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Sleep Training for Babies

Updated: Mar 23

Explaining all of the options for baby sleep training!

sleep training for babies

Sleep training is a method used to help babies develop healthy sleep habits and establish a consistent sleep routine. In this article, we will explore what sleep training entails, when to start, various methods, considerations for breastfed babies, sleep training during illness, recommended baby sleep training books, and whether babies can learn to sleep through the night without formal sleep training. Information provided in this article is based on reputable sources and expert opinions.

What is Sleep Training

Sleep training involves gently teaching babies to fall asleep independently and self-soothe when they wake up during the night. It aims to establish healthy sleep patterns and promote longer stretches of uninterrupted sleep. Before you begin sleep training, make sure that baby is at a comfortable temperature, well-fed, and in a safe-sleeping environment. Visit our What Should Baby Wear to Sleep post for more information.

When Should You Start Sleep Training

Experts suggest that sleep training can begin around 4 to 6 months of age when babies have developed the ability to self-soothe and have established a consistent feeding schedule. However, every baby is different, and it's important to consider individual readiness cues.

Determining if a baby is ready for sleep training can depend on various factors and individual circumstances. Here are some general signs that may indicate readiness for sleep training:

  • Age: Most experts suggest waiting until a baby is at least 4-6 months old before starting sleep training. At this age, babies have typically developed more regular sleep patterns and are better able to self-soothe.

  • Weight and Health: It's important to ensure that your baby is gaining weight appropriately and is in good overall health before considering sleep training. If there are any concerns about your baby's health, it's best to consult with a pediatrician before starting any sleep training methods.

  • Consistent Bedtime Routine: If your baby has a consistent bedtime routine and is able to fall asleep relatively easily, it may be a good indication that they are ready for sleep training. A predictable routine helps establish healthy sleep habits.

  • Ability to Self-Soothe: Babies who can self-soothe are often more ready for sleep training. This means they can calm themselves down and fall back asleep without needing to be rocked, nursed, or held every time they wake up during the night.

  • Parental Readiness: It's important to consider your own readiness and ability to commit to the sleep training process. Consistency and patience are key, as sleep training can take time and effort.

Remember, every baby is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. It's always a good idea to consult with your pediatrician or a sleep specialist who can provide personalized guidance based on your baby's specific needs and development.

Methods for Sleep Training Baby

There are several different baby sleep training methods that parents can consider. It's important to note that every baby is unique, and what works for one may not work for another.

Many people might immediately think of the "cry-it-out" method when thinking about sleep training, but there are so many better options to choose from now. The cry it out sleep training method may have been used in the past, but it is now an outdated sleep training method for several reasons:

  • The cry it out method involves leaving a baby to cry for extended periods without offering comfort or reassurance. This approach can lead to increased stress levels in infants and may negatively impact their emotional well-being.

  • Research suggests that babies who are left to cry it out may experience elevated levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones can disrupt the development of healthy sleep patterns and may have long-term effects on a child's emotional regulation.

  • The cry it out method does not take into account the individual needs and temperament of each baby. Every child is unique, and their sleep needs and abilities vary. It is important to consider a baby's cues and respond to their needs in a sensitive and nurturing manner.

Modern sleep training approaches focus on gentle and responsive methods that promote healthy sleep habits while also prioritizing the emotional well-being of the child. These methods emphasize creating a safe and comforting sleep environment, establishing consistent routines, and gradually teaching babies to self-soothe in a supportive manner.

Gentle Sleep Training Methods:

  • Ferber Method: Also known as "graduated extinction" or "controlled crying," this method involves gradually increasing the amount of time you wait before comforting your baby when they cry at bedtime. Most moms can tell the difference between whining and crying, and will enter the room when the baby actually begins crying, rather than when they are whining while trying to self-settle. The goal is to teach them to self-soothe and fall asleep independently while still considering their emotional well-being and not leaving them to cry by themselves.

  • Weissbluth Method: Developed by Dr. Marc Weissbluth, this method emphasizes the importance of establishing a consistent sleep schedule and routine. It involves putting your baby to bed drowsy but awake and allowing them to fall asleep on their own, rather than feeding your baby to sleep or rocking your baby to sleep each time. Many moms will feed their baby until they are drowsy and then lay them in their crib, drowsy but awake for this gentle sleep training method.

  • Pick-Up-Put-Down Method: This method involves picking up your baby when they cry and putting them back down once they have calmed down. The goal is to gradually decrease the amount of time you spend comforting them until they can fall asleep independently, while still prioritizing their comfort.

  • Bedtime Fading Method: This method involves gradually shifting your baby's bedtime later in small increments to help them feel sleepier at bedtime. The goal is to establish a more regular sleep pattern. This can involve some trial and error with finding the "sweet spot" for your baby's bedtime. Most moms often find that a bedtime between 7:00-8:00pm works best for their little ones.

  • Chair Method: Also known as "camping out," this method involves sitting in a chair next to your baby's crib until they fall asleep. Over time, you gradually move the chair farther away from the crib until your baby can fall asleep without your presence. This method is difficult to implement because even though you are in the room, your baby might still cry out for you to hold them, which would most likely turn into the pick-up-put-down method.

  • No-Cry Sleep Solution: This method focuses on gentle techniques to help your baby develop healthy sleep habits. It involves creating a soothing bedtime routine, establishing a consistent sleep environment, and responding to your baby's needs without ever leaving them to cry. Obviously this method is going to be more time consuming while you respond to each cry from your baby, but they will ultimately feel completely comforted by you.

Remember, it's important to consult with your pediatrician or a sleep specialist before starting any sleep training method to ensure it aligns with your baby's age, development, and individual needs. Additionally, it's crucial to approach sleep training with patience, consistency, and empathy for your baby's well-being. Remember, they are new to the world and most comfortable with you. Some moments are more difficult than others, but baby's emotional well-being should always be prioritized.

How to Get Baby to Sleep Through the Night Without Sleep Training

If gentle sleep training isn't for you, that is okay too! Here are some other ideas of ways to help your baby sleep their best, with hopefully minimal wake-ups during the night.

  • Make sure they stay full during the day as much as possible

  • Expose them to sunlight during the day to help their circadian rhythm

  • Create a safe and comfortable sleeping environment with blackout curtains, a sound machine, humidifier, and a comfortable temperature around 69 degrees.

Sleep Training a Breastfed Baby

Breastfed babies can be sleep trained, but it's important to consider their unique feeding needs. Experts recommend establishing a consistent feeding routine, ensuring the baby is adequately fed before bedtime, and gradually reducing middle of the night feedings based on the baby's age and weight gain. I like to try to feed baby a bit more frequently in the evening, to help get their tummy nice and full before bed. I also stick to what they are used to, for example: If baby usually wakes up to eat just once per night, but is having a rough night and waking up multiple times, I'm NOT going to feed them back to sleep more often on a rough night. I don't want to get baby used to eating more in the middle of the night just because they're waking up more frequently. If they usually just eat once, then I try to stick to that schedule so that I'm gradually doing less middle of the night feedings as they get older, and never increasing.

Sleep Training When Baby is Sick

Sleep training is generally not recommended when a baby is sick. Illness can disrupt sleep patterns, and babies usually want additional comfort and care during this time (just as you would want if you were sick). It's best to prioritize their health and well-being until they have recovered. Just enjoy the extra cuddles and ensure baby is extra comfortable when they're not feeling good.

Baby Sleep Training Books

Here are some great sleep training book recommendations:

Will Baby Learn to Sleep Without Training

The short answer is yes, all babies will eventually learn how to sleep on their own, it's just a matter of time. Every baby is different and every household is different. Maybe you have more time on your hands and don't mind cuddling baby to sleep multiple times per night. Maybe you really need a full night of sleep to think clearly for work the next day. Everyone is different and you need to consider your baby's needs and your family's needs when deciding if any form of sleep trianing is right for you. Many babies can benefit from gentle guidance and establish healthy sleep habits at an earlier age. Every baby is different, and individual factors such as temperament and parenting styles can influence their sleep patterns.

Sleep training can be a helpful tool for parents seeking to establish healthy sleep habits for their babies. It is important to consider individual readiness, choose appropriate methods, and adapt to the unique needs of your baby. Remember to consult with pediatricians and trusted resources for personalized guidance on sleep training your baby.

Sources:- American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)- Mayo Clinic- National Sleep Foundation- Pediatrics Journal- Sleep Medicine Reviews

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