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Before our girls were born, I told my husband that I didn't want to go through "crying it out" because I knew I wouldn't be comfortable with it. At the time he agreed with me.

However, after close to 8 months of sleep deprivation, and friends of my husband telling us about sleep training, my husband wants us to let one of the girls cry out. He claims that she NEEDS to learn how to fall asleep by herself and that she won't learn if we don't help her.

I thought that babies/kids would learn at some point to fall asleep on their own, even if parents have been helping them the whole time (picking them up when they really cry).

Am I wrong thinking that with time, she'll learn? And is it something that can last for YEARS or is it more a matter of MONTHS?

EDIT: I'm mostly talking about the part where they fall asleep without crying at the beginning of the night, not so much about night wakings. My husband thinks that one of the girls can't learn by herself since she doesn't calm down with patting/singing/rocking, but only with nursing, which means we always have to pick her up (otherwise she'll wake her sister up).


Context: We have 2 baby girls of almost 8 months old, one of them sleeps ok(ish) during the night, the other one started refusing sleeping in her own crib about a month ago. We've been co-sleeping with this one, allowing her to nurse back to sleep more easily.

We have a bedtime routine such as: I come home and nurse them, we play/sing/read, daddy comes home and we give a bath, then pjs, some solid food (usually fruit+oat cereal), then we go to their bedroom, I nurse them again while we put some rain sound, we dim the lights and we read "Goodnight moon", we give a kiss/cuddle/say "goodnight, we love you" and put them down. When we put them down, they are unfortunately sleeping and not drowsy (it hasn't worked AT ALL for us), and the bad sleeper just starts screaming as soon as she lands!

(Quick note: only nursing usually calms her down, when she starts crying and we pick her up, she's escalate even in our arms to a raging point that is pretty impressive :().

I did ask my parents, my brother, close friends how they got their babies to sleep and if they ever let their babies cry to sleep ; all of them said they would just pick up the baby and rock/cuddle/sing ... and that they didn't let their baby cry more than 5-10 minutes. However, all these babies were sleeping in their cribs / through the night (or at least a good chunk of the night) before they reached 6 month old.

I really would like to show my husband that she'll learn at some point to fall asleep by herself (I mean, teenagers don't have to be rocked to sleep, right? :)), and that letting her cry it out is not the only solution.

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6 Answers 6

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We did not "sleep train" in the sense your husband is referring to and our daughter is now a fabulous sleeper (at seven). Idon't think it is required (nor do I think it means automatically happier kids or more engaged parents). However, as with all things there are trade-offs to be considered on either side.

In my experience if you sleep train through snuggling and cuddling (like we did) until they're ready for more independent sleep without a lot of tears, it just might be years before bedtime is a quick 10-20 minute process for you. At the same time, my kid was a very happy connected kid that got all the cuddling and comfort she needed for as long as she needed it at bed-time and once asleep, she slept very well once she was past nursing.

As Joe points out, at about 8-9 months they typically really do start having foods that are much more filling - long term and start waking up during the night a lot less. That means you are likely to start getting more sleep either way than you are now (except when your child is ill, or teething, or going through a growth spurt. . . ) I don't really believe the parents of sleep trained babies ever got that much more sleep than I did (I have nannied for families that use this method so have more ability to compare than most who do only one or the other method), so until some one shows me an un-biased study that proves it equals more sleep, I'll probably remain skeptical.

What I do think I gave up in order to avoid any sort of "crying it out" or "no tears," is quiet time with my husband between when she was about 2 and 2 1/2 in the evenings for TV viewing and whatever in that 8:00 to 10:00 time period because it took a long time for her to fall asleep when we were transitioning her to falling asleep without cuddling. We did the whole sit with her, rub her back, stay in the room until she was asleep thing for a month or so, then we had a chair we sat in that moved further and further from the bed and closer and closer to the door of her room and finally into the hall. . . (you get the idea).

We also had a baby that was easy to transfer so we could snuggle with her, transfer her to her bed (when needed) and then be on our merry way before the transition described above. This actually hardly took any time at all and everyone still slept really well (and had their own space) by the time she was just past 18 months, but some babies are a lot harder to transfer than others.

Overall, I don't personally think one way is actually healthier in the long run - I know there are a lot of people out there that will disagree with me, but think about it, for centuries everyone slept in the same room in most households and it is still this way in many parts of the world. The whole idea of a nursery only came about in the late 1800's and even then it was only in the wealthiest households at first. The idea that your child will be psychologically injured and unable to sleep on her own for life if you don't sleep train is absurd.

Having said that it is extremely easy to put a sleep trained baby down for bed or down for a nap and takes minutes throughout those first two years as opposed to the somewhat longer process we had in my house. Your baby is more independent in sleep sooner, which affords you more independence as well. That is a pretty huge advantage. Sleep trained babies can still get their cuddles and affection at other times of the day, and once the training process is over, you'll be back to getting more sleep again.

I suggest you both read the book related to whichever methods you'd like to look into. Also check out Dr. Sears who, while controversial, offers up the opposing viewpoint and its benefits and the specific "how to's" and then have a candid conversation about the sacrifices each of you wants to make or not in regard to your choice here. Dr. Sears also outlines some "in between" ideas btw. Come up with a plan you think will work for the both of you and then stick to it for at least a few weeks (changing plans frequently is a good way to undermine the work you do in any direction). Then, re-evaluate if you need to and keep your communication on the matter open and loving. Whatever you do, it will work best if you both use the same plan and support each-other in it.

Just as a heads-up if you aren't already aware: It is also possible she is teething and that this stage may pass as quickly as it has come. I also thought that although maybe you have seen these, maybe not. Perhaps some of these different but related questions and their answers might have some helpful information, tips or ideas within them.

Are there techniques for actually teaching a child how to sooth itself?

When should we start lulling our baby back to sleep in her own bed?

Help with Sleep Training

I also found 6 little secrets of sleeping baby to be interesting and helpful in soothing parental nerves regarding the matter of sleep and babies very helpful.

Finally, it seems you and your husband have a decision to make together regarding bed and sleep, but it sounds as though your real concern is in how to sooth your little girl without nursing - a tough question in your case. We do not already have a question (that I found on a cursory glimpse) "How do I stop being a human pacifier?" but perhaps also asking that separate question will garner some additional ideas and advice from parents that had a similar problem at other points in the day than just at bedtime. Even so, some of it could still be applicable to you.

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Yes, I'm not really concerned about them waking up during the night. One of them has already done a few nights without waking up at all, and usually wakes up only once. The other one used to wake up 3 times a night, but nursing her was enough to get her to the crib. The issue is really mostly the fact she regressed and now can't sleep in her own crib, and will fight going to bed really hard, to the point where my husband thinks the only solution is to let her crying it out! I wish cuddling would work, but she only wants to nurse, my husband can't do anything with her :( –  Fanny H. Jan 30 at 19:40
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At around 8 months, they do start connecting up that being with you is fun and that they can cry in order to not be with you. This is about the time when "protest crying" does begin so I wouldn't consider it a regression - just a step forward in her cognitive abilities. If the idea of having to nurse her to sleep and then transfer her to her crib bothers you, than I do suggest sleep training. If you don't think that is a big deal and you can transition from nursing to cuddling to . . . as she ages and don't mind taking the time for this each evening, than sleep training isn't necessary. –  balanced mama Jan 30 at 20:07
    
If I actually can transition from nursing to cuddling, I don't mind. It's just that right now, being used as a giant pacifier is getting a little frustrating (and I guess even more so because they are twins, so I still need to take care of her sister's needs!). I've been nursing on demand from the beginning, took a longer leave of absence to spend more time with them, so I don't mind giving them all this time and attention! But since I can't put her down in her crib after the nursing/cuddling, it has proven difficult for me to do simple things: eat dinner/shower/restrooms in the evenings. –  Fanny H. Jan 30 at 20:44
    
How does nursing her long enough to get her to "settle" and then pull it away from her before she falls asleep then cuddling with her until she actually does fall asleep and moving her into her own crib work? –  balanced mama Jan 30 at 20:48
    
She gets mad if I pull it away from her. If I try to replace it with the pacifier, she gets mad too. She really does know what she wants and won't get it any other way :( I try to talk to her when I remove her from the breast, explaining her that it's night time and that she needs to go to bed, but it doesn't do anything. –  Fanny H. Jan 30 at 22:03

Well, you don't need to do anything, but the sooner you can comfortably get your family to a regular sleep routine that both you and your kids can count on, the happier you'll all be.

We got both of our kids to where they could be in bed, (quiet and seemingly happy) by the time they were about five months old. It was hard, especially for my wife, but today, our kids (2.5y and 9 mo) spend 11-12 hours asleep or in bed quietly (well, the older one sings some nights, but I like that), and they look forward to their bedtime routine and don't fight it.

Here are the two most important pieces advice I can give you:

Strategic Advice:

  1. Stop thinking of sleep training as something you're doing to make your life easier, and remember that you're doing this for your baby. They need can get the rest and security that come from getting a good nights sleep at the same time every day. Helping your baby learn how to sleep is hard, and it'll eat you up if you lose sight of the fact that it's more for them than you.
  2. Pick a plan with your spouse, and agree that you'll both stick with it. It's okay if it's not the one I recommend below, but you have to both agree very specifically to the plan. Agree that no changes will be made to the plan at night - you will convince yourself that every night is special, and exceptions should be made, but your goal is to give your child a routine they can trust and count on as a safe, consistent part of their life.

Tactical Advice:

I'd buy this book and give it a try - we found it to be an incredibly effective approach that didn't eat us up too much, because there's a known time limit you'll let crying go for, and it's easier to stick with than some, because it lays our very specific rules:

Twelve Hours' Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old: A Step-by-Step Plan for Baby Sleep Success (It used to be called "The Baby Sleep Solution.")

It's short, practical, and was extremely effective for us. (We didn't do it quite as early as they suggest - we started between 12 and 16 weeks.)

You need to read the book to use it, but the key components are:

  • Start with the feeding routine: do what's needed to be sure your baby won't be hungry
  • Establish a regular routine
  • Don't do things that reinforce nighttime crying (picking the baby up out of the crib, lots of talking, etc.)
  • Slowly wean off nightime feedings
  • Established fixed, limited periods of crying - we did 5 minutes - after which you can go in and soothe the baby without picking them up (rub their belly, etc.)
  • Once they calm, you leave, and reset the clock if they start again.

The main thing we liked was that it's very focused on a quick path to self-soothing, but with the minimal stress possible, and limited stress periods.

One of the hardest part of sleep training is the stress over "how long you can endure the crying". So a five minute max was very helpful for us. You know you both (you and the baby) can go that long, so it's a lot easier to stick with it.

Sleep training is really worth it. You'll have happier kids, and they'll have more engaged parents. You can do it.

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All this is good advice. I should have stressed out the fact that it's definitely the self-soothing when "putting her to bed" that is the issue. We've established a routine since they were 2-3 months old, and one of them has been pretty good since then (goes to bed without crying, just needs to be touched a little bit, and wakes up only once). The issue is more about my husband thinking that we have to let one of them cry it out to fall asleep since no matter what we do, she will scream if she realizes she's in her crib and we need to pick her up and nurse her forever... –  Fanny H. Jan 30 at 19:28
    
@FannyH., yes, I realize that some of what I summarize is already in your process (the routine, etc.) but the core of the book's technique (and my suggestions for how to approach it as a couple are directly related to the process of getting a kid you've put in bed to go to sleep and sleep happily through the night. –  Jaydles Jan 30 at 19:49
    
I probably won't be able to read the book BEFORE they do learn to fall asleep (they really don't leave me any free time), but I'll continue sticking to our routine/plan adjusting it to what you suggested. –  Fanny H. Jan 30 at 20:48
    
This is the method the family I currently sit for has used and they have loved it! The kids are super easy to put to bed - except fairly typical stalling by the three year old that would probably happen no matter what you did when they are babies. –  balanced mama Jan 30 at 21:20

Babies are unique individuals. Some babies certainly do learn to fall asleep on their own very quickly. Others don't. My first one still doesn't fall asleep very well - at 2.5 years old. My second one goes to sleep very well - not perfect, but probably average or above average.

In terms of age-related steps, the biggest one is solid foods. Once the baby starts eating a lot of solid foods - particularly, starts eating proteins and fatty foods that will fill him/her up for several hours - it becomes much easier to both fall asleep and to not wake up hungry. Both of mine became much easier to deal with once they started eating solid foods for the majority of their caloric needs (both by 8 months, though mine were both pretty big and physically mature fairly early).

In terms of psychology, one of the biggest questions is, is the baby waking because s/he is hungry, or because of psychological need for comfort? That's pretty hard to tell, but typically for us we find that we can tell the difference if we try to put our little one back to sleep. If he goes back to sleep reasonably quickly, he's fine; if he cries through it and refuses to go back to sleep, and has a particular sort of cry, he's hungry. Usually we know in advance it's likely, because he didn't eat very well that day for dinner.

As far as how to start it off, you don't have to 'cry it out' to sleep train. Cry it out, to me, implies letting the child cry for 30 minutes, an hour, whatever - and that to me is a bad idea as well. It's possible your child has a need, after all, that you are ignoring. The way that worked for us, was two things.

First, stop cosleeping; that's a crutch for both of you, and nothing will change if you don't go back to the crib. (Nothing wrong with cosleeping, but if your goal is to get her to sleep on her own, it hinders that.) Set your routine up so you feed her before bed, but don't allow her to go to sleep eating; feed her in the living room or somewhere else, and then take her into the bedroom 10-15 minutes later.

Second, when you get her down, sooth her with touch and sound. Petting the tummy works well for us, soft strokes vertically up and down. Then I sing a soft, easy song, something highly repetitive and easy to remember for me - Frere Jacques, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, that sort of thing. I adapt the song to the child's name sometimes, which at least amuses me if not the baby :) She may cry some during this time, but you're there comforting her (but not lying down); she's not going to feel abandoned, and you can fix anything that actually is wrong. Some kids just can't do 'no tears', but the limited cries that you get in this sort of method are more complaints than truly being upset - this is the only way they can communicate, after all, at this age.

If you're going to do something like this, make it as likely to succeed as possible. Start on a night where you wear her out - not overtired, but ready to sleep for sure. Start doing it close to feedings and move it a bit further out each night. Make sure she ate a lot that day and has a good night diaper on to keep that from causing trouble. And don't worry too much about being perfect; you'll have some reversions undoubtedly but if you keep trying your baby will get there eventually.

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True babies are unique, from day 1 I saw these girls had different personalities :) I know I shouldn't have given in the co-sleeping, but I had reached a breaking point from not having had 1 single night of sleep for 7 months. I'm with you on the "if the baby cries, there's probably a reason for it", it's why I'm really not comfortable doing any CIO methods. My husband heard some of his friends doing it so thinks it's the solution :( Soothing her with patting or singing seems to make it worse and she cries even more... even in the arms. Your answer comforts me in the "no cry" choice tho! –  Fanny H. Jan 29 at 21:13

There are a wide variety of "cry it out" techniques. I am vigorously opposed to most of them. Some of the 'gentler' techniques are valuable for sleep training. They work within two weeks, they do not allow the child to get too distressed, and they support the parent and child through a short but difficult transition.

"Cry it out" is the term used for the more unpleasant methods. "Controlled crying" is a term used in the UK for gentler methods. And there's "no tears" techniques. Here's some information about no tears techniques - http://www.babycenter.com/0_baby-sleep-training-no-tears-methods_1497581.bc

If you want to try to use cry it out techniques there is some information here - http://www.babycenter.com/0_baby-sleep-training-cry-it-out-methods_1497112.bc?page=1

They get some important points wrong. You must wait until the child is at least 6 months old. The Ferber method has wait times that are too long. You should increase the time out by one minute each time.

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I should have mentioned that I've been following the tips for no-tears solution for a while (this exact same article you linked). It says that it might take times, but since it has gotten worse for this little one, I was wondering if it WILL work. (I am really against the CIO methods and really want to prove my husband that it's not a necessary step!) –  Fanny H. Jan 29 at 20:12

We didn't use the cry it out technique, and finally she sleeps through the night (mostly), after nearly 2 years. These days there is generally crying when putting her to sleep, though sometimes she just isn't tired when we want her to go to sleep, so there'll be some protesting.

We never left her to cry alone. If she ever cried, we laid next to her. It never worked to put her down to fall asleep on her own, as she simply wouldn't. Some days she will be asleep within 10 minutes, some days it will take an hour. We co-sleep with her. Some nights she sleeps like a log, some nights she is clingy.

So in theory, you don't need to employ the cry it out method. But beware of the consequences. It may take a long time to regain your evenings.

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Yes, co-sleeping is what I had to do with her lately, but 1. it makes me feel guilty to leave her sister in the crib while she gets to be comfy with us, and 2. it prevents me from actually eat dinner / take a shower ... since I can't leave her in the big bed by herself. But good to know that it can take up to 2 years! –  Fanny H. Jan 30 at 19:42
    
Can you transfer her from the big bed to the crib without waking her? –  balanced mama Jan 30 at 20:08
    
We have never transferred our daughter from the big bed to the crib, not in 2 years. She's never fallen out either. –  Dave Clarke Jan 30 at 20:24
    
I'm sorry DaveClarke - I meant that for Fanny H. because it sounds like she is concerned about leaving the other little one out and about leaving the baby in question alone on the bed. We never had trouble with ours falling out of the big bed when she was in it either though - its true. –  balanced mama Jan 30 at 20:48
    
@balanced mama: I could try to transfer her from our bed to her crib when she's asleep, but even when she seems sound asleep and I start moving her really slowly/carefully, she wakes up the second she's in the crib :( And otherwise yes I'm afraid of leaving her in the bed, lately they've really taken up on crawling, standing up and such. And she's the extremely curious and adventurous one (also loves doing stunts!), so when she's alone somewhere, she'll just crawl around to discover. So I'm afraid of her waking up, and be like: "oh hi freedom, let's see what's over there" =/ –  Fanny H. Jan 30 at 21:18

I co-slept with mine, so I don't have any tried and true solutions, but having read your post and the comments you made in response to others' answers, I do have a few suggestions that might help, within your narrowly defined limits... and an observation.

The observation is that she seems to know exactly what she's doing. She wants you to sleep with her and nurse, and she doesn't see why she should settle for anything else. She seems pretty strong-willed, and she's learned that she can prevail in a battle of wills, so as long as you are unwilling to make her unhappy, this is not likely to change. Note that I'm not advocating you do the extreme CIO -- I co-slept, in part because I wasn't willing to use the CIO -- just saying that I suspect it's the only thing that will solve the problem in the short term. (Going forward, BTW, if you stop losing the (sleep) battles with her, by either conceding before a battle starts or winning the next battle, she will eventually forget that she can prevail against you, so things can get better... just not soon.)

The suggestions:

  • Get a twin mattress and put it directly on the floor. If she can fall asleep with you there, you should be able to leave her there at some point. Just try not to train her to sleep lightly in response: make sure she is deeply asleep when you get up.
  • Try to transfer her need for you to a "lovey". Find a stuffed toy (and get a spare in case it works, so you can alternate/wash it without her knowing). Hold it when you hold her, offer it, cuddle it -- see if you can get her to attach to it. When you lie down with her on the twin mattress, try to get her to hold it when she is done with the breast.
  • After she has attached to the lovey, try to get her to accept it in other situations where she needs soothing. When you are ready to ramp up your efforts to get her to fall asleep by herself, her having her lovey will help.
  • If you are like me, and get very distressed when you hear your child screaming, consider using earplugs when you do decide to re-engage in this battle. Moms are hardwired to find it upsetting to hear their kids cry. My heart rate goes up, small muscles on my face and in my arms tighten. Babies can sense your distress and this can distress them further. I found ear plugs negate my body's involuntary response to the sound of my child crying. I could still hear and see her crying, but it didn't go straight to my nervous system, which allowed me to stay calm, and this helped her calm down much faster than otherwise. (Note: the ear plugs are only for when you are right there, holding her. I'm not saying use them to ignore your child, just to tone down your body's involuntary response.)

Good luck!

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