Our Personal Stories Part 2: Elli's Experience With Baby Sleep

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I can’t imagine how anyone chooses to sleep train!?”, well I did too, but then I sleep trained. Sarah and I usually write our blogs together but we’re sharing our personal stories, so it’s just me, Elli, here today. I’ve contemplated sharing this story with you all for a while and was nervous to do so, but I think it will help everyone. This is for you if you have sleep trained in the past and regret having done so (you’re in good company friend), if you attempted to sleep train and gave up, or even if you would never do so, because I think it will shine light on how some families get to this place too. If you’re triggered by sleep training in any way, you may want to skip this one. 

When my first baby was born, he was rather typical as far as a newborn goes. Pretty sleepy in the early days, then not so much after the first few weeks. I am a planner by nature (and past profession), so I had read a few books on baby sleep during my pregnancy. I didn’t know it then but they were all the wrong books. The books I had read blamed parents for their baby’s normal sleep habits, warned against creating negative sleep crutches, and set the expectation for me that by 3 or 4 months my baby would and should be sleeping through the night. So there I was, trying to support my baby to sleep, but being very careful to not let him fall asleep nursing - because that was written to be the worst possible thing I could do for him and my future sleep (the “dreaded” feed to sleep association). I didn’t know how often babies should sleep and I didn’t feel empowered to follow my instincts so I found a document online that outlined how long babies should be awake for between sleeps, how many naps they should take, and how much total sleep they should be getting in 24 hours. 

If you haven’t already guessed, this led me to feel like a complete and utter failure as a mom when my highly sensitive, low sleep total baby, straight up did not follow these norms. Eventually, I listened to my instincts and fell into a pattern where I settled into holding him or occasionally nursing him to sleep, contact napping, and just feeding back to sleep all night long. I remember my aunt offering to come help with him at night and I told her that it was okay because he just nursed right back to sleep quickly and that was manageable for me. 

Then he turned 4 months. 

Like most babies, sleep got really tricky at 4 months.  The broken sleep that was manageable for me to this point turned completely unmanageable when he started splitting his nights, Every. Single. Night. For those of you who are lucky enough to not know what a split night is, it’s a 2 hour wakeful period in the middle of the night where no matter what you do, your baby does not go back to sleep until enough sleep pressure has built back up to get back to sleep until morning. So I did what every tired mom does, I asked google what to do. 

The responses hit hard. “There’s a permanent shift at 4 months”, “it doesn’t get better until you make a change (read sleep train)”, “your accidentally parenting”, “your baby is freaking out from falling asleep in your arms and waking up without you”, and of course, “you need to teach him to self soothe by putting him down drowsy but awake”. But still sleep training didn’t align with my parenting values so on I went. 

As the weeks continued, and the content I had filled my newsfeed with continued to permeate into my thoughts, I started to feel more and more like I needed to make a change. So I started to look for gentle sleep solutions. Five years ago, the gentle sleep solutions included pick up/put down, and the chair method/Sleep Lady Shuffle. If you don’t know me well, these are not gentle in my books, they’re just more gentle than extinction or Ferber felt to me. So with the support of a sleep consultant who never actually spoke to me on the phone, we weaned off of all “sleep crutches” cold turkey, while sitting close to the crib but being warned not to touch or talk to him too much. I still can remember how much he cried and how much I resisted every instinct in my body telling me to go pick him up and feel terrible for ever choosing that path. 

I wanted to share this because I know I’m not the only one who has ever felt like it was their only option. I know I’m not the only one who struggled with sleep and made a choice she regrets. I also know that there are some families out there that are currently struggling with the decision of what to do about their little one’s sleep so that they can get more sleep as a family. 

If you regret sleep training, please know that you’re not alone. You can read our open letter to the mom who regrets sleep training here

If you are considering making a change around your baby’s sleep, I want you to know the one thing I wish I knew 4 years ago; you don’t have to sleep train to get more sleep. Society will make you feel like it’s the only answer. Emails you get from baby apps and brochures you get from your pediatrician’s office will totally pathologize your baby’s normal sleep patterns and sell you their solution of sleep training. Many will blame you for not having “taught” your baby the “skill” of self-soothing, but know this; you are doing completely amazing. 

You can still make a change that will benefit your whole family if sleep isn’t working well right now. We are absolutely here for making changes to the things that no longer work for your family. Just know that you can do this without having to go against your instincts to do so. You can make changes that leave you feeling close and connected to your baby, and we’re always here to help you if you need it! 

Categories: : Normal Infant & Toddler Sleep, Sleep Associations, Sleep Support, Sleep Without Sleep Training