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How I Got My Baby to Sleep Independently Without Sleep Training

Let’s chat about the most desired topic ever… BABY SLEEP! This is my very in depth description to our approach on sleep so that our daughter would sleep independently! In other words, how we got our baby to sleep in her crib, in her nursery, while being put down wide awake… without any tears.

This has been a highly requested topic for me to talk about for quite some time now, but there’s so much information and details that go into it I wanted to make sure I told you guys EVERYTHING. As I’m writing this, my daughter Vivienne is 8.5 months and we lay her in her crib wide awake for every single nap and bed time. For naps, she’s currently doing 2 naps a day for 1-2 hours each nap. For bedtime, she’s currently sleeping 10.5-12 hours consecutively at night *usually* without a feed! Also, for reference, she is and always has been breastfed. So, this blog is going to outline HOW we got to this point completely tear free. We’ve never done formal sleep training and we’ve never made her ‘cry it out’!

However, I’m not necessarily anti-sleep training. I am anti-sleep training for any baby under 4 months old, and I would personally never sleep train my babies until they’re 5-6 months old, but I know a lot of people who sleep trained and it saved their sanity, marriage, etc. So this blog isn’t me knocking on sleep training, but more so giving people another option to get some extra sleep without having to let your baby cry. 

I have to be honest, Vivienne has kind of always been a good sleeper! I do credit myself for some of the sleep habits she’s picked up and developed, but even as a newborn she liked her sleep. Of course the first week was horrible and she was up every 1-2 hours, but after a week she was sleeping in four 3 hour increments at night. Then after a couple of weeks she dropped one waking and was sleeping for three 4 hour increments. Then by 8 weeks old she was waking only once at night. So she slowly and naturally dropped her night feedings! The reason I mention this is because while this approach worked for us, obviously it won’t work for everyone.

And if it doesn’t work for you, that DOES NOT mean there’s something wrong with your baby or that you’re failing! It simply highlights the fact that we have two different babies with different lives and different temperaments. That’s so normal! So don’t feel discouraged if your baby’s sleep doesn’t match mine. 

Alright, now let’s get into the nitty gritty. 

Important Info BEFORE I Discuss Sleep

So before I tell you about how we got Viv to put herself to sleep and the steps we took for that, I feel like it’s important to mention a few other things, too.

First, Vivienne does take a binky / pacifier / paci, but we only give it to her when she’s going to bed, we never let her have it during wake times! The onlyyy binky she ever liked was the Tippee Tommee one. 

Second, Vivienne is breastfed! She started purees at 5 months, and now she’s doing a mix of purees and baby led weaning on top of breastfeeding.

Third, From 12 weeks on we followed eat, play, sleep routine! I tried doing it before 12 weeks and it made me so anxious for no reason because it’s NORMAL for babies to switch up their schedule each day. They’re just doing their best to survive, if your baby doesn’t want to go on a schedule before that, you are doing just fine, mama. For future babies, I’m ditching an attempt to get on a schedule before this point! Because it caused more stress than anything.

But to explain, at 12 weeks+ when she woke up for the day she would eat, then play for whatever wake window period was appropriate for that age, and then sleep. And repeat the whole day for naps until it’s time for bed!

After week 5ish, I tried not to feed her to sleep for naps unless she absolutely needed it, Because I knew I wanted her to sleep independently! And that’s when she was actually staying awake for long enough periods to not be eating right when she was sleeping. I did, however, feed her to sleep for bedtime every single night until the 4 month sleep regression hit! It relaxed her, she went right to bed, and she actually didn’t have a binky during bedtimes during that time either. She didn’t need it! Feeding her to sleep worked great for us!

Once the 4 month regression hit us at 4.5 months, I stopped feeding her to sleep for bedtime because she was becoming reliant on it for her mutliple-a-night wakeups. So that’s when I ended that! But at that point she was so used to falling asleep on her own for naps she had no problems putting herself to sleep for bedtime too since we gave her her binky. I’ll do a separate blog on how we handled that regression if you guys want!

Four, we do use a sound machine for her! We’ve been using it since she started crib naps for naps and since the day she came home for bedtime.

Fifth, from birth – 5 weeks she was napping in the living room in bright sunlight, from 5 weeks to 16 weeks she was napping in a room with blackout curtains so there was still a bit of light getting into the room, from 16 weeks on we put tinfoil on the windows to make her room totally dark! Tinfoil worked great but now we use THESE blackout shades for the window because 1) they look better from the outside of our house, 2) they can be removed super easily if we want them off, 3) they’re a more long term solution.

Sixth, at 5 weeks old and on she’s always taken naps in the crib in her nursery. But she slept in a mini crib next to our bed for all nighttime sleep until she was 5 months old! We moved her into her nursery for bedtime at 5 months old.

Okay, now that you have all of that background info that I always had questions on when people talked about their baby’s sleep, let’s get into the sleep and how we approached it.

Our Independent Sleep Approach

I’m going to break this down into phases so it’s easier to understand. I’ll also put the age range we did this at so you have it for reference, as I’m not sure if older babies would do well with this approach or not! Honestly, I don’t know if any other babies would benefit from this approach or if it just worked with Viv. So if you try it, keep me updated!

PHASE 1: Rocking to Sleep

At 5 weeks old we started crib naps because Vivienne was too alert to sleep in our living room where us, the dogs, and other things were happening. Prior to this point, she was napping on the couch right next to me in the daylight with the tv on, noises happening, etc because we wanted her to know the difference between night and day. But at 5 weeks, it wasn’t working anymore so we’re like well.. might as well start crib naps, now!

However, as you know, a newborn HATES being set down alone and awake. So Phase 1 was rocking her to sleep! We would put the binky in her mouth and either rock her in the rocking chair until she was asleep. Or if she wasn’t in the mood for that, we would stand up, hold her against our chest, give her the binky, and sway our upper body side to side until she was asleep. Then, we would transfer her to her crib!

If she woke up, we’d repeat this until she was successfully asleep in her crib. Some naps it would take 5 minutes, some naps it would take 30 minutes because she woke up during the transfer twice. I had to remind myself that this was temporary and worth it in the long run! If she woke up on the transfer 3 times, I would just do a contact nap for that nap because her getting sleep is the most important thing. And progress isn’t linear! Some days would be great, some days would be horrible, some days I’d have to feed her to sleep.

PHASE 2: Drowsy But Awake

Once she was consistently letting me place her in the crib asleep without waking up, I switched to putting her in there drowsy but awake. And I know, hearing people say that is so annoying because it’s so hard to do. HOWEVER, but working on being able to set her down asleep without her waking up made this part so much easier.

We basically did the exact same things as above, but only rocked her until her eyes started to get heavy. Once they were closing really slowly or her eyes were rolling upwards -BOOM- that’s the moment we’d put her in the crib. If she cried when we laid her down, we’d hold our hand on her belly or say “shhh” while stroking her eyebrows and down her nose to calm her down until her eyes got heavy again. Sometimes her eyes would pop open, but after a few seconds she would close them again. Each day and each nap got a little bit better with this! 

PHASE 3: Counting the Rocks

Alright, this is where it gets ~technical~. I’m just kidding, this part is super simple and the key to working towards putting your baby down wide awake! After Vivienne mastered being laid down drowsy but awake, our goal was to work towards putting her totally awake, not at all drowsy. So, we did that by slowly decreasing the number of rocks we did.

I started this by counting how many rocks it took for her eyes to get drowsy one nap, and then the next nap, I decreased that number by 5. And the rest of the day, that’s how many rocks I did.

The next day, I decreased that number by 5 again – and repeated that until I basically got to 0 rocks needed. She picked up on it quicker than I expected to! Once the rocking had decreased to just a couple of times, she didn’t even want to be rocked anymore. She would fuss and squirm in my arms because she just wanted to be laid down.

If she was upset or crying after I put her in the crib, I would just rock her as much as I needed to for that nap, and then pick up where we were at again for the next nap. Baby sleep isn’t linear… this phase took awhile because some days she didn’t want to be rocked, other days she randomly needed to be put down asleep. Don’t get so caught up on the ‘i HAVE to do this’ that you don’t listen to your baby’s needs and cues for that day. Just like us adults have high emotion days, babies will too! It’s normal for them to want more cuddles one day and none the next.

So, in conclusion, for this phase you’re slowly decreasing the number of times you rock your baby by 5 each day until you get to the point of 0.

PHASE 4: Wide Awake

The best phase! Once your baby has adjusted, this is when we started putting Vivienne down wide awake. As in, we weren’t rocking her or feeding her before nap time. We started to do our normal nap routine: diaper change, read a book, put on sleep sack, and then lay her straight into the crib with a binky while she’s alert.

We were following her age appropriate wake windows to a T, so it helped that she was tired, but not overtired. Because we’d lay her in there with her binky, and within a few minutes she was asleep. If she cried when I left, I’d just go in there and hold my hand over her chest to help her relax for a minute or two before leaving again. But she picked up on putting herself to sleep so much easier than I thought she would!

If she ever spit the binky out right away because she was a little fussy, I’d just go right back in, give it back to her, tell her I love her, and shut the door again. Again, I personally have a very responsive approach to crying!

I will say that she started this phase at 4 months I think? It’s hard to remember. But she wasn’t rolling yet, so most naps she’d wake up crying, I’d put the binky back in her mouth, and then she’d fall back asleep. So even though she was putting herself to sleep, we were still popping her binky back in when she needed it! Once she learned how to roll over, we encouraged her to learn how to grab and put her binky in her mouth herself so that we didn’t have to pop in and replace it for her!

I expected this phase to be rocky to get her used to it, but she adapted so quick. At this point, I think she liked being alone to fall asleep! Which is what we’ve done ever since. This is also the time that we started doing the same thing for bedtime, too, instead of feeding her to sleep. But since she had done it for naps every single day, she picked it right up for bedtime, too. We never struggled getting her down for bed when putting her down wide awake!

In Conclusion

Well now that I’ve written a 10 page essay, I hope you found some value in this! I also want to reiterate that I’m not an expert, this is my first baby, and my baby isn’t the same as your baby – so maybe none of this is helpful to you at all. Or maybe this is the approach you needed to help your baby become a more independent sleeper!

Either way, thank you so much for reading this and if you have any other baby topics you’d like me to blog about, just comment below! Or if you have any questions about this approach 🙂 And, shameless plug, if you’re a tired mama who still wants to focus on YOU, my program Bicah Body is a workout and recipe program that includes daily workouts you can do from home with your baby right next to you. Plus, it’s only $9.99/month! 

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