Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sleep Training my 16-month-old

I have put it off for quite some time, and now that I might soon be rejoining the work force it is time to get Nathan able to fall asleep on his own. We may need him in daycare, and they certainly won't be able to gently rock and sing him to sleep for up to thirty minutes, and then again when he reawakens a half-hour later. As much as I am not a fan of the cry-it out method (specifically the extinction form of it) I do believe at this point in his life any major change like this will bring some amount of tears.

The first few nights were particularly rough, we actually tried pick-up-put-down method for a while. This worked alright for the first night. He kept getting to a point where he was hysterical, and it would be cruel to let him carry on like that. The second night, however, when I picked him up he might calm down - only to cry harder when I set him back in his crib. The first couple of nights I also resigned myself to singing and singing and singing. It's a wonder I had any voice left after that. By day three, my husband and I started making small adjustments that would work better in the long run. After all, I didn't want Nathan to require constant singing to fall asleep. We were ecstatic when Nathan fell asleep at bedtime (after crying through his entire nap) after under an hour of fussing! What a relief! Just the encouragement we needed to keep it up. Day four was rough again - but I expected it to take more effort with me in the room, as the one who used to nurse him to sleep. He did eventually fall asleep though, and that is an improvement over the day prior. As the week progressed, he cried for shorter periods of time. 

Here are a few tips that worked for us:

Build a regular sleepy-time routine. 
Same time every day for naps and bed time. Start this as early as you want! Children may not take to it before 4 months of age, but getting them used to it can only help. Consistency is key with a sleepy time routine. Ours is change diaper into PJs, brush teeth with a couple minutes of cuddling, storytime in the crib, and lights out with a couple of lullabies. It should be simple and in the same order each night.

Ensure that your child is burning off lots of energy throughout the day.
If they still have energy to burn when it's bed time, it will be more difficult to get them down. Make sure you have lots of play time and stimulating activities throughout the day. If it is nearing bed time and you think they still have too much energy, my little guy loves bath time before bed - burns off energy and is cozy warm!

Make sure he gets enough food.
I didn't even really consider the fact that my boy was used to nursing to sleep and throughout the night - therefore used to getting more calories through nursing. Now I try to give him a snack a short while before we begin the bed time routine.

Do not react to his crying.
The exception to this rule is when he gets hysterical. I won't ignore my child who is freaking out. After the first day and a half though, Nathan never got to this point. Once he was somewhat used to the plan, he would cry but not freak out. And this is where you must not react to it. It is to get your attention and play and stay awake, or to get you to nurse him back to sleep. My husband and I swivel the little chair around away from Nathan so that he knows we are there, but we aren't making eye contact.

The first week could be rough. Lots of loud crying, screaming, and general noise. I definitely wish I had grabbed a pair in the first couple of days!

Try to avoid starting a sleep training program when your little one is pushing out teeth or unwell. These are times when he will likely need extra cuddles and nursing sessions. If you can hold off a few days in these instances, I'd recommend it.

Do any of you have any experience sleep training a young toddler? Leave any tips that helped you in the comments! :-)

Edited to add: One of the most disheartening and frustrating happenings during this is when all goes well for a few days and then -- BAM it's like we're back to day #1. This can happen because of teething, shots, sickness, overtired little one, and more. Through times like these, I find it's best to give extra cuddles and if they are truly upset (hysterical crying/screaming) then perhaps hold off for that day/night and try again the next day. You will be able to tell the difference between regular crying and hysterical crying. In my experience, the latter just seems to wake them up more so while simultaneously causing them to be overtired. Basically, they won't go to sleep like this. 

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