Over here at Flax Sleep, we love, you guessed it - sleep - and there is nothing that messes with your sleep more than babies. The sleep deficit of new moms and dads is incredibly high, and affects everything from mood, to relationships, to overall physical and mental health. You know that saying "sleep like a baby?" If that means sporadically and at random times, then yes, you will be sleeping like a baby if you are a new parent. A few months of this may lead you to consider sleep training your child, and I'm here to give you an unbiased, unfiltered, first hand look at what that process is actually like (warning: my husband told me not to write this blog post, since I am spectacularly ill equipped to sleep train babies and have a history of breaking out in full body sweats in anticipation of baby bedtime. However, this is not a "how-to" article, so much as a "how-to-get-through-it" article, regardless of which method of sleep training you may choose).
Let's also get something out of the way up front, so as to avoid later disappointment - this is not a feel-good, inspirational article about how sleep training is easy, or quick, or not sweat-inducing. I will not bore you with platitudes such as "put your baby down drowsy or awake" (how, I ask you? Who has this ever worked for?), or tell you that you shouldn't rock them, feed them, pat them, shush them, drive them around the block for hours until they sleep. There are a thousand sleep articles and books out there on assorted sleep training techniques, and believe you me, you are likely to read most of them anyway (plus all the postings in the mom forums, where sleep-deprived mothers may be lamenting about similar issues), late into the night, while feeding a baby and wondering if you will ever sleep more than two uninterrupted hours again.
If you're reading this, you may have a newborn that sleeps like a log anywhere and everywhere (they do that, for the first 6 weeks or so) and wonder what the big deal is about. Or you may have a three month old who only sleeps while strapped to you while you walk miles and miles every day and you're exhausted (that was me, with my first daughter. Great cardio, poor sleep hygiene). Or you may have that magical unicorn baby that sleeps an uninterrupted 12 hours at night, and has three predictable naps of reasonable length during the day in their own crib (in which case, please stop reading and DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES tell any other moms about it).
Whichever method you choose to teach your baby how to sleep, and at whatever age you choose to implement it for your child, here are some front-line thoughts on what that process may be like, and how it may impact your day, your night, and your family:
1. It may be anxiety-inducing.
Even the gentlest methods of teaching your baby how to sleep will involve some crying (or "loud protesting", as I like to think of it). If this is your first baby, the thought of letting them cry, even for short periods of time, may fill you with dread. What if they think you abandoned them? What about the whole attachment issue? What about their increased cortisol levels? Etc. etc.
Here's what I know - learning how to sleep is a skill to be taught, and your baby may not be fond of learning it at first. I like to replace "learning how to sleep" with "learning how to brush one's teeth" for my own peace of mind. You wouldn't give your children a pass on the latter, regardless of how much they protested, so why would you on the former? These are, of course, things I say while sweatily watching the baby monitor and waiting for my kid to fall asleep.
2. It may not work quickly.
Or maybe it will work for night time and not nap time. Or vice versa. Sleep training your baby can take a few long weeks of sleepless nights and craptastic naps, but it is vital that you stick with it since those little buggers need the consistency (it's basically rote learning for babies).
3. You may need help.
Here's the thing - sometimes, you may be doing all the right things, and your baby will still wake up every two hours overnight. That is when the expertise of a sleep coach might come in handy (I hear you groaning, but trust me, they are worth their weight in gold). I personally resisted such help for way too long, convinced that it was somehow the mark of my failure as a mother. However, once I got over myself and finally asked for help, my first born's sleeping improved dramatically in about two weeks. There are many amazing sleep consultants out there, but we are particularly fond of Dawn Whittaker and her magic ways that make babies sleep.
4. It may feel restrictive.
You may be stuck in the house for naps for the foreseeable future, or at least until your baby learns how to nap in their own bed instead of in a stroller, carrier, car seat etc. etc. You will likely have to be home by 7 pm every single night to make sure the baby goes to bed in their own crib. That may sound terribly restrictive, especially during the summer months. Many people resist "sleep training" because they want to be able to maintain flexibility to their days and nights. Sleep experts will tell you that's simply not realistic - at least not during the few weeks when you are teaching your baby to fall asleep independently in their own crib. Once your baby learns how to sleep during the day, in their own bed, you will be able to get out again and give them the occasional stroller nap while you drink wine on the sea wall. In the mean time, I could tell you that you could use that time to nap yourself, but we all know you're going to be catching up on Big Little Lies anyway.
5. It will get better - promise.
It's hard to believe things will improve while going through the process of sleep training your child, especially when you hit a regression, but I can promise you they will, and perhaps even sooner than you think. Most babies get the hang of it in 3-4 weeks and become champion sleepers. And when that happens, high five yourself for getting through it and teaching your child a very valuable skill that will result in a better rested, happier child, and frankly, better rested, happier parents.