Updated: Aug 13, 2020
I feel like moms usually fall in one of two categories: those who read all the baby books and take all the courses before (and even after) their little one arrives, and those who don't. I've always been the latter because I've never been much of a book worm. I'll read 50 articles on a topic online... but a book? I just can't make that kind of a commitment.
But when I became pregnant with my second daughter, I knew I was going to have to do a lot of things I hadn't done before, including taking a course on sleep training. With my older daughter, who's now 3.5 years old, I never bothered because -- to be honest -- I didn't know any better. First, when she was born, I wasn't an active social media user so the world of mommy bloggers and Facebook mommy groups was all foreign to me. I didn't realize the wealth of information that can be found simply by following someone online. Secondly, my maternity leave was only 10 weeks long so I left my daughter in the capable hands of my mom and MIL, and figured, "Well, they must know what to do since they've done it before!" (Spoiler alert: they did not know what they were doing, because as I now realized, they literally did the opposite of what's recommended).
So much has changed this time around. For starters, I am now very active on social media, mainly because as the Chief of All Creative Things for Modi Toys, Instagram and Facebook are a critical factor in the growth of our business. Secondly, I have paid dearly for not sleep training my daughter, who is now a full blown feet-in-your-face-in-the-middle-of-the-night type of a night owl, who refuses to go to bed without either me or my husband by her side. And lastly, my maternity leave, which was supposed to have been four months long has now turned into a rather permanent one, thanks to Covid19-related furloughs and imminent layoffs impacting the business travel industry, in which I worked full time.
It's not just that my circumstances changed this time around, but when you know better, you do better. I refused to repeat the mistake the second time around. In fact, I'm determined to avoid many mistakes this time around, but I'll save that for another blog. (After all, isn't that why people have more children? Ha!).
I had seen enough people online recommend the Taking Cara Babies sleep training course to convince me to sign up for it. Well, I paid $97 for the "first five months bundle," thinking it was a small price to pay in comparison to what some pay professional sleep experts who offer 1:1 consulting (if your kids are older and you need more hands-on guidance). But what really sold me on it was the fact that it wasn't a book; all of the training is taught in a blog and video module format.
"This is exactly what I needed!"...or so I thought. 11 minutes and three acronyms into the course, I was already checked out. Don't get me wrong -- there was nothing wrong with the teaching methodology, but I was becoming impatient. (To be fair, my patience was running low during those early days of postpartum sleep deprivation, which conveniently coincided with homeschooling my toddler, thanks to Covid19). I kept waiting for her to just get to the point, until I realized that this whole course probably is the point.
So, I tried the next best thing: I joined the Taking Cara Babies Facebook Group, which was essentially a support group for those who have taken or are taking her course. I began browsing through some posts/comments to essentially get the gist of the main takeaways. I would later realize, that in fact, this was exactly what I needed instead. I gathered the following set of tips from the Facebook group (mostly), and can attest they work because I now have a 21 week old sleep-trained infant.
Download the Huckelberry app. The free version will suffice. I found it to be useful for what it was intended to do: help you understand your baby's sleep patterns. The app is recommended to be used after the baby turns 2 months old because sleep patterns prior to that are erratic and can only be described as "annoying." I began using the app as soon as Saanvi turned two months old, and based on her specific sleep patterns, which I meticulously logged, I discovered her "sweet spots." This is defined as the optimal time to put your baby down for a nap or bedtime, based on how long they tend to stay awake and how many naps they take during the day. After using the app for about a month, I no longer relied on it because I could easily read her sleepy queues and predict her entire day's sleep schedule based on the time she woke up each morning.
The three must-haves to aid your child in falling (and staying) asleep: portable sound machine, a secure swaddle, and a dark room using blackout curtains. (BTW, none of the links in the blog post are affiliated or sponsored so it makes no difference to me whether or not you buy these items). When used in combination, this trio is meant to mimic the womb environment so I get the logic in doing this. I like this sound machine because it's portable and I've found it to be useful in hanging it on the car seat or sticking it inside the stroller, when we're on the go. One tip I recall from the TCB course is to turn up the volume of the sound machine if it seems like the baby needs a bit of a nudge in falling/staying asleep. Just be sure to turn the volume back down once they're fast asleep. As for the Ollie swaddle, I love the fact it grows with your child but Saanvi definitely breaks out of it occasionally. Now that she has started rolling over regularly, I've transitioned her into the Zipadee-Zip, which was recommended to me by one of my followers on Instagram. Whoever invented it is a genius because it allows the freedom to move around, yet also give her the security of being in a swaddle-like environment. I've only been using this for a day so far and already ordered a second one for laundry days, because this one is a keeper. NOTE: The Taking Cara Babies course also recommends using a pacifier, but I could never get Saanvi to take it so I stopped trying. In fact, I often joke to my husband that she has a built-in pacifier because she sucks on her lower lip for comfort, when needed.
Don't rock/sing/sway your baby before putting them down in the crib. I chuckle as I type this because this is literally how we used to put my older daughter, Naavya, to sleep. I can't tell you how much arm muscle I gained and how many hours of my life I lost in doing this, but that's not the reason I'm telling you this. Experts say this, and with good reason: don't incorporate anything that you don't want to turn into a bad habit. I have to admit, when I read dozens of women share their sleep routine (some variation of "bath, massage, milk, book, swaddle, crib"), I was dubious -- even more so because of the PTSD I had suffered in spending hours trying to put Naavya to sleep over the years. But since I had started these best practices from around when Saanvi was 12 weeks old, this was my opportunity to start on a clean slate. Which brings me to my next point...
Lay the baby down awake. This sounded nuts to me when I read it, but this is the cornerstone to teaching your kids to sleep independently. Don't put them down when they're drowsy either. The key is to put them down during their "sweet spot" because they are already tired enough to want to sleep so technically, no additional aid is required. Sometimes I find it hard to believe myself how alert Saanvi looks when I walk out the room, and how she's passed out literally 4 minutes later. The other, more important, reason for doing this is to teach them to put themselves back to sleep if/when they wake up in the middle of the night. It's sort of like that saying, "Teach a man to fish and he can feed himself," right?
Watch the clock if they start crying. I never had to let Saanvi "cry it out" because I tried to make sure I put her down at the appropriate times within her "sweet spot" for naps and at night. I think infants typically cry because they're either overtired or they have gas. Whenever Saanvi did cry, my first reaction was to look at the time on the clock -- not to run to the crib. I would tell myself that I'll go to her only if she cried for more than two minutes straight. In most cases, she would beat me to the punch and would stop crying within 30 seconds. When you begin to time yourself, you realize that what may feel like an eternity (because no one can bear hearing their baby cry), actually is mere seconds or a couple of minutes, at the most. The times when Saanvi did cry more than usual, my husband or I went in and picked her up for a minute and rocked her before putting her back down. And when all else fails, I whip out my secret weapon: the boob. Some may call that cheating but I call it sanity.
Use a monitor with a "walkie talkie" feature. While I typically make all the purchase decisions for our kids, I told my husband to pick out the baby monitor himself. One thing I love about the Infant Optics monitor he bought is that it allows us to talk to Saanvi, much like a Walkie Talkie, from another room. This feature has recently come in handy when Saanvi cries at night, but we want to avoid going in the room to quiet her down. I simple whisper "shhhh" into the monitor, which I assume gives her the allusion of me being besides her.
Establish the routine before you deviate from it. I'm sure you've heard this often: kids thrive on routine. For the longest time, I scoffed at this notion because I loved how adaptable Naavya had become from her lack of routine. I never had to look at the time when planning my day because I knew she would just go with the flow. Things are now, of course, the complete opposite with her little sister. To be fair though, being forced to stay at home during a pandemic has a way of clearing up your social calendar! Since I had plenty of weeks at home with Saanvi to establish our routine, the handful of times we've had to go out were an exception, and not the rule.
Even though it goes without saying, I'll say it anyway: results may vary. Each baby is different so what worked for me may just be luck for all I know! I would have never believed anyone if they told me I can get my 3 month old to fall asleep independently, because I just didn't think I had it in me to follow some convoluted rules, or had the heart to hear my daughter cry as she falls asleep. Luckily, I had to do neither of those things. I'm not a sleep expert, but I'm sharing my personal experience to give others hope that your past does not define your future.
If you end up following any of these tips and they work for you, I would love to know! Just shoot me an email or a DM on Instagram so that I know this blog helped at least one mom totally crush the sleep training.