Our son largely learned to sleep through the night by 9 weeks and slept past 7:00am for the majority of his first 2 years of life, but he also hit every sleep regression possible, broke out of his crib early, and needed a toddler sleep training refresher along the way. These are our methods and learnings from consistently establishing a strong sleep foundation from a young age.
Quick disclaimer: Every child and every family is different. We all need to take our own best approach to parenting. You are the best parent for your child and should trust your instincts, whether you’re vibing with my approach or not. I am not a professional and nothing I share is medical advice. I am drawn to share my very detailed story because personally I find parenting data super interesting and I like to learn from others’ stories. I hope you’ll learn something from mine!
Ah, sleep. It affects everything. Some of the best and worst parts of parenthood. Good baby sleep is an incredible gift, allowing parents to catch up on chores, your own sleep, or time for yourselves. With enough consistent nights and naps tied together, you start to regain a sense of normalcy in early parenthood. And, with even greater impact, bad sleep can simply flip your world upside down.
I was pretty set on putting in the work to have a great sleeper, so I did a lot of research before my son, Owen, was born. I started by following a ton of different baby sleep accounts on Instagram (like Taking Cara Babies, Little Winks Sleep, The Peaceful Sleeper, Baby Sleep Dr, Baby Sleep Answers, and Precious Little Sleep), and re-reading the sleep sections in parenting books like Cribsheet and Bringing up Bebe. I also compared paid sleep programs because I wanted to pick one approach and stick to it. We decided to use Taking Cara Babies (TCB) for newborn sleep training (and again later for toddler sleep training) which ended up being extremely effective for us but also took a ton of time and emotional effort over the course of a few weeks, and again on and off with each sleep regression.
In addition to selecting a sleep training technique (of which there are many), we geared up on necessary accessories: black out curtains, a white noise machine, so many pacifiers, and the Snoo to start. With each phase came new products. It never ends! But a lot of these goods were well worth the cost. Scroll to the bottom for a full product recommendation list beyond what’s mentioned throughout our journey!
Digging into Taking Cara Babies videos before Owen was born, I was honestly a bit surprised by the hype. After watching, I had more questions than before. I wanted more specificity. Looking back, I now know this hard truth: there are so few clear-cut answers in parenthood. If your kid goes to the ER, you don’t hand them off to be magically cured. You are responsible for telling the doctor everything they need to know and making decisions amidst uncertainty. Don’t know if you should circumcise or not? Turns out, it just comes down to preference! Want to know why your baby isn’t breastfeeding? Try these 800 things until you completely burn yourself out!
Rant aside, the content felt a bit open for interpretation, and I wanted a silver bullet. Nonetheless, we trusted the process as we understood it. I won’t expose the specific methods they charge a fee for, but at its simplest, this flavor of newborn sleep training is gently stretching your baby’s feedings. If they are clearly hungry, you feed them, but if they are waking out of habit (because food has been there waiting for them prior to training) you start to delay the feedings so they learn to sleep through the night without eating. Once you delay the middle of the night feedings enough, they eventually bump into the morning feeding and you effectively drop the middle of the night feeds. Then, you work on making that first morning feed later using the same methods. Eventually, you revert back to all these tactics when kiddo hits their first sleep regression.
The other main teaching is to use progressive intervention. For example, we rarely picked Owen up in the middle of the night after he was 6 weeks old (unless he pooped, was sick, or was otherwise in need of extra physical connection). The TCB method really emphasizes using the most minimal effective soothing interventions possible (for us, a firm hand on his chest and some loud shushing was most often enough) before advancing to the more hands-on steps. We really valued developing Owen’s ability to self-soothe so that everyone could start to get good sleep and be our best selves. To this day, we very rarely pick Owen up in the middle of the night. This is not for lack of love or desire. It is universally horrible to hear your child cry, and we do want to hold him. Sometimes, in that moment, more than anything. For us, it was more important, though, to show our love through giving him the tools he needs to keep himself comfortable at night. We catch up on love, hugs, and cuddles all day!
After all my research, I shared what I’d learned with my husband, Jim, and we discussed a plan. In addition to the tactical steps we’d take, we established some guiding principles; things we could agree to ahead of time regarding our approach so we wouldn’t be arguing about what to do in the middle of the night with a baby screaming.
The pause: First, we both loved the concept of “le pause” from Bringing up Bebe (which was, by the way, one of my very favorite early parenting books). The French commonly pause (often for about 5 minutes) before intervening with their small children, giving them a chance to work things out themselves.
Establish independence: We knew we wanted to give Owen an independent sleep foundation, even if it was emotionally difficult for us as parents at times. We agreed to stick it out. The French also believe in privacy, alone time and independence for small children, which we loved. An example of this principle in practice is when Owen woke up happy, we often let him babble to himself rather than immediately picking him up. It made us all smile.
Lead with warmth and security: After reading about how children follow your lead and can interpret sad-faced, long goodbyes as reason for stress, we decided to take a loving, positive, and quick approach to goodbyes and goodnights in the early days (note: as kids get older, the bedtime routine gets longer and deeper in terms of connection and communication, but we still stick to a really predictable sequence that Owen anticipates and feels safe within.)
Cry it out threshold: Jim and I checked in from time to time about how long we were willing to let Owen cry before we intervened. When he was 6 weeks old, it was probably 1-2 minutes. When he was a couple months old, it was around 5 minutes. As he got older, maybe around 8 months, we tested extending our threshold and we found that Owen most often fell asleep after 18 minutes of crying (or, what started as crying, but progressively got calmer - giving us the confidence to wait it out) so we set our new threshold at 20 minutes.
Start ‘em young: We agreed we wanted to begin the sleep training process at the earliest appropriate time because we had read that it’s easier and faster to do it before your baby can start forming habits.
Establish flexible sleep: And finally, we knew we wanted Owen to be flexible with sleep, so we napped him in his crib, in his car seat while at a brewery, in his backpack while we went on a hike, or on the SnuggleMe on my desk while I was on my computer. We mostly saved the Snoo for night sleep so he wouldn’t be fully reliant on it. We also traveled with him once it was safe to do so (he was born in early covid days) despite sleep being much harder away from home when he was young. As he got older, we’d also flex bedtime on Christmas or other special occasions. Even if any one of these situations was hard once, we felt it was worth continuing so that he’d learn to be more flexible. We tried not to scare easily from tough situations; they’re each an opportunity for learning or growth.
Training through the newborn phase
Before we started sleep training, when Owen would cry in the middle of the night, we’d pick him up and feed him. Under 6 weeks, this is age appropriate. By just shy of 6 weeks, we knew his body could start stretching feedings and that sleep was the best thing for him. We just needed to break the habit of waking so often for the reward of milk. So we made a plan: we’d gradually delay our middle of the night bottle by otherwise soothing Owen when he woke up. The goal was simply to delay feeding, knowing that over time he’d have no incentive to get up without it. Note: at this age, sleeping through the night is usually defined as having one long 6-8 hour stretch of sleep (ideally matched up to yours using a dream feed before you go to bed!)
My husband, Jim, took the first night of training and delayed Owen’s feed by 15 minutes after he woke up, following TCB’s low-intervention “S.I.T.B.A.C.K” soothing method. On night 2, I came ready with my pump, Kindle, and phone, and stretched his feed 90 minutes (to 4:00am). He was only mildly fussy each time he woke, making me feel it was indeed the habit waking him up. Anytime he was actually upset or we were too tired to go on, we’d feed him and go back to bed.
On night 3, I delayed his feed 120 minutes to 4:05am. In my notes at the time, I wrote, “It's clear this boy is ready to go without food for long stretches, but is still waking up for other reasons.”
I started keeping detailed notes of this process so that we could measure our progress. Even when it was Jim’s turn, I made him keep note of the wake and feed times and I interviewed him the next day to understand the qualitative details. I could foresee getting lost in the tiredness and feeling defeated, so I wanted to be sure we could really see the progress we were making, even if it was only 5 minutes each night.
You can download this tracker as part of our Baby Bundle, or use an app like Snoo, Nanit, or Huckleberry if you prefer! I personally like using a spreadsheet so I can build my own graphs, which I’ve added below.
On night 4, Owen didn’t wake up until 4am! He needed minimal soothing during and after my pump session and I didn’t feed him until 5:20am. The following night, he ate at 5:30am. Night 6 he had a hard time, starting to fuss at 2:30am but still made it until 5:05am before feeding. Night 7, he slept until 5:00am and didn’t eat until 6:25am.
Week 1 was a huge success, though absolutely exhausting. Owen slept the majority of each night, even when he’d wake up crying, because we were doing the work to put him back down. We, on the other hand, didn’t even bother getting back in bed between wakings many of those first nights; we just got comfy in the chair next to his Snoo. Catching up on sleep the next day was very necessary for us, but anyone trying to do this while back at work or with an older child waking up early and needing your attention would have a serious disadvantage here.
⭐ Milestone: consistent 6 hour stretches of sleep (6 weeks old)
Week 2 was a little less successful. Owen initially woke up each day between 2:00-3:45am and we fed him between 4:30-5:30am. In the third week of training, when Owen was almost 2 months old, his first wakes were consistently after 4:00am and we consistently fed him after 6am. This was huge. If you’ve not raised a tiny human yet, this might sound utterly miserable, but when you’ve been waking up every couple hours for weeks on end, the ability to sleep until 4:00am is everything. To make it more tangible: partner 1 goes to bed at 8:00pm. Partner 2 does the dream feed at 10:00pm and goes to bed. Partner 1 gets up at 4:00am and has slept a whole 8 hours. Partner 2 sleeps until 6:00am (also 8 hours) and takes over for partner 1. Does it play out this way every night? No. But if you try to make that type of schedule your goal or your baseline, suddenly you’re piecing together real sleep. Alternatively, both parents stay up until 10:00pm and one person gets up from 4:00-6:00am then goes back to bed when the other person gets up. It’s really important to communicate who’s turn it is and ask for the catch-up sleep you need in the morning. Debating, bargaining or arguing whose turn it is in the middle of the night is not the way to go. Lock it in before bed.
In week 3, we kept with the gentle soothing methods at waking, and Owen started having consistent 8 hour stretches between bottles. We were able to get the middle of the night feed close enough to the morning feed to drop it entirely.
⭐ Milestone: consistent 8 hour stretches without bottle (8 weeks old)
In this graph you are seeing data from a week before sleep training and 4 weeks of training. This is the amount of time between the dream feed and the morning feed. By week 3 of training we’re getting close to 8 hour stretches, and by week 4 it’s consistently 8 hours. You can clearly see how quickly he adjusted to the structure we provided.
Here’s a similar but different view: You can see the actual time of the dream feed (red), as well as the wake time (blue) whereas above is showing just the time between feeds. We can see here that Owen slept until after 6:00am by week 4 of training (at 9 weeks of age).
And finally, in this graph you can see where we dropped the middle of the night feed (red). You can also see how correlated the initial wake time (yellow) is to the night feed. We see the blue line dip simply because we connected the middle of night and morning feeds.
Here’s how the data from Owen’s Snoo looked at 3, 5, 7, and 10 weeks. In blue we see times where Owen is asleep. In red we see times where the Snoo is moving or he’s making noise (so these are a mix between awake and falling back to sleep). In gray we see when the Snoo is off, which means he’s up and out of bed.
When looking at these charts, the most important thing to notice is that day-to-day progress will vary. The process is not totally linear. But by collecting the data we can quickly see when the trend week-over-week or month-over-month is looking good. Looking at it this way takes any emotional judgment out of the process. Without zooming out, how easy would it be to get discouraged after 2 bad nights and say “I thought this was working! Now he’s been up so early for days! What should we do?”
As night sleep was improving, we implemented more structured wake windows during the day so we could piece the whole puzzle together. Age appropriate wake windows really helped us establish structure for Owen and us both; they increased the length of his naps, made our days more predictable, and established the right amount of daytime sleep to make sure he was saving enough tiredness for a full night of sleep. In the same spreadsheet I tracked night sleep, I tracked naps for about a week while we got in a rhythm. We also started having a more routine bedtime. Owen’s new bedtime environment was darker and quieter, and we tried to repeat the same activities to signal bedtime was coming (bottle, bath, book, etc.) though we’ve never been great at super rigid routines (and that has worked fine for us!)
In the Notes column you can see where I tracked our introduction of structured wake windows. After about a week of tracking and reviewing the notes, we got in a good rhythm and stopped recording the details.
⭐ Milestone: introducing wake windows & a bedtime routine (9 weeks old)
When Owen was around 10 weeks old, my notes pretty much ceased until the 4 month sleep regression because he was sleeping really well. What hit me like a freight train was that we’d have to do this work over and over again each time he had a regression, which is often tied to huge developmental advancement. Thankfully, we found, all the efforts to train him to sleep were contributing to a base. But we had to top-up every few months.
⭐ Milestone: consistent 10-12 hour stretches of sleep (10-12 weeks old)
The 4 month sleep regression
When the 4 month sleep regression hit (a couple weeks early), Jim was back to work, so I took more responsibility. Owen started waking up between 4:00-5:00am and he seemed so irritable that we feared he was starving. Feeding him and going back to sleep was working, but as we brushed up on the 3-4 month guide from TCB, we saw we should be holding the line as before, and go back to the basics with “S.I.T.B.A.C.K.” We also felt more comfortable letting him cry for 5 minutes by this age. It’s exhausting to allow a little baby to cry — so often it feels easier to just pick him up or feed him — but this structure continued to teach him to soothe himself. I also noticed that he seemed more quickly receptive to training this time around because of the baseline we’d built when he was younger.
Right after this regression hit, he also started to outgrow the Snoo and I was having traumatic postpartum dreams about him being lost in our sheets (even though he was never in our bed at this age). We decided to move him to his bedroom. That night, he was up 3 times between 3:30-4:30am and I was quick to comfort him because it was his first night in a new room. He was easy to get back down and slept until 7:00am. He woke up calmly babbling to himself. Our dog also slept in the nursery that night which we thought was incredibly precious. For the following 3 weeks he’d go a few nights sleeping through the night, then a few nights up several times. Then the regression largely passed and he slept until 5:30-6:30am. To encourage sleeping a bit later, we made a soft rule that even if he woke before 6:00am we wouldn’t get him out of his crib. Within a week or so, he started sleeping later or would doze in and out of sleep between 5:00-6:00am.
⭐ Milestone: first sleep regression + moved to crib/nursery (17 weeks)
The 8 & 12 month sleep regressions
We had a few really great months of sleep after the 4 month regression (with decent 6:00-7:00am wake times), then had a couple regressions back to back between 8-12 months. Owen would wake up both super early in the morning and in the middle of the night. It was all very inconsistent. I have a note from this period that says “we’re getting about as much sleep as we did when he was 2 months old.” The funny thing about sleep regressions, for us, was that we can adjust to anything. If getting up at 5:00am is the new norm, we’ll adjust. But the inconsistency of getting up at 7:00am one day and 4:45am the next day is hard to plan for when you’re heading to bed.
One early morning when Jim was out of town, I brought Owen into our bed out of desperation. We’d never co-slept but I needed more rest. He slept so well in my arms, well past 7:00pm. I was wary of creating a habit, but this one day turned into a beautiful period for our family that we enjoyed thoroughly while it lasted. I was anxious to continue sleeping together in the mornings once he was more mobile, but by about 9 months, he was naturally back to sleeping until morning in his own bed so this co-sleeping phase passed on its own. Two adjustments we made at this time (that I believe encouraged later sleeping) were moving bedtime from 7:30 to 7:00pm and putting Owen in slightly warmer clothing for bed (notably, this super soft 2.5tog sleep sack from Kyte).
Around this time, we also stumbled into dropping the dream feed. We forgot to do it one night and he didn’t notice, so we rolled with it. He fussed a couple following nights around the usual feeding time but didn’t fully wake up. (I’ve heard if you drop the dream feed when they’re younger you may need to wean it away, but we didn’t.)
⭐ Milestone: second sleep regression + 12 hour stretches of sleep without the dream feed (8 months)
By 10 months we were having issues again. Daylight savings kicked off 4:30-5:00am daily wakings and getting Owen back down that early in the morning was proving impossible. The only thing that worked was bringing him into our bed again. This lasted only a week, then he seemed to naturally adjust to the new time and was starting to sleep until 6:00am in his bed. Shortly after, we started seeing signs of his first molars coming in. He started to wake often between 10:00pm and 4:30am and we were back to feeling like we were getting the worst sleep of his life. Even him sleeping in our bed stopped working — he’d wake us up every 30 minutes from 4:30 to 6:30am and with him being on the verge of crawling we slept with one eye open to keep him safe. Eventually he started coming into our bed around 4:00am, rolling around until 5:00am, then sleeping until 7:00am.
⭐ Milestone: third sleep regression somewhere in there? (10-12 months)
At 12 months, we decided we needed to remove the crutch of co-sleeping and figure this latest sleep situation out. We were sick of sleeping in the same position all morning, on edge trying to keep him safe in our bed while he was switching unpredictably between sleep and activity (kicking, squirming, burrowing, crawling). We began waking up with him at 4:30am so he could experience the consequences. He was ready for a nap a couple hours later, but we’d stretch him as long as we could so his body would feel that this sleep schedule was not working.
We also reset bedtime again with more dark, quiet time to wind down, went back to more predictable nap times (9:00am and 2:00pm at this age for us, though we’d soon be dropping to one nap), no feeding before 6:00am, and a later bedtime. Somewhere in the mix of daylight savings we moved his bedtime up to 6:30pm, so we moved it back to 7:00pm at this time. For 2 weeks we had mixed results between early and late wakings, and after 3 weeks, he was back to sleeping in (sometimes until 8:00am). He woke up so much happier and wanted to cuddle in bed together which made everyone’s day start so much better. We had a couple 4:00-5:00am wakings around 13 months, but he was open to being soothed back to sleep.
Around 14 months, he was cutting 2 molars with 2 more not far behind, and would wake up crying hysterically between 4:00-5:00am. He was pulling at his gums in pain, so we gave him acetaminophen and he’d sleep until 7:00 or 8:00am (or later). At this point, school transitioned him to one nap and we got to begin the glorious year of the consolidated 3 hour midday nap. Following his molar pain, we enjoyed mostly 12-13 hour nights of sleep until Owen turned 2.
Finally, consistently great sleep from 14-24 months
There’s not a lot to say here except that my sleep notes don’t exist from 14-24 months. Owen pretty consistently slept 7:00pm-ish to 7:00am-ish with a 2-3 hour nap for this glorious stretch of time.
⭐ Milestone: Finally, super steady sleep! (14-24 months)
There was one exception during this phase: we started to introduce travel and the first 2 trips threw off Owen’s sleep. He woke up every morning between 3:00-5:00am and slept with us until 6:00-7:00am. Cry it out did not work while traveling, we think partially because his routine was off and partially because he was initially scared of the Slumberpod (more on this product below!) Once home, he had sleep troubles again for a few days as we transitioned back to our normal routine. Finally by 19 months when we took our 3rd trip, he was much more flexible and ended up sleeping very well in the Slumberpod from then forward (until the toddler bed transition stole this magical sleep gadget from us).
Our surprise toddler bed transition
A few weeks before our first international trip with Owen, when he was 22 months old, he broke out of his crib. I bolted out of bed to the sound of him crashing to the ground, followed by scared crying. He was totally fine, but I was spooked. He had unzipped his sleep sack, allowing his legs to reach over the side wall of the crib.
I didn’t want to put Owen in danger of injury, but I also wanted to get through our family trip and have the Christmas break from work to focus on his bed transition, so we tried to delay the inevitable. First, we removed the bottom platform from his crib so his mattress sat all the way on the ground. We didn’t realize how tall he’d gotten. The crib wall was sitting between his nipples and belly button on the lowest setting, and I read that if the crib falls below their nipples, they’re able to climb out. Dropping the mattress to the floor placed the crib wall between his nipples and neck. We also tried to put his sleep sack on backwards so he couldn’t unzip it himself, but he absolutely hated this. Some families use products like a net over the top of the crib to block climbing, or a zipper lock on their sleep sack.
Around this time, Owen had become so physical. He was climbing on everything and generally causing a lot more ruckus with his curiosity. It was very cool and pretty scary at once. He was suddenly falling head first off of couches and chairs and attempting to put things like forks in the microwave!
The night after he first climbed out, he wailed “ZIP!” all night because he was so frustrated he couldn’t unzip his sleep sack. Around 4:30am we gave in and he slept with us. The next night, we put the sleep sack back on frontwards and hoped that the lowered mattress would be enough to keep him safe. I removed all furniture and objects from around the crib so if he climbed out, he wouldn’t fall on anything. He slept soundly from 7pm to 8am, but I did not. My anxiety had me monitoring the monitor all night.
We tried this again the following night, but he took the sleep sack off and got his leg up on the wall of the crib while we were still up watching him. I ran in to catch him right as he was about to fall out. So, we decided to make the switch right then. We took off one wall of the crib so he could get out without climbing. We checked the outlet covers and moved any fun objects out of reach. We turned on the red light so he could see where he was going if he got up to walk. Jim tried to get him down for an hour but he hated the red light and wouldn’t stop screaming about it. With the red light on the dimmest setting, he was tripping over stuff while walking around his room crying after we finally stepped out. Then, he opened the bedroom door for the first time. We clearly weren’t fully ready, so he slept with us again.
That same night, I frantically researched from the couch while Jim laid with Owen in our bed. I was tempted to give in and co-sleep for a few weeks to get us to Christmas break, but I started to build confidence as I dug into research and resources online. Turns out, there’s more prep that goes into the transition than I anticipated. It’s not just getting your child used to going to sleep with newfound freedom — which is a big change — but there’s also a lot to get ready in the room so it’s child-proofed to the point that your kid can be safely left alone for 12 hours.
I have a full check-list for this transition, but we prioritized a few main things. First, we removed or mounted every piece of furniture to the wall or floor. We added child-proofing straps to the drawers on Owen’s dresser so he couldn’t use them as stairs to climb unsafely on top of the dresser. We childproofed cords and outlets more than we had before — we switched from little plastic outlet covers (that would keep him safe when we looked away for a few minutes, but maybe less so for a full 12 hours) to either fully removing and closing off some outlets or using a protector that screws into and covers the entire outlet and the cords plugged into it. We put a child-proof knob on his bedroom door because at this age I wasn’t ready for him to be able to exit his room and roam our house freely. This isn’t for everyone (locking your kid in their room) but Owen has felt safe and content with this boundary. We put a child-proof knob on his closet door as well. I added corner protectors (the kind you use on the corner of your coffee table when kids are first learning to crawl and walk) back to his bookshelf and dresser in case he tripped in the dark. We also switched from a regular sleep sack to one with foot holes for walking. And finally, we switched our Nanit from sitting on a shelf pointed at his crib, to being mounted on the wall with a view of the full bedroom. We also moved the Hatch to a shelf Owen couldn’t reach.
As I deconstructed our heavily curated nursery, one thing I came to regret was not thinking far enough out when designing it. I didn’t research or consider how his room would transition into toddlerhood, and we had to remove furnishings and decorations that I loved and expected to keep long term. We also decided not to use our transition crib, which I splurged on expecting it to last many more years. Since Owen was young for this transition, we didn’t feel he was ready to be several inches off the ground, even with the bed 75% enclosed. Instead, we put his crib mattress directly on the ground and stored the crib away for baby #2.
The other thing we didn’t anticipate was needing a night light. Before this transition, Owen’s room was still pitch black, but with the ability to move around freely we wanted him to be able to see where he was going to avoid injury. We decided to introduce the Hatch red/green light system — red signaling it’s time to stay in bed, green meaning it’s okay to get up.
On the day we had Owen’s room all ready, we hyped up his new bed and new bedroom. He liked that he could go into his room and lay in his bed anytime he wanted — it was the first thing he did when home from school. He seemed pretty excited, especially because we asked him to help us finish it (and he got to play with an electric drill). We talked a lot about his “big kid bed” because he loved talking about big kids at school. We told him it was just like his cot in his classroom to help him feel even more comfortable. We asked him if he felt excited and he said yes. I think including him in an ongoing conversation about the change was really helpful.
At bedtime we explained that the red light would be on to keep him safe and that he could get up once it turned green. He absolutely hated it, but we decided to try it for a week (which was great advice we got from Taking Cara Babies when you introduce anything new). We all loved that we could actually cuddle at bedtime, too, without the crib walls in the way. This was the start of a whole new bedtime routine that had more cozy connection ahead.
That first night, he was asleep within about an hour. We didn’t intervene once we left the room. He was at the door crying for 5 minutes then went to bed, but cried for a while longer. The main issue was that it was too dark and he lost his stuffy in the dirty clothes hamper (somehow). I believe that’s the main reason it took so long for him to go down. I went in after he was asleep to find the stuffy so he wouldn’t wake up sad again in the middle of the night. At some point, he fell head first off the mattress and kept sleeping in that position. We felt glad to have him on the ground once this happened. In the middle of the night, he cried once for 3 minutes. He also took his sleep sack off again and it was hard to see him in there by himself on the floor without it, but we had added extra layers in anticipation of this happening, and turned up our heat once we saw him remove the sleep sack. I left objects on the floor outside his bedroom door so he’d make noise if he turned the knob like he did the night before (we were still waiting for the child-proof knob covers to arrive).
When he woke up in the morning, we celebrated how proud we were of him, and he was very clearly proud of himself, too. We asked him all about it and talked about his exciting new bed several times throughout the day. We all survived night one!
On the second night, Owen cried for 15 minutes then fell asleep. He cried for 10 minutes in the middle of the night, too, while wandering around his room. Then he sat quietly, upright in bed for 30 minutes before falling back to sleep. On the third night, he fell asleep within 10 minutes but was up screaming at midnight because he couldn’t find his pacifier. After 20 minutes of fairly loud crying and not getting up to look for it, I went in, found it for him, and tried to soothe him. This was a mistake because it did not help — it took over an hour to get him down between his negotiations to get milk, food, hug the dog, etc. and him waking and screaming each time I tried to leave after he dozed off. I ended up sleeping on the floor next to him for another hour before finally being able to go back to bed. Naps during this period were surprisingly easy, though. No issues getting him down. Maybe because he naps on the floor at school.
On night four Owen fussed for under a minute and fell asleep! He cried for 20 minutes at 2:00am and went back down on his own, then cried at 6:00am looking for his stuffy and pacifier and wouldn’t go back down. We tried to bring him into our bed, but that didn’t work, so we were up for the day. Night five he went straight to bed without a sound (!!!), then cried on and off around 2:00am but put himself back down. He got up after 7:00am. Finally, on night six, we had our first seamless sleep. He went down easy at 7:30pm and got up at 8:30am!
During this time, we found him sleeping in all sorts of weird positions, including in the middle of the floor. We’re told this is normal. During the first couple weeks, there were mostly good nights, but not without a few setbacks. By 3 weeks, his sleep was back to normal, which was faster than we anticipated. In the second and third months in his toddler bed he started to explore playing by himself in the morning before his Hatch turned green, which was really cool to see.
In the middle of all of this was our international trip. We introduced an inflatable toddler mattress a few nights before leaving and Owen took to it very quickly. We bought special sheets (with firetrucks and school buses on them) just for this mattress to make it feel special. We did a bunch of research and went back and forth on how to keep him safe on our trip, until finally we got the brilliant advice to bring a camping tent with us and put him inside it in the bedroom. Because we were staying in a house rather than a hotel room, there was so much danger for him to get into if he had free roaming abilities at night. We hyped up the tent just like the toddler bed and he was so excited to sleep in “Owen’s room!” We missed using the pack-and-play and Slumberpod, which was really helpful for keeping his sleeping environment dark when he was younger, but this worked really well given it was a quick pivot with a totally new sleep situation. What felt like it could have been a disaster actually ended up being an extra positive experience for all of us.
Overall, the transition was far less horrible than I anticipated, but it took time, patience, setbacks, and pivoting. The same ended up being true for retiring the pacifier and potty training. Through all of these huge transitions (which all happened within the 9 months before baby #2 arrived — a big year for Owen!) my heart was filled by Owen’s resilience and how smart and independent and big he was getting. Change is constant as a parent, and if you omit the difficulty of change from these experiences, they were really special and positive and important and impressive. So many moments of deep mom pride.
⭐ Milestone: Broke out of crib + transitioned to toddler bed (22 months)
The never-ending 2 year sleep regression
So, the toddler bed transition worked well in the end. But in the 6 months following (mostly from months 25-30), we had nonstop sleep issues. There were consistently early wakeups, shorter naps, and more resistance and crying at bedtime. We spent a lot of mornings sleeping in Owen’s bed with him so we could all make it to a reasonable wake time. We tried to be patient because we dropped his pacifier around 25 months, then potty trained around 28 months. Owen also developed a bit of a fear of the dark. The poor kid was being put through the ringer in terms of changes! But the problems became consistent enough that they weren’t only inconvenient for us, they started to really impact healthy sleep for him with no signs of resolving on their own.
We decided to do a refresher course with Taking Cara Babies. And, wow, I had no idea how much we’d been relying on past learnings that were no longer age appropriate for Owen. As we took the course, we realized that letting him cry wasn’t really recommended anymore at this age, and I was pretty relieved because it wasn’t working. There was this huge fundamental shift from teaching independence for babies to “cooperation through connection” as toddlers who are old enough to really communicate. The toddler approach is way less tactical and way more intellectual and emotional than the newborn approach. I absolutely loved it.
As with the newborn course, I won’t reveal the details of the approach since it’s for purchase, but I’ll share a bit about our experience. First, training was a complete disaster the first few days. We followed the script but we got far worse sleep the first week. Then, suddenly, all our problems were solved by day 7. Owen went from getting up between 5:00 and 6:00am, screaming and banging on the door, to staying in bed quietly (usually sleeping) until at least 6:30am. He went from a later and later bedtime, often staying up moving around or crying for up to an hour, to going down quietly and falling asleep faster, usually within 15-20 minutes.
This sleep training refresh paid off tenfold during a family trip when Owen was 30 months old. He slept in the same room as us in a toddler bed on the floor and he stayed there all night, respected the red and green light (even though it started getting light in the room in the 4 o’clock hour), and transitioned seamlessly back to sleeping at home after the trip. It took longer for him to fall asleep on our trip, but we had zero tears about bedtime.
This was a great reminder for me that we don’t need to white knuckle through every hard period with our kids. Some phases can be made easier with the resources we have available to us. I thought about buying Taking Cara Babies’ other courses several times between Owen being a newborn and a toddler, but I doubted how helpful they’d be. I thought: Would they just repeat what I already know? Are we supposed to just suffer through these hard periods? In hindsight, I wish I had stayed equipped with age-appropriate tools along the way because they’ve always helped us.
⭐ Milestone: 2 year sleep regression + sleep training top-up (25-30 months)
Reflecting on 30 months of sleep training
Every family is different. Every kid is different and every family is different. We know so many incredible parents that have taken totally different approaches to sleep and parenting in general. “Our way” isn’t the right way. It’s just right for us!
That said, for us, our investment was intended for the benefit of our son and his development. Some of the methods we used can feel harsh to some families. Some parents aren’t comfortable with any independent crying, for example. We did a lot of research and picked what made sense to us, and that was always rooted in what we thought was best for Owen’s development. Yes, we benefit from great sleep, and we can be better parents as a result, but we never made that our priority. In fact, we had to take most of the brunt of teaching him to sleep. It wasn’t easy. But we feel we showed Owen care and love by creating a strong sleep foundation for him. He woke up happy when we made changes that caused more sleep and that was signal enough for us to keep giving him loving structure.
The longing to pick up your crying baby never goes away. As much as I wanted to give Owen the gift of good sleep, I also very much wanted to pick him up, feel his warm body in my arms, and comfort him. When we had periods of co-sleeping (and he actually slept), I wanted him there with me forever. As I write this and he’s asleep in bed at 2.5 years old, I still want to go sleep with him almost every night. (And sometimes we do! And it’s amazing.) But most often, creating the foundation of independent sleep has been more important for us. We also noticed that teaching him independence led to other positive outcomes like having mostly tear-free daycare drop offs (he’s had plenty of crying phases, but they’re the exception, not the norm), playing alone in his bedroom when he needed space, going to bed without tears, being comfortable with boredom during car rides, being able to fall asleep at other people's houses, and being flexible with new babysitters. It's always going to be impossible to know what is personality and nature versus what is from training and nurture, but I do really believe that the work we put in to make Owen comfortable alone with himself has extended to many other situations.
Sleep training takes work. Not sleep training takes work. Pick your poison. I’ve always been the person that wants to front-load effort to build a system then sit back and enjoy the system running itself. So the 3 weeks of horrible nights to train Owen to sleep as a newborn was a no-brainer for me (along with each effort to “top up” his sleep skills along the way). But for some families, getting up a couple times a night for a quick bottle feels much easier. It really comes down to what is best for each family.
The Pause works. The French “pause” I mentioned from Bringing Up Bebe really does work. I can’t tell you how many naps have gone an extra hour because we let Owen cry for 3 minutes before dozing back off, or how many mornings we got 2 extra hours of sleep because we knew how to distinguish the “I’m awake, period” cry from the “I woke up and am disoriented but I’m gonna fall back asleep soon” cry. Like us, you’ll get to know your baby’s cries, and if you listen patiently, it might benefit you to wait before tending to them.
Use naps to build flexibility. A 60 minute nap is much lower stakes than a night of sleep, so that’s the perfect time to build flexibility around levels of noise and light. Nap that babe in other sleep devices (the Snoo, their crib, a Snuggle Me), in the car, while baby-wearing, in a stroller, and out to eat.
Give every change a week. Like I’ve mentioned, give every new change a week to see if it works. It’s a big time commitment, so you should feel strongly that the change will help. Plenty of things that were game changers for us actually made things worse before better. Don’t scare easily; one bad night will tell you nothing. Your kiddo could simply be upset you changed something. Let them really experience the change before you revert.
Isolate variables. To build on the last point, not only should you give your efforts a fair shot, but you should only change one major thing at a time so you can be certain which variable made the difference.
Don’t do anything once that you don’t want to do 10 more times. Once your child is 18 months or so, don’t do anything once that you don’t want to do over and over and over again. This could be reading more books at bedtime (we stick to 2, period), skipping toothbrushing, having milk in the middle of the night (when it’s no longer age appropriate), having milk right when waking up (which can encourage early wakings), or bringing your kiddo into bed. Once you open the door it can be hard to close it. After one night sleeping in our bed during his toddler bed transition, Owen would stand at his door with his pillow in hand yelling “come get me” for many nights, fully expecting to come get into bed with us. Sometimes, one time is enough to set an expectation that is hard to change.
Make all goodbyes clear, loving, and quick. This worked a bit more when Owen was under 2, but we liked the approach that goodbyes at bedtime were clear, loving and quick. At bedtime: “I love you so much baby, have a great night of sleep” and walk out. At school drop-off: “Let’s say hi to your friends! Coat in your cubby please. Ok, baby, looks like it’s time for breakfast, mom’s leaving now. I love you! Have a great day!” and walk out. I really glommed onto this thing I read — that your child will sense that there’s something bad happening if you make it seem like it’s a big deal to part ways. If you make it seem like it’s not a big deal, they’ll take your lead. People we have over for dinner are constantly stunned that for most of Owen’s first 2.5 years of life, we could put him down for bed and be back to the dinner table in a few minutes without any crying.
Always go back to the basics. Or better yet, if you’re smarter than us, just be consistent. With all regressions or disruptions (like a vacation) go straight back to the basics. Reset your routine to match what you know is best for your family. We’ve found that things go off the rails over time with kids. Any concerted effort you make to change the process can loosen once the results are there. So you’ll often need to “touch up” or tighten the reins in the future. For us, bedtime by default has been very peaceful and “easy” as outsiders claim. When Owen was a baby, we could lay him down and walk out. As a toddler, we read then say goodnight and he stays in bed all night. But along the way, we had plenty of periods where bedtime became a disaster. Around 28 months, Owen would cry for 20-40 minutes before bed. We finally decided we needed to learn more about toddler sleep as we were relying on baby sleep tactics. And just like that, we were back to a peaceful bedtime. Our peaceful bedtimes (or any other thing we’re trying to improve) are a direct result of educating ourselves, employing a process, sticking to it, and topping it up when things get out of whack. I don’t have any silver bullets for what works other than investing your attention and effort to figure it out (and sticking to it).
And if the struggle continues on, remember, everything is a phase. Lots of people say this but it’s so true. The good and the bad. Phases are so short in these early years of parenthood, too. Enjoy the good and stay resilient through the bad. You’ve got this.
Establish your boundaries and stick to ‘em (until they’re no longer age appropriate!) I talked about establishing your cry-it-out limit with your partner. That’s one example. Another is the idea of keeping your child in bed until a certain time even if they got up early, to help encourage them to stay down for an age appropriate amount of time. In the second case, Owen learned our expectation and adjusted. As he got older and could have conversations with us, we set really clear expectations about bedtime, like “I want you to keep your head on your pillow and stay in bed until the green light turns on.” which he openly received and respected. Toddlers feel safe with clarity and structure.
Taking Cara Babies works. Again, hate to fangirl, but it works. Like, alarmingly well. We’ve been so impressed with how effective the programs are. Whether it’s this system or another, find something that resonates with your family and give it a fair shot! We are so lucky to raise children in a time when there are abundant resources at our fingertips.
Every sleep product you need through baby’s first 3 years
All of these products and my other favorite baby products are listed out as part of my Baby Bundle.
Black out curtains: At first, we really wanted a flexible sleeper that could sleep in any conditions. Then we quickly realized how critical nighttime sleep is for everyone’s well being. So we left flexibility-building to nap time. There are so many products you can buy to make a room dark, but if you want something cheap that doesn’t require any install, I recommend these highly popular black, construction paper, accordion blinds from Amazon. You’ll get more than you need for $35.
For travel, we bought the Slumberpod and while it was a transition, we powered through and it proved to be incredible. Before the Slumberpod, Owen would get up between 4:00-6:00am in new places (especially if the room wasn’t dark enough) and after he adjusted to using it, he’d stay asleep until after 7:00am the majority of the time.
We also covered little light sources over time, like the crack under the door (with an under door draft blocker) and the red light on our power strip (with black electrical tape).
White noise machine: We initially bought the Hatch and didn’t think it was loud enough (it was an older model), and when Owen was young, we didn’t need the red/green light feature. So we sold it and used a Google Home which was nice for playing music during the day. When Owen transitioned to a toddler bed, we wanted the red/green light feature back to keep him in bed in the morning. Given that we ended up needing it, and they’ve now made the Hatch much louder than we could possibly need (we keep ours at 70% and it’s really loud), I would recommend just getting that from the start. The huge downside with the Google Home was that every hour the white noise faded out to silence then faded back in. Most times this didn’t phase Owen but occasionally when it happened in the morning it’d wake him up and leave mom and dad quite frustrated. It also only played for 12 hours which was annoying when he was gonna sleep in but woke up to it shutting off.
For travel and napping out and about, we got a basic USB-charged white noise machine on Amazon. Be sure to buy a rechargeable battery pack for overnight trips to extend the battery!
Pacifiers: try the Babylist sample box of pacifiers if you plan to use one, because it really doesn’t matter which paci/binky worked for another baby; your kid will have their own favorite. Once Owen was old enough to put his binky back in his mouth, we’d put several in his crib so they were easy to find if one fell out of his mouth. I was too nervous to clip his binky to his clothing during night sleep because it seemed like a hazard, but once he was 1 and could have things in his crib with him, we introduced a stuffed animal attached to the binky so he could more easily locate it when it fell out at night. We also introduced a stuffed animal to cuddle with at 1 and he’s been obsessed ever since. It’s super fun and cute to try stuff once they’re old enough to have accessories in bed.
The Snoo: I HATE to fangirl anything that’s super popular and overpriced, but we were definitely sold after using it. I temper my fangirldom because we can’t say for sure that the Snoo made sleep better — we have nothing to compare against. But, the Snoo automated the first 2 steps of TCB’s soothing methodology. Often, it was enough to put Owen back to bed. In those raw early days I found myself awake even if the Snoo was doing the work, but at least I was on alert from the comfort of my bed.
The Snuggle Me lounger: This was one of our most-used products in the early days. From birth until Owen could really roll and move around, we used our Snuggle Me for naps all around the house and as a safe and cozy place for Owen to hang out when we needed to be hands-free. The popular alternative to this product is the Dock-a-Tot but I preferred the Snuggle Me for the cheaper price point (especially after adding a couple washable covers), the more minimal colors/patterns, and the more snug and cozy shape.
Baby containment clothing: I was so confused by knotted gowns, swaddles, and sleep sacks before Owen was born. We bought a bunch and figured we’d try them out. In the end I’d recommend 5 main products for 5 main phases.
- First: the Snoo’s built-in swaddle system. We used this until Owen outgrew the Snoo in length. The swaddle is attached to the bassinet so that when its signature rocking begins, baby is secure. At this phase, we had tons of the removable swaddles (we made it through all 3 sizes before he outgrew the Snoo) and a couple of their mattress covers because Owen spit up a lot.
- We used the Ollie swaddle in the crib for early naps and for night sleep once out of the Snoo. As much as I wanted to use all the cute photoshoot-worthy cloth swaddles I bought and be motherly enough to wrap my baby in a swaddle that’d last all night, we quickly switched to the coveted Ollie and velcroed him in each night without thought. Once he could bust his arms out of the Ollie it was getting close to time to switch products again, and when he learned to roll it was a requirement. We got by with one Ollie.
- The next product is the Magic Merlin suit. This thing turns your baby into a little Michelin man and it’s very cute. The suit is thick enough to dampen the kiddo’s Moro (startle) reflex which can often wake them up by way of smacking themselves in the head. It restricts movement like the previous products did (all of which keep the baby from waking themselves up too easily and mimic cozy womb vibes) but it’s intentionally less restrictive as the baby is getting old enough to want some freedom. Think of each stage as a transition away from full restriction. The Magic Merlin is the middle ground. It only comes in 3 sizes, and babies size out of the largest around the time it’s developmentally appropriate to move to a more free sleep sack. We got by with one Magic Merlin at a time (though we did go through a medium and a large).
- Owen spent much more time in his sleep sack than the previous products, which he flew through. I bought him the Kyte 2.5tog sleep sack a couple sizes up because it was expensive and I wanted it to last. I picked it because we love their PJs, and as expected, it’s SO cozy. It’s thick, soft, and can be used year-round. In a heat wave, Owen goes in it with a diaper on only, and in the winter he wears long PJs under it. When he transitioned to a toddler bed, we had to give it up (because it’s not safe to walk in). He used to randomly go find this sleep sack during the day and cuddle with it like it was one of his lovies. We were able to get by with just one, washing once or twice a week while he was at school.
- And finally, because we loved that sleep sack so much, we graduated to the same one with feet! It’s much easier for him to walk in, which is a necessity now that he has free rein through his room.
Baby monitor: this is another category in which we started with something simple and ended up with the fancy version anyway, so I’d recommend just going to the fancy version first. We were not big monitor people for most of Owen’s first 2 years. When Owen first moved into his crib in his own room and still felt very fragile to me, I kept the monitor on while sleeping. Once we were more confident he was safe, we stopped using it. If he woke up in the middle of the night, I’d hear him from just a room away and dig through my bedside drawer looking for it. I’d turn it on to see what was going on but most often, I could tell from his cries alone whether he’d calm down himself or not. The monitor got more use from babysitters than us between 6-20 months. However, when Owen was 18 months we went on a trip and borrowed the Nanit from a friend so we could sit in front of our cabin at night and keep an eye on him sleeping inside. The Nanit is WiFi enabled rather than just a radio signal that requires obstruction-free close proximity like our first one, so it gave us a lot more flexibility. Plus, I could check in on him sleeping when I was away from home which is always cute. Thankfully, it came in most handy when Owen suddenly broke out of his crib and transitioned to a floor bed much earlier than we anticipated. Having recordings of each night was critical so we could review and ensure his room was safe for him.
A Fitbit, Apple Watch, or other sleep tracker: I found this to be hugely helpful when navigating low sleep nights. When you’re perpetually tired, it’s hard to know just how little sleep you got. Digging my old Fitbit out of a drawer and using it to track sleep gave me a clear understanding of where I was with sleep and how much I might need to make up in the morning. It was also a good reminder of what time I should get to bed, looking at the historical data.
Toddler bed: For the first few weeks of Owen sleeping outside his crib, we used the crib mattress on the floor. Soon after, we bought a twin mattress and a bed frame. But the low bed frame felt like a waste of a few hundred dollars, so we sent it back and left the twin mattress on the floor. Once he’s old enough to be off the floor we’ll buy a regular frame. For bedding, we love the Coop toddler pillow (get the protective cover), cheap sheets from Amazon, and this quilt from Quince. Note: our son started loosely using covers around 26-28 months but we still keep him in a warm sleep sack at 30 months. It sounds like 30-36 months is when they start to really figure out bedding!
Travel toddler bed: For travel, we use an inflatable toddler mattress. We also use an inflatable airplane bed. If we’re staying in a house, we bring a camping tent to put Owen’s mattress in, keeping him safe from exploring a house that’s not child-proofed. He thinks it’s really fun and calls it “Owen’s tent!” If we’re in a hotel room, we just use the mattress on the floor. We always bring our Hatch and Nanit, too.
You’ve got this!
I hope these stories, learnings, and links provide you with some shortcuts in your sleep journey. Wishing you the best sleep possible!
If you’d like to download my bundle of every spreadsheet I used in early parenthood, you can find it here. I’ve also got planning bundles for going camping with kids, getting married, adopting a pet, and looking for a job. Happy planning to you!