Sleep Training is Not Working! Here’s How to Cope
If you’re reading this post because it’s relevant to you I want to start by saying…I’m with you. I feel your pain. I KNOW how hard what you’re drudging through is and I know how desperate you may feel for some rest. If nothing else, know you are not alone.
When my baby hit 3ish months his sleep went from bad to worse. I was already bummed that he wasn’t sleeping through the night by 6 weeks like the sleep training books and blogs promised. I was doing everything right, but it just wasn’t working. Then he stopped napping. Then he stopped wanting to be put down EVER. He woke a lot at night and was nearly impossible to put back to sleep.
My husband and I spent months at our wits’ end. We tried EVERY tip, trick and game plan to speak of. We went from creating a simple sleep environment in hopes that he’d adapt to sleeping anywhere to layering blackout curtains, sound machines, and using lavender scented everything out of desperation.
We were beyond exhausted. Our backs ached from leaning over the crib patting and shushing. Our hearts broke from the unsuccessful nights of letting our baby cry. We were frustrated over nothing working and tired of well-meaning friends giving us suggestions that we’d already tried ten times. It was a VERY dark time.
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It’s hard for me to summarize those months so succinctly. It seemed to go on forever and is still such a hard season to remember. We were caught so off guard by this little man who wasn’t just like the average baby. But I want to spend more time here encouraging you.
This post isn’t going to promise you another solution to help your baby sleep. If you’re reading this in a similar state that I was in, you’re past that. You’ve tried it all and you’ve worked hard. But it isn’t working.
I won’t try to offer you a magic solution (although I do have a couple suggestions.) I really just want you to know someone out there understands and for you to find some comfort in these suggestions. What a beautiful thing it would be if our sleepless months weren’t in vain!
So, from a mama who has been there, here are some real-life, been-there tips to help you work through this difficult time.
My son didn’t sleep through the night until he was almost one year old and he didn’t nap in his crib until closer to 18-months. Even now (20-months as I’m typing) he takes pretty poor naps.
During that time we attempted A LOT of tried and true methods to help him sleep. If you type in “baby sleep” on Pinterest, you’ll see about 20 blogs with tricks to make your baby sleep. I have read them all and tried them all. I know these tips have worked for many mamas. They did not for me.
We created a perfect sleep wonderland: dark, but not too dark; quiet, but with white noise; padding on the door latch; both a rocking chair and a non-rocking chair; etc. We tried baths, oils, massages, nursing to sleep, diet changes, songs, shushing, crying, rushing in, waiting, routines, swaddles, lovies, car rides, strolls, early bedtimes, late bedtimes, classic sleep training, new methods, doctor’s visits…we tried it ALL.
But you know what? I don’t regret it. I’d do it all again. Because I KNEW without a doubt that we weren’t missing something. I was finally able to come to the conclusion that it wasn’t something I was doing wrong.
I know it sounds like a lot. You’ve probably already tried it all. But if not, give it a shot. It’s worth exhausting everything. You’ll want to be confident that you did your best.
Accept Your Baby
If you’ve tried everything and you’re still in the same boat I was in, you have a crucial step to take. Accept your baby.
This might be difficult if you’re a control freak like me who wants to make everything fit perfectly into its neat little box. But, mama, your baby is an individual. He may not be like most babies, so what works for most babies won’t work for him. This was my great epiphany!
It took work (on my part) but once I stopped trying to force my little one to sleep, things got a bit easier. There was less crying. Less frustration for both of us. We were happier. Still exhausted, but happier.
I learned to love my baby for who he is. He’s not the cliché baby and he is a bit particular. I’m kind of like that too. At the core of it all I love my baby, sleep problems and all. I was able to accept him and learn to listen to his needs instead of anticipating what they’d be based on what other babies do.
It’s been a long and challenging road. But once I was able to choose to love him more than sleep and the “normal” baby life, we were both free to enjoy each other and grow so incredibly close.
I don’t know your exact story. I don’t know your baby personally. I can’t say what it is that is impeding his sleep. But if you know he’s healthy and you’re experiencing similar frustrations to what I’ve mentioned, it may be worth finding some resources. If your baby is not the average baby, then you may need some above average information.
When Sam was around 8 months (I wish it had been sooner!) I started looking outside the box for help. I learned about High Need Babies. These are little ones who don’t sleep or act like the typical baby. They are more passionate, more particular, and tend to struggle with sleep. There are certain characteristics that describe a high-need baby. I cried as I read each of them and saw how well they described my baby. Here I was reading that not only were his sleep issues not my fault, but 1 in 5 babies fit into similar personality types.
The more I read these, the more encouraged I felt. I wasn’t reading any magic fixes, but I was seeing that we weren’t alone! It was so freeing! I was so encouraged!
I try not to describe my son as “high need” all the time. He’s just my beloved boy. That’s who he is. I don’t want to brand him. But having these resources was such an incredible comfort to me.
The Fussy Baby Site is a great place to start. You can learn more about High Need Babies here, and look through the site at some of the other great resources.
I also highly recommend this book by Dr. Sears, the man who coined the term High Need Baby. It might help you find some tips that work for your little one. For me, it was more of an encouragement than a fix-all. I finally felt validated in what we were going through. I knew nothing was wrong and I wasn’t alone. It’s a well of wonderful information. There are even chapters on toddlers! It’s inexpensive and totally worth the few clicks on Amazon.
Stick to a Routine
While I don’t have any magic tricks to offer, I will say sticking to a routine was one of the few successes we had and still have as we get close to age 2. Whether you decide to spend two hours rocking and singing baby to sleep before laying him down, or want to do a 15-minute bedtime routine, stick to it. At least keep it consistent for a few weeks. If you don’t have success after that, move on.
If there’s one thing I can say with confidence it’s that babies, especially babies like my boy, thrive on routine. He knows what to expect and that’s comforting for him. It can also take a while for new methods to start showing their effects, so don’t give up too soon.
Try Something New
Ok, you can bust me on this if you want. I know I said I don’t have any magic suggestions. That’s true. BUT…I do want to share about one thing that really impacted my son’s sleep. When all else fails, try something new, right?
When he was around 9-months-old, I stumbled upon a product that was created for babies with a hard time sleeping. I was skeptical, so I did my research. I probably read every single review on their website and a good 50 reviews on their Facebook page. There are families who swear by this sleep rub! It completely changed their child’s sleep!
I decided to give it a shot. It’s called Wink Naturals Pure Sleep and Breathe. After only about a week, I started noticing a difference. While, for us, our baby didn’t instantly start sleeping through the night (he did about 2 ½ months later,) it made a DRASTIC difference in our bedtime routine.
Before using this, we completely dreaded putting our son to bed every night. It was a fight every single time and on multiple occasions we had to tap out and switch parents because we were so overwhelmed. It was plainly obvious that this sleep rub was the reason that my son suddenly wasn’t screaming at me! He actually fell asleep on my shoulder like a precious little angel! For the first time in his life we could ENJOY putting our baby to bed!
This is a terrible picture because it was taken in the dark with my phone, but I couldn’t resist posting it. I took this the first night he fell asleep on me after using the sleep rub. I was in tears! It was so sweet.
This stuff is natural, it smells really good. It comes in an adorable little tub and only takes a tad every night. We even use it at nap time too. STILL!
Plus, this company is amazing. They often send little notes and stickers in our package and they very genuinely care about their customers’ sleep issues. Love them. If you’re at all interested in trying a sleep product for your little one, I can’t recommend this stuff enough.
So, I hope this post was encouraging for you. If nothing else, I hope you see that you’re not alone. I hope that these suggestions are helpful and that you find something that works for you. Most of all, I hope you get to enjoy some really great sleep really soon.