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Thursday, January 15, 2015

BFBN: Guidelines for Sleep Training

Today is Babywise Friendly Blog Network Day! Be sure to check out my post about managing multiple baby wise schedules over at My Devising. Today Valerie is guest blogging and is talking about sleep training. Whew. I've been through a LOT of bumps in the road with Tess's sleep training (in fact, she's waking mid-nap right now hahah). So this is a timely post for me...hope it's helpful for others as well!


With Tess getting older, Emily asked that I write a post talking about Cry It Out (CIO) today. Sleep training and potty training are my two most dreaded moments with each child. Before my third child was born, I read up on Sleep Training: The Four S's and really liked the idea of that. I did that with my third and fourth and we got to skip the CIO part of sleep training for the most part (one had a couple of CIO sessions around 3 months) and both slept on their own from birth. So I love that. If you have a young baby, I highly suggest checking out my post on that.

Today I am talking about the CIO side of sleep training. Before we go on, let me quickly address the common concern of causing damage to a child's brain or breaking all trust with the child by doing CIO. If you search on the topic, you will find plenty of information both for and against CIO. Years ago, I addressed the topic of Sleep Training and Trust. Let me add to that here since my children are older now. I have to say it to give some strength to the pro-CIO argument, my children are very smart. Very. My oldest, who had the hardest, longest CIO times of all of my children, is considered by many teachers in his school to be the smartest student to come through in their careers (one is retiring next year). That's a big deal. They are all very, very smart. I have never once thought, "Wow, I wonder if CIO damaged their brains at all."

My children also all trust me completely, though I do think that is a poor argument from a child. I think most children trust their parents whether they deserve that trust or not. The real test is what that child feels when he/she becomes an adult. My husband and his four siblings were sleep trained--left to CIO starting at about 6 weeks old. They all have trust for their parents and none of them feel any negative feelings about the fact that they were sleep trained. I know it is only anecdotal, but it really is stronger evidence than is often given on the flip side. These are real people who really experienced it who have real feelings about it today--not just a "this will happen in your future."

Define CIO for You and Your Baby
Before you get started doing CIO, you need to define what it means to you to do CIO. There are many methods labeled "CIO" that actually vary quite a bit. One extreme is call extinction. This method is when you put baby down for a nap or night and you do not go in again until the baby has slept. This is the hardest for parents to face, but statistically speaking, it gets the fastest results and baby is typically done with CIO much faster this way.

I am not one who is comfortable with words like "never" or "always," so the extinction method as a hard and fast rule leaves me a little uncomfortable. I think all people are individuals, including babies. What works for one will not work for another--that is what makes them challenging and what makes me dislike sleep training and potty training so much. I feel like in many ways I am reinventing the wheel with each child. Each child needs their own wheel.

Some people like to do a method where they go in after five minutes, then after ten, then after fifteen, etc. I don't really love this method, either. I think it is a method aimed at making parents feel better about themselves but not at helping baby have the most success to be perfectly frank. Sleep training isn't about you; it is about the baby. 

For me, CIO is defined by the baby. I had one child who just did very poorly if I ever went in after I left him for his nap. He cried less if I went with the extinction idea. My second came along and she did better with a visit from me, but only at the right moment. Too soon and the nap was shot. Too late and the nap was shot. 

Like I said, new wheel for each child. 


Do Not Start When Something Else is Going On
I can promise you one thing. If you start CIO during a sickness, teething, growth spurt, move, etc., you will most likely fail. Baby won't respond well and you will not keep your wits about you. When baby cries, you are going to think, "Is she crying because it is normal CIO or is she crying because she has a cold? Should I go get her? I think I should get her." There will not be success because there will be no learning. Wait until you feel you and baby are in a place that you can both handle the process. 

Do Not Start Unless You Will Finish
I can promise you something else. CIO is hard. No one likes to listen to their baby cry! No one likes it. Do not start it if you won't finish it.

I must caveat here. You might think you can handle it, start and decide "Nope! Not happening." If that is the case, go ahead and stop. If you start and discover baby has a cold, go ahead and take a break if you feel that is best. If baby is having a rough time one nap and you really feel like it is best to intervene, trust yourself and do it. 

But do not start, get baby after ten minutes, then next nap start, get baby after ten minutes, etc. All you are doing in this case is letting baby cry for no reason. You want baby to learn to fall to sleep, not cry. If you don't see it through, learning will not take place and you have let your baby cry without any purpose.

Be Consistent
Once you start, let there be extreme consistency for your baby. Figure out what works for your baby and stick to it. Do your best to be home as much as possible during the process. When our oldest was a baby, we had a lot of pressure from some family members to visit ALL the time. He did not have consistent times at home to learn to sleep. I finally realized it, put my foot down, and limited how often we would be leaving home until he had it down. Once I did that, he made really fast progress. 

Identify Optimal Waketime Length
The biggest key to success for CIO is identifying your child's optimal waketime length. This is the KEY. Figure this out. Knowing nap cues can be helpful, though not all babies offer those up. 

Part of know it is identifying what point is the point of no return. Sometimes you will have disruptions that keep your baby up too long. With my second child, she would not sleep at church. No way. I knew if I went home from church and put her in her bed, she would scream. I didn't feel that was fair to her. After that disruption each week, I went home and put her in her swing instead. She is not now nor was the worse off for it. 

This book talks in detail ways to do CIO. It also talks in greater detail the importance of sleep. This is why we do CIO. Sleep is important. It is vital. Sleep is underrated and undervalued in much of our modern world, but is vital to brain development. This book will give you the courage to do sleep training. (And I don't want to stress out anyone with a short napper; my oldest took short naps until 6.5 months old and didn't sleep through the night until 6 months old, so don't think if you have a short napper your child is ruined for life). 

Read More From Me
I have a lot on the CIO process. Here are some key posts:
Remember, your goal here is to get your baby falling asleep independently. That is why people do CIO. It is one way to get there. If you don't feel comfortable with CIO, you don't have to do it to get to sleeping independently. Look into other methods. 

If you do choose CIO, have heart! It will get better. It is not fun, but the results are worth it. Find someone to support you, have a plan, and move forward. 

Valerie is the mother to four and she blogs at babywisemom.com.

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