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Our Sleep Journey: Battling Newborn Sleep, The 4 Month Sleep Regression, and Sleep Training

I feel like, for the past month, all I’ve talked about is Scarlett’s sleep. You really don’t have any idea how much of a role sleep plays in your life until you aren’t getting any, or your schedule revolves around it. You also don’t realize how little you can survive on until you’re forced to.

Scarlett has never been the best sleeper, but her 4th month was rock bottom for us. She spent over a week sick, I spent a week sick, and when I was still recovering, she hit the 4th-month sleep regression. While that was happening, she received her 4-month vaccines. There was a solid two week period where she barely slept unless Brett and I held her, and even then to get her to sleep we had to walk. Not sit, not rock, walk. It. Was. BRUTAL. I can’t tell you how many times my husband called me out for being negative or pessimistic, and he had every right to. That just increased the mom guilt – I couldn’t get my baby girl to sleep, and I couldn’t make myself be hopeful or happy either.

I almost thought the baby blues were coming back. My emotions were running high all of the time. I cried pretty much daily. Scarlett definitely cried most of the day. I woke up each morning dreading the night ahead. I was terrified that I was going to wish this time with Scarlett away. Every day, I reminded myself that it would pass, every day I looked forward to when she was older.

But I wasn’t okay with that – I wanted to enjoy my baby now. I wanted to soak up 4 and 5 month old Scarlett, not just older Scarlett. More than anything, I didn’t want to resent Scarlett, and I was scared that I was getting close to that. I’m embarrassed to admit that and felt so guilty because of it. It didn’t change how much I loved her, it was just my frustration was so deeply set and my hope was so far gone that resentment is what I resorted to. So, Brett and I decided to make some changes.

I purchased 3 different baby sleep books and read them all cover to cover. I reached out to mom friends, blog readers, and most importantly, our pediatrician. I googled topics constantly. And I prayed. I prayed every nap. I prayed between every nap. I prayed all night. I begged. And now, I can SO happily say that I’m writing this around 8:00 at night while my baby is sleeping in her crib, not 10 minutes after putting her down.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of our journey, I want to share what I think we did WRONG. I have started so many schedule posts, but I didn’t want to share them because what we were doing wasn’t worth sharing – I didn’t feel like I had a clue as to what was right. Our schedule was always based on getting Scarlett to eat, and I don’t think many babies refuse quite like she does. So next go-round, this is what I’d change.

** Please note, these are solely my opinions. Take it all with a grain of salt! I have most certainly learned that every baby is unique! 

What we did WRONG in getting our baby to sleep

  1. Used a Rock N Play. I’ve had friends and family members say that this was a great success for them. Us? Nope. Scarlett never loved it, and all it did was provide a crutch. She liked the swing more when she was awake, the Rock N Play was solely something she liked to sleep in. It just got her used to movement, so she then craved it whenever she slept. Next baby we will be purchasing a bassinet or be using the Pack N Play!
  2. Rocked her constantly. This is on me, I know. I love rocking Scarlett and I spent so much time the first couple of months doing that. Especially when I needed her to sleep so I could feed her. She got spoiled to the movement and to me.
  3. Let her sleep in our bed. Yes, I know, this is a big no-no for a lot of people. But when she woke up at 4 AM and wouldn’t go to sleep, Brett and I both were a-okay with her snuggling up with us. We needed our sleep too. While some of these moments are our most precious memories of the first month home, we got her used to that too.
  4. Only put her down already asleep. I think Scarlett was placed down a total of about 5 times still awake – we would always hold or rock her to sleep first. Of course she would grow attached to that, we made it happen! We didn’t want to hear her cry (colic stinks!), so we made it so we wouldn’t as much as we could.
  5. Use blanket swaddles. NOW. This isn’t like a 100% wrong thing. I kind of loved bundling her up in pretty blankets. However, she, like most babies, is a houdini and can get out of them so easily. This woke her up a lot – either the effort it took to get unswaddled or the moro relfex once she did. Next go-round, I’d try velcro swaddles like the Ollie from the beginning. (My favorite blanket swaddle was BY FAR Milkbarn. They were the biggest and grew with her the easiest. They also kept her warm!)

I know that a lot of the first few months were our learning process – we had no clue what to do, as many new parents don’t. We did what we needed to in order to survive that day and night. Hindsight, I wish I would have researched more pre-birth. Read the books. Knew what to expect.   I also wish I wasn’t so hesitant or scared when it comes to her. Now that we’ve taken the risk to sleep train? It’s one of the best decisions we’ve made yet for her.

**On that note, another book that has proven really helpful is Moms On Call. We’re using it for introducing solid foods to her! I would recommend it as well! 

Our decision to sleep train and why we picked the Sleep Wave

Most sleep training methods recommend beginning when the baby is 4-6 months old. Scarlett is definitely on the low end of that spectrum, but the regression didn’t give us much of a choice. She was up at least 10 times during the night and would not sleep for a period longer than 45 minutes. We needed it, but more importantly, she needed it. It was so hard to watch her struggle, knowing she just needed more sleep but couldn’t figure out how to get it. She woke up crying every single time. After discussing it with our pediatrician (and calling the nurse to double check) we decided to go ahead and start.

There’s mainly two schools of thoughts when it comes to sleep training: attachment parenting and cry-it-out. We were already living the life of attachment parenting and it wasn’t getting us very far in regard to sleep. I think that if Scarlett didn’t have colic or a hard time sleeping and we weren’t used to her crying, sleep training would have been much more difficult. But we were hearing tears alllll night long, so the thought of bearing through a little crying wasn’t quite as terrifying. We also wanted something quick. However, the thought of putting her down, closing the door, and leaving her to just cry was not something I was in any way comfortable with. So we picked something in the middle.

In terms of finding that sweet spot for sleep training that isn’t shut the door and let her cry, but also isn’t soothe her and be consistently present, we gravitated toward the Ferber method and the Sleep Wave. Ferber, I believe, has you place the infant in the crib and leave the room. If they cry, you start off with a 2-minute check in, and then increase from there, with a time cap (around 15ish minutes I believe) that you stay at until the crying stops and the baby is asleep. I’ve heard of a lot of success with this method.

The Sleep Wave method is from the book, The Happy Sleeper. We selected this because I supported the idea that the book claimed: the baby never feels abandoned by you. The method follows these basic guidelines (and please note, while I’m giving you an overview, I’d HIGHLY recommend getting the book if you choose this method! I’ve referred back to it for so many things in this process, and truly read it cover to cover!):

Establish a set routine for the evening. Ours follows this pattern: bath, PJs, feed, diaper change, sleep sack, book, sound machine, lights, sing and rock (for the duration of Jesus Loves Me), and place in crib. It takes about 15-30 minutes total. Yours can be much shorter, we just wanted something that really set bedtime apart. As she gets older, we might include a small playtime into it.

Decide on a script. This is what you’ll say every time you lay the baby down, and every time you check on them when crying. Ours is “We love you, Scarlett. Sweet dreams, sleep tight!” I say this every time I put her down for naps, too.

Leave the room. If the baby starts crying, you time them for 5 minutes. At that 5-minute mark, you walk back in and repeat the script by the crib. No touching, no picking up, just reminding them that you are there. You repeat this as long as they are crying. If they stop crying, you restart the timer.

You follow this pattern exactly every night until it sticks, and then continue after that. I liked this because of how it combined the two theories. Scarlett was still having to cry, which sucked, but we were never forsaking her. We were still answering her cries, just not in the way she was used to.

I’m going to be completely honest, the first night we started I felt absolutely sick to my stomach with anticipation of listening to my baby cry. That was the worst. Thankfully, Brett did almost all the check-ins that night. I would go in occasionally so she would know I was still there too.

Our first night, we put Scarlett down at 8:30. She stayed awake for an hour and a half, crying only 45 minutes. She woke up again at 11:45 and refused to feed. She stayed awake until 1, crying a total of about 25 minutes continuously. She woke up again at 1:20, fed, and went to sleep right away. She woke up again at 7, fed, and slept till 9. While the crying was hard to listen to, it was worth it to see her finally sleep for longer than 45 minutes.

The Happy Sleeper says that the fastest way to get the baby truly sleep trained is to implement the Sleep Wave during naps too. As I stay home with her, we had that opportunity. You guys – this was the worst part. On the first day, she cried 45 minutes and didn’t have a nap. The book advises to try again 45 minutes later, so we did, and she cried 30 minutes before falling asleep. I felt like the meanest mom in the world. I just kept telling myself it would be worth it for her to finally sleep. It would be worth it. I also complained to Brett about 100 times.

It paid off, because that night, she went to sleep immediately without any tears. Let me be clear: the second night of sleep training, we didn’t have to check on her ONCE. She woke up twice during the night and fussed a little during those times, but never did she flat-out cry for 5 minutes. Brett and I didn’t know what to do with that kind of sleep!! Neither did Scarlett.

Naps the following day followed in suit: she would fuss, but never long enough for me to check on her. Her little voice was hoarse from crying the day before, and that broke my heart constantly. But seeing her fall asleep on her own reminded me of the why: because this was better for Scarlett.

It’s been almost a week now, and you guys… we haven’t had to check on Scarlett again after that first day. Some naps she fusses off an on for about ten minutes, but she often falls right asleep. She used to get overtired and fight sleep for naps or bedtime – that isn’t so much of a problem anymore. Now, when she’s really tired, that just helps her fall asleep faster. It is amazing to watch her wake up occasionally throughout the night and soothe herself right back to sleep, which is the whole purpose of sleep training. Truly amazing.

It’s the biggest blessing, y’all. It’s completely turned our days around. Scarlett is happier, I’m more productive, I don’t feel like I’m walking on eggshells, and we have a schedule that is much more manageable. I’m glad we waited until when we did due to her maturity, timing of the regression, and timing of vaccines, but it was the best decision.

What we’ll do differently next time

I’ve most certainly learned that every baby is different. However, next time we have a baby (a few years down the road, that is) I’ll definitely have a better idea of what to expect and what to aim for. For starters, we’ll start with a bassinet. I used our DockATot some throughout our house, but I’ll plan on using it more. It’s a happy medium of that snug feeling without the rocking crutch. I’ll also make more of an intentional effort to put the baby down drowsy from the beginning. I know, as a newborn, they need those snuggles, but I can practice self-soothing much more than I did! I wouldn’t sleep train earlier than we did, because I feel like we began that at a developmentally appropriate time for Scarlett. Who knows, because we had such a crazy sleeper this go-round, maybe the Good Lord will grant us an easy one;)!

Friends, thank you for all the advice and support as we’ve conquered this sleep adventure! And most importantly, thank you for the prayers! If you have any questions about our experience or decisions, please let me know!

 

 

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