How to develop a routine that works well for you and your little one.
Being a new parent is magical. It’s a time of personal discovery, growth and of a rising and overwhelming sense of love for your new arrival. However, being a parent can be exhausting – it’s not unusual to see new moms and dads walking around like zombies for the first few months of their baby’s life. At the centre of this exhaustion is a lack of sleep. Newborns usually wake every 2 or 3 hours to feed and, often, older babies and toddlers wake regularly through the night. Every child is different, with waking habits just as unique as they, so it’s important to adapt your approach to their natural sleeping style. In order to stop you becoming a slave to the baby monitor, you should try to develop a routine that makes sense for the whole family. Sleep training can help to create a pattern of rest and wakefulness that helps you and your baby get high-quality downtime.
We look at how to get started with sleep training, below.
What is sleep training?
Sleep training is a training process which gently guides and supports a baby to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. Some babies are naturally good sleepers and will need very little sleep training, while others will be instinctive night owls and require a little more support. There are a huge number of philosophies when it comes to promoting better shut eye and it’s important that you find a process that works for you and your family.
When should we get started with sleep training?
You should be aware that sleep training is not something you can implement as soon as you bring your new bundle of joy home. Before four months, your newborn will require regular feeds through the night to support their healthy growth and development. You should feed on demand for as often and as long as they require during this time. This is an incredibly tiring period but one that is vital to give your baby the best possible start in life. Between four and six months you may notice that your baby begins to drop night feeds and is naturally sleeping for longer periods. This is a good sign that they are ready to begin sleep training. Some babies take a little longer and if you’re not sure whether they are ready it is a good idea to talk to your paediatrician.
Is there anything we can do to get ready for sleep training?
Yes. Just because you shouldn’t implement a sleep training program before your baby gets to four months old, doesn’t mean that you can’t start to build good habits – for you and your little one. Implementing a restful evening routine that includes a bath, lullabies, and stories can help to build a sense of bedtime. You can also begin to build a structured routine in your baby’s day that includes regular play and relaxation time. Remember to pick a consistent bedtime – for most babies, between 7 and 8 works well.
What are the main sleep training styles?
There is no single way to teach your child how to sleep well. It depends on a range of factors from your baby’s natural sleep style and reaction to a new technique to what feels comfortable to you. The main thing is to be consistent in your approach. Consistency will reinforce these new sleep habits and help make them a natural part of your baby’s routine. These are some of the key sleep training styles to be aware of:
Cry it Out
This one can be tough for parents, but advocates suggest that leaving your baby to safely ‘cry it out’ when you put them to bed can teach them a valuable lesson in how to self soothe. This method will generally see parents leaving their baby to cry for a short period of time before re-entering the room to soothe but not pick up their little one. These periods of time will get longer as the sleep training develops. This method was created by paediatrician Richard Ferber and has been widely used for many years. It can, however, lead to a tough first couple of weeks, and not all parents will feel comfortable letting their baby cry for extended periods of time.
No tears is a gentler approach to sleep training that never leaves your baby crying for extended periods of time. In this method, parents develop a structured, cozy, and calming bedtime routine while always offering comfort or care when a baby is upset. Advocates say that this method prevents the development of negative associations around sleep that could last well into childhood and beyond. However, some baby experts believe that this method never provides the opportunity for babies to become independent sleepers.
Fading is a sleep training method that falls somewhere between Cry It Out and No Tears. Here, parents gently reduce the intensity of their involvement in the process of going to sleep. Often by moving a chair slightly further away from the crib or sleeping area each night. This may sound a bit strange, but the idea is that parents gently encourage their child to become independent in their sleeping habits over time. This may make it easier for your baby to transition to independent sleeping.
Do I have to choose one of these sleep training methods?
No, every baby is different and while some may respond well to one or all of these methods, some will not. It’s important to remember that whatever sleep training program you choose, it has to make sense for you and your family. You may find that a unique blend of methods from different experts and approaches works for you. Alternately, you may find that you’re happy to go with the flow and wait for your baby to naturally figure out their own sleep rhythm. It’s easy to feel frustrated, exhausted, and willing to try anything when you have a baby who is a poor sleeper, but most of them will naturally find a healthier sleeping pattern over time.