For some reason, I thought sleep training was over, especially since my baby was now a toddler. How wrong I was.
My little one had been sleeping well from 3 -15 months of age, averaging 10-12 hours with almost no night wakings. Then suddenly at 15 ½ months, she started to wake up more frequently, wailing and screaming until a parent came in to soothe her and pat her back to sleep. At the peak, this was 6 wakings at night but then dropped to an average of 2-4 night wakings. The worst part was that it would take anywhere from 15 minutes to at least an hour or more (occasionally 2 hours!) to pat her back to sleep. Of course after 2 weeks of this, my husband and I were pretty fed up, exhausted and sleep-deprived. It didn’t help that the entire household had succumbed to a cold in this dismal winter weather.
At first we thought the frequent wakings were due to a developmental phase or to an invisible molar rearing its head (though I couldn’t see any at the time) at the back of her mouth and causing teething pains. However, there was no indication that she was really in discomfort or pain. Aside from this, we did notice she was not quite the same chirpy self (could be those night wakings), a little bit of a runny nose starting, and that her intake and appetite had dropped by half.
Since 5 months of age, we have been implementing the ‘pat-and-shush-stay-by-your-side-until-you-fall-asleep’ method. This method worked well, with baby falling asleep from 5-30 minutes the first time we put her down for the evening. And even at night, if she woke up, we found that if we rushed in to pat her quickly before she got too awake, she could often go back to sleep within 5-10 minutes. But now this method was just taking way too long to get our toddler back to sleep.
Finally after 2 weeks, we realized we needed to change tactics and let her ‘cry it out’ a bit more. We decided on a plan of going in only after 10 minutes of crying the first night, then 15-20 minutes the next night and so on. So what happened? Well, the first night, we let her put herself back to sleep once in the night (took 30 minutes), and patted her down the other two times. Then the 2nd night, she woke up screaming loudly once. We let her wail and after exactly 6 minutes, it abruptly stopped as quickly as it started. She had put herself back to sleep! The next morning I had to wake up her at 8am! Then the following nights she woke up 1-2 times at night but for the most part was able to settle herself back to sleep. What a relief!
Is this sleep training or sleep re-training? I’m not certain. It’s sleep training because it’s a new skill she’s learning (putting herself back to sleep). But, I also know that towards the end of the 2 week period, she seemed to be waking up at roughly the same times and was not really crying out as much. So perhaps this was getting to be more of a habit and she needed to be taught to settle back into a good sleeping pattern? This makes sense when you think about adults who have had a period of disrupted sleep (for instance, all you newborn moms out there!). It does take time to get used to having good stretches of sleep again. For example, the 2nd night that we implemented our new sleep strategy with our toddler, it took only took her 6 minutes to fall back asleep but it took me over an hour to get back to sleep!