March 03, 2016

Sleep Coaching, Training, Assistance, or Whatever You Want to Call It

In the beginning of Portland's life, he would soundly sleep on my or my husband's chest. Hell we could have the TV on, Hercules barking and us having a full on conversation and homeboy would snooze right on through all the madness. Great, he sleeps through sound but up until he was four and half months old, guess where my 16 pound butter still took his four daily naps? In his Mama's or his Daddy's tired and aching, loving arms. 
 The inability of our son to nap anywhere but our arms was our fault. We both loved to cuddle with him in those early days and when I was out on maternity leave, I wanted to hold him all the time and I was lucky to be able to spend my whole day doing just that! When I started back at work when he was two months old, I quickly realized that I wasn't able to put my little boy down to take his naps. I never taught him how to take his naps anywhere but in my arms so of course he had no idea what to do when I laid him down in his crib or bassinet so he would just cry until I finally relented, scooped him up and then he would pass out within seconds of being in my arms. This was not going to work!

Even though nap times were clearly a struggle, we have been extremely lucky with nights. At bedtime Portland did great sleeping next to me in his bassinet. We did our bedtime routine, I fed him then laid him down to sleep. He was able to get himself to sleep and stay asleep in his bassinet for the first three months of his life. He would wake every 2-3 hours to eat then I put him right back to bed where he would again get himself back to sleep.

We reached our breaking point with his naps right around the three month mark. We both were becoming frustrated with how much work it took us to get him to sleep and keep him asleep (constant movement, butt patting, and we had to hold him for the whole nap). We also never got a break! We wanted to be able to have time for us, time to work from home, clean, eat and just relax!

This is also the time when his nighttime sleeping began to change as well and he was no longer able to sleep through all the noises my husband and I were making while we slept. I so badly wanted him to sleep next to us for another month or two but it just wasn't going to work. He began waking every 1.5-2 hours and the only way to get him back to sleep was to nurse him and pat his butt until he drifted off to sleep.
Even though we wanted Portland to sleep in our room as long as possible, we decided that it wasn't feasible any longer. Portland needed to sleep in his own room and in his crib not only at night but for naps as well so that everyone, including him, was getting the best sleep possible. We agreed to sleep train the little guy starting after the holidays.

Before beginning our sleep training journey, I began reading about different methods of sleep training and experiences of other moms. Instead of finding a method that worked for us or reassurance that sleep training was possible, I felt very confused and way over my head. I kept asking my husband if there was someone we could hire to come over and sleep train him for us!

I was utilizing the internet at first, mainly other blogs and advice articles but none of what I found was detailed enough for me and I always seemed to have more questions than answers after reading each approach. I briefly looked at purchasing a sleep training book but there are a ton of options out there! I felt even more overwhelmed with different sleep training methods and I honestly didn't know when I would have time to read an entire book!

One of the internet sites I stumbled upon that got me really excited was The Baby Sleep Site. They have a ton of great articles on baby and toddler sleep and offer many types of sleep consult services. After trying and failing to sleep train our son on our own, I knew I needed something that would give me a detailed sleep training method specifically for Portland and our family's needs. And I needed support and the ability to ask questions. My husband is amazing and so supportive but like me, he didn't know what to do to help Portland sleep in his crib either! We both felt so lost and like we were failing our son sleep wise.
So we bit the bullet and bought a Sleep Consult Package. I wanted the ability to call and write our sleep consult with questions after we got started because I knew we would have them so we went with the Basic Telephone Consultation Package. Even just by purchasing a sleep consult package, I felt like we were on the right path and I was so excited to get started.

Once we picked out the package we wanted, I filled out a very long questionnaire (while Portland was napping in my arms) so that our sleep consult had a better understanding of Portland's sleep and eating schedule, his habits, our family life, and what we wanted to accomplish sleep wise.

I then set up my sixty minute initial phone consult and excitedly waited for our appointment! In this meeting we went over the questionnaire I filled out and any red flags our consult saw right away. A few red flags she saw right away included the amount of sleep our son was getting during the day. I was having him nap in our arms for about 2 hours for each nap so he was getting about 8 hours of total sleep during the day. At his age (four months) that was way too much daytime sleep and why he was waking so freaking early in the morning (4 and 5 am is not a good wake up time for this mama).

Once we scaled back on the nap lengths, he naturally began waking up later.
Another red flag was the swaddle and pacifier. We were working on ditching the swaddle already since Portland began rolling in his sleep and it was going well. We started by unswaddling his dominant side first and after a couple of nights with him getting used to having his one arm unswaddled, we unswaddled both. A pacifier can be great for soothing but it can also hinder sleep if baby needs it in his mouth to stay asleep. Thankfully our little guy didn't wake if the pacifier fell out of his mouth while he was sleeping so we decided to keep it for now. He was also able to put it back in his mouth by five months so this was another reason why we decided to keep it.

We also went over the type of sleep training approach we wanted to take and her recommendations based on his personality and age at the time. This phone call was all sorts of amazing! It felt so good to talk to an expert about the issues we were having. I was able to ask a lot of my questions, she provided us with some simple changes we could begin right away and reassurance that not only could we as parents do this but so could Portland and that we would all be better for it. 
After our phone consult, I was emailed a very detailed sleep plan. Without going into too much detail of our sleep plan, we decided to take a gentle method approach, which means as little crying as possible. He was only four months old at the time we started sleep training so this was an appropriate approach given his age and cognitive abilities. Our little guy is also a hysterical crier. Unlike some babies who use crying to soothe themselves, once our guy starts, he can't stop and gets himself to the point where he is hyperventilating so we knew a cry-it-out approach wouldn't work for him.

First things first was to tackle the biggest obstacle of all, which was getting our little boy to love his crib. He would not sleep in his crib until he recognized his bed as a safe and welcoming place.

Prior to sleep training, he had never been in his crib to sleep so of course he didn't like his bed or know what to do when we placed him in it. Before we even started sleep training, we got him loving his crib! We used a Baby Einstein Crib Soother. He freaking LOVES this thing! To this day, he will stare, babble and giggle at it. For about a week prior to starting sleep training, this is all we did in his crib. Two to three times a day we would lay him in his crib, turn on his soother and let him "play" in his crib for about 15-20 minutes at a time.

Many people will argue that in order to train your baby to sleep in his or her crib, it can only be a place for sleeping, not playing. I would somewhat disagree. I know that before I can fall asleep, I need to unwind. My husband and I will watch a TV show or read before we feel "ready" to fall asleep. Portland also needs to unwind and does so by watching and talking with his little aquarium, I turn off the lights and aquarium when it is time to sleep. I then turn on his white noise machine and rock him for a few minutes before placing him back in his crib where he will fall asleep. He gets upset and has a more difficult time falling asleep if he doesn't unwind.
After he became more comfortable in his crib, we started with sleep training nighttime only. Our sleep consult also recommended to work on nights first then on naps. She really does not recommend working on both at the same time because it can be brutal for both the parents and baby.

Night times were fairly easy for Portland. He was sleeping in his crib through the night by the fourth night of sleep training. He has always slept in his own space at night so the big adjustment was the new environment and Mama not being right there. After about two weeks in the crib at night, he started giving me 5-6 hour stretches and on a consistent basis and was no longer being woken up by Daddy getting ready for work at 3 AM, success! This over tired Mama was happy!

After he mastered nighttime sleep in his crib, we decided to work on nap times in the crib. The day before we were going to start, he was hit with the plague. Or what I felt like was the plague. He was battling RSV and a tummy virus all at once so we decided to postpone nap training until our little guy was significantly better. I knew he needed all the sleep he could get and that sleep training naps while he was fighting off multiple viruses wasn't in his best interest.

Two weeks later, he was feeling so much better and I picked out a starting date to start sleep training naps.

We dedicated an entire weekend (Friday through Sunday) to nap train upon the recommendation of our sleep consult. We literally didn't do anything or go anywhere that entire weekend.

Since he had been napping in our arms from day one, you can imagine how pissed Portland was when we tried to get him to nap in his crib. He didn't understand what was going or what he was supposed to do even though he was sleeping in his crib at night. The first day was long and he didn't nap in his crib at all. The second day was long but not as bad because he napped in his crib for the second nap. By the third day, he napped in his crib for both his morning naps. And then our nanny was super awesome and helped us continue our training on Monday where he napped in his crib for his first three naps. We continued to let him take his fourth nap anywhere he wanted (carrier, stroller, car, etc.) because he was showing signs that he would be dropping that nap soon.

We had to help him a lot those first few days showing him how to get himself to sleep. We also had to calm him down a lot because he did cry and because we wanted a sleep plan that kept the crying to a minimum, we never let him get hysterical. After about a week of sleep training naps, we were able to scale back our help. Now, we can put him down in his crib drowsy, walk out of his room and he gets himself to sleep for naps and bedtime. This was our ultimate goal!
It took us about a total of four weeks to complete our sleep training but I can finally say that my baby is napping in his crib for all of his naps and through the whole night! I had my doubts that this would ever be possible and was so stressed that sleep training would be a nightmare but it turned out to be so much better and successful than I could have ever imagined.

And can I just say how proud of my son I am?! We changed the rules on him and even though he was clearly upset at first that he no longer would be snuggled and rocked to sleep, he eventually took to his new sleep environment and thrived! He loves his crib and loves that he is able to roll and stretch out! He will even fight off our cuddles if he is ready to go to sleep in his crib. And most importantly of all, we are all getting better sleep! And another bonus? Mama and Daddy are getting breaks to get other things done like cleaning, work, laundry, meal prep, and just relaxing with each other!

His sleeping is of course not perfect. We are still sorting out nap lengths and number of naps he takes in a day. Sometimes he will nap for two hours, other days he will nap for thirty minutes. One day he will take four naps, the next he will only take two.

I find that it is best not to fight things like nap length and number of naps in a day but go with the flow. The most important thing out of all of this besides a happy health baby is to keep supporting his sleep skills and making sure we don't fall back to bad sleep habits.

All in all, Portland is sleeping so much better! He is getting more restful naps and sleeping longer stretches at night, he is sleeping in his crib for naps and bedtime, and is able to get himself to sleep and back to sleep. We have been able to accomplish all of our goals so far!

I highly recommend the Baby Sleep Site even if it is just to access their Free Resources for parents. I have been reading their articles since October of last year! As a first time parent, I had no idea what kind of schedule my baby should be on and the articles provided comfort and advice on many different topics.

If you were like me and didn't get baby into their own sleeping space or are struggling with getting baby to sleep, I also highly recommend their sleep consult service. There is a package and price point for every single family. Plus, it is really an investment since you can use your sleep plan for any additional children down the road and if you need your sleep plan tweaked for your child or any additional child, they have that option too.

It has been a truly amazing experience and probably one of the best things we could have done for our son. 


  1. This is just what I need right now! We are just a couple of weeks away from 4 months and I'd really like him to start sleeping in his crib versus the swing or myself. Thank you so much!!!

    1. Good luck! Seriously wasn't as bad or hard as I worked it up in my head to be.-- Four months was a great age to start too. I wish I started him in the crib when he was a newborn but oh well, I learned for the next one. I am so glad I started when we did and not waited any longer, it would have been so much harder at this age.

    2. I always think I wish I would have put him in the crib as a newborn too but because his reflux was and still is bad that was the issue with that. I guess it just really wasn't a choice at the time.

    3. Definitely hard to do the crib when dealing with that! You'[ll have to let me know how the crib transition goes, it really wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be and we did a very gentle and slow approach. You can email me if you want more details on what we did too!