Sleep Training A 5 Month Old Baby: A Success Story!

I just can’t spend another sleepless night searching for ways to sleep train my 5 month old baby. Let me rewind a little bit.. Since the beginning of December, Ella has slept horribly. (I’m writing this mid January)

During the night she would wake up anywhere from every 45 minutes to every 3 hours (more on the side of 45 minutes to 1.5 hours). Some nights she would fall back asleep if we just picked her up, gave her a binkie or I nursed her. Some nights she would be up for 1-3 hours not interested in sleep at all (I’ll circle back to these nights**). 

She would nap for no more than 30 minutes during the day and it usually took me at least 30 minutes to get her to fall asleep for naps or for bedtime. 

 

 Sleep Training A 5 Month Old Baby

At some point around mid December I thought I was taking a positive step by switching to rocking and giving a binkie to get my 5 month old to sleep instead of me nursing her to sleep. In reality, the only thing this accomplished was allowing my husband to help me throughout the day/night. Which, although the help was nice, I realized we had just switched from one sleep prop (nursing) to another (rocking and binkie). 

Every morning I would look to my husband and say “we are taking our 5 month old and sleep training tonight” and every night I would find some excuse to not do the sleep training. At bedtime and throughout the night, it was easier to nurse her to sleep and just pray that she slept longer than 45 minutes. Spoiler alert: she never slept longer than 45 minutes. 

I finally reached my breaking point when my internet searches went from

sleep training a 5 month old” to

how to sleep train my 5 month old” to 

why won’t my 5 month old sleep” to

why doesn’t my baby [email protected]$&%*& sleep

And the cherry on top was when I was texted my husband at 3 AM saying “I’m going to let her cry indefinitely unless you come get her.” For the record, this was not my proudest mom moment but it was the moment I realized enough was enough. The next day we did start sleep training our 5 month old. 

Another low point in our sleep journey: Ella is wearing a Merlin Suit AND velcro swaddled AND in our bed... because she wouldn't sleep any other way.

Another low point in our sleep journey: Ella is wearing a Merlin Suit AND velcro swaddled AND in our bed… because she wouldn’t sleep any other way. So not safe, but clearly someone was watching both of us since someone took the picture…

With all her night wakings, I had plenty of time to read every single blog post, forum, sleep training method guide out there. Here is a site that I found helpful as a starting point for what type of sleep training method I wanted to do. This is the sleep program that I almost bought & would have if I didn’t have the success “doing it my way” these first few nights. The following is what I took away from all 46 (no joke) pages of internet research. 

 

Things that are true about sleep training a 5 month old

-Babies have a short sleep cycle 30-45 minutes at this age.

-Babies (and adults) wake up very briefly at the end of the sleep cycle. Adults know how to fall back asleep instantly so we don’t even realize we are waking. Babies are not born with this skill. 

-Babies need sleep. During their sleep is when their brains and bodies grow and develop. 

 

Things I believe to be true about sleep training a 5 month old

-When your baby wakes up from a nap crying/rubbing her eyes she was not ready to be done sleeping, but she woke up at the end of her sleep cycle and couldn’t put herself back to sleep. 

-Babies can’t fall bask asleep when they wake up from their sleep cycle because they are in a different environment and/or missing their sleep aid from where they fell asleep and are looking for the environment and/or sleep aid that put them to sleep 30/45 minutes ago. For example: I used to nurse Ella to sleep while sitting in our bed. I would then wait for her to be in a deep sleep and move her to her crib. When she would wake up, she would be 1. not in our bed anymore and 2. not nursing. She couldn’t put herself back to sleep without the same environment and/or sleep prop. 

-Babies need to learn how to put themselves to sleep without sleep aids (sleep training). 

-A little bit of controlled crying will not emotionally hurt your baby. I applaud all the parents who are able to no cry, sleep train their 5 month old but I just knew that wasn’t going to happen here.

-By about 5 months of age, babies should be able to sleep at least 6 hours straight without needing to eat. In reality it’s probably significantly longer that they should be able to sleep. 

-I will be a better mom if I get some good sleep and can actively engage her throughout the day. 

 

Some background info:

-Our bedtime routine: all times are “ish.” This isn’t science, this is real life. 

8:30-9 PM – We calmly play for the last 30ish minutes of our day. No jumperoo, no loud toys, etc. We are winding down for the night.

9 PM – Bath, lotion, dress for bed, nurse, read a book and cuddle in that order

9:20 – Ella goes into her crib AWAKE but visibly drowsy (long blinks, rubbing eyes and cuddling her face into my shoulder/neck) and not crying. I tell her goodnight, I love you and wind up her mobile and leave her room. 

9:20 and 30 seconds – Ella rolls from her back to her stomach and starts fussing/crying.
Side note: I panicked the first night about her rolling to her stomach. I immediately posted something like “when did your baby start sleeping on her stomach at night? Is it safe? HELP?” in a mommy group on Facebook. The answers were reassuring in that if your baby put herself into that position that it was probably safe. Additionally her bed is safe: tight sheets, fitted sleeper, no bumpers, no pillows/blankets/stuffed animals/suffocation items. 

-Ella sleeps with the radio on very low and a white noise machine. We have blackout curtains for naps. She has progressed from being tightly swaddled in a velcro sleep sack, to a merlin magic sleep suit, to both the merlin sleep suit and the sleep sack, to just a sleeper and a wearable blanket. Her room is set to 68-70 degrees.

-I’m comfortable giving Ella a binkie during sleep times as long as she doesn’t need it and she can find the binkie herself. I just have about 3 binkies spread throughout the crib and she is able to find one of them if she wants to. This goes against a lot of what I read about sleep training (IE they are supposed to be able to fall asleep without ANY sleep prop). Eventually I will need to wean her from the binkie but not today. 

 

Sleep Training at 5 Months, Night 1

Cliff Notes Version:
Put her into bed awake but drowsy, let her fuss/cry for 5 minutes, go in and soothe her until she is calm or a max of 2 minutes. You do not want to help your baby fall asleep during this 2 minutes – just calm her down. Repeat the 5 minute/2 minute process until she falls asleep DURING THE 5 MINUTE PART. If she ever gets hysterical during the 5 minutes, I told myself I would pick her up and calm her down and start the whole thing over again. She hasn’t gotten to a hysterical cry yet during this process. Each night I will increase the 5 minute part by 1 minute. Everything that I read said that the numerical value doesn’t matter as long as you increase intervals nightly and be CONSISTENT. So you could start with 10 minutes of fussing/crying with 3 minutes of soothing – just always be consistent and increase night to night. 

Extended Version:
We did our bedtime routine as outlined above. As soon as Ella started to fuss/cry I started my stopwatch on my phone. After 5 minutes I stopped and cleared and started the stopwatch again. I went in and flipped her back to her back and gave her a binkie and told her it was okay and that I was right here. I didn’t really make eye contact or engage her. I just stated that I was there and she was safe. I rubbed her belly and got her to a point where she was not crying. I was not going to stay in her room for more than 2 minutes. At the 1:30 mark, she was to a content state and I quietly walked out. Ella rolled again to her stomach within 30 seconds of me walking out.

I stopped and cleared and started the stopwatch again as soon as she started to fuss/cry. I waited until she started to fuss/cry before I started the stopwatch. I spent these next 5 minutes reading the comments about stomach sleeping in the mommy group to reassure myself that I was fighting the wrong battle by rolling her back to her back. This distraction helped with the crying baby a few feet away. 

At the 4:59 mark Ella’s cry turned into a dull fuss so I waited a few more seconds and she stopped fussing all together. I looked at the monitor and she was asleep!!! What the what? Had that really just happened? I stared and the monitor watching to make sure she was breathing because I was still worried about her stomach sleeping. 

Thirty minutes later she woke up and was fussing/crying again!! I repeated the process of fussing/crying for 5 followed with soothing for 2 until she was asleep again. It look a little longer this time.. maybe like 20 minutes but she did fall back asleep again on her own!

She woke up ONE TIME after that at midnight ish and she fussed/cried for less than the 5 minutes and she was back asleep until 6 AM at which point I nursed her and put her back into bed awake but drowsy and repeated the process of 5 minutes of crying/2 minutes of soothing. I only had to go in once and she fell back asleep during the second 5 minutes of fussing/crying AND she slept until 9:30! And the best part? She woke up cooing and talking and not crying!! Why did I wait for her to be 5 months old for sleep training?? 

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Things I believe to be true Part II about sleep training a 5 month old

-Babies are smart. Ella had learned that if she just kept crying, I would eventually give up and just nurse or rock/binkie her back to sleep. You’ve got to stick to the 5 minute/2 minute process. 

-It doesn’t have to be 5 minute/2 minute. It can be whatever time increments you want them to be. You just have to commit and don’t give up. 

-Our night one went abnormally well. Most blogs and posts that I read had night one taking 45 minutes – 2 hours of 5 minutes/2 minutes process. Don’t give in (see above).

-Definitely don’t turn the lights on in the middle of the night out of desperation to calm your baby down. She will think it is morning and be up for 1-3 hours** until you can finally get her to back to sleep (nursing of course). 

-Worried you might give in during sleep training at 5 months? Take a video of her crying at 4 AM and watch that while you are sleep training. All the emotions of being woken up for the third (fourth, fifth, ??) time by 4 AM will come rushing back and you’ll remember why you and your baby need this!   IMG_2981.mp4  –> my 4 AM video if you don’t have your own. 

– You have to be really ready and feel really comfortable with what you’re doing. I was at my breaking point with the nighttime wakings and knew in the back of my heart and mind that we needed some sleep training and I still almost caved a few times over the last few days (I’m writing this post day 3 of sleep training). Make sure you and your significant other are on the same page and always lean on your SO for support. 

 

Nights 2 and beyond of sleep training at 5 months

 

Disclaimer: I’m not a professional by any means. This is simply what worked for us; it might not work for you and you might disagree with everything I’ve written and that’s okay! But I hope it helps someone else out there! 

What do you think?

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