You can sleep train and room share, but you will have to modify your approach a bit.
Doing sleep training while in the same room as your baby can be more complicated than doing it in a separate room. The only reason is that there is no added barrier of a wall. So throughout this process, hold on to WHY you are doing this. We want a safe baby AND an early independent sleeper because we want to set your baby (and your family) up for long, uninterrupted sleep for the early parenting years. In the first three years, good sleep builds more creative, more adaptable brains and limits exposure to ADD and anxiety while promoting learning. Amazing!
Here's the problem, though - we have two conflicting pieces of thought regarding baby sleep.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the best place for babies to sleep is in their adults' bedroom. They should sleep in their own crib or bassinet (or in a co-sleeper safely attached to the bed), but shouldn't be in their own room until they are at least six months, better 12 months. This is because studies have shown that when babies are close by, it can help reduce the risk of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome, or SUIDS.
But on the other hand - A study published in the June, 2017 journal Pediatrics points out a downside to this: babies don't sleep as well, and by extension, neither do the adults in their life. Researchers found that "early independent sleepers," babies who slept in their own room before four months, slept longer and for longer stretches than babies who slept in their parents' room. At nine months, these babies were better sleepers, not just compared to those who slept in their parents' room, but also to those who transitioned to their own room between 4 and 9 months.
Here is what we are going to do, my dear Lovebug families: we will go for both. We will focus on early independent sleepers AND keep your baby in their room. You don't have to do it this way, but you must be interested in that goal since you are here. This way, you have a good sleeper who sleeps longer AND prevent SUIDS.
At Lovebug, we teach three main methods of sleep training: the chair method, the interval method, and the extinction method. I'm not going to cover those here. You can learn about those in Baby Sleep 103. If you haven't considered your sleep training approach stop here and watch that first.
Now, let's go through the methods and how they will change while your baby is in your room in the following three chapters:
For the Chair Method, you move your presence further from your baby each day. When you are in the same room as your baby, the furthest you can get away from your baby is to soothe them from your bed without touching them -> That is our goal.
In Step 1, you start with wherever you are right now. Let's say right now you are feeding to sleep. This means for every wake, you are feeding to sleep. Step 2, you move to rocking to sleep. You remove the bottle or unlatch, and rock to sleep. Step 3, you will put baby in their crib, pat them, and hold them while they are in their crib until they are asleep for every time they wake. When they wake up, you go to their crib and sit by it and put your arm into the crib to hold them. Step 4, you use only your hand. Step 5, you tap them when they wake. Step 6, you rock the crib gently. Step 7, you sit next to them but only use your voice. Step 8, you sit on the foot of the bed and talk to them. Step 9, you are in your bed talking to them. And Step 10, you stop talking to them so that they can independently fall asleep.
The critical thing to remember with the chair method is not to go backward, but standing still is ok. If you or your baby aren't ready to move to the next step, stay where you are. It's better to spend five days on Step 3 than going Step 4, back to Step 2, and forward to Step 5. If you move steps back and forward all the time, you will confuse your baby - not to mention, yourself! We want to go in an even line, even if it takes more nights. That way, your baby will feel the least frustrated as they learn to sleep independently.
I want to paint the worst-case scenario for you on this one, and you can use that to decide if you are up for this approach. The tricky thing with the chair method is that it can be much longer for those final steps because you are in the same room as your baby. When your baby is 6 months or older, they confidently know you are in the room. They can smell and feel your presence. And over 6 months, they will already have formed relationships in their brain and become more determined to fall asleep the way they are accustomed to. This means they will express their strong choice more vocally by crying. You have to be very confident in how great it is for them to be an independent sleeper because you will only hurt them by moving the steps all around. And when you are in the room and want to sleep yourself or if you are sleeping with a partner, they might wish to sleep. And a crying baby is going to wake everyone up.
Worst case scenario, you might not hear as much crying, but you will be physically present and on duty for 8/10 hours overnight, and it could last up to a month. This approach is slow and steady. You will see changes as you stick with it. But ask yourself if you are ready for it. If you find yourself ready, then this is the method for you. If you find yourself timid or questioning, move to the Interval Approach. Start with Chair Method and go to Interval Method if you are in between. Remember the wine tasting analogy from Baby Sleep 103. We go light to bold because we don't want to confuse your little one.
For the interval method, we set time intervals. I like 5, 10, and 15 minutes, but you can select any intervals that work for you. When your baby starts to cry, you set a timer for your interval, and then if the crying persists for the entire interval, you go to do a 2-minute check-in for your baby.
When your baby is in your room, the big thing with the interval method is to anchor around the cry-o-meter. A 0 on the cry-o-meter is calm but awake. 5 is mild fussing. 7 is definitely crying. When you are in the room, there is a big temptation to jump in at 5 or 6 because you think if you step in early, then it will be quicker. But what we are doing is actually soothing your baby for them. They are dependent on you to sleep.
We instead want to support them in sleeping on their own, and they will never be able to do that without a bit of practice. We set the timer because it stops us from rushing in and gives your baby the space to practice. You have to be very clear that you will stay in your bed with minimal moving until the timer rings.
Let's pressure test this - this means that you could be wide awake and exhausted for up to 15 minutes, and it could be like 45 minutes of staying still unable to do anything. You might think the entire time, "ugh, let me just bring them into bed," or "I'll just rock them so that I get to sleep." But doing this is sort of like never letting them practice walking. We are doing controlled practice.
The other big thing is the art of the check-in. When you are not in the room, you enter the room as part of a check-in, and it's very intentional. You want to have the same intention when you are in the room. You get out of bed, check in on your baby like a robot, and then proceed back to your bed. The lights are low, and the sound machine stays on. Don't do your check-in while you are physically in your bed. That can be confusing to your baby.
Similarly, when it's time to wake up, you want to make that feel to them like a significant contrast to when you do a check-in. The morning waketime should feel like an animated princess came down to sing songs and like birds should appear out of nowhere. It should feel like a major contrast to your robotic, boring check-in. So when you wake in the morning, EVEN when there are others in the room, you should turn on all the lights, and be animated to show them that there is a difference. Feel the vibe so that they will also. This helps them understand that your middle-of-the-sleep check-ins mean it's still time to sleep. End-of-sleep check-ins mean it's time to wake up. It's communicating without words at its finest.
If this all feels good for you, then the Interval Approach an excellent method. I find that with obvious check-ins, it works just as fast as the extinction method.
For the extinction method, we only go to our children in the case of an emergency. And if there is an emergency, we handle the emergency as a robot would handle it. The pros of the extinction that it’s fairly straightforward for you and for your baby. Because it's easy to understand, it is typically the quickest to see success.
When you are using the extinction method in the same room as your baby, it can be more challenging because they are right next to you and you can be really bothered by their crying. Remember that if you are doing the extinction method and then decide in the middle of the night that you are going to change approaches, the only person you are hurting is your child. For adults, we understand that the crying got too much or that we are too tired and that’s why we stopped and changed approaches. But for your baby, they don’t have their strategic brain, yet. So changing the approach will introduce a lot of frustrating questions for them. Think hard about what could happen that would inspire you to go to your baby in the night. Does crying for 3 hours while you are next to them inspire you to go to them? Then, the extinction method is not for you. But if you think you will be ok with that, then go ahead!
This one is typically harder to do when you are in the same room, but it’s very quick.
We want to have consistency between naps and nights for the most success. This doesn't mean that you have to be in your bed while your baby is having a nap. But it does mean that you should practice the same method during nap time. When your baby starts to connect a sleep cycle and it's still time to nap, start your timer if they are crying or return to where you are in the step ladder of the chair method. When your schedule tells you the nap should be "over", then go get them like it's the animated princess Olympics!
If you are feeding during the night, it's best to set a feeding schedule when you are sleep training. If your baby is awake early, go ahead and feed them within 5 minutes. If they are asleep when it's time to feed, wake them to feed. Otherwise, treat every waking like a night waking.
See the lesson on night feeds if you are interested more on night feeding: https://app.getlovebug.com/lessons/609489e1a1e6410007343080
When your baby is in your room, you will have the best success when you adjust your room to their preferences and leave yours at the door. Remember that they have come from the womb and are still in a womb mindset. This means that they love the sound of a deep sound machine, the darkest of the dark, and prefer a cooler environment for sleep. (I know that the last one is a stretch from the womb, but all humans like a cooler environment for sleep.)
I have heard from some of you that you can't sleep in this environment, and just like your baby, you will adjust! The question is, would you rather have a crying baby for longer or you adjust! Each choice has problems, and we say here at Lovebug, Pick your problems!
A common headwind to a thriving independent sleeper is interpreting small noises as large noises. Females are more sensitive to baby noises biologically, and males are less sensitive. I worked with a couple who traded off nights and the male partner's nights were always smooth, and the female's always had more wakings. She thought she was doing something wrong - she wasn't! The reality was the female would wake at every movement, and the male would not. What we had to do was to have an equal definition of the cry-o-meter. Remember, a 0 is awake and calm. 5 is mild fussing. 6 is animated fussing or on and off crying. 7 is definite crying. We only start our timers and intervene when your baby is on a 7. Otherwise, we give them no space to practice.
As soon as we had a standard definition for that family, they got there within two nights!
Now, let's say this all feels horrible, and you just can't stand it. Another option is to have fun with some adult camping in another room for a weekend. This can help many parents have a little boundary with the baby. You have a video monitor, and you can watch for any issue. Practice your sleep training, and then you can re-enter the room. When you re-enter the room, you might see a slight step back, but then stay consistent, and it will be much easier for your baby and can also "mute" the experience for you. Anything we can do to "mute" the experience will make it much more enjoyable, and you will increase your likelihood of success.
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