When it comes to raising a new baby, parents are the privileged people who get to teach their children the concepts that we take for granted. Like how to sleep, for example. You and I go to bed without being rocked, but chances are someone in our infant days taught us how to do that. Just like someone taught us how to use a toilet and hold a spoon, the first lesson we have to teach our children is to sleep on their own.
While teaching sleep to a baby who probably already sleeps between 12 and 16 hours a day sounds repetitive, sleep training is the first experience they will have to learn concepts like:
time, routine, personal space, and self-soothing.
Many mother’s motivation to sleep train is so they can get their own bed back and enjoy personal space again. But there are many other benefits to sleep training including:
-Baby learns self-sufficiency
-Better quality of sleep for you and your baby
-More free time for you
-Less risk of suffocation (if you were co-sleeping before)
-Baby learns a routine and goes to bed at a set bedtime
-Learns to sleep through the night
If your baby is between four and six months old and is requiring comfort techniques like a breast, a bottle, or a rocking chair to slip into dreamland, it’s probably time for them to start sleep training. Most babies can learn how to sleep on their own in just a few nights--others even learn immediately! While the sleep training process might be rough for you at first, the long term benefits outweigh the present discomfort.
What Is Sleep Training?
Sleep training is when you place your fully awake baby to bed and they go to sleep on their own without being rocked or fed to sleep. It’s the art of teaching them to sleep without your assistance. Sleep training also helps a baby go back to sleep on their own if they wake up during the night. This means better sleep for mamma! However, sleep training isn’t the same thing as weaning from night feeds. A baby might still need food once or twice a night, so be sure and talk to the pediatrician about when to wean your baby from night feedings.
Most doctors and experts agree that sleep training is not unhealthy but is actually safe and it is encouraged. A common fear among mothers is that it will create separation anxiety, but the opposite is actually true. Sleep training aids in child development.
How Do You Teach Sleep To a Child?
There are several methods to teaching successful sleep, but some parents don’t follow one method strictly. Instead, they use a blend of methods to meet the unique needs of their family and baby. For the sake of convenience, we will cover the two most common sleep training methods used by parents. The first and most common is the “Cry It Out Method.”
This method involves placing your fully fed, clean diapered baby in a safe sleep environment and let them cry themselves to sleep. Usually, most babies learn to fall asleep on their own within a few nights. This sounds harsh, and it’s very tiresome on your maternal instincts, but the truth is, crying it out is actually harder on you than it is your baby. Some babies respond very quickly to this method, but if yours does not or if you can’t stand crying, there is always method two…
Method two is known as the Ferber Method. This method involves placing your fed and newly diapered baby in a safe sleep environment, let them cry for a set amount of time, then come into their room to pat them and tell them everything is okay. Don’t rock them or use comfort techniques that involve you holding or rocking. Instead, you can offer them a pacifier or a white noise sound, talk to them until they calm down, and leave the room again for the same amount of time.
Gradually you can reduce the time you go to their room for comfort checks, as the baby learns to settle themselves down. Soon, the baby will learn to self-soothe, and you will no longer need to enter their room to comfort them. This method is a modified version of the “cry it out,” but it allows your baby to know that you are close by giving you both peace of mind.
There are several tried and true “insider tricks” to building your baby’s new sleep routine. Here are a few to guide you as you teach sleep to your little one.
-Pay Attention to Your Baby’s Sleep Cues. These cues include rubbing their eyes, yawning, fussiness, and turning away from things that interest them. At the first signs of tiredness, and if it is close to their bedtime, put your baby down to sleep. If you miss that sweet spot and let them stay up past their bedtime, then your baby enters the realm of “overtired.” Overtiredness can cause the opposite of sleep, which is hysteria. In fact, it can cancel sleep altogether!
-Try to Put Your Baby On A Sleep Schedule. If your baby is put to bed at the same time for every nap and every night, they will get into a rhythm and make your life more predictable and easier to plan. They also will get a fuller night’s sleep. Remember, newborns won’t figure this out until they reach about the age of four months.
-Establish A Bedtime Routine. This will help your baby wind down from the day and signal that it is bedtime. Each family has a different lifestyle, but an example of a bedtime routine can look like a bath, changing their diaper, feeding them, reading a book, or singing a song, and putting them down. The tick is to do the same routine every night so they know what to expect.
-Don’t Be Afraid to Use Sleep Aids. Items like a noisemaker, night light, star projector, stuffed animal (if age appropriate), or pacifier every night to signal when it is bedtime. Using these sensory tricks encourages self-soothing comfort that does not involve you rocking or nursing for endless hours.
-Delay Response Time. All humans, adult or infant, wake up during the night as part of natural sleep rhythms. If your baby stirs on the monitor or fusses or coos, don’t rush into her room immediately. By waiting a few moments, you give her the opportunity to try self-soothing for herself. If she cannot figure it out on her own, revert to the Ferber method.
-Use the Same Place for Both Naps and Bedtime. Even if your baby only takes a short cat-nap, it’s important that they go to sleep and wake up in the same place. This will instill a sense of security and dependability that reassures them and makes it easier for them to accept sleep training.
-Be Consistent. Babies do pay attention to their surroundings so it is important to they grow to expect the same routine which becomes their new sense of comfort. If you can, be consistent in bedtime, routine, and aids.
-Put The Baby Down Awake. The whole point of sleep training is to teach your baby to sleep on her own. She can’t learn this life skill if you rock her and soothe her to sleep first.
Don’t worry, mama, if sleep training is intimidating at first. You totally got this! Between 4-14 nights, your baby should be settling into a routine, giving you the freedom and extra time to settle into one of your own! If you need more education, tips, or tricks, reach out to your pediatrician and local pregnancy resource center for support.