Our son Archer has been on a sleep schedule since the day he was born. Every 3 hours he was fed – 8am, 11pm, 2pm, 5pm, 8pm, 11pm, 2am, 5am and repeat. The NICU started him on this schedule, and we continued it when we left the hospital because it was in line with the Baby Wise principles we wanted to follow anyways.
Baby Wise works off of the idea of Parent Directed Feeding (PDF), where you work to establish a feeding schedule of every 2.5 to 3 hours initially when the baby is born, creating a daily routine that the baby will come to know and love. As the baby gets older, feedings start to merge. For instance, Archer is now on a schedule of 7am, 10am, 1pm, 4pm, 7pm, and he is awake for no longer than an hour and a half after he eats, and is put down for a two hour nap, with the exception of his 7pm feeding, where he then sleeps through the night for approximately 10 – 11 hours. All of the nighttime feeds merged. He has been sleeping between 8 and 11 hours *most* nights since he was about 2 1/2 or 3 months old.
Obviously the Baby Wise method is not full proof – babies go through growth spurts, teething, get sick, etc. and revert back to waking up in the middle of the night. That happened last week actually. Archer woke up two nights in a row around 3am, and I fed him a bottle and he went back to sleep until his morning feeding. But there was a reason for it!
As of last week, his first feed of the day had still been 8am and his last feed was 8pm. He was trying to tell us that he needed to adjust his schedule a bit and that he needed more calories in a 24 hour period. With Baby Wise, you are to be flexible, so we adjusted his schedule to an hour earlier for every feed, and started feeding him 1-2 ounces more (which the pediatrician indicated would happen around the time he hit 4 months). The results? He slept through the night again!
It’s important to note that Baby Wise suggests following a schedule, but they also don’t agree with starving the baby until each scheduled feeding if the baby is showing hunger queues early. Hence why I fed him in the middle of the night, even though it wasn’t a scheduled feed. There are additionally plenty of times where Archer will wake up from a nap early and demand food, so we feed him early! It’s all about being flexible, but also establishing a routine that he can rely on.
Baby Wise also follows the idea that the baby is to eat-wake-sleep. This one really helped establish a nap-time routine in his crib. At each scheduled feeding he eats first, has no more than an hour or an hour and a half of awake time, and is back to sleep for nap time. So his schedule looks like this: 7am – wakes up, eats, plays for an hour or hour and a half, goes down for a nap from about 8am to 10am; 10am – wakes up, eats, plays for an hour or hour and a half, goes down for a nap from about 11am to 1pm; and so on.
When I initially started sleep training him to take two hour long naps in his crib – because lets face it.. he’d sleep all day in my arms if I let him – he wasn’t having it! He would sleep for a max of 30 minutes and be awake again. Turns out, this was also attributed to the fact that he wasn’t getting enough calories at each feed! Basically, there is always a reason your child isn’t sleeping as well as you hope for, and you have to investigate the issue in order to fix it. Baby Wise offers up several suggestions as to what it could be attributed to in their book and on their blog.
A big part of sleep training the Baby Wise way is also letting the baby soothe themselves to sleep. Instead of putting Archer down for naps or bedtime after I’ve rocked him to sleep, I actually lay him in the crib while he’s awake and let him fall asleep on his own. Does he cry? Sometimes. If he cries, I go in his room, put the pacifier back in his mouth after a few minutes if he wants it, twist his mobile, and I leave. I don’t speak to him though, I just reassure him I’m there. I do let him cry for a few minutes before I do this.
To be clear – if something is clearly wrong, I do not let him cry it out. There is a clear difference between a true cry where something is wrong, and a cry for things like wanting to be picked up. 9 times out of 10, he is crying out of pure exhaustion, or because he’s testing me to see if I’ll come pick him up. The first couple of times it’s hard not to give in, but if you do, you’re setting the tone for the rest of your sleep training, and I wish you luck! Haha! But on a serious note – this part of sleep training is important to me because when he goes to daycare, I don’t want him to be shocked when someone doesn’t come running to pick him up every time he cries. It’s just not practical, and I want to set him up for success at daycare to make it as easy of a transition as possible.
If you’re wanting to get your baby to the point of soothing themselves to sleep, I think it’s also important to know your own personality in situations like this. Some parents just can’t stand a crying baby. I knew before I had Archer that this would not be a huge hurdle for me. But it was clear from other parents that that wasn’t the case for them. I’d often hear, “oh you just wait until it’s your baby crying…” I’m not sure why it doesn’t bother me like it does some people. I think it’s because I know what the end result is, and allowing your child to call the shots at such a young age will only set the tone for years to come in various other ways. First it’s sleep, and then it transfers to other things. It’s my personal belief that if you pick up your child every time they cry, they start to believe that they are the one calling the shots. And then they’re 2, 3 and 4 and you wonder why they’re a little tyrant. But what do I know? 😉
I recently observed my cousins son, Avery, and was so impressed by him. I literally had not seen such a well behaved child in all of my life. I asked her what she thinks the secret is, and I also asked my aunt who is very close to her, and they both told me the same thing. From an early age, Jessie set the tone with Avery. Before he could even talk, she was making it very clear to him that she will respect him, but he is expected to respect her also. She also taught him manners – he was signing “thank you” or “please” before he could even speak. They both told me that because she instilled these principles from day 1, he is who he is today. I think it’s the same for sleep. If you don’t create a good sleep habit from day 1, it’s my personal belief that you’re only doing more harm than good for later.
Can this method be difficult? Absolutely. I don’t WANT to hear Archer cry ever. But it’s only for the initial part of sleep training that it will happen, and after that they soothe themselves to sleep without any tears! Promise! Most naps and nights Archer doesn’t even cry anymore. If he does, it’s generally because we kept him awake for just a little too long and he’s over tired.
I know it’s not easy, but from one new mom trying to figure things out to another, I’m cheering you on!
UPDATE: as of a couple of weeks after writing this post I learned 2 new things I thought were important to add. So here they are…