If you’re reading this article, it means that your baby isn’t sleeping as well as you’d like. You’re not alone- falling asleep and staying asleep all night long is a life skill that all babies have to learn at one point or another.
The term “sleep training” refers to a range of methods that parents today use to teach their babies how to fall asleep on their own. Sleep-trained babies can soothe themselves back to sleep in the middle of the night, meaning that you won’t have to coax them back to sleep anymore. There are a few different sleep training methods, each with a set of pros and cons; the trick is to find the one that works for you and your family and to stick it through.
Generally speaking, the best time to start sleep training your baby is when they are between 4 and 6 months old, which is before they will develop serious sleep crutches or dependencies. A sleep crutch is something that must be done in order for the baby to fall asleep, such as having a bottle before bed or being rocked to sleep.
Before 4 months of age, most babies can’t make it through the night without waking up to feed, so they pretty much dictate their own sleep schedules. While it’s never too late to begin sleep training, try to avoid starting during major milestones, like potty training or moving into one’s own room. This is because big changes like these are often associated with sleep disruptions on their own.
One of the most important aspects of sleep training is a consistent bedtime routine at the same time every night. Avoid stimulating activities prior to bedtime; most parents will choose a calming feed, bath, and a bedtime story. Because the goal is to teach baby to fall asleep on their own, you want to put the baby down in their crib while they are awake but also sleepy.
The most well-known, and controversial, sleep training method is the cry-it-out approach. This method allows the baby to cry for specified amounts of time before entering the room to offer comfort (and to make sure that baby hasn’t misplaced a favourite toy or pacifier). This will quickly show the baby that after bedtime, caregivers are no longer at their beck and call.
Before starting, determine how long you will allow the baby to cry. A popular approach lets the baby cry at first for 3 minutes, and then 5 minutes, and then 10 minutes, and then 15 minutes. When you do go in, offer a few words of comfort, but keep the lights off and leave the baby in the crib. Picking baby up will encourage unwanted behaviour. Using this method, parents should see results (little to no crying) within a week. But if you don’t see an improvement after 7 days, talk to your pediatrician.
Another popular sleep training technique is the check-and-console method. It’s similar to the cry-it-out method, except that a parent enters the baby’s room to offer comfort at shorter time intervals (every 5-10 minutes) whether or not the baby is crying. Some parents feel that regularly entering the baby’s room will show the baby that they haven’t been abandoned, while some parents find that the frequent visits aggravate baby even more. Again, this technique should take up to a week to work.
If the thought of leaving your baby alone to cry themselves to sleep isn’t your cup of tea, there are more gradual sleep training methods, but they don’t produce results as quickly.
The chair method has one parent sit in a chair next to the crib until baby falls asleep. Every few nights, the chair gets moved further and further away from the baby’s crib until no longer in the room. On the other hand, some parents find it even harder to sit in a room watching their baby cry and not being able to comfort them than it is to listen from outside the room.
Your sleep training exercises shouldn’t take longer than 1-2 weeks, so if your baby isn’t making any progress in that time, speak to your pediatrician or a sleep consultant. Not every method works for every baby (or for every parent for that matter). Before long, you’ll figure out what works for your family, and you’ll all benefit from a good night’s sleep.