“Good luck with sleeping after the baby’s born. Enjoy it while you can,” they say, like a rite-of-passage mantra. The statement holds truth. During the first months of parenthood, sleep comes and goes for the baby as they establish their sleep-wake cycle. Shut-eye could happen in the middle of the night or the afternoon.
After a few months, the feedings and sleep-wake cycle even out into a more predictable timeline. Then, sleep training your baby will help everyone in the family get more sleep.
Considerations for Sleep Training
So, what’s sleep training? Also known as sleep learning or sleep teaching, sleep training helps your child learn to fall asleep and stay that way. Controversy surrounds the topic, with parents and experts debating the pros and cons of various sleep training techniques — because no one “right” way exists for getting your baby to sleep.
The pros of sleep training your tiny human are a gift that keeps giving for your family — everyone gets well-rested, and your baby takes advantage of developing all those millions of neurons — more than 100 billion neurons make up the newborn brain. Get those synapses firing!
Though you may initially be able to sleep whenever your baby does, that’s not a realistic long-term solution. Sleep training comes with challenges, and you may feel like giving up, but developing good sleeping habits matters for all, especially for your child.
Families don’t have to sleep train, and many infants go on to sleep through the night naturally without any intervention. You know your family and baby, and your approach to sleep training will differ from another family’s approach — for example, your version of “sleep training” may call for co-sleeping with your infant in the first months after birth.
When Should You Start Sleep Training Your Child?
Tired parents feel eager to get started with sleep training, but ideally, the best time to begin is when your infant starts self-soothing, such as sucking on their thumb. Sleep training coaches and experts suggest most infants are ready to sleep train between the ages of 4 and 6 months. A year-old child can also successfully sleep train.
Various books and articles give you an overview of the various methods, but you should also talk with a pediatrician before beginning sleep training. Is your baby a preemie or not gaining weight properly? Your child may still rely on nighttime feeding and need a schedule for sleep training that adapts to those late-night wake-ups.
How to Make Sleep Training Work for Your Family
Many methods of sleep training exist. Forms of gentle sleep training entail waking up with your baby and performing soothing actions to calm your baby back to sleep if they cry. Other methods avoid this approach altogether, leaving the baby to self-soothe — in other words, the nursery door doesn’t open until morning, no matter what. Does the former seem too gentle, while the latter comes off too harsh? Find a middle ground that works for your family, but first, you need to get to know the various methods out there. Here are six sleep training methods to get started.
Sleep expert Elizabeth Pantley created the no-cry method, which subtly shifts your infant’s sleeping habits. You ease out of your child’s typical sleep schedule through fading. If your child needs rocking, you rock them less each time until you put them down without any rocking required. You can also adjust their schedule through substitution, such as reading them a book instead of singing.
The cry-it-out method is also known as extinction sleep training. Your child learns to self-soothe when you don’t interfere as they try to fall asleep. The concept trusts that your child holds the capacity to self-soothe, will stop crying and eventually sleep through the night.
The Weissbluth method suggests setting up a routine for bedtime from the start, such as a lullaby, book or bath. Then, you put the baby to bed, close the door and don’t open it until the morning.
With the Ferber method, parents put the child down — whether it is crying or not — and check in at varied intervals, such as 10, 15, 20 minutes and so on. The parents don’t pick up the child during the checks, but may pat or verbally soothe. The intervals gradually increase until the baby sleeps through the night. The Ferber method is also called modified sleep training.
The chair method, or the sleep lady shuffle, involves sitting next to your baby’s crib in a chair. Every night, you gradually ease the chair away from the crib until you no longer sit in the room. The method allows you to verbally soothe and shush with occasional picking up and patting. If your child suffers from separation anxiety, try this approach.
The pick-up-put-down method instructs parents to put their baby in bed while they’re awake and check in at gradual intervals, similar to the Ferber method. This modified method allows parents to pick up and comfort the child for a few minutes before putting them back to bed. Eventually, the child gets drowsy enough to sleep without assistance.
Sleep training success varies for each family. Don’t expect miracles to happen overnight. Some claim sleep training proves effective as early as a week or two, but sticking it out will make your family’s method more likely to work in the long term.
Tips to Sleep Train Your Child
Now that you know a few of the methods, pick the combination you believe will potentially work the best for your family. Here are five tips for making it stick.
The joys of teething, illness and other shifts lead to poor sleep and will affect your baby’s newfound routine. That’s life. You may need to take a step back to move forward, but you won’t lose much ground at all. If your child managed to sleep well for months or weeks, they’ll get back on track easily after a bump in the road.
DIY Will Work
Not feeling the particulars of a rigid method? Modify it to suit your family and your circumstances.
Consulting with a sleep coach helps you make modifications that won’t affect the goal of sleep training. Your coach can help you improve sleep conditions and experiment with solutions in an informed way. Mix and match the methods that work for your little one.
Hang in There
A week or two of crying doesn’t mean the method won’t work. Be patient, and make modifications to customize the method if you need to after a week.
Every family’s circumstances differ, just like each child. Don’t compare your child’s sleep training progress with other families or what you read.
Solidify Your Child’s Bedtime Routine
You need to establish a solid bedtime routine, putting them down at similar times and with the same method. Many infants fall asleep between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. A five-week-old infant should only be awake for an hour and no more. Choose reading, singing or bathing as a bedtime ritual, and white noise and blackout curtains help establish a sleep-friendly environment.
Not ready for sleep training yet? Don’t worry. Whether your child is four months old or a toddler, you can sleep train them at any age, but remain aware of developmental processes. Sleep training may be more difficult during milestones such as when your child is teething or learning to walk.
Sleep training isn’t for every family, but don’t let perceptions of rigid methods hold you back from customizing your way of doing things. You know what’s best for your child and family.