Sleep training is perhaps the biggest hurdle I’ve had to deal with as a Mama. So much so, that I often preferred staying up late to snuggle + soothe him rather than curl up in the fetal position outside his door, listening to him cry.
I want to share our nocturnal struggles with you because in my experience, we’re never alone (though it may feel that way) + the most encouraging bits to me have been the moments when other Mama’s were completely transparent with me, crossing the lines into my own fears + anxieties, saying “you’re not alone, I’ve been there, too.” I’m honestly fearful of sharing this one because it tends to be a hot button topic that seems to draw judgement or nasty comments. So, if you have nothing nice to say, please don’t. My Mama heart is working on its thicker skin. But I’m just a Mama, doing her best, in need of grace + coffee + a hug.
I laugh at the fact that I once thought the newborn days were the hardest. I know it’s different for everyone but Jack was a natural at nursing + only fussed when hungry + slept well & often. The first two weeks contained the up every 2 hours experience that most parents tearily endure but from there Jack started sleeping in 4-hour increments to 6-hour increments and slept through the night for the first time at two months old. I thought we were gold + continued to “go with the flow” because it seemed to be working for us.
And it was.
Until Mama went back to work + Jack started day care smack dab in the middle of cold season with nothing to show for an immune system (and correct me if I’m wrong but the number of bugs + severity of illnesses seemed way worse this year than others).
This is where for the next 5 months, it was more of the same. Sickness after sickness. Literally, EVERY bug that came around, day care or otherwise, was welcomed by both Jack + I. Fevers, pneumonia, pink eye (3 cases in 6 weeks), ruptured ear drum, flus, colds—we did it all, while teething to boot. And just in case you weren’t aware, it takes a baby much longer to heal than an adult. And it takes a lot longer for an adult to heal when she isn’t sleeping.
What’s more, all of this sickness (though not welcomed at any time) just so happened to occur over those critical sleep training months (3-6months), which took whatever semblance of plan that I had, stomped all over it, tore it up + chucked it out the window.
Now maybe I’m just a sub-par mother and everyone else has a much easier time organizing their thoughts + sticking to plans. But I’ve found that life with babies (or ever, really) goes as planned. Personally, trying to orchestrate a new plan with a needy, sick babe + still get up every morning to prep/travel for my full-time job—it just felt impossible. Through the majority of this time, Andrew was pulling winter hours working a minimum of 70-hour weeks which I was grateful for + appreciated his hard work, but it left Jack + I alone 98% of the time. Work was my only respite, though it was another area in which I felt like I was failing simply because I was exhausted + not thinking clearly.
These were dark days. It broke my heart to watch him suffer + it broke all three of us because we were miserable + sleep deprivation wasn’t helping any of it.
I was utterly overwhelmed + alone + my anxiety would escalate at the flip of a switch.
Around 7 months, the weather started to change + Jack wasn’t so sick or nearly as often. It was also around this time that I started to feel somewhat more grounded + saw the need to get back to the sleep training that we were so sorely in need of. It was also by this time that Jack had developed some nasty habits during his many illnesses. I do not regret for a minute that I held my baby while he suffered or apologize for the fact that we were just surviving—doing whatever it took to sleep + feel better. But it did put us in a predicament when Jack suddenly realized “I’m supposed to sleep alone…WAT?” *cue trauma*
We tried a variety of things to help. Distraction, soothing him to sleep before putting him down, baths with Lavender before bedtime, calming tablets, a favorite lovey, a certain bedtime routine complete with our special song. Our doctor counseled us to gently insert the CIO method by laying him down when he was sleepy, but not asleep + letting him cry it out as long as he wasn’t getting too worked up—which he always did. I cycled through various trains of thought—“If my baby needs me, than it’s my job to take care of him,” “Maybe Jack is just one of those kids that doesn’t like/need sleep,” “Maybe it’s too late to train him + now I have to deal with the consequences.” Then there were Mama’s who didn’t believe in sleep training + caused me to question everything that I thought I knew. I certainly wanted him to know that I was always there for him + I didn’t agree with prioritizing my convenience over Jack’s needs.
On top of these insecurities, and yes—continued sleep deprivation, Andrew + I were often frustrated with each other in the midst of our general frustration with the situation. Which often resulted in lots of miscommunication. Nothing made me more upset than Andrew comparing Jack to another baby who is “younger + sleeping through the night.” This was Andrew’s way of expressing “I know it doesn’t have to be this way, WHY is it?” But on the flip side, I felt like it made little of our 5-month illness-ridden nightmare + little of our precious, baby boy.
For the record, no baby is alike. I hope that you don’t have to go through what we went through. But don’t ever feel the need to keep up with the Joneses, focus on your family + use your God-given smarts + instinct.
Life continued in our survival mode. Some nights seemed better + would make me optimistic. While others would find me waking up in a chair with my boob out + an awful kink in my neck. It was a mixed bag + you never knew what you would get. The best way to describe his sleep was “restless.” Co-sleeping had been the answer for us in early months with all of the late-night feedings but now, even that wasn’t helping.
After the 8-month mark, it was clear that now Jack was training us by crying. He started implementing this throughout the day + whenever he wanted held. Which made it extremely hard to tell if he was crying to cry or because he was hurting from teething. Then it started spiraling into full-blown tantrums. Both Andrew + I have a bit of a temper and I fear that both of us resulted in an ugly temper in Jack. It was getting worse. I knew that it needed to change. And it was so much harder on my Mama heart than I ever thought it would be.
To this date, I had been focused only on getting him used to sleeping in his crib full-time. With being sick so often, we had been all over the place with sleep locations (couch, pack n’ play, co-sleeping, crib), basically whatever worked. Also, because his room doesn’t have forced heat or air, and some nights were just way too cold for him even with the heater running. So, I had spent the last month getting him used to just being in his room—knowing that this is where he slept now. I planned to focus on implementing a strict bedtime after a few weeks of getting used to the crib.
I always thought I would own that CIO method, because I do believe that it’s best for babe to learn to sleep. But then I got to know him, held him through his worst nights, attend to his every need. It was my pleasure. My job. This was my miracle babe + I had the privilege to take care of him. Yes, I need sleep. But I would much more readily sacrifice if it meant something good for Jack.
However, at this point, I knew that Jack wasn’t getting the kind of sleep he needed either. He was starting to take short, restless naps. He was anxious around bed time. He fought sleep (both day + night). He anticipated being put down + would start to cry before he ever hit the mattress. I realized that the day had come to implement full on, extinction method.
That night, I did all the usual stuff. Turned on his diffuser/night light, changed him into his pj’s, snuggled him while we sang our special song, and rocked around the room while he started to drift. Then I went to put him into his crib with his lovey, ever so gingerly, somehow hoping he wouldn’t notice that I had put him down and the instant I let go…TRAUMA. I determined in my heart to let him soothe himself so I left the room + curled up on my bed, watching the monitor, crying all the tears with him. Then we heard a disturbing clunk, followed by even more horrifying screams. We weren’t 100% certain until 10 seconds later it happened again, even louder, and I realized that he was now banging his head off of the crib rail in a fit of anger/stress. That was about all my Mama heart could handle though Daddy got to him first. The rest of the hour was spent wiping tears + consoling. I did get him to sleep + into the crib, to be woken up a few hours later, at which point, he ended up just staying with me. He also sported a nice welt on his lip to day care, so I’m sure they think I’m quality Mama material.
The next day, I found a new resolve. I stumbled upon an extremely helpful + understanding blog that doesn’t force CIO but instead prioritizes helping your child move past their fears + anxieties to self soothe via consistency. It helped me to understand the issue of “object permanence” and why Jack is struggling—therefore, how to better help him. If you’re interested in this blog/book which was extremely resourceful for me, you can read it HERE.
All day I had been preparing myself for a night of trauma. Knowing that it will be better in the end if I can power through it. I picked Jack up from day care, found that he had only napped for 30 minutes around noon (meaning, he was EXTREMELY TIRED). I had to run to Walmart for a few things and knew I needed to keep him awake so that he would be tired enough to go bed when we got home. This was not well received. His car seat is the usual trigger for, “relax + sleep.” But I pulled him out and plopped him in the cart with a crunchy to distract him. We made it through Walmart via a bunch of crunchies + a rice cracker. Upon getting back into the car seat—at which point, I knew that he would be both hungry + tired—trauma ensued. Our entire 30-minute commute involved crying + gnashing of teeth. I settled in my resolve and pushed forward.
The timing was perfect to start with the bedtime routine + have him settled in by 8PM. We pulled in the driveway; I immediately went in + nursed the poor guy. Then proceeded to change diapers + wipe down + put on our special PJ’s. All done in misery because he was bloody tired. We went up to his room, turned on his diffuser (which is also his night light) with Gentle Baby diffusing. Then I basically drenched him in oils. Lavender + Gentle Baby massaged into his feet, spine and back of neck to help him relax + encourage peace. Valor on the chest to help ground him. Copaiba on his jawline to soothe any teething pains. While I was doing this, Andrew wrapped the crib railing in pool noodles to protect Jack’s noggin against any future tantrums. Then we read our three bedtime books—ending with Goodnight Moon. Sang our two songs, “I Love You a Bushel and a Peck” + “Deeper than the Holler.” Rocked around the room a few times, explained that it was time for bed, that Mama & Dada were just in the next room, that we love him + then laid him in his crib.
Naturally, he wasn’t a fan. And stood up immediately holding out his arms to be held. But I shook off the urge + gently laid him back down. At this point, I left. I knew he would continue to get up so beyond conveying that I wanted him to lay down, there was no reason to keep doing so.
Honestly, his crying was not as traumatizing as it had been in the past. I felt peace about what we were doing and the purpose. And I knew that he had everything he needed + that he would be fine.
I would full on prepared for HOURS of tears. But we were completely shocked when after 15 minutes of light crying, he simply dropped and went to sleep. *hallelujah chorus*
The rest of the night went really well. He still woke up twice to eat (around 11 + 2) which I expected. After he ate, I laid him back in his crib. He cried for about a minute each, then literally crumbled into a little baby heap and went back to sleep. I gave it a few minutes then went back in to make him more comfortable. I assume even baby’s get kinks in the neck from sleeping awkwardly.
He ended up sleeping 8-6. At 6AM, Andrew retrieved him and I nursed him in bed. I’m fine with this because it’s morning at this point + I really look forward to our early AM snuggles. He fell back to sleep snuggling with Daddy and didn’t wake up until I had to wake him up at 7:30 to get ready for day care.
Each night since then has gone better. Even though he isn’t thrilled about going to bed, he quickly adjusted to the schedule + knows the signs. He calms down while we read our books + it’s become one of my favorite parts of the day, one final snuggle session before bedtime. He started only waking once, around 2am—I anticipate that this will continue to improve with another week or so. His naps have improved drastically, twice a day at least one hour each (sometimes over two hours)—mainly at home, because you can only do so much about day care distractions. He now sleeps from 8PM to 7AM, at least.
I’ll add that we stuck to the extinction method for the first four or five days. Since then, we stick to the routine. Same books + everything. But I don’t mind rubbing his back as he falls to sleep and if he’s crying for longer than a few minutes, this usually mean something is up.
I am optimistic + hopeful + RESTED. Which means that both Jack + parents are in better moods and can actually enjoy the waking time we have together. I know that going forward, this will only help us work towards other things. And dang it, just be happier without the utter need for caffeine + zombie like thought processes.
Here are the oils that we consistently use to help us prepare for bedtime—paired with some good old consistency, it’s made all the difference.
OILS for BEDTIME
Combination of *Lavender + Peace & Calming: massage into feet + down the spine + back of neck to promote relaxation + restfulness.
*Valor: apply to chest to help ground emotions.
*Copaiba: rubbed into jawline for teething nights.
Gentle Baby or Sleepyize: Diffuse a 2-3 drops throughout the night, I restart the diffuser during our middle of the night feeding.
*I loosely dilute all of Jack’s oils using 7-8 drops of carrier oil to 1 drop of oil. For more gentle oils, like Lavender—I use less.
OILS for BATH NIGHTS
We typically bath every other night, sometimes less if Jack’s not dirty and his skin is sensitive. But when we do, I fit the bath in about 30 minutes before bed because what is more relaxing than a lavender scented bubble bath?
Seedlings Wash & Shampoo: a half pump into his bath water, it’s concentrated + this sufficiently suits his bath in a regular tub. We love that it’s gentle on his skin + potent with Lavender.
Seedlings Baby Oil + Lotion: after his bath, I rub this lotion into his skin which already has Lavender in it. I’ll also add a drop or two of Peace & Calming into my palm so I don’t need to apply it separately later. I ALWAYS use the oil on his head (we’ve never had any cradle cap issues) and I’ll use the oil on his skin whenever he is especially dry (i.e. Winter).
Then I just continue with our bedtime routine (Valor, Copaiba, Gentle Baby) as listed above.
If you’re still working through some night time struggles, hang in there, Mama! You’re doing great + it will all work out in the end. XOXO