You can’t take the sleepless nights anymore. You’re so insane from lack of sleep you could cry. By now you’re starting to wonder if it’s officially time to sleep-train your baby.
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But you’re worried Is your baby old enough? Which techniques work best? And how long does it actually take? Pediatrician Noah Schwartz, MD, offers sleep-training advice for weary new parents.
Basics of sleep training
In its simplest form, sleep training is the process by which your baby learns to fall asleep on his own, whether it’s at the beginning of the night when he’s put in his cot or when he wakes up in the middle of the night.
“Essentially, you’re teaching your baby to recognize that they can put themselves to sleep or soothe themselves,” explains Dr. black “It’s a developmental skill they need to learn.”
Sleep training means more sleep for parents or caregivers.
Nighttime Weaning vs. Sleep Training
It’s important to note that sleep training is different than nocturnal weaning.
For months, you’ve probably been waking up several times a night to feed your little one. Night weaning ensures that your baby eats his meals during the day, so he no longer has to wake up in the middle of the night to eat. Nocturnal weaning is perfectly safe as long as your baby is healthy and of an appropriate weight. Talk to your pediatrician about when it’s time to wean your baby at night.
You can exercise and wean at night at the same time. In fact, sleep training sometimes leads to a decrease in nighttime feedings simply because your baby is learning to fall back asleep on his own. But sometimes, if your baby is underweight or has other medical conditions, you may need to continue night feedings, even during or after sleep training.
When should you start sleep training?
dr Schwartz recommends starting sleep training when your baby is around four months old. By this age, babies are usually old enough to learn to self-soothe and may no longer need late-night feedings. Additionally, around four months, your baby’s sleep cycles begin to mature and the circadian rhythm (the hormonal cycle that regulates our sleep-wake cycle) begins to kick in.
Some babies may start sleep training earlier and others better a little later, around six months. If you’re unsure if your baby is old enough or ready, check with your pediatrician to get the green light first.
How long does sleep training take?
How long it takes to successfully train your baby to sleep depends on which method you choose. But in general it should last about three to four nights. Some methods may take longer than others, but Dr. Schwartz says that what matters most is that the parents have a plan and are consistent with their chosen sleep training method.
If you’ve tried unsuccessfully for two weeks to train your baby to sleep, you should contact your pediatrician.
Is sleep training safe?
There are extensive long-term studies of sleep training, and there is no evidence that sleep training is physically or psychologically harmful to babies and children. In fact, it’s known to improve parents’ spirits, improve an infant’s sleep quality, and increase the secure bond between babies and their caregivers. As long as your baby is old enough and in a safe environment, sleep training (whichever method you choose) is perfectly safe and healthy.
Sleep training techniques
The goal of sleep training is to teach your little one that they are capable of falling asleep on their own. You want your baby to be able to fall asleep on their own without having to be rocked or soothed by you.
“Often sleep training techniques overlap and parents combine methods, which is perfectly fine,” says Dr. black “It’s about figuring out what works best for you as a parent and how your child responds to it.”
Here are some of the most common sleep training approaches:
shout it out (CIO)
Perhaps one of the most well-known techniques, this method is often synonymous with sleep training. CIO means putting your baby to bed while they are tired but still awake so that they learn the ability to put themselves to sleep. Your baby may cry while learning this new skill, but that’s certainly not a requirement!
Before you put your baby to bed, make sure they have a clean diaper, have eaten and their crib is secure. After that, when you say goodnight, you won’t pick her up or take her out of the crib until morning or the next scheduled nighttime feeding.
This method may be the most difficult for parents, but it often works the quickest. The first few nights are usually the roughest as your baby is used to being helped to sleep and it may take a night or two to learn to do it on their own, but after that they should get better quickly.
Consistency is important and all maintainers need to be on board for it to work. An important part of CIO isn’t taking your baby out of the crib, but some parents may feel better acknowledging or reassuring them by doing a few quick check-ins throughout the night (see Ferber Method ).
Ferber Method (aka “Check and Console”)
This technique consists of timed interval check-ins. If your child is tired but awake (does he sense an issue here?), put him in his cot, say good night, and leave the room. They will then re-enter the room at set intervals to check on your baby, but you should still not pick them up.
For example, after you put your baby down, log in at three minutes, five minutes, 10 minutes, and so on. For example, you can say a quick word or two to your baby, tell them that you love them, that they are doing a great job, or that you are there for them, but don’t linger too long.
The time between intervals should increase and teach your baby that you are always there to support and make them feel safe. Increase the time between check-ins every night. Some babies benefit from the timed check-ins, while others get more upset when their parents come and go. Many caregivers combine CIO and the Ferber Method depending on their baby’s needs.
pick up, discard
This approach takes patience (and maybe most of the time), but usually sleep training feels easier for parents. The idea is that you can provide direct physical comfort to your baby by picking them up and putting them down if they start crying or fidgeting at night. But make sure you don’t linger when you pick them up. Go inside, pick them up, calm them down so they calm down, put them back in the cradle, then exit the room. It is common to combine this method with the Ferber method.
The chair method
This sleep training technique involves — you guessed it — a chair. It also requires a lot of patience and time. It is similar to the Ferber method in that it involves gradual intervals.
Place your baby in their crib while they are sleepy and sit in a chair next to them. Once they fall asleep, leave the room. If they start crying, come back and sit in the chair nearby. Every few nights, move the chair further back until you are finally out of the room.
dr Schwartz says this method can be difficult for parents, since it can be difficult to just sit there until your baby falls asleep, especially if they start fidgeting or crying. In some cases, seeing you there can also be distracting and confusing for the baby.
This is less sleep training and more a method of shifting your baby’s bedtime to a different time. For example, if you normally put your baby to bed around 7pm, but he cries in his crib for about 30 minutes, his natural bedtime (aka his circadian rhythm) is probably closer to 7:30pm, start with your natural bedtime Push back your bedtime by 15 minutes each night until you reach the time you want. This technique is often used in combination with other sleep training methods to give your baby a better sleep schedule.
Sleep training tips
No matter what method you try, sleep training takes practice and patience. These tips can help you and your baby make the transition. The following should be noted:
- Some methods won’t work for you – and that’s okay. It may take some trial and error to find a method that you, your partner, and your baby are comfortable with. Don’t be afraid to forego a method if it’s an absolute nightmare, and remember to combine them when necessary. No one method works for everyone and there is no right or wrong way to do it. However, once you find a method that you are comfortable with, stick with it for at least a week to give your baby a chance to learn this new skill.
- It really depends on the parents or caregivers if sleep training works. dr Schwartz says sleep training has more to do with the parents and less to do with the baby. Caregivers should know their personalities and their limitations when beginning sleep training. You should also commit to a consistent sleep training schedule. It will never work if one partner breaks the routine every night. However, always trust your intuition – you know your baby best.
- Establish a bedtime routine. Getting your baby ready for bed is just as important as the actual sleep training. Newborns (and even toddlers) have no concept of time, but when you develop a bedtime routine, it starts to put them in the mindset of realizing what’s about to happen. Try bathing, feeding, and reading a book. You can also try feeding your baby in a different room or setting to reduce the association with falling asleep. Children begin to associate this routine with learning to relax and unwind for the night. Oftentimes, a bedtime routine carries over to the ability to self-soothe for many babies and toddlers.
- time it right Pay attention to your baby’s sleep stimuli such as yawning or rubbing their eyes. All sleep methods recommend starting when your baby is tired but not yet asleep.
- Don’t respond to every little scream or noise. As long as your baby sleeps somewhere safe, there’s no need to panic at every scream or fuss. No matter what sleep training method you use, chances are you’ll cry or get upset. It’s important to give your baby the space to learn this important new skill. Your future self will thank you when you make it to the other side of sleep training!
- Be self-confident! Your baby will absorb your emotions. If you feel secure during this process, your baby will feel the same way.
Don’t hesitate to contact your pediatrician for advice or help with sleep training or any other questions or concerns.