If your little one's bedtime routine is a flurry of tears that leaves you both exhausted, it's time to consider baby sleep training. Here's how to start.
Your baby is fussy, your nights are disrupted and you both wake up cranky the next day. Though parents of babies expect to lose a little shut-eye, there are still ways you can help your infant sleep soundly. Baby sleep training benefits the entire family and ensures that everyone is well rested and able to function productively. But, as with most things, timing is everything! How do you know when to begin?
When Do You Train Your Baby to Sleep?
Jennifer Schindele, a certified pediatric sleep consultant and owner of Gift of Sleep Consulting, says that "newborns are not meant to sleep long stretches without nourishment, so the expectation of sleeping through the night before 12 weeks is not a realistic one." Though he won't sleep through the night for a while, you can still start establishing a sleep routine for your new baby now.
"Newborns are capable of going to sleep on their own, as long as you set the right environment, routine and timings," says Visa Shanmugam, a certified Sleep Sense consultant and owner of Sound Sleepers. The biggest tip for initiating sleep training routines during the newborn stage, she says, is to avoid nursing your baby to sleep. Instead, wake her up before putting her to down to sleep. "It sounds crazy, but babies will quickly learn that sleep is independent of feeding," she notes, and that the two are not dependent on each other.
According to Schindele, sleep training is about your baby learning to transition "from one sleep cycle to the next without fully waking." Once you choose your method and begin baby sleep training, consistency and patience are key, both consultants say. They suggest that you allow about two weeks for your baby to adjust and settle into her new routine, but you'll likely see progress within three to four days.
Schindele says she has found that "babies are able to sleep through the night (12 hours) without a feed somewhere between 4 to 6 months of age." At this stage, babies "can begin to learn the vital skill of self-soothing to sleep for nighttime and daytime naps," she says.
Just be sure to stick with the schedule you're establishing and be patient during the baby sleep training process. When parents aren't consistent with their methods, the baby becomes confused and the amount of protest increases, says Schindele. Set an early bedtime and stick to the same routine each night (bath, bottle, book and bed). Repeat this at the same time each night, and your little one will get into a bedtime habit.
To help you maintain consistency, start sleep training at a time that makes sense for your family. "Pick a time when you and your partner are going to be around to support each other -- this is a team effort. It really helps to divide up naps and bedtime with family," Shanmugam says. She also suggests that families avoid scheduling any travel plans and stay close to home for four weeks so that parents can "honor their child's nap times and bedtimes, especially when first starting out." Though it may be inconvenient at first, scheduling around this initial phase can make the transition smoother.
Developmental milestones -- teething, growth spurts, illness and a new environment -- are some of the many factors that can affect successful sleep training. If none of those factors apply to your situation and it's been a week without any signs of progress, it might be wise take a break. Shanmugam tells parents that if the previous training method was too stressful, they ought to try a different method. "Whatever you choose to do, make sure that everyone in the family is on board and in agreement," she emphasizes.
And when in doubt, follow Schindele's advice: "Just hang in there. When changing your little one's sleep habits, keep in mind that the journey is a marathon and not a sprint. Patience and consistency really do go hand-in-hand during this process."
And check out the 5 Things to Know About a Sleeping Baby.
Lauren Stevens is a freelance writer who contributes to The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy and Mamapedia. When she's not napping or chasing her rambunctious toddler, Lauren can be found writing about parenting and women's issues on her blog, lo-wren.com.