There is so much information on the internet about sleep training and there a lot of different methods; some people swear by cry it out, others believe in using a method called “the shush”. So what actually is the best way to help your baby sleep better? Is swaddling really all that helpful for your newborn baby? Do white noise machines really work? These are all excellent questions and today I’m going to answer them for you whilst giving you advice on how to sleep train your baby.
Whether your baby has started having trouble sleeping and you want to learn a better way to get them sleeping through the night or if you’ve already got an older child who is struggling with their sleep patterns, I have everything you need to know right here! (looking on how to sleep train your toddler, check out how to sleep train a toddler)
What is Sleep Training?
Sleep training is a term that refers to the process of helping a baby learn how to fall asleep on his or her own. It involves learning how your baby falls asleep and then creating the conditions that make it happen more consistently. Sleep training takes time, practice, and patience, but the benefits are well worth it.
When you hear people talk about sleep training, they use lots of different terms—sleep shaping, sleep coaching, sleep teaching—but what they’re all talking about is essentially the same thing: helping your child become a self-soother so he can fall asleep on his own without relying on you or any other props or assistance.
No matter how much help you provide your little one at bedtime now, sleep training will teach him to self-soothe when he wakes up in the middle of the night (or in the morning) so he can get back to sleep independently. This way, both of you can enjoy a good night’s rest!
Recent research has found that sleep training with controlled crying and bedtime fading (both detailed below) enhanced babies’ sleep and did not result in elevated cortisol levels in babies older than six months. This gives you some peace of mind knowing a little crying, if it leads to better sleep, won’t hurt your kid.
What’s the right time and age for sleep training?
When your baby is around 4 months old, Dr. Schwartz recommends starting sleeping training. Babies at this age are usually mature enough to learn to comfort themselves and may no longer require night feedings. Your baby’s sleep patterns begin to mature about four months, and their circadian rhythm (the hormone cycle that regulates our sleep-wake cycles) begins to take effect.
Some babies can begin sleep training sooner, while others do well around the 6 month mark. If you’re unsure whether or not your infant is old enough or ready, consult your pediatrician first.
To determine whether your child has reached this developmental milestone, consider the following:
- Does your baby wake up from his naps and nighttime sleep several times during the night?
- Can your child fall asleep in his crib without much difficulty?
- Is your child able to soothe himself if he wakes up in the middle of the night?
- Does your child require a feeding in order for him to fall back asleep when he wakes up during the night?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, you’ve probably got a good candidate for sleeping through the night. If not, wait until it’s been a while since any major changes have happened (like introducing solid foods or starting daycare) before trying again.
Night weaning vs. sleep training
It’s important to be aware of the difference between sleep training and night weaning, because people often confuse the two and mistakenly assume they are one in the same. Sleep training is a technique used to help an infant learn to sleep independently, while night weaning is simply removing milk or milk products from the baby’s diet. If you’re nursing your baby, this can mean pumping and dumping at night, reducing how much you nurse at each feeding, or switching to formula.
Night weaning usually happens over a matter of weeks (or months), but sleep training can be done in a matter of days. Keep in mind that your baby should be at least 6 months old before attempting either of these methods. It’s also completely possible (and normal) for parents who already have their nighttime nurse down pat to introduce night weaning at any point during the process as long as both mom and baby are healthy otherwise.
How long does sleep training take?
Depending on the approach you use, the time it takes to successfully sleep train your infant will vary. However, it should take roughly three to four nights in general. Some approaches may take longer than others, but according to Dr. Schwartz, the majority of it boils down to parents making a strategy and sticking to it.
If you’ve been trying to sleep train your kid for two weeks and haven’t had any results, it’s time to see your pediatrician.
Is sleep training safe?
There has been plenty of long-term research on sleep training, and there is no indication that it harms babies and toddlers physiologically or psychologically. Indeed, it has been shown to boost parental happiness, infant sleep quality, and the secure relationship between babies and their caretakers. Sleep training (no matter which method you use) is totally safe and healthy as long as your infant is old enough and in a safe setting.
Sleep training techniques
The purpose of sleep training is to teach your child that he or she can fall asleep on their own. You want your baby to go asleep without needing to be rocked or calmed.
“Sleep training strategies frequently overlap, and parents combine methods, which is totally normal,” Dr. Schwartz explains. “It all comes down to figuring out what works best for you as a parent and how your child reacts.”
The following are some of the most frequent sleep-training methods:
Ferber method (also known as “check and console”)
The Ferber method is one of the most popular and effective methods of teaching your baby to fall asleep on their own. It’s a gentle training phase that works best with older babies, preferably after 4 months old. With the Ferber method, you put your baby down before they are fully asleep and then check in on them at pre-set intervals. As your child learns to fall asleep on their own, you will increase the time between checks so they can sleep more independently.
The method comes from Dr. Richard Ferber and his book “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems: New, Revised, and Expanded Edition” (2006). The Ferber Method has been nicknamed the “check and console” method because that is essentially what it involves: you check on your child during their time crying and console them as much or as little as needed at each point.
Extinction, or Cry it out (CIO)
The cry it out method, also called CIO, is a type of sleep training where you let your baby cry until they fall asleep. Your baby will let you know when they’re ready to sleep by giving sleepy cues like rubbing their eyes and yawning. Many parents find this sleep training method hard to do. If you can’t hear your baby crying, it may be easier for you.
First, check in with your doctor to make sure your little one doesn’t have any medical needs that could be causing them to wake up frequently at night. If there’s nothing physically wrong, then here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Let them cry themselves back to sleep when they wake up during naps or at night – just make sure not to respond within the first five minutes because this could reinforce waking up during naps or the middle of the night
- Gradually increase the time between checking on them by waiting a few minutes more each time
- Keep your visits brief – keep interactions under two minutes and try not to pick up or hold them (unless they’re hurt)
There are variations of CIO where instead of leaving your baby alone until they fall asleep; you check in on them at set intervals after putting them down for bedtime or nap time. This variation is called controlled crying or graduated extinction.
The Chair Method
The Chair is a method that involves sitting next to your baby’s crib until they fall asleep. The method is great for parents who are nervous about sleep training or those who want to be present for their baby during the process. Just remember: don’t pick up the baby! Instead, sit in the chair and wait until they fall asleep. It might take a while, but if you’re patient, the Chair Method can help your baby learn how to fall asleep by themselves.
The chair method has been used for years. It is a common style of sleeping that is often used by pilots and people who travel on long flights. When sleeping in a chair, you will want to follow a few simple steps to ensure that you are comfortable for the entire night.
First, you want to make sure that your legs will be elevated. You can do this by turning your chair around so that the back of your chair is facing forward. You can also raise the legs of your chair by placing two cushions below them.
Next, you want to either recline your chair or place a cushion between you and the seat of the chair. This will help support your back while you sleep and allow you to rest comfortably without waking up in pain.
You can also place a pillow behind your neck to provide even more support for your head and neck as well as an additional pillow under each arm for extra lumbar support if needed. One last tip is to put on some soft music to help lull yourself into sleep!
The Camping Out Method
A great option if your baby is already sleeping through the night, this method helps teach independent sleep so that your little one can fall asleep on their own.
Using the camping out method is a gradual process. You start by sitting next to the crib and staying in the room until your baby falls asleep. Each night, you sit a little farther away from the crib until you’re no longer in the room at all when they fall asleep. If your baby starts crying while you’re camping out, don’t leave. Once they settle down again, move back to where you were sitting before and wait it out. It may take several nights of gradually moving your seat further away from them to get them used to sleeping alone.
Keep in mind that this method doesn’t mean you have to leave them completely alone once they start falling asleep on their own; if responding with a reassuring voice or touch helps settle them down, it may be okay once in a while—just don’t rock or hold them as part of these reassurances!
The Shush-Pat method is one of the most popular sleep training methods out there, and is pretty simple. The basic idea is that you put your baby down when they’re drowsy (but not yet asleep) for naps and at bedtime. Then, you gently pat your baby on their back until they fall asleep.
This method can help teach your baby to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own, which in turn means they’ll sleep longer stretches at night and take longer naps during the day.
Here are some tips to keep in mind if you want to try this method:
Be consistent. Use a consistent bedtime routine and put your baby down at the same time each night, giving them time to settle before you expect them to be asleep. Also be consistent with how you respond when they cry (see below). If it looks like the shush-pat isn’t working after a few nights, try a different sleep training method instead.
Choose a quiet environment that’s conducive for sleep when putting your baby down—any amount of noise can prevent many babies from sleeping well.
Shush loudly next to your baby’s ear as you rub their back or pat their bottom until they calm down or drift off to sleep.
Use a firm touch with the goal of releasing any tension so that your child can relax into sleep. Once relaxed, reduce pressure and don’t use as much shushing until all motion stops and Baby has drifted off into dreamland.
Don’t give up too quickly if it doesn’t work right away! It might take some time for this process become habit; once Baby learns how to soothe themselves by associating the shushing sound with sleep, those long stretches should become more frequent.”
Pick-Up Put-Down Method
The Pickup-Putdown Method is a more structured, hands-on approach to sleep training your baby. The idea behind this method is that you help your baby get calm enough to fall asleep by picking her up and putting her back down so that she has the chance to practice calming herself down after each interruption. This can be a very effective method for some babies.
Here’s how it works: You put your baby in the crib when she is cranky or fussy (but before she’s completely asleep). Then, you step out of the room until your little one stops crying. You wait as long as you can stand it, then go in and pick up your baby again—if she seems less upset, you’re on the right track! Keep picking her up and putting her back down at regular intervals until she calms down and falls asleep on her own. If your little one doesn’t seem to be responding to this method, try giving a feed or changing a diaper if needed (and then getting back into bed), or offering a quick cuddle if that doesn’t work. This way, you will give yourself time with your child without letting her fully wake up.
It may take some time for this process to work for both of you—especially if there is an older sibling who needs attention at night too. But it does work for many parents, which makes these interruptions worth it eventually!
Bedtime fading method
Bedtime fading is a process that reduces the amount of time it takes for your baby to fall asleep.
When you’re putting your baby down for bed, put them in their crib when they’re drowsy but still awake.
Gradually make your departure from the room. Don’t just leave—gradually move away from the crib and out of sight.
If your baby cries, wait a few minutes before you enter the room; stay consistent by waiting exactly 2 or 3 minutes and then checking on them. If they’re still awake, leave and check on them again later (in 2 to 3 minutes).
This method should take around 20 to 30 minutes each night—the length of time it will take you to gradually get your baby used to falling asleep faster and sleeping through the night without crying or other disruptions.
Sleep training tips
Sleep training requires effort and patience, regardless of the method used. These pointers can assist you and your child in adjusting to the new environment. Here are a few things to remember:
- There are some methods that won’t work for you – and that’s okay. Finding a method that is comfortable for you, your partner, and your baby might take some trial-and-error. When a method is a total nightmare, don’t be afraid to bail and be sure to combine if necessary. There is no right or wrong way to do it, and no one method works for everyone. You should, however, be consistent for at least one week after you find a method that works for you.
- Ultimately, making sleep training work depends on you as the caregiver or parent. Sleep training has more to do with the parents than with the children, says Dr. Schwartz. Parents should know their personalities and limits before starting sleep training. Parents should also commit to a regular sleep schedule. If one partner breaks the standard schedule each night, it won’t work. That said, always trust your instincts – you know your baby best.
- Establish a bedtime routine. It is just as important to prepare your baby for sleep as it is to actually do the training. Babies (and even toddlers) have no concept of time, but when you establish a bedtime routine, it starts to get them in the mindset that something is about to happen. Try bath, feeding and reading a book. Additionally, you can try feeding your baby in a different room or setting to help decrease their sleep-onset association. Children will begin to associate this routine with learning to relax and wind down for the night. Many babies and toddlers benefit from a bedtime routine by being able to self-soothe.
- Time it right. Watch your baby for sleep cues like yawning or rubbing their eyes. All sleep methods recommend starting your baby’s sleep when he’s tired but not yet asleep.
- Don’t respond to every noise or cry. As long as your baby is sleeping in a safe place, there is no reason to panic over every cry or fuss. Regardless of the sleep training method you use, there will probably be some crying or fussing involved. Allowing your baby the room to learn this important new skill is important. If you make it through sleep training, your future self will thank you!
- Have confidence in yourself! It’s important to stay calm because your baby will be watching. The more confident you are, the more confident he or she will be.
Different sleep training methods work for different babies, so be prepared to try more than one.
Finding the best sleep training method for your baby is a lot like finding the perfect pair of jeans. It’s about trying on a bunch before you find the right one, and even then, you may need to try on another pair in a few months because your baby is growing!
It’s important to try more than one method of sleep training, because what works for one baby won’t always work for another. Some babies respond well to “cry it out” methods while others need more gentle methods. When selecting a sleep training method, look at factors such as how quickly your child learns new things (like falling asleep without you), how persistent he or she is in getting what they want (if they want to fall asleep with you in their bed), and whether or not your child has any special needs that could affect their ability to fall asleep on their own.
The president of the Canadian Paediatric Society, paediatrician Michael Dickinson, recommends parents to trust their intuition. “I don’t think there’s any proof that letting your infant cry is psychologically harmful,” he says, “but I think people need to be fair.” “Letting your kid cry for five to ten minutes is five to ten minutes for most of us.”
If what you’re doing now is working for your family, there’s no need to establish a regulated cry-it-out approach. However, excellent sleeping habits are always beneficial, and the ability to fall asleep on one’s own is a crucial life skill. You can reduce the amount of weeping your baby (and, let’s face it, you) does if you sleep-train at a developmental appropriate time and with the basic ingredients of healthy sleep in place.
Never hesitate to reach out to your pediatrician for any advice or help when it comes to sleep training, or any other question or concern you might have.
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