Top 5 Tips for Sleep Training + Printable Guide
It’s one of those touchy motherhood subjects that isn’t easy for everyone to talk about. And I’m here to tell you, we need to talk about it. Not in a controversial, mom-shaming kind of way. Just an open dialogue for those tired mothers that need some help getting baby to fall asleep and stay asleep.
I know a thing or two about lack of sleep, because I have two small children, a 2-year old and a 3-month old. I didn’t sleep train my first baby; in fact, she pretty much ran the show around here. I did sleep train my new baby, and it has been a complete game changer in my life and home. If you’re a tired new mama and you need some sympathy or some sleep-training direction, I’m here to help.
THE BACK STORY
My oldest babe just turned two. I was determined to exclusively breastfeed her, so of course, I read all of the articles and spoke with lactation consultants to get some perspective. The final consensus was this: let baby breastfeed whenever they want, for as long as they want, to keep your milk supply up.
The only problem was that my baby wanted to breastfeed 24/7. All day. All night. This child nursed for at least 45 minutes, every two hours, all day long. She also used me as a pacifier for naps and night time. If I unlatched her or set her down, she cried until she could nurse again.
Needless to say, it was exhausting, and I felt like the world’s worst mother. I couldn’t shower unless I wanted to listen to her screaming. I couldn’t work unless I propped her up on the boppy pillow and nursed her while sitting at my desk. And I couldn’t even remember what solid sleep felt like. There were some days that we made improvement, but it always felt like one step forward, two steps back.
Obviously, I had no idea what I was doing as a first-time-mom, so I just did what I was told. Let baby nurse for as long as she wanted, whenever she wanted. Our case might be an extreme one, but when I started opening up about my struggle, I was surprised by how many women went through something similar.
Right after my baby turned one, we found out that I was pregnant again (a surprise pregnancy this time)! I was nervous because we were still breastfeeding, and I hadn’t slept soundly in months. I couldn’t help but wonder how I was going to survive another experience like this one.
So I decided to do some research and look for another way to successfully breastfeed my new baby without having him hooked to me all day and night.
WHAT IS SLEEP TRAINING?
Simply put, sleep training is helping your baby learn how to fall asleep on their own, and stay asleep for a healthy amount of time. I say this because babies need sleep. Waking up every fifteen minutes to nurse is not good for them.
It requires some work, hence the term “training” interwoven through this article. And, it isn’t for everyone. Some moms love the constant snuggling and nursing. Other moms have the time and patience to sit under a nursing baby all day and cosleep with a nursing baby all night, for months on end. Power to you, mama!
This article isn’t meant to persuade anyone to choose sleep training over the alternatives. And it isn’t meant to convince you that sleep training is right for every mom and baby. I’m not about that.
The only purpose of this article is to provide some guidance for those mothers that are interested in sleep training their babies.
WHAT SLEEP TRAINING IS NOT
I’d like to clarify something.
Sleep training your child does not mean that you need to put your baby in the crib and let them cry themselves to sleep. It does not mean that you should allow your baby to cry alone, to the point of exhaustion. And it certainly does not mean that you have to let your baby go hungry for the sake of sticking to a rigid feeding schedule.
You can be gentle, you can be loving, you can enjoy baby snuggles, and you can breastfeed on demand.
The real purpose of sleep training is to provide a recognizable routine for your child, so that they learn when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake up. You can sleep train from the day you bring your baby home, whether they are being breastfed or not. However, since I only have experience sleep training a breastfed baby, my suggestions will reflect that.
Note: this article contains affiliate links to products that I use and highly recommend. You can read my full disclosure here.
SLEEP TRAINING TIPS
Here are my top 5 sleep training tips for your baby. I’m saving the best for last and sharing my personal sleep training schedule as tip # 5.
The first days at home with your newborn are not easy. Breastfeeding is hard. Surviving on limited sleep is hard. You need to mentally prepare yourself for the fact that sleep training takes a lot of effort and persistence in the beginning. It pays off though, I promise!
The best thing to do is educate yourself on the pros, cons, and different systems for sleep training. Find some books or articles that resonate with you, bookmark them, and reread them often. You need the reminders of why you’re doing this and how to manage the process. I found a few good articles on sleep training when I was pregnant with my second babe, and I referenced them often, before he was even born. This helped me prepare myself and my family for what was in store.
KEEP BABY AWAKE FOR A FULL FEEDING
This is super important, so reread it again. Do your best to keep baby awake for a full feeding. Newborns are very sleepy most of the time, so this is difficult in the beginning. Focus on engaging with your baby during their feeding to keep them awake. It’s so tempting to just latch them on and then scroll through your Instagram feed, but this typically leads to baby falling asleep and using you as a pacifier instead of filling up their belly with milk. So, resist that phone during these early days. Talk to them, sing to them, tickle their feet or their belly.
If baby is extra sleepy and just wants to sleep nurse, then undress them, change their diaper, and start feeding them again. If baby’s eyes are closed, and you don’t hear him gulping/swallowing milk every 4-5 sucks, then he is sleeping, and you need to put him down…more about that later.
Keeping baby awake is important because it ensures that they suck efficiently, and their belly gets full. A full belly will keep baby content until it’s time for another feeding (more about this in our schedule section below). A full feeding can last anywhere from 15-30 minutes, so keeping baby awake will take effort on your part, but it gets much easier after the newborn phase.
PUT BABY DOWN
If you kept your newborn awake for a full feeding, burped him, and changed his diaper, then he is probably sleepy by now. You want to make sure that baby is awake, but sleepy, when you set him in his bassinet or crib.
This teaches them to fall asleep on their own, without being comforted or using mom as a pacifier. It is true that sometimes, baby just needs to be comforted! So, I’m not telling you to set baby down and let them cry hysterically until they pass out from exhaustion. Nope, I’m not about that either.
I’m simply telling you to work on creating a recognizable routine for your baby. Practice putting baby down in the crib when they are sleepy, and allow them to fall asleep on their own. Baby might fuss a little bit, because he wants to be held. But if he’s fed, and dry, and sleepy, he will most likely fall asleep after a few minutes. There is a big difference between fussing and screaming in distress. You will have to learn your babies cues and tones, and adjust accordingly.
USE WHITE NOISE
I always use the white noise machine for naps and bedtime. We have it on the ocean setting, so it sounds like crashing waves with a heartbeat in the background. Probably a lot like the noises baby heard all day, every day, in my belly. The white noise adds to that routine that we just talked about. I have conditioned my children to recognize that these few simple things mean “bedtime”. This is the white noise machine that we have, and the soft light is perfect for midnight feedings.
STAY ON A SCHEDULE
Staying on a solid schedule is the most important part of sleep training. Remember, we’re trying to help our babies learn to fall asleep on their own and stay asleep for a healthy amount of time (which varies between babies).
A predictable schedule is the best way to do that.
Children thrive on routine and predictability. So again, create a recognizable wake and sleep routine for your baby as soon as you bring him home from the hospital. I’ve outlined my schedule below so that you can use it as your guideline for getting started!
– THE WAKE SCHEDULE
Our “wake” schedule looked like this when we brought our son home from the hospital: Wake, feed, change diaper, play and engage, swaddle, put baby in crib, sleep.
The only exception to this “wake” routine is during the middle of the night. We don’t have any play time during late-night feedings. We keep the room dark, we leave the white noise machine on, and we focus on a relaxed, sleepy environment.
That first few weeks, baby is going to sleep A LOT. You shouldn’t expect to keep your baby awake and engaged for very long. More than likely, you will feed him, change his diaper, snuggle and talk to him for a few minutes, then swaddle him, and put him down for his nap. This is what our “wake” routine looks like now, at three months old.
– THE FEEDING SCHEDULE
Our “feeding” schedule looked like this during the first two months, but we have since dropped one of the middle-of-the-night feedings: FEED AT 12AM, 3AM, 6AM, 9AM, 12PM, 3PM, 6PM, 9PM. We used this as our guideline, but we adjusted based on his feeding cues.
Again, during the late-night feedings, there is no play time. We just feed, change, swaddle, and place baby back in his bed.
You’ll need to create a feeding schedule that works for your family and your baby. Newborn babies need to have a FULL feeding every 2-3 hours, so use that as your guideline and then adjust as needed.
– THE SLEEP SCHEDULE
Our sleep schedule for our baby is always the same, even now. When we notice he is getting sleepy, we change his diaper so that he is dry. Then turn on the white noise machine, swaddle him tight, sing a song, and put him down in his crib while he is still awake. We follow this exact routine every day, so he knows what to expect as soon as that white noise machine comes on. These are the swaddle blankets that we use and LOVE.
Sometimes when I put him down for his nap, he isn’t tired enough to fall asleep right away. We don’t ever let him “cry it out” but we will let him squirm and fuss for a few minutes, just to see if he manages to get comfortable. If not, we pick him up for snuggles, and then start the sleep routine over again. This is what our sleep routine looks like now, at three months old…
It will take a few tries to find what works for you and your baby. The first two weeks will be a bit of trial and error, so keep pushing through. And more than anything, just keep in mind that a solid schedule is always beneficial for a baby.
Are you still with me? I’m so glad! Grab your printable guide from the resource library, as a brief reminder of everything we have covered!
SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER:
Every baby is different. Like I said, my first baby was a very fussy, needy infant. I don’t know if sleep training would have worked for her, but I still wish that I had tried it. You have to make some adjustments along the way and find what works for your baby. Just keep in mind that some form of guidance to help them learn better sleep habits is always a good idea.
You can feed “on demand” and still sleep train. Sleep training doesn’t have to mean that you follow a rigid feeding schedule and let baby go hungry if it’s not their exact feeding time. You should always follow your baby’s hunger cues and feed them when they are hungry. Remember, sleep training is about creating a recognizable schedule so that your baby knows when it’s bedtime and falls asleep without the comfort of nursing.
Sleep nursing is not evil. I personally believe that teaching a baby to sleep without the comfort of nursing is awesome! It gives mom more freedom, and it gives baby more sleeping independence. But, it isn’t for everyone. If you choose to let baby snooze while he’s using you as a pacifier, no judgement here! Do what works for you and your baby.
Full feedings are important. Like I said before, babies need to have a full feeding every 2-3 hours. But, if they aren’t sucking efficiently, and they aren’t filling up their belly, they’re going to be hungry again in 30 minutes. That’s a lot of work for you, mama. Even if you choose to let baby sleep nurse, try to keep them awake and sucking efficiently for a good 15-20 minutes first. This way, they empty the breast and fill up their belly. Everybody wins!
Be flexible. Growth spurts, teething pain, cluster feeding. These are all real things, and they affect your feeding and sleeping schedule. We need to follow a schedule, but we also need to be flexible. Things happen, so roll with the punches.
After the two experiences I’ve had breastfeeding and sleep training (or lack thereof), I can honestly say that I’m a believer in the power of sleep training. Babies need routine, and guidance, and full bellies. These five tips will help you to get on that track and get your baby ready to sleep through the night without nursing.
My boy is now three months old and he sleeps a solid 6 hours each night. I’m sure he would sleep even longer than that if I was more rigid, but I like the snoozy nursing in the early morning, and I don’t want him going longer than six hours without a feeding at this age.
Now, tell me! What are your sleep training tips and tricks? Do you let your baby sleep nurse? Why or why not? Share in the comments! And grab my printable sleep training guide HERE.