Sleep training is such a controversial subject. Bring it up wherever you are and expect a barrage of very strong opinions. Of course this is OK! Everyone has their own way of parenting, values, and ideas of how they want to raise their children. No judgment there, I think the idea of sleep training does need to be explained though. Some methods might be cruel, others might be misinterpreted under the bad reputation “sleep training” has received over the years, and sometimes it’s just down right confusing on where to start. Here are some starter tips to know when and how to sleep train a baby.
Sleep is literally the foundation of life.
When your baby is born they are already developing their circadian rhythm, their 24 hour biological clock that controls when you feel awake and when you feel sleepy. This takes time to build this rhythm, hence the being awake all night and asleep all day pattern infants follow.
We as parents are here to guide and teach them EVERYTHING. If we do not teach them, or demonstrate through our example and actions our children will not know how to properly do these things. Will they know how to sleep? Sure, but at all the wrong times, and they also might not be getting the right amount of sleep.
Second, they develop associations with falling to sleep; rocking, rubbing their back, walking, nursing, holding a bottle, pacifier, noise machine, and many more. When they have these associations they do not learn to fall asleep on their own. They think falling asleep means rocking with mom or having a bottle. Trust me, we have ALL been here!!
It’s really hard, I sweat and panic every time my child cries. What can we do?
The first three months should be all about love, learning about each other and their surroundings(aka their biological clock). Teach them how to do this by giving them hints and signs during the day, by having them on a consistent schedule and routine. Interacting with them during the day, playing, eating, loving, and snuggling. Exposing them to light is one of the most important things you can do, and doing all of these things consistently.
In the evening, immediately set up a bedtime routine. Bath, tummy time, reading (even if they are a couple weeks old, this matters!!). Dimming the lights, getting black out curtains, so they can clearly observe the difference of daytime and nighttime. When they wake to feed, of course support them and give them love but don’t play or stimulate the baby (you want them to know it is sleep time not play time). Feed them in dim light and try to lay them back down sleepy, but awake so they can learn to put themselves back to sleep.
This is actually a part of “sleep training”, not what you thought, right? You are training your child for sleep success. During the first 3 months this is how you can help your child learn super important habits for proper rest. Not only do they need sleep to properly develop and grow, they will be happier and thrive better during the day as well. Newsflash!!! So will YOU! As much as we need to teach our children to sleep in order for us to be a patient, present parent, we need to get adequate sleep as well.
How to sleep train past the newborn stage.
After your baby gets to a certain weight, and is around 3-6 months old, if they have developed their circadian rhythm they can start sleeping through the night(without feedings). Some babies will just automatically sleep through the night on their own and others we have to teach them a little bit more. It could be gradually(this is a very important word) weaning them from feedings during the night, or helping them learn to fall asleep on their own.
FALSE sleep training phrases from social media that bring on the hype:
Abandoning your baby.
Letting them cry and suffer.
Guilt that you aren’t loving them.
Shame that you aren’t a good mom.
The question I hear the most is, will my child cry? This is definitely a possibility since this is how an infant communicates, but you will be there loving and supporting them, letting them know you are right there, and that we can do hard things together. There is absolutely no abandoning your child, or loss of love from you as a mother. There is so much love in teaching a baby how to sleep. You will also be amazed how quick babies learn to do things.
Truth is if we always take away a child’s pain, or always fix things immediately and not let them learn to do things themselves, we are setting them up for failure not only with sleep but in everyday life. How will they learn and grow resilient? Problem solve on their own? What will happen when they are 6 or older and can’t go to sleep on their own? How will they go to a sleepover? How will they go anywhere without you if going to sleep requires you to be there?! And honestly you might be a shriveled up, sick person, resenting your child, and your partner for how tired you are by then.
Don’t sacrifice yourself, or your relationships.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Teaching your child how to sleep can be a time of connection and growth for the both of you. You can do it in the bassinet by your bed, a crib in your room, a crib in their room, or co-sleeping. There is no lack of love. You are actually showing them more love because you are teaching them how to do one of the most important things a human body needs.
We cannot survive without sleep. If you sacrifice your own because you think that’s what motherhood is supposed to be, or if you sacrifice yourself because of guilt. These are reasons that are associated with our society and are limiting beliefs. Start becoming REALLY aware of them because you will suffer not only as a mom but also in all aspects of your life if you are not sleeping for a lengthy period of time.
My child is older, is it too late to sleep train them?
Within the first year of your child’s life is the easiest time to teach them, because they are learning everything already. It is never too late to teach your child good sleep hygiene though(heck, even as adults it is never too late). Kids are so incredibly intuitive and smart!! Don’t underestimate what they can or cannot do. They also come along with developmental changes, growth spurts, change in routine, or major life events such as moving, starting school, tragic events etc, that will affect their sleep. Knowing how to help them is crucial and will also help you!
So before you write off sleep training, judge and label it. Think about your baby and what you want them to become. All the hopes and dreams you have for them. The foundation you will set them up with by teaching them how to sleep. Think about the mom you can be if you and your baby sleep through the night, and enormous growth and connection you will see within yourself and your child.
This is not selfish, this is the human body and it’s need to thrive. In order to do that you must sleep.
Three things you can start now.
- Start by developing a daily routine. Perform this routine consistently every single day.
2. Find a fun, connecting bedtime routine for you and your family to do together. Let it be relaxing, quiet, and send all the right signals for the baby’s melatonin to kick in and signal rest.
3. Follow these routines. Know the nighttime feedings won’t go on forever and you will miss them when they are gone. Sleep during the day when your baby sleeps.
If your child is 5-months old or older and you are still having nighttime awakenings please reach out for sleep training help. Check out the resources below to learn more about the importance of sleep, and know that there is a solution! Nothing is permanent and you are doing an amazing job!!
Solve your child’s sleep problems by Dr Richard Ferber