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Essential Sleep Training Tips

By May 6, 2024Parenting
sleep training tips for infants

Sleep training is a systematic approach that helps infants develop healthy sleep habits, benefiting not just their well-being but also fostering a smoother experience for parents. Parenthood has its fair share of challenges, especially when it comes to ensuring your little one (and the rest of your family) gets the sleep they need.  In this article, we’ll delve into why sleep training may be helpful, explore its benefits for both babies and caregivers and address common questions and concerns parents may have about this aspect of early childhood development.

When is the best age to sleep train an infant?  How do I know when my baby is ready for sleep training? 

Generally, the best age to sleep train an infant is around six months of age.  If your baby needs to be soothed multiple times during the night (and it is not due to being soiled, hungry, cold or ill), then there may be an opportunity for your baby to benefit from the initiation of sleep training.

How long does sleep training take to work?

It is different for every baby, but it usually takes three to five days on average. You may have to ‘’reinforce’’ it for a longer period based on how your baby adapts.

What is a suggested sleep training method? 

We have had immense success with recommending the “Ferber Method” to our patient families.  Developed by Dr. Richard Ferber, it involves gradually teaching infants to self-soothe and fall asleep independently. The method consists of several key steps:

  • Establish a bedtime routine: Begin by creating a consistent bedtime routine to signal to your baby that it’s time for sleep. This may include activities such as bathing, applying lotion with gentle massage, reading a book and dimming the lights, helping your baby relax and prepare for sleep.
  • Put your baby to bed while awake: The fundamental principle of the Ferber Method is to place your baby in the crib while they are still awake. This allows the baby to learn how to self-soothe and fall asleep without needing assistance from you.
  • Gradually increase intervals: When your baby cries after being put to bed, wait for progressively longer intervals before going in for comfort. Start with short intervals, such as 3 to 5 minutes, then gradually increase the time between checks. This approach helps babies learn to self-soothe and fall asleep independently over time.  For example:

          Schedule for Day 1

    • 1st check-in: 3 minutes after bedtime
    • 2nd check-in: 5 minutes after 1st check-in
    • 3rd check-in: 10 minutes after 2nd check-in
    • Subsequent check-ins: every 10 minutes

This article shows a chart for subsequent days, and is also quite useful.

How long should I let my baby cry it out for?

The Ferber Method does not encourage letting your baby ‘’cry it out’’ indefinitely; you check in with the baby every few minutes, as outlined above.

Will my baby learn to sleep through the night without sleep training?

All babies have their own individual biorhythms and temperaments.  Some can sleep through the night, but others many need some assistance in the form of sleep training.

When should you NOT do sleep training?

If your baby has a medical condition and your pediatrician or other physician indicates it would not be appropriate.

What are the most common mistakes made when sleep training? 

  1. Beginning too soon (at 0-4 months of age, babies lack the ability to self-soothe).
  2. Initiating training without an established plan that both parents have agreed upon. Both parents need to agree with the plan they are implementing and how they are going to implement it.  It is important to recognize that some sleep training methods are more “intense” than others, and both parents need to be comfortable with their plan.
  3. Lack of consistency. Once the plan has been established, both parents must agree to execute it consistently in order for it to be successful.

What about attachment parenting or other methods?

Some families practice a style of parenting called “attachment parenting” which includes co-sleeping (ideally a close/safe surface attached to the parental bed) and rocking or cuddling babies to sleep.  Parents who choose this method need to be aware that babies and children raised with this style of parenting may have significant difficulty falling asleep on their own or staying asleep through the night for many years.

To reduce the chance of needing a formal method later, you can initiate these strategies from the beginning of your child’s life:

  1. If you feed the baby in your bed, put them back on their own separate surface (on their back) when done.
  2. Always put the baby to sleep in a drowsy state; don’t cuddle and hold them until they are in a deep sleep. It’s OK to sing and pat them if they wake up when you transfer them to their mattress.
  3. It’s ideal to have the baby sleeping in its parents’ room until 4 to 6 months of age; however, at that time, if there is room in the home, move the child’s bed to their own room and begin using that location for naps. After a few weeks, use it for nighttime sleep.

By using sleep training methods, parents can help their infants develop healthy sleep habits and learn to sleep through the night, leading to better rest for the entire family!

Image by javi_indy on Freepik

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