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Sleeping & Soothing

What It’s Really Like to Sleep Train Your Baby

Three moms share the ups and downs on getting their babies to snooze through the night

Most babies aren’t great nighttime snoozers, at least by adult standards. That’s why so many parents turn to sleep training, which teaches babies to drift off on their own without being rocked, walked, bounced, or fed until they’re asleep, explains Kim West, author of Good Night, Sleep Tight.

West, who’s known as the Sleep Lady, emphasizes there’s no one-size-fits-all method, but just expect some tears (yours and your baby’s). Some parents leave the baby in the crib and come back every few minutes, gradually extending the check-in times (from five to ten to fifteen minutes, say) until their baby is asleep. Others just let the baby cry it out until he wears himself out and nods off. Still others try West’s method, where you sit beside the crib and gradually move the chair farther away each night until your baby can fall asleep with you outside the room.

Whatever method you chose, West suggests starting on a night when your baby isn’t overtired and putting your cutie in the crib after a brief, soothing bedtime routine. “Consistency is key, but if don’t see any improvements after five days, you should stop, re-evaluate, and consider talking to your pediatrician,” she suggests.

We went to three families who braved all the tears and made it through to the other side. Read on to see how they taught their kids to be champion snoozers.

“I put on a pair of headphones to distract myself”

Geri sleep trained her son Jack when he was 7 months old

Why she did it: My son was a cluster eater and I just couldn’t handle being up all night nursing him any longer. By the time he was seven months old, my husband and I were at our wits end!

The plan: Geri went with the cry it out method—she and her husband would let their son fuss until he fell asleep.

What their pediatrician said: “Stay strong because in the long run we would all be happier."

The beginning: “It was horrible. My husband had to leave the house because he wanted to run into the nursery the minute our son started screaming. I was surprised that I could hang in there, but I was determined.”

The breakthrough: “I was ready to throw in the towel by the end of day five. But at the two-week mark, we realized he was starting to put himself to sleep.”

Word of advice: “Get earphones, put on relaxing music, and focus on a book so you don’t go into your baby’s room. Otherwise, you’ll have to start the process all over again. Our patience paid off. Today, my son is a fabulous sleeper!”

“I leaned on my sleep-training tribe”

Emily trained her son Teddy when he was four months old

Why she did it: I had trouble nursing, so I was up a lot pumping and feeding on demand. I became so sleep deprived that I worried I would nod off while I was standing and holding him.

The plan: Emily let her son cry for a few minutes before coming into check on him in five-minute intervals.

What our pediatrician said: “You have to do what works for you.’”

The beginning: “I was going to let him cry for five minutes, check on him, let him cry for ten and then go in, then move to fifteen minutes, and so on. But that first night, I felt so bad that I cried too and went in every five minutes.”

The Breakthrough: “The second night, he cried for three minutes and fell asleep. Not every night was so easy but for the most part, whenever I put him down in his crib, he’d fall asleep on his own.”

Word of advice: “It is hard on you but just remember how much your baby needs the sleep. Lean on friends who’ve gone through the process so you can call or text them. You need real reinforcements!”

“I wish I’d given it my all”

Alyse sleep trained her son Henry when he was five months old but is still working on his twin sister, Alex, now 2.

Why she did it: “I couldn’t function because I was so over-exhausted. One night, I cried along with my daughter, who wouldn’t sleep. We both passed out in her room, and I knew I’d had enough.”

The plan: “My husband and I each took a twin—he took my son, I took my daughter—to be our responsibility. Then we tried letting them cry themselves to sleep.”

What our pediatrician said: “Hang in there and keep trying.”

The beginning: “The sound of my children crying and yelling for mama to pick them up ate me alive. Those first nights with her, I wasn't ready to really give it my all—looking back I wish I’d sucked it up.

The breakthrough: “My son took to it and still sleeps through the night. But my daughter is now 2, and we’re still a major work in progress.”

Word of advice: “Sleep train when they’re young—it gets harder when they are older. I've been resorting to sticker charts and bribery and have to just trust that she’ll sleep at some point.”