If you'd asked me 3 months ago if I would consider sleep training my answer was a solid "no." But something changed, and sleep training has been the best decision I've made so far.
Let me begin by saying I am not an expert, or a professional. This post is simply meant to share our experience with Hazel's sleep patterns and habits and what has been working for us. Personally I have always sought out personal experience from others who've gone through similar situations, regardless of what the situation may be, paired with reading literature from professionals. I find that somewhere in there is a balance that works for us because at the end of the day whether it's parenting or not, we are free to make our own decisions and I whole heartedly respect that.
So with that out of the way here is a little back story to give you an idea how we ended up sleep training. When Hazel first came home from the NICU she was feeding every 2-3 hours through the night and we strongly encouraged that based on her slow weight gain but somewhere along the way, she stopped needing those night time feeds and was sleeping 11 hours through the night for a couple months.. that is until she went to BC Children's to have her PDA valve closed in her heart in October. From that night forward she was waking constantly again through the night, and fairly so... now that her PDA was closed, the blood was circulating through her body as it should have been and her body was now able to put that energy towards growth rather than having to work her heart extra hard to get the oxygenated blood where it needed to go. So, knowing that we supported her night time feeds but after a month and a half, she stopped needing the night feeds and was just waking up, unable to soothe herself back to sleep and in a desperate attempt for sleep, I started to bring her to our bed in the middle of the night - because we had never let her cry.
Now, I mean it when I saw we didn't let her cry. She was on respiratory support for her first 9 months of life (between a ventilator, then CPAP and home on low flow oxygen prongs) so she really didn't have the reserve to cry. The moment she cried we soothed her and that worked for us, and it worked for her but the trouble now was that she's 14 months old and has absolutely no idea how to soothe herself anymore. When she was teeny tiny (i'm talking below 2 lbs) she self soothed by bringing her hands up near her face but now she had no idea how.
This meant whenever she was put down to sleep at night, I gave her a bottle and rocked her until she was asleep, carefully and meticulously placing her in her crib once she was asleep and then tip toeing out of the room. 4 hours later she would wake up, and then 2 hours later, and then 3 hours later. When we first brought her to bed that was working and she would sleep from midnight until 5 am but somewhere along the way that wasn't working anymore - Hazel was waking constantly through the night. She was getting no more than 4 hours of sleep at night, and wasn't napping more than two 20-30 minute naps during the day.
Hazel was becoming increasingly cranky during the day, rubbing her eyes all day long and was starting to get bags under her eyes. Her weight gain was slowing down (After the holidays I weighed her at the health unit and she had only gained 80 grams in 2.5 weeks.. when nothing about her diet had changed, the only difference was her sleep was suffering in a bad way).
So one night, Hazel woke up at 1:40 in the morning, and wouldn't go back to sleep. An hour and a half later I took her out of our room and put her in her crib and walked out. I listened to her cry for 30 minutes before she fell asleep. That 30 minutes felt like 30 days and I sat in bed watching her on the baby monitor and I cried. I swore I would never let her cry it out. I swore up and down and side to side that it wasn't a route I wanted to take but at this point we had tried so many methods that this was all I had left.
The next day I spent hours researching and a month or so prior I had found a book called Precious Little Sleep that resonated with me 100%..it was time to take the information in the book a little more seriously. We knew we had to start sleep training... so that night we started and the following day we started sleep training her naps as well and while I wish I could say it was easy, it wasn't... I had to put headphones in the first two days and get support from friends to stop me from crumbling and going in to get her.
But I'll tell you with all honesty... this has been the best call we made for our family.
Hazel now falls asleep in under 15 minutes - but to be fair at bedtime she hasn't taken longer than 6 minutes to fall asleep in the last 4 nights AND she sleeps 11 hours through the night. We are still working on naps since those present more of a challenge but she's now able to nap in her crib, and fall asleep in under 15 minutes... the trouble is with the length of her naps since they still range between 25-30 minutes but I'm confident we will improve with that.
We didn't just change the way she fell asleep though. At her first dentist visit in December it was strongly recommended we stop the night feeds and stop using a bottle to fall asleep for the sake of her dental health. I pretty much took what she had to say but felt helpless with how to do that but when we started to sleep train, we came up with a new routine that has been working incredibly well!
Our old bedtime routine looked as such:
Bath, jammies, turn on her oil diffuser, bottle, rock to sleep, put in bed.
Our NEW routine is as follows:
Floor time with quiet toys crawling around to get rid of some energy, bottle and story time together, bath and brush teeth, jammies, diffuser and white noise machine (it's important that this goes all night and not on a timer), put down in crib awake.
Yes, Hazel will cry for a couple minutes but she falls asleep on her own, and she wakes up 11 hours later a happy, healthy baby.
Our nap routine is similar but just a condensed version:
playtime on the floor, bottle, story time, white noise, lay down awake.
And as if that wasn't enough to show me it was the right choice, yesterday she was weighed at the hospital before getting her Synagis vaccine and she's gained 110 grams in 6 days since we started sleep training - a far contrast from the 80 grams in 2.5 weeks when she wasn't sleeping well.
I spoke with our infant development program yesterday about sleep training, curious to know what her take was on it and we got nothing but praise for what we are doing to help hazel. We were told that sleep is a skill that babies after the age of 6 months need to be taught, and as long as they are receiving loving responsive attention throughout the day then allowing them to cry at night to learn how to self soothe and fall asleep is perfectly safe.
I hope this helps some of you who've been struggling with your baby's sleep patterns or if you've been wondering if it's a right decision for you!
If you have any questions please as always please get in touch!