying it.
Naps come later: this is vital advice. Sleep train first, nap train second. It’s like sleep training during the day. We started about a week after he was totally sleep trained and then it took about a week. Game changer.
Helpful hints and disclaimers: I am not a sleep expert or a baby expert or any kind of expert at all, really. These are my own experiences. But here are a couple of things I think are important to share: It is not recommended by my pediatrician to let a baby cry it out before they are four months old because they just don’t know how to do that yet. Also, co-sleeping, as in bedsharing, has risks. They can be fatal. If you do decide to bedshare, please research how to keep your family safe and talk to your doctor. Always practice safe sleeping standards. Baby should sleep in a safe space with no loose blankets or clothing, bassinet sides should be breathable, no toys or blankets should be in your baby’s crib until approved by your pediatrician. Baby should sleep on their back until they can roll by themselves. Always discuss changes in your baby's sleeping habits and environments with your pediatrician.