Babies usually don’t start to fall into a regular sleep pattern until sometime between three and six months of age. Parents can help this process along and ensure their baby becomes a good nighttime sleeper through sleep training.
What is infant sleep training?
Baby sleep training involves various techniques that condition your baby towards better, more parent-friendly sleep habits, such as sleeping through the night or teaching your baby to fall asleep on their own.
When should you start sleep training your baby?
Experts have differing views about when is the best time to start sleep training your baby. Some say you’ll have the most success if you wait until around 6 months of age. Others see no harm in doing it much earlier. However, we would advise against it for newborns, and suggest that parents wait until a baby is at least two or three months old before utilizing these techniques. Trying to push a newborn into a more parent-friendly sleep schedule may be convenient for you, but it’s generally not a good idea to rush a child’s development or fight against what nature has designed them to do.
Baby Sleep Training Techniques
Here are some sleep training techniques that will help your baby become a better sleeper:
Sleep-cycle sleep training
When a baby is born, they don’t know the difference between day and night. They are on a round-the-clock sleep/wake cycle that is dictated by what their stomach will hold, which means a feeding every three to four hours.
Yet even at this tender age, you can begin training you baby towards a more normal sleep cycle through the way in which you care for her. When your baby wakes up for nighttime feedings, you need to keep these sessions as subdued as possible. Don’t turn up the lights, don’t play with your baby when he wakes in the night, and put hem back down as soon as possible. Also keep late-night diaper changes low-key.
During the daytime, don’t let your baby take excessively long naps, especially in the late afternoon. And when you rouse them during the day, do so in a chipper voice and then play with him for a few minutes before you go on to other things. By doing this, you begin teaching your baby that nighttime is for sleeping and daytime is for play, which will help her fall into a more normal sleep cycle. Even when she wakes at night for a feeding, she’ll fall back asleep sooner.
Train your baby to fall back asleep after waking
Babies wake up many times throughout the night, and if they can’t fall right back asleep again, they fuss or cry. This, in turn, leads to a long night for parents. Here’s a technique that will help your baby learn to soothe themselves back to sleep again, without relying on the barbaric advice to “cry it out.”
During the day, when your baby has been fed and is falling asleep in your arms, cuddle and rock her to sleep. Once she’s sleeping, place her in the crib. Now comes the interesting part: Jiggle her torso or lightly scratch her feet in order to wake her up. Babies typically act kind of punch drunk after a good feeding with a belly full of milk, so when you rouse her, her eyes will open and she may look around, but after a short while she’s likely to fall back asleep. If she fusses when you rouse her, pat her gently while sitting by the crib or otherwise soothe her back to sleep. Pick her up if necessary, but then place her back down in the crib to sleep. Once she nods off, give her a minute, and then wake her up again. Repeat this cycle 3 or 4 times before letting her rest undisturbed.
Now I understand that intentionally waking your sleeping baby probably sounds like about as much fun as sneaking up to a bear den and poking a mama grizzly in the rear with a pitchfork. But there’s a reason to do this. You’re training her to self-soothe and fall back asleep again once aroused, something that’s a lot easier for her to accomplish when you rouse her when she’s at her sleepiest. After several such exercises, your baby should start to nod off again when you rouse her without needing to be held or touched.
Conduct this routine once or twice a day over the period of 2 or 3 weeks, and she’ll grow accustomed to getting herself back to sleep without any help when she wakes on her own. This should carry over into her nighttime sleep habits, allowing both of you to get better rest.
The wake and feed method of sleep training
Infants who are nursing tend to wake their mothers more often throughout the night, and they can continue to wake up a couple of times per night even as their formula-fed peers begin sleeping for longer stretches. This sleep training technique can level the playing field and help nursing babies sleep longer.
1) Wake your sleeping baby up sometime between 10 p.m. and midnight and offer him the breast – what specialists refer to as a “dream feeding.”
2) Put him back to bed. If he wakes during the night, respond to your baby’s cries with one or two minutes of TLC…a quick hold, diapering, re-swaddling, rocking, patting or humming, etc. Do this BEFORE offering him the breast. If he falls back asleep, great. If not, go ahead and nurse him.
When researchers at the University of Illinois had 13 new mothers try this technique, they found that infants ate less at night but more during the day. As their feeding patterns changed they also began to sleep longer. By eight weeks of this training, all the infants in the study were sleeping from 12 a.m. to 5 a.m., compared with only 23% in a control group of mothers who continued nursing their babies as usual.
Anticipation sleep training
If your baby has a habit of waking early in the morning, say 4:00 a.m., try setting your alarm for 3:30 so that you can get up and give him a feeding. You want to try and anticipate his needs and wake him before he wakes you, so that you’re not rewarding him for waking and crying, which can reinforce the behavior.