All your biggest questions finally answered on a single sleep training guide.
Sleep training your baby is key to happy nights. One would think that sleep is something that happens automatically, right? That is far from the truth. Unlike adults, you need to sleep train your baby. In cases where adults have sleep difficulties, the solution often lies in the individual adjusting their sleep pattern. On the contrary, matters are different when it’s a child having sleep difficulties. Caregivers need to create a consistent sleep routine.
What is sleep training?
Sleep training entails a consistent process and techniques intentionally injected into the child’s routine by the parent or the guardian. The sleep training techniques can range from compassionate to harsh. Eventually, sleep training yields its results when the baby has a successful routine that works both during the day and at night. Sleep training will enable a baby to be a more independent sleeper.
There are a lot of techniques that can create a fundamental routine for your baby. Its fundamentals will vary as sleep training is a personalized experience between the parents and a child. Most parents will seek advice from mothers who have passed through these stages with their infants. New mothers may also find contradicting information on the internet or even in their mum groups. Before any mum applies any kind of technique, they need more than one source of information.
Thorough research is recommended for new parents to ensure the habits they will teach their child, determine how well their baby responds to the training. Parents should aim for the most suitable routine for their baby. Sleep training is not “trial and error”, it’s a level of certainty is required. That is why all the research in the world may be void if the parent does not know the child’s cues.
A few sleep training methods and techniques include;
- The fading method- the fading technique is very gentle. Fading entails letting the baby drift into slumber by rocking them or breastfeeding them to sleep. The parent can start rocking the baby less and less to create a routine where the baby knows its sleep time.
- The chair sleep training method-this method involves tears. What differentiates this method is that the parent or guardian does not leave the baby unattended. The parent can opt for white noise to calm the baby and then sit there till the baby goes to sleep. The parent should not pick the baby up at all.
- Pick up put down sleep training method- this method is quite gentle on the child. It requires you to pick the baby up as soon as the fuss and the crying start. The parent should then wait until the baby shows signs of drowsiness. The pick-up put down cycle should continue until the baby falls asleep. This method may become frustrating both to the parent and the infant after a period of repeated routine.
- Ferber method – known as the controlled crying technique. The technique entails letting the baby cry while checking on them at intervals. The method’s effectiveness depends on reassuring your baby of your presence without picking them up. Gentle pats are allowed once in a while; the parent should keep the pats as short as possible. This process aims to help the baby learn how to sleep on their own. Even when the baby wakes up, they will recognize the environment and fall back to sleep unassisted. Parents are urged not to introduce behaviors that would in any way backtrack progress.
- Cry it out method- the process is not complicated at all. After the baby’s nightly routine, the parent will place the baby in their bed awake and then immediately leave the room without the intention of checking upon them. Checking in on the baby is considered as a way of rescuing the baby and teaching the infant that all they need to do is throw a tantrum for the parent to check on them. Such counterproductive efforts are discouraged because the baby will not learn to sleep without the parent’s presence.
Whatever method the parent chooses should be applied for at least a fortnight because babies take a while to adjust. If the technique does not work, they can try something more suitable for their baby.
When should sleep training commence?
The age of sleep training commencement is quite indefinite; each situation will differ according to the parent-child agreement. A process such as this one, one that requires such patience, consistency, and dedication, should be carefully planned. The parent needs to be as ready as the baby for the process to be a success. The parent must track their child’s routine and work around that specific schedule or sleep training routine. An overtired baby is more cranky and problematic; extreme fussiness is one reason a baby needs a defined sleep pattern.
When sleep training begins, the parent should not be distracted in any way. Sleep training is a full-time commitment that the parent needs to apply both day and night. There are a few factors to consider before commencing the sleep training process. Factors such as age and the baby’s health are some of the determinants; Medical tests are done by pediatricians to rule out the possibility of sleep disorder before the baby starts the training.
Is a baby being ready for sleep training equivalent to them being able to sleep through the night?
Sleepless nights and tiring days can be very stressful for a new mother. Most of the parents cannot wait for their child to finally start sleeping through the night so they can also rest. Getting a baby to sleep consistently through the night is one of the many challenges of raising an infant. Babies can start sleep through the night after lots of patience and effort.
Newborns can not sleep through the night for numerous reasons. First of all, newborns have smaller stomachs and need to feed as often as possible; newborns are also prone to startle reflexes that can cause sleep disturbances throughout the night. In summary, parents should let the newborn adjust to their new environment without asserting any pressure. The baby should be soothed, fed, and have their needs met. The caregiver can introduce a little routine, but routine should not be the priority.
Each stage of development matters, and rushing the baby through the milestones is not advisable. Four months after birth, the baby is ready to be sleep trained. When the child is four months old, the distinct cues become visible to the caregiver. Being familiar with the changes can help the parent set some fundamental milestones.
Below are a few predicting factors that determine whether the baby is ready for training;
- Startle reflex decreases or stops- startle reflex is involuntary reflex babies are born with as signs of a developing nervous system. Sleep training a baby with startle reflexes is bound to fail because the reflex is likely to wake the baby frequently. The parent swaddles the baby in a soft blanket to contain the reflexes and ease the baby to sleep. The parents have nothing to worry about because the startle reflex stops after approximately four months. When the startle reflexes stop, the baby is ready to be sleep trained.
- The rate at which the baby is growing is consistent and healthy- a baby needs to feed frequently, feeding fuels the baby’s energy, growth, and nutrients. Certain milestones are set by the child’s pediatrician to ensure that the child is growing steadily. After those milestones are met or surpassed, the pediatrician may recommend that the parent train their healthy baby.
- When the child begins to be more independent- for a baby to successfully learn how to sleep by themselves, they first have to learn how to be independent. After about four months, the parent can start expecting the baby to adopt a sleep routine for both naps and bedtime. A predictable sleeping schedule is necessary to make a baby an independent sleeper.
Sleep training is a process that formally begins at the age of four months and eventually making babies independent sleepers who sleep all through the night. Sleep training and independent self-soothing are interdependent factors that lead to the baby being able to sleep through the night by the age of 9 months. To answer the above question training a baby and it being able to sleep through the night is not simultaneous actions. Intentionally creating sleep training routines leads to the baby being able to sleep longer on their own. A parent who knows the age to commence sleep training and the milestones to look out for may feel more confident, ready, and is likely to create a successful routine. A parent needs to know that in between certain milestones, babies go through sleep regressions.
What is sleep regression?
Even when a baby has adapted their sleep routine to the point where they soothe themselves back to sleep, setbacks can happen. Suddenly, the same calm baby starts being fussy, sleeps less often, and even refuses to nap. These setbacks that are usually temporary are a nightmare for parents who had already gotten comfortable. The baby will start waking up during the night, have an issue going to sleep altogether, and even fight naps and any attempts to calm them down. These moments of sleep regressions happen without notice. Parents may expect sleep regression when they are four months old, nine months old, and 18 months of age.
What should I expect during a sleep regression?
Decreased periods of sleep and increased fussiness from a tired baby are the first signs of sleep regression. Sleep regression can affect either nap time or bedtime; the baby might even have a problem sleeping at all times. Parents have said that their babies were more ravenous during the regression periods. Regressions happen during specific milestones such as teething and when the baby learns how to crawl or walk. Parents happen to be both proud and quite frustrated. The regression experienced when the child is four months old is the most common life-changing occurrence. The baby’s sleep cycle completely changes; parents can take advantage of this regression period to inject routine into the baby’s schedule. Sleep regressions last for a few weeks. The parents are asked by experts to make sure that bad habits adopted to survive this period not become the baby’s permanent routine.
Here are some tips on how to get through a regression;
- Keeping routines consistent- the soothing bedtime routines adapted before the regression should continue. The familiarity will help the baby hold on to the good habits regardless of the changes occurring.
- The environment should not strike excitement or chaos- during such periods, parents are encouraged to maintain an ambiance that doesn’t stress the baby. The baby can relax when gently massaged, bathed, or even swaddled. The parent can gently speak to the child or use a white noise machine that the baby likes.
- Be flexible- the parent needs to adapt to the new routine. It can be very exhausting and frustrating for parents who had already mastered the previous techniques, but both the baby and the parent need to readjust to deal with the situation.
- Try Zen products made for babies- adults meditate to stay Zen, and since babies cannot benefit from meditation, parents can purchase products that help calm and soothe the tired baby.
- Comfort them without creating habits that would ruin the routine created before the regression- a parent should be careful not to revert to patterns previously unlearned. Minimum contact and placing the baby in a familiar environment can help the parent survive sleep regression aggression.
- Alter your sleep schedule- altering the sleep routine ensures that the overtired baby rests. The parent can choose to extend naps or create longer bedtimes to compensate for time lost.
- Both the parent and the child will get through this period successfully if there is help around. The tired baby is likely to frustrate the parent; the frustrated parent will get more impatient too. With help, the parent can take breaks to relax or even take a nap. This situation will only get better if all the parties involved are calm and well-rested.
- Feed the baby more- as mentioned above, children are hungrier during these regression periods. The parent should feed the baby as often as possible to satisfy their appetites.
What are the alternative techniques that can lay the foundation for sleep training?
Days, weeks, and even months of sleep deprivation is something parents, especially mothers, go through. It is an experience that can lead to stress, hormonal imbalance, and even depression. One needs to understand the baby’s sleeping schedule changes as the baby grows. The routine changes will affect the parent and the caregiver too.
Below are the alternatives on how a parent can get a baby to sleep;
- Avoid eye contact- babies are sometimes either cranky and crying or excited. The moment the parent or guardian makes long-lasting eye contact, the baby might get excited and ruin the mellow mood the parent is trying to create. The parent would best avoid eye contact during bedtime, nighttime feeding, and changing the baby’s diaper at night. The mood should be as mellow and as low as possible. Parents should leave the room dark and not talk to the baby. Every action the parent makes should indicate that it is still sleeping time.
- Develop a consistent pattern- erratic sleeping habits are caused by inconsistencies in the parent’s routine. Consistent activities that are familiar to the child will signal that it is almost sleeping time. The parents should introduce techniques that are easy to follow through. Each day, when the baby is about to sleep, the parents should perform the simple routines that will automatically signal to the baby that playtime is over. The techniques should be simple and easy to recognize for the likely instance that the parent needs to travel with their baby without interfering with the sleep routine.
- Learning your baby’s sleepiness cues- baby’s show signs when they are tired or sleepy. Parents need to watch out for such signs that will enable them to create a sleep routine most suitable for the child. The cues such as yawning, rubbing their faces around the eyes and ears, drowsiness are common and familiar to most parents. Frequent short gazes, fussiness with several sharp shrills, or outbursts will apply when the baby is frustrated. The baby will start looking tired and less playful, but at the same time, refuse to sleep or nap. Such a baby may be too stubborn to soothe. When the baby shows any of the signs mentioned above, the caregiver should find a calm environment that will calm the baby to sleep. A fussy baby is not one you want to mishandle in any way.
- The caregiver should wrap the baby in a soft blanket- swaddling calms the baby and minimizes the effects of infants’ startle reflexes. When the caregiver uses a soft blanket tho wrap the baby in a swaddle, their arms and legs tuck closer to their bodies. The swaddle position will stop the reflex from rattling the babies. Swaddling creates a space that is familiar to the womb; the baby is calm because that environment is safe.
- The caregiver should strategize their feeding and diaper changing patterns- diaper changes can rattle and wake the baby, the diaper should be changed before the caregiver feeds the baby. The baby will have time to calm down because the feeding will soothe it right back to sleep immediately. The caregiver should master the art of changing the diaper in the dark and with minimal eye contact.
- Do what works- parents should be open-minded about the resources at their disposal. Raising a baby is not easy, and trying to do things the hard way will not make it better for the parent or the baby. Some aids help make the experience bearable or less exhausting. The parent can delegate some chores or create shifts so they can rest. A parent can use a pacifier or a white noise machine to distract the baby. The parent should try what works and be glad it is available to make work easier.
How do I pick the right sleep training method for my baby?
In the previous section, I have outlined and briefly explained various sleep training methods and available alternatives. One of the most important factors is for the caregiver to find a training method that works for the baby. The caregiver should try gentler plans before opting for the harshest techniques. Every caregiver involved should be aware of the routine and the preferred method. The caregiver can consider the baby’s age and tolerance before making the decision. The effectiveness of some sleep training methods depends on the age of the baby.
Some families opt to hire professional sleeping coaches to help with the sleep training process, the secret to a successful sleeping plan, or routine knowing your baby. Solutions do not work overnight. Discipline and determination are needed to work on a solution until the baby finally adjusts. Trying one technique and then dropping it without even confirming its effectiveness is even worse for the baby. Research and patience will go a long way when it comes to handling a baby’s sleep routine. When applying harsh sleep routines, parents need to make sure the baby is hydrated, well-fed, and in a safe environment since the parents do not reenter the room until the next day. The application of harsh sleep training techniques are not a form of punishment; neglecting the baby’s needs can cause more harm than good.
Myths, misconceptions, and misleading information;
There are so many myths, misconceptions, and misleading information about sleep training that could be harmful to both the parent and the baby. There is a myth that the cry-it-out method is the only method that works and that sleep training revolves such harsh and archaic means. Before we talk about your baby’s best sleep training method, let us separate the wheat from the chaff.
- As I briefly mentioned, there is a misconception that sleep training means letting the baby cry-it-out. This misconception has given the sleep training a bad rep because some parents would rather not listen to their newborn cry for hours. Some parents then shy away from sleep training because of the incomplete information they gather. The fact is, there are gentler routines parents can opt for the training their newborns. Most of the parents who have used delicate methods to train their babies have reported high success rates. By the age of 5 months, most parents noted positive changes in their baby’s sleep routine when they used gentle methods.
- Another misconception is that there is the right amount of time to let the baby cry when using the cry-it-out method. Most first time caregivers will have a problem letting their baby cry. After a minute of extended crying and loud shrills, the parent is likely to rush in the room and “rescue” their baby. Generally, crying, a pain signal, will have the new parents thinking that the child is suffering. That is not the case because most of the time, infants cry. Scientifically proven data is non-existent, but there is a lot of expert advice that can help the parent choose the amount of time they spend away from the room before going in to check on the baby. For some babies, frequent checkups will work best, but for others, lesser checkups work best.
- There is a misconception that if your baby does not cry at all, then the method is ineffective. First of all, not every baby is a crier, and with all the sleep training means that do not require the baby to cry, sleep training does not have to be a pain stacking process. For some babies, sleep training does not work. The baby may not be ready for sleep training for reasons that could be medical. Parents are encouraged to take their child to the pediatrician before they begin sleep training to ensure that their child does not have underlying medical conditions that could cause sleep problems.
- Parents would like to believe that sleep training is a done deal and that once they train their baby, the baby will automatically start to sleep through the night. Sleep training techniques may work to create a sleep routine, but these routines will change as the baby grows. Sleep training is not a miracle fix, but it will improve the baby’s progress and reduce sleep disturbances in most households. Parents have to keep doing constant research to catch up with the baby’s routine changes as they grow.
- Some parents believe sleep training harms the baby, while other parents affirm that refusing to sleep train will harm the baby long-term. Studies have not proven the potential harm any of the above options could cause. Parents who choose to use sleep training techniques on their baby and those who choose not to train their babies have both reported raising healthy babies. Parents stay clear of harsh sleep training methods, claiming that such methods cause emotional problems and affect how babies interact with their parents. Studies have proven that such beliefs are pure misconceptions because both the baby and the parent do not experience strain in their relationship or emotional health.
How do I handle sleep training as my baby grows?
Babies go through different developmental milestones, and after each milestone, the baby’s needs change. Parents are encouraged to hold off on sleep training until the baby is four months old. When babies are four months old, the baby can experience permanent changes in their routine.
- Four months- at this age, the baby can recognize social cues and can be more communicative. For the parent, the baby is easier to read and gratify. The child is more independent and can start taking less frequent but extended slumber times. Sleep training may be challenging because the baby is not ready to self soothe.
- Five months- babies at this age are likely to use crying as a way of communication. They usually have observed and realized that crying gets your attention. They may be quite fussy before they adjust to the sleep routine, but once the babies do, they can sleep up to eight hours. At this age, most babies have started weaning and do not need to breastfeed during the night, along with an undisturbed sleep, a pattern is attainable.
- 6-8 months- the baby is now more independent and prefers to play and find excitement elsewhere. A baby at this age knows how to self soothe and may not be as fussy. The parent can try to place the baby in their bed and see how they respond to going to sleep on demand.
- 9-11 months- at this stage, the baby might start to outsmart the parent. It is harder to use tricks on a baby that knows that their parents exist even when they are not in the room. If the baby is a fussy crier, the parent might end up being very frustrated.
- 12- 16 months- at this age, unless the child has an underlying medical condition, has already started walking and talking. The baby might already know how to chew their food. Such a baby has the confidence to be an independent sleeper who soothes themselves back to sleep if the reawaken during the night.
- 17-21 months- the child can be more independent and still needy. They may start feeling territorial about their parents and want all their attention. If a routine is not already in place at this age, the parent is asked not to train their baby.
The babies’ needs and personalities change according to the brief outline above. Parents have asked if there is a preferred sleep training method that would be best suited for their specific age. For children between the age of 6-8 weeks, the fading and the pick-up-put-down technique is most suitable for your child. For children between 3-6 months, the chair method where the parent sits in the room until the baby sleeps has quite the success for most parents who have used it. The feber and the cry-it-out method are most suitable for baby’s as old as 18 months. It is never too late to start sleep training your baby. If the parents feel like their older baby is ready for sleep training, they should go ahead and do it.
How do I create a nap schedule?
Naps are an essential part of the sleep time routine. All babies take naps. The number of naps taken in a day tends to vary depending on the age of the baby. Naps are essential for rest and brain development. Some parents believe that depriving a child of nap time will make the baby sleep longer during the night. This information is untrue because an overtired baby will have a difficult time falling and staying asleep.
- Below six weeks, babies tend to sleep frequently and rarely have a consistent nap time routine. The child can sleep for up to 18 hours out of 24 hours in one day. Naptime is not a problem even with the baby startle reflexes. When the baby has had a ” bad nap day,” the parent can compensate by creating extra nap time. A calm ambiance will work best to reduce the overtired baby’s stress hormones. Babies at this age are pretty much sensitive to everything. The light, the temperature, and the mood of the environment need to create the most suitable ambiance.
- 2-3 months- at this age, the goal is to have fewer naps and early bedtimes. The parent can choose to eliminate the evening nap to encourage the baby to sleep earlier. The naps become less frequent and extended. Parents should, thus, watch out for over napping as that too can lead to overtiredness.
- 4-6 months- nap time gets more definite as the routine sets the baby’s internal clock. The parent already knows their baby’s cues and the environment the baby prefers. Naptime should be consistent enough to eliminate overtiredness that can turn naptime into a struggle. The baby is likely to hit regression at four months. The parent should try to be more flexible with the routine and compensate for naps lost.
- 6- 10 months- at this age, most babies sleep through the night, meaning they need a maximum of about four hours of naptime every day. One morning and one-afternoon nap is enough to keep the baby going. The parents should watch out for the eight months regression as such milestones can trigger separation anxiety. At this age, babies are more alert and likely to be overstimulated; nap times might start being a challenge.
- 10-12 months-the baby is now down for two naps, can settle down to two long naps, and settle herself to sleep all through the night. The baby wants to practice their motor skills all the time, even during nap time. The baby is super alert, playful, and wants to do everything else but nap.
Pediatrics has recommended safe practices that are useful during nap time. The parent has to be careful with younger babies to avoid suffocation by objects such as blankets. Experts advise against side sleeping and stomach. The baby should sleep on their backs until they are 12 months old. The baby’s crib should be firm, and objects that can harm the baby kept away from the bed or out of the baby’s reach.
What are the benefits of sleep training?
Most parents who shy away from sleep training have created or believed common misconceptions about the process. Small but constant sleep deprived nights can be harmful to both adults and babies. Sleep deprivation affects brain functions long term. A parent should create healthy routines for their baby from as early as possible, especially in babies. The emphasis lies on babies because this topic is about them; the child’s development depends on how well the child sleeps. A definite and implemented sleep routine ensures that the baby sleeps as is required.
The purpose of sleep training is,
- Sleep is required for the brain’s growth and for it to function healthily. A baby is growing and learning every day, and for them to process the information, they need their sleep as often as possible. A solid routine that works is necessary for optimal development and
- avoids behavioral patterns brought about by lack of sleep. Even when the sleep routine fails, the parents can still track the baby’s progress and find a more flexible schedule that ensures that the baby still sleeps adequately. A well-rested baby is happier and more patient. A healthy sleep routine positively impacts the baby’s neurological function and prevents behavioral problems that develop since childhood.
- Reduces overtiredness and anxiety in a baby- as the infant’s sleep routine improves, so does the caregiver’s mood. The caregiver’s emotional and psychological wellbeing is dependent on the baby’s pattern and behavior. The sleep routine is available to benefit both the parent and the baby. A calm and well-rested is likely to attend to the baby’s emotional needs than an anxious or depressed mother.
Many mothers and caregivers assume that babies don’t sleep well, and parents should tolerate their ever fussy baby. According to experts, that is not true. It is wrong to tell parents that they should accept that sleeping issues are part of parenting. Such a mindset keeps parents from actively addressing concerns that could affect the health, holistic well-being, and the development of the baby. A baby that has sleep issues need sleep remedies, and parents should not dismiss the problem. If the baby is not sleeping properly, the caregiver should seek professional help.