I’m so nervous to write about this topic! But friends have requested it, so here we go. I’m going to humbly describe how we have 2 toddlers that sleep from 7pm to 7am, with no nighttime feeds or pacifiers or whatnot. Plus naps.
I’m in a unique position. I had 2 kids in the US, then moved to India with a 7-month-old and 2 year old (still babies!). I’ve been living in India for the past 1.5 years. The girls are now 2 and 3.5. So – I’ve basically done half of my new mom journey in the US, and half in Mumbai. And my husband is Indian. So I’ve noticed some cultural differences with baby sleep in both places. Just please take with a grain of salt – I’m not a sleep expert and I really believe there are no right or wrong answers, just what is right for your family.
Our sleep training journey – Leela
After Leela was born, I was shocked that this little creature had so much crying to do! Goodness me! A few factors contributed to her becoming a great sleeper:
- I was going back to work after 3 months of maternity leave. So being up all night was not very appealing. I had that urgency to get her sleeping through the night pretty quickly.
- I had a crew of new mom friends on the Upper West Side, and they were also going back to work after 3 months. We ALL read multiple books about babies and sleep over maternity leave. And compared notes. And even got a little competitive with each other. I’d come home and tell my husband “Rachel is doing the 12 Hours of Sleep by 12 Weeks Old program and Sam slept for 8 hours last night!” and we would freak out and immediately read that book.
- From reading multiple sleep books, there were 2 crucial principles that stood out. One, is you need a very strong routine. A nighttime routine would be: bath, bottle, book, bed. And we’d turn on a white noise machine and swaddle her, and gave her the same lovey once she was old enough. Two, is the principle that sleep begets sleep. It’s a huge myth that you should keep your kid up later to get them to sleep better. Or that you should drop a nap so they’ll sleep better at night. I remember reading Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child which is 700 PAGES LONG, and that was the main takeaway. Sleep begets sleep. You want long chunky naps and 12 hours at night.
- Now keep in mind, in the US we don’t have jhapas or 24-hour help or parents living with us. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan when Leela was born. So it was just us. This means that for our sanity and being able to function during the day, we wanted a good sleeper. The stakes were high. We also didn’t have parents or in-laws giving any pesky opinions, so that cleared the way for us to do what was right for us. When I was recovering from my c-section I had a sitter come for 3 hours in the morning. She was GREAT at putting Leela down for her nap, so that helped me to see what was possible.
- When I went back to work, that sitter became our full-time nanny. So I was very lucky, because she established a really good nap schedule which helped a lot. We were first-time parents and she was very experienced with babies, so it’s no surprise that she had the right touch. So – that’s one piece of advice, try to bring in help that is great with baby sleep, it goes a long way! Another thing to note – Leela never really liked the pacifier, which I suppose is lucky in the long run. Because of this wonderful nanny and her magic touch, Leela became a good sleeper without ever having to do what I would think of as “sleep training” or “cry it out.” It was all about taking her outside for walks and play, very solid routine, and a lot of luck with my nanny.
- Final point I would note with Leela is that we were very willing to sacrifice socializing. We didn’t mind hibernating a bit, and saying no to things if they were too late at night or if they would interfere with naps. And we never considered co-sleeping with her. It just wasn’t even something we discussed, wasn’t on my radar at all. I’d say around 4 or 5 months she was fairly reliably sleeping through the night in her crib. We moved to a bigger apartment when she was 7 months old, and once she had her own room she slept much, much better. We felt bad when we realized how much our presence in the room was disturbing her at night!
The rest is history with Leela! She now sleeps from around 7 or 7:30 (or sometimes closer to 8) all the way through to morning, and she wakes up around 7am. On school days, she barely naps for half an hour in the afternoon. But on the weekend she gets exhausted running around with her papa and will nap for 2 hours. She stayed in the crib until a bit past age 3, and then I switched her to a toddler bed.
Our sleep training journey – Rumi
Things were NOT as easy with Rumi! Our nanny moved, we had a noisy toddler running around the house so it was hard to get things quiet for naps, and we didn’t have such a strong routine with her. I did a lot of nursing her to sleep … she would be in the bed with me and when Karan was exhausted he would sleep on the couch. (These are NYC apartments, not huge.) When she was a few months old, we tried putting her and Leela in the same bedroom and it was a disaster. Then we planned a big move to India, and all the not-great sleep habits continued. Karan kept promising me that in India I would have 24-hour help and things would get better.
We got to India and things did not get better! First, we had the humungous disruption of jet lag. More co-sleeping and nursing to sleep. We had a new nanny that didn’t know how to deal with this crying baby and would knock on my door at 3am to pass her to me and I was like “Karan this is not what you promised!” And he was like “I’m starting a new job, you HAVE to figure this out!” And then I cried and the baby cried and I nursed her to sleep.
But – because of Leela – I KNEW it was possible to have a good sleeper. I knew the crib could be a really happy sweet safe space. I could figure this out.
I got on this facebook group called Precious Little Sleep. And that morning, I read all these posts from the website, got the sense that we were doing everything “wrong,” felt overwhelmed and was like omg this baby is going to destroy our marriage! And then I bumped into Karan at the gym. I told him – Karan, this isn’t jet lag, she’s a bad sleeper because of all these factors (pacifier, nursing to sleep, etc.) I pulled out my laptop, showed him this article, he read it and instead of getting overwhelmed he was like “ok, I got it.” And from that moment on, there was a new sheriff in town. That particular article addressed her exact age of 7 months and a concept called object permanence and it totally clicked for Karan.
From that night, we stopped nursing to sleep and we stopped using the pacifier and we stopped bringing the baby into the bed. Cold turkey. And we separated Leela and Rumi. At that point we were living at the Hyatt so we put Leela’s crib in our big closet and gave Rumi her own bedroom. And I stopped being the one to put her to bed, because the smell of breastmilk was too complicated. (I was also pumping and using bottles and we were even using formula at that point, so it was not a problem to give her a bottle instead.)
This was proper “cry it out” sleep training and it was tough. But – keep in mind – the previous nights were tough too!! We were tired, stressed, bickering … it was no walk in the park. It wasn’t cozy angelic co-sleeping in our case, it was a big move and jet lag and new job and really wanting some decent sleep. For us, 3 nights of crying it out were worth it. And it really didn’t take long for things to improve.
Now Rumi has her own bedroom (the nanny sleeps in there too). She sleeps from 7 to 7. She takes “body rest” which is a short nap/ quiet time from 9 to 9:30am. She goes to school from 10am to 2pm. She naps from 2pm to 4pm. Bath around 5:30, then dinner, play/ books, bottle and bed by 7. She’s exhausted by that point. She has a small milk bottle before bed and when she wakes up in the morning. So I know it’s a lot of sleep and a very unusual schedule for India.
I’d say a big key to success with sleep training is that the person putting the baby to bed has to be very confident. Way back when I got a puppy I read a lot about dog training and Cesar Millan always said to be “calm and assertive.” I have found that mantra to work well in so many parts of life, including with kids! So Karan was calm and assertive with putting her to bed. You have to BELIEVE it will work. You have to convey that confidence to the kid. You can’t be wishy washy or show doubt. They’ll pick up on it! They are thinking SHORT TERM ONLY – they want to get in your cozy snuggly bed! They are NOT thinking about how important sleep is for their brain development. They are NOT thinking about how their papa has a big day at work tomorrow, or how their mama would really like an hour of peace to watch some tv, or how their older sister would sleep much better if there wasn’t a baby screaming all night. You are the parent. You run this ship. (I really like this article on parenting and boundaries and leadership: http://respectfulparent.com/choosing-your-battles/)
When it comes to baby sleep, I don’t think you can “have your cake and eat it too.” At least not for my babies!! We had to be very consistent, limit our socializing and prioritize the whole sleep thing above other things. Since the kids go to sleep so early, we also had to find help we could trust – and install security cameras – in order to go out at night. We had to ignore any naysayers, miss out on some late playdates. Karan doesn’t see the kids at night – but he spends time with them and drops them to school in the morning. There are definite tradeoffs, but for us we like this setup and it’s worth it.
Now all this said – you might read this and think, nah this is not for me. If you like co-sleeping, then do it and embrace it! Enjoy those baby snuggles!!
Please whatever you take from this, know that none of this is meant to be preachy! Do what is best for your family and your sweet baby!
P.S. Some great books on baby sleep: 12 Hours Sleep by 12 Weeks Old is a little intimidating with a focus on very set routine from the beginning, Precious Little Sleep to help with troubleshooting sleep issues, and the sleep section in Bringing up Bebe is very top-level but fantastic.