The most common questions I get asked, particularly on Instagram, include how I do my eye makeup, recipe requests, and finally – baby sleep questions. I don’t think that last one is because I am any sort of expert – I think it because a baby that isn’t sleeping or isn’t sleeping well makes people desperate – they ask anyone and everyone they know how to get their baby to sleep.
This summer I got the following question in my Ask Ashley mailbox:
“My second kiddo is around 8 months, when did you transition your son to his crib? What method did you use? We are desperate for some sleep around here!!! What worked for the first isn’t working for the second!”
I remembered this question today after I sat down to write a long message to a friend who is ready for any advice people are willing to give to help her baby sleep, so I thought I’d post my response here in case there are other sleep deprived mamas out there looking for the same sort of thing.
First I want to preface this by saying this is only my experience. I know and believe that every baby is different, and that there is not a single sleep piece of advice that will fit for everyone. If it did, nobody would have questions anymore. So here is my experience with my two children and their sleep.
GIA: FIRST BORN
The first night we brought G home, I had a meltdown. I hadn’t slept in *literally* days and I was so incredibly anxious about putting her down to sleep that I didn’t get a single hour of sleep that night, for the third night in a row. I really truly believe sleep deprivation like that can make you go a little crazy. We lay her in the pack n play that first night on Will’s side of the bed in a blanket we tried to swaddle ourselves and she looked impossibly tiny and started crying right away, breaking out of the swaddle in about 6 seconds (PRO TIP – GET THE VELCRO SWADDLERS. Thank me later). We panicked. I knew instantly that the pack n play wouldn’t work but what was I supposed to do? I was in no way ready to put her straight in her crib in a different room from us. I held her, rocked her, cried my eyes out. I put her in a swing for maybe 30 minutes and she slept (this is literally the only time in her life she was happy in a swing – after that first night she hated being in one). That is until I googled “is it safe for my newborn to sleep in a swing?” and found out that it was not 100% safe. I couldn’t handle anything less than 100%. I was a freaking wreck. That night will go down in history as one of my least favorite nights of my life. I should be happy right? New, healthy baby on our first night home. Nope. I was in pain, overwhelmed, still processing a traumatic birth, and most of all – completely and utterly sleep deprived.
The next day I sent out an SOS call to my mom. I needed a small bassinet STAT. And I needed a nap. Being the hero that she is, she re-arranged her work schedule, went and bought me a bassinet, came over and held Gia for hours so Will and I could finally get some sleep. The bassinet was a better idea than the pack n play for us – she seemed less “lost” in it and I could have her closer to my side of the bed. After that first night, she slept pretty well. Even though she was born at 9 lbs, the doctors still were telling us we needed to wake her up every 2-3 hours to feed her. For some ungodly reason I felt like I needed to take her out of our warm, dim, cozy bedroom, across the hall, sit in her cold, bright nursery in a chair and feed her there because I was terrified I would fall asleep and drop her if I nursed her in bed. I honestly don’t know how I did that for so long – it seems absolutely insane to me now!
Anyway, after about six weeks they said we could let her sleep through the night, and it only took her about another week to do so. We clearly got one of those trick babies – we really didn’t have any problems putting her to sleep and she always slept pretty dang well. We followed a very regular bedtime routine EVERY SINGLE NIGHT with zero exceptions – bath, lotion, jammies, sleep sack or swaddle blanket, nurse, sleep. She would wake up in the morning earlier than I would like (I think back then that was around 6am) so I would nurse her, then bring her in bed with us for a little longer sleep. She outgrew her bassinet pretty quickly so we moved her to the pack n play. She stayed in our room at least 10 months – Will swears it was over a year but I don’t think it was that long.
The only area we had any issue with was naps. She wasn’t a fan. I was working from home, and naps were absolutely non-negotiable. If she didn’t nap, I couldn’t work, I would lose my job, etc. etc. I believe she was right around 5 or 6 months when we started to try and sleep train her for naps. I decided she needed to be sleeping in her crib for those, and she just wasn’t having it. She only wanted to sleep in her boppy on the couch – THAT’S IT. Which makes conference calls SUPER HARD. Also super unsafe. It just wasn’t an option.
We made the decision and planned to begin on the weekend so Will was there for support. We followed a modified basically cry it out routine. We went through her whole naptime routine – (read stories, change diaper, get in sleep sack, listen to a lullabye on her snuggamonkey (stuffed monkey that played music and lit up)) then lay her down awake and left the room. She cried. We went back in at 2 minutes, again at 4 minutes, then every 5 minutes until she fell asleep. When we went in we would rub her back and talk softly to her telling her that we would be right outside her door the whole time but she needed to sleep in her crib, and then left. We didn’t stay more than maybe 15 seconds and never ever picked her up. I believe the first day she cried for 45 min and eventually fell asleep. Yes, it was horrible. But the next day at nap she only cried for 20 minutes, and the day after that she went straight to sleep and really never looked back.
Did we have the easiest baby ever? Yes, we did. When we finally transitioned her to her own room around 10 months, she never made a single cry, whimper or peep. Straight to sleep. I think because she was so used to sleeping in her own crib at naptime, it wasn’t scary anymore.
She will be 5 in April, and still naps about 2-3 days per week and is an amazing sleeper at night. To note, we have had multiple times where I thought naps were over – the biggest one was right between 2.5 and 3 years old where she almost went two weeks with no nap. We almost gave up but just kept up with our routine and now two years of naps later, we are so glad we did! Before she started preschool she regularly slept until 8:30 am with notable 9:30 am weekend wake-ups sometimes. Now she usually wakes up naturally around 7:30ish am although on school days we often have to wake her up ourselves.
ELI – SECOND BORN
Things were different with Eli. As a brand new baby he slept like a DREAM. He gained so much weight so fast that by two weeks the pediatrician said there was no need to wake him at night. He was a fantastic sleeper his first month or two – even better than Gia was. We kept an identical bedtime routine as we did for Gia, the only difference being that I never left my bed to nurse. We bought a Halo Bassinest (worth every freaking penny for us) and I would just reach over, lift him up, nurse him, then transfer him back, roll over and go to sleep. It worked great.
Then came the dreaded and VERY REAL 4 month sleep regression. Sweet Jesus, hold me. I get PTSD even thinking of it. It started innocently enough, waking up to feed in the night every 4 hours. Which slowly progressed to every 2 hours, which progressed to him waking up crying the moment he hit the bassinet EVERY TIME, which progressed to the only place he would remotely sleep was in bed with me. This went on for so long that Will had to start sleeping on the couch because there wasn’t enough room in bed for all three of us all night long and he was having bad back pain from trying to sleep on the sliver of bed that was left. It was draining us in every way possible. At Eli’s 4 month check-up we brought it all up with our pediatrician, asking him what we should do. He instantly told us he thought it was time to sleep train Eli. He re-assured us that at Eli’s weight ( 18 lbs, 10 oz at 4 months old) he was not waking up because his body needed him to put on weight, he was likely waking up because he wanted attention. He recommended the exact same method we used with Gia and he told us the most important thing was to stick with it. He said if we had a weak moment and gave in at all it would make the next time we tried infinitely longer and harder.
We planned on waiting another month to begin, but things just got even worse every day that passed. We were exhausted and miserable and so was he. He was not sleeping at night in his bassinet at all – just going straight to bed with me, and he refused to nap at all in his crib. He would only sleep on my body during the day or in bed with me at night. That was it. No rock n play, no pack n play, no swing, no crib, nothing. We went with our same plan – starting at nap time on a weekend Will was home.
It was not nearly as easy. Eli cried so hard he would gag, the first afternoon we tried it twice and he didn’t nap a single second. He just screamed hysterically through the whole process. Every time I went in to rub his back and talk to him he screamed harder. I cried the whole afternoon, head in my hands just a few feet away from his room. It was physically painful. But that night we put him down in his bassinet in our room and the crying only lasted 20 minutes, and he slept through the night for the first time in so many weeks.
The next day during nap time he cried through the whole thing again, although much less intensely. That night though, it was only 10 minutes, and again he slept through the night. The next night, just a few whimpers. Truly from that point on, he slept through the night every night. As far as naps, they definitely took longer. He no longer scream cried, but it was almost 5-7 days before he was completely tear-free and actually sleeping solid 90 minute chunks.
At almost two years old, he is now a fantastic sleeper – always sleeping through the night and most days napping for 3 hour chunks. He never cries for naps or nighttime. We switched him to his crib in his own room much earlier than Gia – he was around 5 or 6 months when we made the switch. He never had a single problem switching to his own room and crib, again because I think he was so used to it already from nap time.
I know people have very strong feelings on sleep training, particularly allowing your child to cry for periods of time. For us, there wasn’t a single doubt that sleep training was right for our family. Sleep is such a priority for us – for both mood and health I feel it is absolutely critical. I do not function at all on little to no sleep – I am irritable and moody and foggy and not anywhere I need to be to be a good mother to my children. I believe sleep is essential to development and health and growth. I know that my kids need to sleep in order for me to be a good employee, to get my work done – to be able to truly focus and be error-free and produce high quality work – I can’t do that when either my kids or myself aren’t sleeping. So for us, I’ve never had a single moment of regret about sleep training. I feel that we are giving our children a gift by teaching them how to sleep well.
I want to say that I understand sleep training isn’t for everyone. I totally respect that. But for us it was worth it, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I also believe that some kids just are more inclined to be good sleepers than others. I think we have a certain percentage we can influence, but the rest is just how they are born. I do think both of my kids are naturally good sleepers, but I also think for Eli in particular we have done a lot to teach him how to sleep well. Do I think every kid could or should have sleep habits like mine? Absolutely not. We definitely just got lucky in many ways.
So that’s my sleep story experience! I hope it is helpful for someone/anyone out there and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. Good luck and may the sleep gods be forever in your favor!