Baby Sleep Training: When and How?

image001Babies often wake up at night when they are hungry or uncomfortable. Parents usually help them get back to sleep and train them to stay asleep throughout the night. This process of sleep training helps babies develop a regular routine for sleeping. Although some babies quickly learn, others have trouble settling back to sleep. When can you sleep train your baby? What methods can you use to sleep train your baby?

When Is the Best Time to Start Baby Sleep Training?

New parents often wonder when the best time is to train a baby to sleep through the night.

0 to 3 Months—Not Much to Do but to Establish a Bedtime Routine

Newborn babies normally feed every few hours throughout the day and night and may therefore sleep a few hours then wake up again. Because of this, parents cannot begin training the newborn or impose a regular schedule for sleeping. One must quickly respond to the child's hungry cries and feed her to comfort her. Although you may also lose sleep because of this, you can try napping whenever the baby sleeps to catch up with your own sleep.

How to Establish a Bedtime Routine: At the age of six weeks you can try reinforcing your baby's biological rhythm by practicing a bedtime routine regularly. For example, you can give her a warm bath, read a book and feed her about the same time at night. In the morning, get her up about the same time daily and put her down for naps at daytime at about the same time of the day.

4 Months and Above—Ready for Sleep Training

It is typical for babies to start developing regular sleeping patterns and may feed less at night by the age of 3 months. Between 4 to 6 months, many babies will be ready to be trained to sleep for longer periods at night. However, babies have different patterns and while some may be ready at an earlier age, some may not be able to sleep longer than just a few hours until they are much older.

Important Notes: Be sure that the baby does not have a medical condition that may affect her sleep before you try sleep training. Observe how the baby reacts to your training program and be flexible. Do not impose your training program if she seems to be very resistant or if sleep training results in worsening of his overall behavior and mood. You may stop for a few weeks then try starting again. Consult your doctor to determine if you baby is ready to be trained.

In Which Ways Can I Start Baby Sleep Training?

There are different strategies to sleep train a baby. Choose one which is more suitable to both you and the baby. Researchers offer different ways of sleep training a baby, but no matter what method you choose, what is most important to remember is to be consistent. A review of various techniques published in the Sleep journal shows that the likelihood of success with any given method is greater when you apply it with consistency. Most methods for sleep training follow one of the basic approaches below:

1. The Cry It Out Method

image002This method allows the baby to cry for short periods after putting her down on bed while awake. It does not mean letting the child cry endlessly, but comforting her without picking her up. This technique was developed by a pediatrician who specializes in sleep disorders in children. Dr Richard Ferber advocates training babies to soothe themselves and fall asleep by allowing her to cry for a short while.

2. The No Tears Method

image003Another pediatrician, Dr. William Sears, wrote a book called The Baby Sleep Book, advocating another method of sleep training. This gradual approach involves comforting the baby as soon as the baby cries (so that there is no tears). Another author, Elizabeth Pantley, educates parents by outlining a stepwise approach in the book called The No-Cry Sleep Solution. Unlike the first method, this technique does not advocate allowing the baby to cry without immediate comfort.

3. Other Methods

Other sleep experts recommend other methods which may fall in between the previous techniques. Dr. Harvey Karp, pediatrician, wrote The Happiest Baby on the Block, suggesting a specific routine that involves 5 S's: Swaddling, Side/stomach position for calming the baby, Swinging, Shushing, and Sucking.

4. Nap Training

Nap training is a bit more difficult than bedtime sleep training. In general, it is advisable to spend a full week sleep-training the baby and this may be continued during daytime for naps. If you cannot be home all the time, ask a caregiver to spend time at home doing your training methods at daytime.

Baby Sleep Training Techniques

Here are some sleep-training techniques recommended by various parents and child experts:

1. Be Consistent

The best way to train for anything is to keep a consistent schedule and routine. Regardless of what goes on during the day, try to keep bedtime on a consistent schedule. This will mean doing many sacrifices, but you will realize that it will be worth the trouble, because babies usually thrive on consistent routines.

2. Put Her Down Drowsy

Putting down the baby drowsy after a regular bedtime routine helps the baby sleep longer. You can try giving her a warm bath, letting her read and play, then allowing her to feed on the bed until she falls asleep on her own. Massaging her with some lavender lotion will also soothe her until she feels comfortable enough to sleep.

3. Send out Bedtime Signals

Let your baby know it is time to sleep by singing her the same lullaby every night. Or you can also try playing a CD of a favorite lullaby before getting to bed. Hold her until she calms down if she cries, then place her in a crib. Sit nearby without touching her until she falls asleep.

4. Swaddle Her

Some parents find that swaddling a baby tightly in a soft blanket every night can help her stay warm and comfortable the whole night without needing to wake up.

5. Let Her Fuss and Soothe Themselves to Sleep

After trying all techniques without success, some parents finally give up and just allow their babies to fuss a little until they go back to sleep on their own. It may take a few nights to get used to it, but in the end, the baby will be less fussy and can sleep longer, as will the parents themselves.

6. Start Early

One way to sleep train a baby is to start early by implementing a regular bedtime routine. You can feed her until she is drowsy, use a vibrating pad in the crib and turn on a wind-up mobile. She will fall asleep every time you do this at bedtime.

7. Create a Routine

Prepare your baby for sleep with a regular bedtime ritual, which you can do in fifteen minutes. Do calm activities like singing or reading in the nursery or near the crib. Avoid TV or other stimulating activities such as tickling near bedtime. You can also use a blanket or a stuffed toy to keep the baby comfortable if she is over six months old.

8. Set the Scene

Set up a conducive environment for sleeping in a cool, comfortable room. Set the temperature at about 65-70 degrees and dim the lights. You may want to use shades to darken the room and install a night-light for use when the baby wakes up at night.

Is Baby Sleep Training Very Necessary?

No. There is no hard and fast rule that requires parents to sleep train their babies. If you are happy with the way your baby's sleep and waking cycles go, you do not have to do any changes and just continue with your usual routines. Child experts recommend sleep training as a way for some parents to deal with their babies sleep habits, which can sometimes be exhausting or even frustrating. Although some families do not mind waking up twice at night when their infant wakes up, other families may not be so happy with it. This is when they will need some experts' advice on how to train their babies to sleep longer during the night.