The Dos and Don’ts of Baby Sleep Training
Baby sleep training is a hot topic among new parents. Everyone is ready to get back to a full night’s sleep, however not everyone agrees on how to get there with baby. Experts themselves have a wide range of opinions on the subject. Some feel it’s important to create boundaries from the beginning and support the “cry it out” method of letting baby cry in the crib for increasingly longer periods of time until he learns to soothe himself to sleep. Others take a “no tears” approach by comforting a baby to sleep and continuously picking up the baby if he cries. Still others take a middle of the road stance in which parents comfort their babies without picking them up from the crib. And there are also disagreements on whether to always put babies in their cribs awake, or to nurse or rock them to sleep before putting them down. The debate goes on and on.
Selecting a sleep training method is a personal choice based o a family’s own comfort level and parenting philosophy. None have proven to better or worse off for babies in the long run. Regardless of which program you chose, there are some standard dos and don’ts that are helpful to keep in mind while sleep training your baby.
Do develop a nighttime sleep schedule that works for you, your family and your baby. This may require being hyper-attune to natural cues and logging sleep and feeding routines until you can find a schedule that jives with you and your baby’s rhythm.
Don’t keep your baby up later at night to make him more tired. This usually has the opposite effect. Babies that are over-tired sleep less and tend to be crankier during waking hours. Earlier bedtimes often result in longer overnight sleeps.
Do ensure your baby is well-fed and takes necessary naps during the day. Again, if your baby is getting regular sleep, he will fall into a nighttime sleep pattern more easily than if he’s exhausted by bedtime. Also, once your baby is getting plenty of breast milk during the day, he won’t wake up and want to nurse as much at night.
Don’t start sleep training until your baby is two or three months old. Trying to force sleep training on a young newborn can be disastrous for everyone. Chances are, you will know when the time is right because sleep patterns will emerge and your baby will sleep for longer and longer at night on his own.
Do develop a nighttime routine that is soothing and invokes sleepiness. This may include a warm bath, a baby massage, a lullaby and breastfeeding. Associate these sounds, smells, tastes and sensations with restfulness so your baby understands the day is winding down and he should prepare for sleep.
Don’t let your baby’s sleep environment work against all of your efforts. Get to know the way your baby wants to sleep. Some babies like complete silence while others enjoy soft music or sounds machines. Some babies like a hint of light and others need complete darkness. Some babies can ignore the stimulating and adorable décor of his nursery while others are overwhelmed by these exciting objects. Adjust your baby’s room to ensure he can sleep. Also, learn how your baby likes to be dressed at night. Swaddling works well for many infants who enjoy a snug and cozy sleep zone.
Do pick a smart time to sleep train. If your baby is sick, you’re about to go away on a trip or it’s almost daylight savings time, wait for a better opportunity.
Don’t go it alone. Seek guidance from online resources, friends and experts. If you’re not sure how to create a schedule for your baby, there are plenty of samples online that you can use as a starting point and adjust to suit your needs. Additionally, read up on the different methods and challenges of sleep training so you have a game plan and are mentally prepared when the time comes.
Do be flexible. Babies are human beings, the most fickle of sorts too. During growth spurts or on an off day, you may need to change the schedule to allow for an earlier bedtime and extra sleep. Be vigilant for signs of sleepiness and act on them before your little one gets too tired.
Don’t give up. Sleeping is a learned behavior. Many adults still haven’t got it all figured out so cut your baby, and yourself, some slack if it doesn’t happen “overnight.” Your baby will learn to sleep if you are dedicated to whatever method you think is best. While it may be challenging now, getting back to a good night’s rest should be a pretty good incentive to keep persevering.