Yes I said it. Two little words. Sleep and Training. Two relatively benign words but when you put them together, by crickey you’ve got a shit storm on your hands.
I think I just heard a simultaneous scream of horror (those who haven’t) and a sigh of sweet relief (those who have) from a bazillion mummies around the world. Mention the words ‘sleep training’ and you will generally get either of those 2 responses. Most mothers will conform to one of two camps – the ‘You’re Evil If You Let Your Baby Cry Camp’ or the ‘I’m So Fucking Tired I’m Willing To Do Anything To Get My Baby And Me To Sleep For More Than 2 Minutes Camp’. Sometimes you start off in camp 1, and gradually over time drag your duffel bag over to camp 2.
Let me break it on down for you. Sleep is da bomb. Seriously, we all need sleep and I’ve got to tell it to you straight – I can handle a shitty night sleep now and then, I think I even coped somewhat OK on minimum sleep when T was fresh and squidgy, but I’ll be damned if I can function without decent sleep long term. Hell no! Mumma Bear needs her rest! And quite frankly, so does Baby Bear.
I am here to let you in on a little secret about sleep training. It doesn’t actually have to be an all or nothing affair. Gasp! ‘You mean I don’t have to carve 666 in my forehead and listen to my baby scream bloody murder for hours upon hours?’ I hear you say? Nope, not even.
Now I am going to tell you what sleep training really means….
It means whatever you want it to mean.
If you are happy to have your little one in bed with you so you can cuddle up and sleep together, then you are teaching her your sleep habits.
If you want your little one to be an independent sleeper, then you will have to teach her how to sleep alone in a cot.
If you enjoy nursing your little one to sleep, then you are teaching her to associate booby with bedtime.
If you want to break a habit that is getting too hard to maintain, then you have to reteach her and replace the old habit with something new.
If you want your baby to self settle, then you have to help her learn that skill.
Since when did teaching become a four letter word? We teach our babies to go to the toilet, and that’s OK. We teach them to look both ways and hold our hands when they cross the road, and that is not frowned upon. We teach them about shapes/colours/numbers/letters and applaud their learning, so why is it that when we teach our children how to get a good night sleep, some people want to shoot us dead?
For me, sleep training hasn’t been a point in time when I said, ‘right T, I’m going to stop doing all the happy things that you love and leave you in the dark alone forever and ever until you cry yourself to sleep.’ Hell no, I couldn’t, but we have been sleep training since he was about 5 weeks old. And I say we, because sometimes I train him and sometimes, he trains me.
I have never been interested in co-sleeping. Our bed is for me and D to sleep in, and for sex. And watching TV. Two of those things are not compatible with having T in the bed. Not to mention SIDS risk. Also, I am a super light sleeper and couldn’t cope with waking to every little snuffle he made. D is a serious bed thrasher and T couldn’t cope with that, so he made the move from a bassinet at the end of our bed to his cot in his own room at 6 weeks. Bliss. I could actually sleep for a few hours at a time between feeds.
As I said, at 5 weeks I stopped nursing him to sleep for naps, he was able to go a few hours between feeds so I watched him like a hawk for any sign of tiredness and then zipped him off to bed, put on some lullabies and sat by his cot patting his leg, while I shhed him to sleep. After a couple of weeks he was falling asleep by himself. That my friends, is because I did SLEEP TRAINING with him. Am I evil?
Things haven’t always been fabulous. We have had not-so-great (crap) periods for one reason or another when he struggled to self settle or started waking during the night. And I would, nurse him or rock him or give him that extra long cuddle. If he needed it, I gave it, then it was his turn to train me.
I tell you, they lull you into a false sense of security. You think everything is going along nicely, everyone is getting plenty of rest, it’s all sunshine and rainbows and then BAM! Teething. BAM! Injections. BAM BAM! Sleep regression. BAM! Rolling over in bed. That is when the babies get their own back, they sense your weakness and go in for the kill! ‘I’ll teach you Mummy, I’ll teach you how to function on next to no sleep. Isn’t 2am playtime fun?’
Sleep training doesn’t end once your baby first sleeps through the night. It is constant. It is cyclic. It is a life long skill they need to master. Sleep takes practice, it takes a lot of lessons to get it right.
Sleep training doesn’t have to be the extreme. It can be as gentle as a good night kiss. You can sleep train from an early age or you can do it later if you discover what you’ve been doing is no longer working. You don’t have to pick a camp and stick to it. Babies are forgiving, they are not going to hit you up for extra pocket money at 15 because of that night they cried for a bit a million years ago. They will however, thank you with their big ‘I love you so much’ smile, and their bright eyes when they wake after a big long restful sleep.
So that pretty much sums up what sleep training means to me. It has been a lot of work, but the payoff is that we all get lots of sleep (or I would be getting lots of sleep if I wasn’t up all night blogging). I feel pretty damn proud of myself and what I have taught Baby Bear. He loves his sleep and he loves his little snuggle blanket. And I love him (and sleep).