The concept of training a baby to sleep may sound a little strange to you as a parent. Surely, a child should enjoy and benefit from natural sleep, rather than be trained. That’s what I thought in the beginning too! Then I had a baby who needed help understanding when it was time to sleep and what that feeling meant in her body. The thing about training your child is that it can actually help them, and you, to get the right amount of restful sleep. It’s a way of protecting your baby and keeping them healthy and happy. Training or practicing healthy sleep habits is no different than your baby learning how to eat or crawl on their own. Both take time, practice, and patience.
The most important thing to remember is that every child is different, as is every family. What works in one home may not work in another. There are different methods to help your baby sleep so, take a look at the ones mentioned here to create a sleep training routine for your baby that fits your family.
What does sleep training involve?
Sleep training is simply a way for you to help your child understand how to sleep, so that they get the rest they need. For the first four months of your baby’s life, you really just need to go with the flow. The way your child sleeps will depend on basic needs such as feeding and changing. But what you can do from early on is set up their room for sleep (dark, cool, quiet) and begin simple and consistent sleep routines (feed, song, sleep) to help develop these habits early on. Once your child is around four months old they are usually ready for more routines and sleep guidance but these simple steps will help make this transition.
If your child still seems reluctant to sleep for longer periods, do not worry. As I mentioned earlier, every child is different. Your baby may simply need to be a little older before they can begin to understand how to sleep for longer.
First steps in sleep training
The first thing you need to think about when sleep training a baby is having a routine in place.
- Keep a similar routine during the day, when it comes to what time your baby wakes and what times they nap.
- Keep to a regular bedtime routine which should start around twenty minutes to half an hour before your child goes to sleep.
- Stick to regular bed times. You can usually tell which is the best time to choose by when your baby starts to feel tired naturally.
- After the four month mark you should try to have bedtime around 7 pm.
- Once you have the basics sorted out, you need to decide which sleep training option is best for your baby, and for you.
The three main baby sleep training methods
You will see several sleep training methods mentioned by experts. No one method is best, you simply need to find the method that works in your situation. Let’s take a look at the three main methods, which can be varied to suit.
Cry it out
This is the method is as it sounds. You place your baby in their crib and you leave the room and return at regular intervals to help soothe. This does not mean that you should just leave your baby crying for hours. If attempting this method, it’s best to place your baby in their crib before they get too tired. Let them cry for a while when you leave and go back to soothe them if necessary. In this method you do not pick your baby up; simply soothe them with your voice. This method can be difficult for some parents to manage. Although this is the method many pediatricians advice parents to use, I believe there are better ways to help a baby develop health sleep habits. This method may not suit all families. Before I knew anything about baby sleep we attempted this method for about 10 minutes and gave up. Now I know that there are better ways to help a child, but if you do use this method, be sure that their room is set up for sleep and they have a consistent routine in place before sleep.
This is the complete opposite of the cry it out approach. As soon as your baby cries, you should comfort and soothe them immediately. The problem you may find is that some babies tend to be more attention seeking than others. If your baby knows you will come if they cry, training them to sleep could be a long process. You will need a lot of patience and time with using this method. I find this method to be very difficult because it takes a very long time to see results. Maybe your baby isn’t crying but you are because you are so tired. I also tried this method and it was too exhausting to continue.
This method of baby sleep training is popular with a lot of parents and one that has a nice balance of learning and love. It involves moving further away from your child’s crib each night as they fall asleep. They get used to you being at arm’s length and then not being in the room and it’s a gradual process. Fading also involves checking your baby but making it less obvious over time so that eventually they are not even aware of your presence. This is what I base my sleep plans and support on and think that parent assisted changes make for the perfect balance between loving boundaries and loving support from you.
You may need to try different methods to find the one that works best for your baby and for you. Do not simply expect that what worked for a previous child will work with the baby you are currently training to sleep. Be prepared to adapt and change routines and methods until you settle on what works the best. My best tip is to decide on a method, make a plan, try it for one week, take notes to see any positive changes (even small ones), and then decide if it’s working for you and your baby.