Ok guys, buckle up, this is a long one.
As we wrap up mothers day, I wanted to share my sleep journey with my kids, which wasn’t a linear and simple one. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, and I never hired a sleep consultant or got a customized plan, which is what I do now for families.
I sleep trained my first, Alessa, 3.5 years ago the day she turned 6 months. This was before I became a sleep consultant myself, and a few months before that I didn’t even know such a thing existed!
I had never heard of sleep training. Not even in my pregnancy. What I did know during my pregnancy was how essential sleep was going to be for me. I get migraines and a big trigger is lack of sleep, which for me is less than 8 hours, so I was very concerned about this topic.
I read lots of books around it in preparation, but unsurprisingly, they didn’t really help that much. Below I will share my raw and honest story of what led me to sleep training and how it actually went. Hint: it did not resolve her sleep for another 2 months since the day I started it.
I think it is important to understand the background of a family, and particularly of a mom, because it is a huge driver in sleep training being the right choice for your family.
In my case, my story starts at 36 weeks pregnant. We had just moved abroad to Luxembourg, and I was about to become a mother without any sort of village to be found. No friends, no family, and a husband starting a new and very stressful job. Red Light.
I myself was in a very crunchy stage of life. I had all of the elements and beliefs to end up in the very *anti sleep training* camp. I was aiming for an unmedicated labor, in a bathtub, with midwives. I would refuse to take any sort of medication, and I was/am a yoga teacher that believed in connecting with my baby during prenatal yoga classes, and meditating my way through contractions. I was going to hypnobirthing classes and living my hippie mama life happily, and my love language is TOUCH. This would probably make you assume I would be thrilled with the co-sleeping life too (tried it once, worst sleep of my life)
But anyway, like I said, at this point I hadn’t even heard of sleep training, so I had no thoughts on it.
The first two weeks of Alessa’s life were pretty dreamy. She just slept. I thought I was so smug following my book babywise and Alessa sleeping right on cue. I played gentle music all day, baby wore her, and while I was already starting to experience postpartum anxiety, everything *seemed* under control.
But then, just as my parents arrived, right at the 2 week mark, Alessa randomly started crying bloody murder. She was SO uncomfortable and my husband and I were at a loss. My mom explained that it was gas, which it was, but what I didn’t know is that my oversupply was wrecking havoc for my poor baby girl. I actually wouldn’t realize that till much later.
On top of that, she became SO.ALERT. Would not close those big blues, and was always looking around.
Around this time the sleep deprivation started taking its toll, and because of the gas issues she always wanted to be held during the day as well. The most I got at night from then on was 4 hours for the first sleep stretch, then 2-3 hour stretches until morning. When she would wake, I would nurse her back to sleep. This meant only I could get her back to sleep. This meant I couldn’t be away from her for more than 2.5 hours day or night. This meant A LOT of resentment towards my husband.
From 2 weeks on and until 2.5 months old, we also had to take turns rocking/ bouncing her to be able to lay her down for sleep. Sometimes it would take over an hour. We would need to set a timer and between the three of us rock her in 20 minute increments until she would finally stay asleep.
Then, when Alessa was 2.5 months old, my mom flew back home. Remember, I had to rock and bounce her to sleep for every nap and night sleep. Except now I was home alone from 8am-6pm.
My. Arms. Were. Jello.
My first round of “training”:
I reached out to my only 2 friends who had babies at that time and one of them mentioned something in the book “Secrets of the Baby Whisperer” by Tracy Hogg. The book suggested that I stop rocking/bouncing Alessa, and just hold her until she stopped crying. Once she stopped, I should set her down. The book said that this would lead to 3 waves of crying, peaking at the third one and that then she would settle.
So, with my arms in pain, all alone at home in a foreign country, I tried this for her first nap. I knew she was exhausted, but like I said, she had this habit of having to look at everything and not being able to just relax.
I held her with the lights off. She cried. I cried. We both cried in the dark room while I held her sitting on the cold floor questioning why we had moved here.
And then, after 30 minutes, she just stopped. It was like she just shut off in my arms. I gently laid her down in the bassinet and walked out of the room. I can’t remember how long that nap was, but I do remember it was the first time I had been able to just lay her down since she was 2 weeks old.
After 3 days, I was able to just put her down and walk out of her room for both naps and nights. I remember Carlos coming home in awe and thanking me for figuring it out. She was still waking as usual throughout the night to nurse but at least bedtime and naps were no longer painful (literally!).
Round 2: Sleep training at 6 months
Right before Alessa turned 6 months we were going to take our first transatlantic flight to Mexico and stay for 2 months. I was SO tired of waking up 3 times every night. For like 3 days we got a 6 hour stretch of sleep around 4 months, but after that we went right back to every 3-4 hours. I also felt like a prisoner to my house knowing I couldn’t go anywhere for more than a few hours at a time.
I had seen talk about sleep consultants in my mom groups, but they seemed very salesy. At this point I had spent money on the silliest sleep things. I even paid a girl who didn’t even have kids, to write me our “ideal schedule” as if that would solve our problems. Obviously that didn’t work. I was a stay at home mom so I felt unsure about spending hundreds of dollars on a sleep consultant that I didn’t even trust and no one I knew had worked with.
Around this time, I had heard of Becca Campbell from Little Z Sleep. I followed her on instagram, I liked her vibe. She seemed honest. But again, I didn’t have money, or didn’t prioritize the investment, for a personalized sleep plan so I didn’t hire her one on one.
(I say prioritized because we spent plenty on hypnobirthing, baby gear and other non essential baby related things, if sleep consulting were more mainstream, and I had known the type of all inclusive support it was, I would have probably set aside money for that investment too and my husband would have been onboard but we were clueless.)
However, back to Becca … she was JUST launching her online sleep coaching program. Because she was just starting, it was a super affordable price. I jumped on it. I printed that baby out, packed it in my suitcase and off we went to Mexico. Her plan was written for 6-12 month olds and Alessa would be turning 6 months a week after arriving in Mexico. Perfect. She would have enough time to adjust to the time zone, and then we would get going. My husband was flying to Africa on a work trip after dropping us off in Mexico, but my parents were supportive (and feeding me during the day), so it seemed like a good moment.
I wrote my Why’s, I bought everything for night one (It was my first time using a sound machine!), and we started.
IT WAS MISERABLE! Remember, Alessa already went to sleep on her own initially, so the crying didn’t start until her first wake up at 11pm. My parents were asleep at that time so it was just me.
Mistake #1: Doing this alone. I remember texting my very anti sleep training friend at the time, she was in Luxembourg and awake, bless her she comforted me throughout the night. That is a real friend. She didn’t believe in what I was doing but knew this is what I wanted to do, so she supported me anyway.
Alessa cried for 30 minutes, but then went back to sleep. I stayed awake the rest of the night in deep anxiety waiting for her to wake up again. I think she cried out for 10 minutes again around 5am, and then was up for the day around 7 am but I don’t remember.
The next night she slept through the night. It was a miracle! I was overjoyed. She slept through the night a few more nights in a row and I went out with my cousins to celebrate. That was my first night out since she had been born.
After a few nights however, it started to unravel because I was making key mistakes that are obvious to me now, but didn’t seem like a big deal at the time.
Mistake 2: feeding in the early morning hours so that she would sleep later.
Mistake 3: sharing a room with her so she would wake up and see me 1 foot away.
Mistake 4: not being consistent during the 2 week program.
Her night sleep had improved overall but we didn’t go into truly sleeping through the night until she was 8 months old.
At this point we had returned to Luxembourg, she was back to her own room (we had been sharing a room in Mexico which i found difficult as a breastfeeding mama to keep her from wanting milk in the early morning hours), and I re implemented the sleep plan. This time for real. No cutting corners. It worked!
We would occasionally get off track again when we would travel. I remember at 11 months we went to Wales and I started feeding in the early morning again, and when we came back, It felt like she was broken! I paid for some email sleep support, and got her back on track, as well as learned some nuggets on toddler sleep.
That affordable e-coaching program was key for me at the time, but man would I have benefited from some one-on-one support. It would have eased my anxiety so much more (especially on night one), I think I would have chosen a different sleep training method, and I would have avoided some setbacks in the journey.
2 years later when my son was born, I knew just what to do. It was smooth sailing when it came to sleep. I also didn’t even mind the one night waking to feed because I knew it was in my hands to finish night weaning when I was ready. I waited until 8 months with him because I was actually enjoying our one night feed, I knew he was my last, and also we had some trips planned that I wanted to be able to nurse at night through room sharing. It was such a different experience and I’m so grateful I was able to enjoy the newborn days the second time around.
When I was thinking about training to become a sleep consultant I hesitated due to the controversy around it. I finally made the decision based on how much it had changed our life for the better. If I could bring this type of change to even a few families, it was worth it. I don’t think it is for everybody, and it doesn’t have to be, but there is nothing more satisfying to me than helping a family through their kiddo’s sleep issues and getting them over to the other side feeling confident, rested and happy.
I found my way to sleep training so that I could not only survive, but also thrive. I wanted to live the motherhood experience I had imagined. Even with sleeping well, motherhood, as any mom knows, is a million times harder than you imagine it, but man, sleep training made the good parts REALLY GOOD, and the hard parts, easier to manage. I was never in the “sleep training will harm your child” camp, it truly didn’t keep me up at night or cross my mind because:
- I just didn’t believe that for whatever reason, and can confirm that now with my very bonded and attached sleep trained kiddos.
- I wasn’t well myself and I believe the caregiver needs to be taken care of to give the best care.
- I question anything that is just dedicated to judging other people’s choices, particularly, other mothers. DO. WHAT.WORKS .FOR.YOU.
- My marriage was on the rocks! My parents have a beautiful marriage and I think it brought a lot of stability to my life. I wanted the same for my kids. The sleep deprivation and lack of time together was putting us in danger.
All in all, It’s one of our best parenting choices, and while we didn’t nail it on the first try, we eventually got there.
If you read this far, thank you for reading. I hope your parenting journey is one that is filled with support for whatever you choose to do, and if it isn’t change those supporting you.