It's 4AM, your baby is awake for the third time tonight and will NOT go back to sleep no matter what you do. You're happy to have some cuddle time, but this is getting ridiculous. A 4 month old should be sleeping through the night, shouldn't he? And it's not like you can take a nap during the day because, even if you do get your baby down for a nap, there's the toddler to entertain and take care of. By the time you get her set up with something and sit down on the couch, the baby is crying and the cycle starts all over. You hate all the crying and wish there was a solution: something like sleep training the easy way.
Sound familiar? Yep. As mamas, I don't think I'm out of line by saying we all have “sleep struggles” at some point in parenthood. Now, I didn't believe this the first time around. Sweet Girl would sleep for a good hour or more in our arms or on our chests, and only wake once or twice in the night to feed for 10 minutes, then straight back to sleep. We were reveling in being new parents and taking joy in not having to do anything else but snuggle this precious gift. We started Sleep Training at 2 weeks. 5 days later she was sleeping the night.
When Pip was born, I struggled. I was overwhelmed and exhausted. He ended up with a cold at 3 weeks old. It lasted THREE MONTHS. No joke. It was excruciating. Although we started serious sleep training at 3 weeks old it didn't really stick until he was about 2.5 months old when his cold was on the (short-lived) upswing. He started sleeping through the night shortly after that.
Without the words of The Baby Whisperer, I would have been at a loss: fumbling around and allowing him to sleep as he wished, keeping me up all hours of the night, I'm sure.
Even though the book helped me get through everything, it still required effort to test the different solutions. If you are looking for an automated solution with proven techniques and training, I recommend our partner, SleepSense. This article will cover some tops on how to sleep train and if you want everything automated, then try SleepSense.
So why am I telling you this?
Well, we're at week 2 of my Sleep Training The EASY Way Series. It's time I let you in on my fabulous little secret.
- You can check out Week One's Intro + Personality Types Here.
- Week Three is about Accidental Parenting. Check it out here
- Week Four deals with the Shush-Pat Method
- Week Five is for Pick Up/Put Down
- Week 6 sums it all up with the Wake to Sleep Strategy
Total disclaimer, everything I'm relaying to you from The Book I truly believe to be gold. I've bought multiple copies, given it as gifts, and recommend it endlessly.
I'm always told I'm lucky that our babes are such good sleepers. To strangers I reply with a polite “thank you”, but to anyone I know I dish my big secret.
“It's how we've trained them”
While a lot of people believe sleep training refers to dumping a baby in a crib and closing the door, finding something to busy yourself with while she cries, it's not the case. Not. even. a little bit.
Tracy Hogg, the Baby Whisperer, has developed systems that are sure to help every family adjust to the struggles of having a baby in the house. Her methods are simple and straight forward. You can read more about her gentle approach here.
So where do we start?
Sleep training is more than just sleep. In fact, I believe the term “sleep training” is a sort of misnomer for what we've actually done. It starts with proper eating routines and watching your baby for his cues and signs. We don't wait for him to start crying to know he's tired. We feed him before he gets cranky. He's encouraged to go to bed happy and awake. We wake to feed. All these things, as well as knowing your baby's personality, combine to form the basis for sleeping through the night – the ultimate goal.
And it's all based on routine.
Look, kid's need routine to keep them happy and healthy. At a young age, they're able to predict future events from memory if it is repeated to them. The routine we follow is the EASY one. And that's what today's post is about. Here's what you're going to learn:
- What EASY means
- How it affects your baby
- What you can do to implement it right away
- Where to adjust the boundaries to suit your family
One thing I want to note is this: routine is not synonymous with schedule. Routine is the regular order of events in a day. Schedule is a routine with specific time slots and rigid rules. I like to call EASY a structured routine. One where you do follow the clock, but only as a guideline, and only after you notice your baby's cues.
So what is EASY?
EASY is the routine laid out by Tracy Hogg (The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems), to assist parents in helping a baby get the rest and structure he needs.
Sleep Training the EASY Way
E – Eat
Depending on the age + size of your baby, her eating will determine the rest of the day. In the beginning, you'll be starting with a 3 hour routine, expanding the away time (as she's ready) until you reach 4 hours between feeds.
A – Activity
This is your baby's awake time, including diaper change. Newborns need A LOT of sleep. I was pretty shocked when I learned that they can only take being awake for an hour or so at a time. Even now at 5 months, my Pip is ready for a nap after 2 hours of waking.
S – Sleep
You want to let your baby have appropriate naps throughout the day, but no longer than 2 hours to prevent cutting in to his night sleep. You will get flack for waking a baby to feed, but just remember that it's all worth it in the end. You'll have a full night's sleep while other mamas are still struggling.
Y – You
The idea with the Y is that you take time for yourself while baby is napping. It's extremely important to care for you so you can care for baby. Maybe you want to nap, watch TV, read a book, take a bath, go on the computer, do a craft, exercise, etc. Whatever it is, do it for you, and you alone. Replenish your energy and settle your mind.
Does this really work?
YES!! By keeping your baby on an even routine, you will notice a difference within the first week. When you're first starting EASY, it's important to stay home and keep to the routine quite strictly. Once you and baby get used to it, you can go ahead and plan excursions around her sleep times, keeping in mind that she needs her sleep and routine and it's essential to respect that for her well-being.
As your baby gets older, you'll know how much she can handle and where and when she'll fall asleep. Since we trained our kids to sleep in their own beds, they don't always fall asleep in the van and really just prefer to be at home to nap. I know this, so when I want to go somewhere, I always plan around their sleep times.
Is it too late to start?
In my opinion, it's never too late to start. I would say it is most beneficial to start now, whether that means as a newborn, 4 month old, or 18 months. If you don't, next week you'll wish you had.
Here's what you can do to start today:
- Download my free printable routine sheets and start following them
- Watch your baby for cues of sleepiness, hunger, and other irritation – catch a meltdown before it happens
- Feed your baby at designated times, not just whenever he cries. Feeding on demand is not conducive to sleep training. What happens is this: baby will eat for 10 minutes, then be hungry again in an hour. She is only getting the fore milk, not the fattier, more nutritious hind milk to keep her tummy full for longer.
- Don't allow baby to sleep more than 2 hours (as a rule). As your baby grows, you might notice she needs more sleep when she's teething or going through a growth spurt. If she's struggling to stay up for 1 – 2 hours at a time, allow her to sleep 15 minutes longer and see if that helps.
- Research the full Baby Whisperer Method and implement it in your day-to-day life
- Put baby to bed when he's happy and awake
- Consider an earlier bedtime, if necessary
Tracy starts her EASY routines off at 4 weeks old. As mentioned, we started Sweet Girl at 2 weeks and Pip at 3. There's a couple different reasons this worked.
- My babies were big at birth (8lbs 7oz; 8lbs 12oz)
- I adapted the guidelines to suit my newborn
Here's the truth about the weight
It's no secret, smaller babies need to eat more often and sleep more often. Even at the size my two were, they still needed plenty of sleep and feeding. In the first few days I fed on demand. I recommend this until milk is established and baby has started to adjust.
Here's what The Book says:
If your baby weighs more than 8 pounds, you'll be getting your nighttimes back a lot sooner than parents with smaller babies. If your baby weighs less than 6.5 pounds, you won't have much time for yourself, especially in the first 6 weeks. But hang in there — this phase is over when your baby weighs 7 pounds, and then it gets even better as your baby starts learning to amuse herself, because you'll also have time to putter about when she's awake.
E – 30-40 minutes every 2 hours during the day; up to 4 hours between feeds at night
A – 5-10 minutes! Gradually increase to 20 minutes
S – 1.25-1.5 hours
E – 25-40 minutes every 2.5 – 3 hours; up to 5 hours between feeds at night. Start cutting out the 1 or 2AM feed around 6 weeks.
A – 20-45 minutes
S – 1.5-2 hours
Babies Over 8lbs
E – 25-35 minutes every 3 hours, up to 6 hours between feeds at night, cutting out the 1 or 2AM feed
A – 20-45 minutes
S – 1.5-2 hours
Since my babies were both over 8 lbs, we were able to stretch feeding times early on. It's important to remember, though, that these are just guidelines and should not be taken as Gospel. Sweet Girl would feed for 45 minutes every time. Pip, however, feeds for just 5-10 minutes. It's a HUGE variance and it had me concerned at first, but that's just the way he is – an efficient eater.
Which is why it's important to adapt the routine to your baby.
As your baby grows, you'll be tempted to keep him up longer between naps. Just remember to follow his cues and not the clock.
I can't emphasize this enough: It's crucial to know your baby and his personality to properly sleep train.
When Pip was about 2 months old, he was showing signs of wanting to be on a 4 hour routine. I really struggled with this because the guidelines don't suggest this until 4 months old. I tried to push him back, but my efforts were futile. He's been on a 4 hour routine since 2.5 months and I suspect he'll be cutting out his 5 o'clock nap shortly, too (not recommended until 6 or 7 months+).
I will admit, I'm much better at adapting this time around. With Sweet Girl, I wanted to do everything by the book and by the clock. I was afraid if I strayed even one minute that she would quit sleeping the night. Trust me, this isn't the case.
But it doesn't always work
While I do believe in this method through and through, I understand that it's different for every baby. Some will be happy with only 1.5 hour naps, others (like my kids), need a solid 2.
Then there's the problems that arise with sleep. Your baby should wake up happy. If she wakes with cries or screams, you know it's not time for her to be up yet.
Here's the deal:
- Baby not sleeping more than 3-4 hours at night
She may not be getting enough food during the day. Try tanking her up before bed by cluster feeding at 5+7 or 6+8, or implementing a dream feed.
- Baby was sleeping 5-6 hours at night, but now waking more frequently, at different times
Likely a growth spurt. Try giving more food during the day.
- Can't get baby to nap for more than 30-45 minutes.
You're probably misreading his cues and either not getting him to bed when he first shows signs of fatigue or going in too soon when he first stirs. If baby is overtired, he will have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. It's important to give him a chance to self-soothe and learn to put himself back to sleep. Not with crying
- Baby wakes at the same hour every night, but doesn't take a full feed.
Habitual waking. My nemesis. Rarely about hunger. Implement a wake-to-sleep campaign. I'll fill you in about this in week 6 of my series, but for now, just set an alarm for 1 hour earlier than he normally wakes. Go in and rouse him enough that he is semi-awake, but will go back to sleep on his own. Do this for 3 days. Voila.
In all instances, a structured, well-kept routine will solve the problem long term.
And even then, it isn't exact.
At 4 months and older, babies start to set their own rules. While it's important to stick to a routine, remember that your baby might not sleep exactly 120 minutes, or eat for 27 minutes. When Sweet Girl was younger I was so concerned about the routine that I would set an alarm in the morning to wake her at precisely 7AM. Now, with Pip, I wake him when I naturally wake up, usually between 7:15 and 7:25. As he gets older and cuts out his catnap and eats solids, I'll even allow him to sleep as long as he needs during naps as long as it doesn't affect his night-time sleep.
But still there can be complaints
- Baby eating too quickly, afraid of not getting enough to eat, resulting in off-kilter routine
The problem may not be the eating, at all. As babies grow they become more efficient. You might be trying to keep your child on an EASY plan meant for a younger baby. Watch his cues and start to transition to the 4 hour routine.
- Baby never eats or sleeps at the same time
Some variation in your daily routine is normal. If she's snacking and catnapping (accidental parenting), she will never get a good meal or sleep. Get back to a properly structured routine and commit to it.
- Baby is still waking up frequently every night. Don't know whether or not to feed
Erratic waking tends to be due to hunger; feed him more during the day. Habitual waking (same time every night) is a habit that is been accidentally enforced (more to come on this). If he's still on a 3 hour routine, try switching to a 4 hour routine.
- Baby sleeps through the night, but wakes at 5 ready to play
You could be responding too early to his morning sounds, resulting in teaching him that it's a good idea to get up at that time. Try letting him play it out in his crib.
- Baby won't nap for more than 30-45 minutes, if at all.
Possibly overstimulated before bed time, lack of improper routine, or both. Set the mood for naps and take a bit longer to put her down. Work at a consistent routine.
This work is adapted from The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems.
How to start EASY if your baby is not much of a baby anymore
If you're starting a structured routine at 4 months+, it's important to remember these three things:
- You'll be starting with a 4 hour routine, not a 3 hour one. Your baby is more active and developed, possibly already on solids. Stick closely to the guidelines and you should be able to pick up on your baby's cues.
- Intervening almost always uses Pick Up/Put Down. I'm dedicating an entire post to this, but the basics is this: when baby cries during sleep times, you pick her up. As soon as she stops, you put her back in her bed. Repeat as necessary until she goes to sleep.
- By 4 months, a lot of bad habits can be formed through accidental parenting. Again, I'll be dedicating an entire post to this, but for now, just know that it's important to know your baby and stick with the plan you've established. It's a lot of commitment and work, but it's totally worth it!
Now here's the best part.
By sleep training the EASY way, not only will your baby be sleeping the night, you will be getting more rest, and your marital relationship will thrive, but your baby will be HAPPY during the day, too. He's going to advance, learn new things quickly and reach milestones right when he's supposed to. Having baby on a routine is a definite must in any family!
- See Week 1, Into + 5 Different Baby Personalities, here
- See Week 3, Accidental Parenting, here
- See Week 4, Shush-Pat Method, here
- See Week 5, Pick Up/Put Down, here
- See Week 6, Wake to Sleep, here
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