Every new parent knows what it's like to be woken during the night to the cries of their little bundle of joy. Often they wonder what they can do to help themselves and their child get a better night sleep. The answer is sleep training for babies.
What Is Sleep Training For Babies?
Sleep training is the process of helping a child learn to fall asleep without parental intervention and stay asleep all night long, which for a young infant is about 5 hours at a time. There are a number of methods that can be used for this, but most of them have a few things in common, such as putting infants to bed when they are still awake and letting them cry for a brief period of time. This is often more difficult for parents than it is for the baby, but crying is just an inevitable part of growing.
The First Three Months
In the first three months of life, there isn't a lot that parents can do about being woken up in the middle of the night. Babies this young require frequent feedings, as frequent as every 2 hours for breastfed babies. But this doesn't mean that parents can't start training their babies during this time.
Perhaps the most important thing that parents can do to help their baby and themselves sleep better is establish a routine. Experts agree that right from the beginning, babies are able to orient themselves to a schedule. Some of the things that will help a child get used to sleeping all night include:
- Wake the baby up at the same time each day.
- Keep feedings on a regular schedule. The baby's pediatrician can recommend the appropriate frequency for feeding the baby.
- Keep nap times on a regular schedule.
- Don't darken the baby's sleeping area during daytime naps. This will help regulate the baby's circadian rhythms.
- Establish a bedtime routine and stick to it each night at the same time. This could include a bath, bottle and then put the baby to bed drowsy but awake.
- When the baby wakes for a feeding during the night, put the baby back to bed while they are drowsy, not asleep.
If parents follow these tips from the beginning, they will find that the baby is much less resistant to sleep training as they get older. In fact, the sleep training will basically take care of itself. But it's important to remember that at this stage, the baby's routine needs to be a bit fluid because the baby will eventually begin to sleep less during the day and will be able to go longer periods of time between feedings.
4 To 6 Months
At this point, the baby is perfectly capable of sleeping all night long, and may have started to do so on his own if parents stick to their schedule. By the time the bedtime routine begins, this gives the baby the cue that it's time to get ready to sleep.
It's important to remember that each baby is different. Some babies will take to sleep training quite quickly and with little difficulty, while others will be resistant and have more problems. Just be patient and stick with the program and eventually the baby will catch on.
At this age, most babies have dropped the majority of their nighttime feedings, especially if they've started on solid foods so there is no reason for them to wake up during the night, unless something is wrong, such as illness. However at this age, babies can be resistant to change, which is why it's important to establish good habits early.
It is essential that parents not hold their child until she is asleep; this is critical to sleep training. The whole idea is to teach the child to soothe herself to sleep, therefore babies should be put to bed while they are still awake, but sleepy.
Parents should be prepared for crying. This is not uncommon in sleep training. Babies may fuss and cry for a few minutes until they make themselves comfortable and fall asleep. Different methods recommend different lengths of time, but it's important that parents don't give in to the urge to pick up their baby and comfort them. The idea is to teach them to do it on their own.
Sleep Training Beyond Infancy
If parents have stuck with their routine and let the baby cry for a bit to learn to comfort himself, the only thing left for parents to do is to follow through with the sleep training method they have chosen and be consistent with the child's daily routine.
It's also important to remember that there will be setbacks. For example if a child is not feeling well, or when they are teething, they may wake and be more irritable than normal. It is perfectly acceptable to comfort a child who isn't feeling well, but remember to be as consistent as possible with the child's bedtime routine.
Tips For Helping A Baby To Sleep
Following these tips will help the baby sleep soundly through the night.
- Provide plenty of stimulation for baby during the day to enforce the idea that the baby should be active during the day.
- Keep bed time calm. Don't over-stimulate the baby before bed with playing.
- Enforce baby's circadian rhythms by not darkening the room during daytime naps. Likewise, keep the baby's room dark during the night.
- Try a pacifier. Research suggests that not only can a pacifier help soothe a baby, babies who used one were considerably less likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- Avoid bed sharing. This is not only dangerous, leaving baby vulnerable to being crushed or suffocated, but it makes it extremely difficult for the baby to sleep on their own.
- Develop and maintain a routine for baby and stick to it. This will help him settle down for the evening before it's time to put him in his crib.
Sleep training for babies doesn't need to be difficult. The earlier that parents start creating healthy sleep patterns, the easier they will find it to get their child to sleep through the night.