You’ve decided it’s time to start sleep training your baby or toddler but you don’t know where to start. You are also probably wondering how to sleep train you child or which sleep training method to use. It’s a lot if you’ve never done it before.
Well, you’ve come to the right place. Before you start sleep training – no matter how old your baby/toddler is – it’s a good idea to start getting your head in the game. Let me help you to start setting the stage by teaching you some basic principles:
BEGINNER BASIC PRINCIPLES FOR SLEEP TRAINING
- The sooner these basic principles are in the back of your mind the easier the transition will be.
- In fact, these very basic principles should be taught to parents during anti-natal classes so parents can start right from the beginning as they mean to continue.
- Please do not allow these principles to daunt you if you haven’t been doing them. Human beings (including babies) have the most amazing ability to adapt. I know you are tired and overwhelmed. Take a deep breath, make yourself a comforting warm caffein-free (if you’re breastfeeding) beverage, have a look at the below points and trust that everything is going to be okay. I’m here for you!
Why is sleep training important?
- Falling asleep independently is a skill that can be learned.
- Every baby is born with the ability TO sleep, but they don’t know HOW to go to sleep.
- Sleep training is where you are helping baby develop healthy behaviours around sleep.
- The first weeks of life are where we take a blank slate and paint it with the environment they come to know and come to prefer.
No Feeding to Sleep
- Try not let baby fall asleep while feeding – whether it be breast or bottle. This becomes a crutch so quickly and easily and it is not easy to break.
- Balance it more along the lines of getting baby down ‘drowsy but awake’.
If baby is brand new, it will probably be very difficult to keep her awake while feeding her. That’s okay. Every day she will get stronger and will be able to stay awake for longer periods of time. There will come a point when she can do this. Be patient.
- The best way to structure the day is to work on 12 hours of the day and 12 hours of night pattern. This is most closely aligned to their natural sleep rhythms.
- As soon as possible start to get into the habit of wake – eat – play – sleep. This will help with the eating to sleep habits that can be the hardest to break.
- While a formal schedule is not appropriate for a newborn, understanding their cues, proper awake times, feedings and adequate sleep patterns are pillars in crafting a good sleeper both during the day and at night.
- Have the nursery kitted out with serious blackout curtains, or tape black garbage bags to the windows. Even a small chink of light is enough to wake a sleeping baby. If you can see your partner on the other side of the room once you’ve turned out the light – it’s not dark enough.
- Baby’s room should be to sleep and not play. Keep stimulating toys away i.e. mobiles, crib aquariums, light emitting devices. Keep toys in a separate room.
- Pre-sleep routines to be done in a quiet, boring room with dimmed lights so baby starts learning to associate this with sleep
- Sample nap routine: Diaper – Change – Book/Song – Swaddle – Eating (Swaddle if under 10 weeks or sleeping bag if older.)
- Sample bedtime routine: Feeding – Bath – Massage – Changing into pajamas/sleeping bag/swaddle – Book/Song – Good Night
- In the morning open up the curtains and start your day. Make a bit of a song and dance about it being wake up time. This is very important so baby starts learning the difference between day and night.
- When baby wakes and starts crying, wait a few seconds to respond. You don’t have to drop everything and break your neck getting to baby. Remember that he doesn’t need to be held every second that he is awake.
- A child who is overtired is often harder to settle, wakes more overnight, and may even protest eating. When they are overtired, it creates a vicious cycle that many parents get stuck in.
- Signs saying it’s time to sleep: rubbing of eyes or face; redness under the eyes; frequent yawning/clinginess/fussiness; hyper/amped-up; excessive crying with no calm; pulling on their ears; arching of their back
So, if you have started implementing any of the above principles in the caring of your baby you’ve already made a good start. If you haven’t yet, now’s the perfect time.
Have a look at the next steps to educate yourself a little further:
INTERMEDIATE PRINCIPLES FOR SLEEP TRAINING
- You now have an idea of the Basics Beginner Principles.
- You’re almost ready to take the first steps.
Help and Support
- It is best when you are supported by your partner or a friend.
- Sleep training can take a few nights and this could prove more stressful than necessary if you are on your own.
- It might be easier at times to give up initially as you might get tired. You want support in place to encourage you to keep going. Those who give up too easily are usually the ones who say: “Sleep training doesn’t work”. It’s worth it!
- Starting and then having to stop due to poor planning minimises the chances for success.
- In some cases success only takes two days, but in other cases it can take a few weeks. It’ll take a good few nights prior to those challenging first days to consolidate the new sleep pattern.
- Aim for all baby’s sleep to be at home for the duration of the sleep training programme. Babies – like adults – need to be given a chance to adapt. It’s best to have a consistent approach before doing naps-on-the-go.
- Plan around any trips and functions
- Be mentally prepared a potentially challenging few nights as baby learns to adjust.
Baby must be Healthy and Thriving
- Before you begin sleep training make sure baby is not suffering from colic, reflux or an illness. You don’t want to sleep train a baby when he is sick.
- You want to make sure the bit of fussing and protesting during the first couple of nights of sleep training is due to baby getting used to their routine, not illness.
- There will always be something going on with baby that might make a parent think it’s not the right time to start i.e. sleep training with teething, crawling, rolling over, and other developmental milestones. These shouldn’t impede baby’s ability to sleep through the night.
There you have it.
I have plenty of resources on my website to help you with more information should you need it. If you have any questions please contact me. I would love to be part of your sleep training experience.
Just remember, as long as baby is healthy, baby will be ready to start sleep training from a very early age. It’s the parents who need to be ready. I always tell my clients that the best time to start sleep training is when YOU are ready.
It’s important to note that the earlier one starts to sleep train your baby the easier it will be to get both your baby and YOU settled. Remember that this is also a steep learning curve for the parents and caregivers. It will take some time to form new habits.
Both baby and the parents will be a bit uncomfortable initially. Parents tend to fight the lack of independence. This can be hard for them too.
Go easy on yourselves. Be gentle. This is a time of a huge amount of change. It can be hard.
It’ll be okay though. Once baby starts sleeping well and regularly you’ll start to feel like your old self. You’ll start enjoying your days more and you’ll find that the momentum you will build up will start working very well indeed. You’ll start wondering how on earth people who don’t follow a routine manage.