At three months old, River was sleeping 10 hours most nights. Yes, ten hours of complete, uninterrupted sleep. When I’d tell people this, their jaws would literally drop in disbelief. I wasn’t really doing anything to make this amazingness happen, so I’d just kind of shrug and admit to being lucky. I truly thought Riv was just an insanely good sleeper and he’d be like that forever. WRONG. Poor, naive me. I had no idea what was in store.
The dreaded four-month sleep regression was real for us. I’m also sad to say it went on for far too long — until the eight-month mark to be exact. At first, I was getting up every three to four hours and, assuming he was crying out in hunger, nursed him every time until it was socially acceptable to stay awake and start the day around 6 a.m. Then it got to be every two hours and I thought I was going to lose it. I legitimately dreaded night time because I knew it wouldn’t be restful and I’d wake up to a screaming baby before enjoying a decent amount of shuteye. There were a number of nights where I was up for a 3 or 4 a.m. feeding and just stayed awake for the day because at least I could be alone, enjoy the silence, and get things done around the house.
At one point, he was majorly teething and came down with his first cold. He was coughing and pretty badly congested, and I ended up comfort feeding him all night long for almost a week straight. I was too lazy to keep going back and forth every time, so I would bring him back to our room and nurse him until he fell asleep on me. I would let him stay there all night and inadvertently started co-sleeping. I secretly loved having him in our bed, but I was also super uncomfortable and never experienced any truly restful sleep. I forced myself to sleep on my back (I’m normally a side-sleeper) and didn’t allow myself to move at all out of fear of a) waking Riv or b) smothering him. It was a mess but that was the only way I felt he could get any sleep and, at that point, his rest and comfort were way more important than mine. I should also mention that during this time Riv wasn’t napping during the day consistently either. It probably goes without saying, but add all of this up and you don’t get the happiest baby. I felt bad for him and I felt bad for us. It was pretty miserable for a few months and I was almost came to terms with the fact that we’d never get a real night’s sleep again.
BUT THEN my long-time friend, Jennifer, stepped in and offered a solution. She’s a mother of two and was just finishing up the sleep training process with her youngest when she reached out to me. I didn’t realize it until someone else pointed it out to me, but it’s basically a version of the Ferber method. I had heard of it, but never did any of my own research on it because I had been so averse to anything that involved crying it out. I had read Babywise while I was pregnant per a million people’s recommendations but, to be completely honest, I forgot every single thing about it once River was born. New mommy fog and trying to keep a new baby alive apparently blocked anything else pre-River from my mind. I also don’t think I put much thought into since he was such a good sleeper for the first few months of his life. All this to say: desperate times called for desperate measures right around eight months. Old, rested me wasn’t a fan of crying it out, whereas new, sleep-deprived me was willing to try just about anything.
Here are the basics:
- Do a normal bedtime routine (bath, book, song, etc. then bottle/breastfeed).
- Don’t let baby fall completely asleep — put baby down drowsy but still awake and leave the room.
- If/when baby starts crying, start a five-minute timer.
- Once five minutes are up, go into room and shush/rub back for up to five minutes. Do not pick baby up. After five minutes, leave the room again.
- If/when baby starts crying, start a ten-minute timer.
- Once ten minutes are up, go into room and shush/rub back for up to five minutes. Do not pick baby up. After five minutes, leave the room again.
- Repeat this process, adding five minutes (or until you’re comfortable) each time.
We jumped in a little late the first night because Riv was already asleep when I got the run-down, but we stuck to it from that point forward.
I kept an obnoxiously long note on my phone while I was tracking everything, so apologies in advance for all the details. I debated whether or not to include all of it, but if our hiccups along the way make anyone else feel a little better about their own experience, then I figured it’s worth it.
I also want to mention that River is mobile and pulls himself up in his crib like it’s his job now. When he’d have a full-blown meltdown and stand up during the CIO period, I ended up going in after the timer went off, gently put him down, and proceeded with the shushing/back rubbing.
Here’s a breakdown of our first week:
- 6:15 p.m. 5 oz. bottle, put down asleep
- 11:00 p.m. (5 mins) sat himself down after standing for a little bit and went back down after a couple minutes of me rubbing his back/shushing
- 12:40 a.m. (10 mins) stood up and sat down over and over, chilled out and went to sleep again after I went in for a couple mins
- 4:00 a.m. (15 mins) screamed and stood up a bunch, fought it a little more but went back to sleep after 5 mins, didn’t have to go into his room
- 4:50 a.m. (20 mins) fell asleep after 15 mins, didn’t have to go in his room
- 6 a.m. nurse
- 8:45 a.m. awake for the day
- 6:45 p.m. 7 oz. bottle, put down awake
- 6:47 p.m. (5 mins) calmed down but stayed awake when I left the room and started to cry immediately
- 7: 11 p.m. (10 mins) fell asleep within one minute, didn’t have to go in his room
- 5:35 a.m. (15 mins) fell back asleep after a couple minutes, didn’t have to in his room
- 7 a.m. awake for the day
- 7:30 p.m. 7 oz. bottle, put down awake and he rolled over quietly and put himself to sleep right away, no crying at all!
- 11:15 p.m. (5 mins) super angry cry, rolled around and then stood up in his crib, couldn’t be consoled even with me rubbing his back and shushing, he was lightly crying when I left the room after 5 minutes
- 11:17 p.m. (10 mins) another really angry cry, I tried to shush and rub his back but realized he had a poopy diaper. I felt like I was breaking the “don’t pick the baby up” rule but I obviously had to change him. He was super chill while I changed him, which is rare these days, so I thought he’d go back down after having a clean diaper. Nope. He screamed a bad scream. You know the one. After multiple attempts, I ended up feeding him because I figured that was the only thing making him so mad. When I’ve fed him in the middle in the night in the past, it’s been kind of half-assed and seemed like more of a comfort feed. That wasn’t the case this night. He nursed ferociously for a good 10-15 minutes. I again put him down again and again he cried. My instinct was to pick him up again or rub his back, but I forced myself to leave the room and started the timer again. He put himself to sleep within 30 seconds.
- 12:45 a.m. (15 mins) rubbed his back and shushed for five minutes before he went to sleep again
- 7 a.m. awake for the day
- 7 p.m. 7 oz. bottle, cried for 10 seconds as I put him down and left the room but calmed down and fell asleep instantly
- 11 p.m. a couple short cries where I started the timer but then he fell right back to sleep
- 1:35 a.m. (5 mins) started the 5 min timer but he never moved around and eventually chilled himself out before the timer went off
- 2:30 a.m. (10 mins) started 5 min timer but he fell back asleep after a couple minutes
- 6:40 a.m. awake for the day
- My mom was babysitting and put Riv down this night, which is always hit or miss — mostly miss. Luckily, she got him to eat almost 7 oz. and put him down for the night. She ended up having to do a five-minute CIO period, rubbed his back, picked him up for a little bit (GASP, I know), and got him back to sleep in his crib. The next time he cried, she didn’t have to go into his room because he settled himself back down. So yayyy for this working for someone other than myself. It totally gave me hope!
We then went on a weekend trip where we were able to stick to the schedule for the most part. I ended up doing one 12 a.m. feeding the first night we were there because he wouldn’t settle down (it takes him a little while to adjust to new places), but other than that, he was pretty consistent! He even stuck to his morning naps, which made our time out and about way more enjoyable.
Some people, including my friend Jennifer, had amazing success after just three nights. I kept in mind that results can vary from person to person, and despite him not perfectly sleeping through the night right now, I still consider our progress a huge win. It’s been just over a week and he goes to bed between 6:30 and 7 p.m., wakes up for no more than three minutes two or three times a night (he settles himself back down), and sleeps until around 6 a.m.
He’s also consistently napping once in the morning around 9:30 and again in the afternoon around 1:30. Again, it’s not 100 percent the same every day, but it’s a lot better and more predictable than ever before. Aside from us all getting better sleep at night, the naps have been the second biggest benefit of this method.
Another thing we were able to overcome is the issue of putting him in his crib fully asleep every night. Before sleep training, I would nurse/bottle feed him until he passed out and then quietly placed him in his crib. I literally never put him down even partially awake. Throughout this process, I learned that he is more than capable of settling himself down and getting comfortable enough to fall asleep on his own.
If you’re still with me, bless your soul! I know this was long-winded, but I hope it inspires some faith in anyone having trouble with sleep-challenged babes. I promise you’re not alone and I promise it CAN get better.
If I missed anything or you have some tips of your own, please comment below. The more information we can share, the better.
Here’s to sleep!