Newborn babies and sleep are like oil and water — they don’t really go together. Sometimes new parents are blessed with a baby that sleeps through the night, or a baby that easily develops a regular sleep routine. But more often than not, babies will need guidance and help learning how to fall asleep and stay asleep. That’s where sleep training comes in.
What is Sleep Training?
Simply put, sleep training is the process of helping a baby learn how to fall and stay asleep. Sleep training in theory is easy: develop a sleep schedule and routine for the baby and then reinforce it, making adjustments as necessary until the baby can fall asleep and stay asleep for eight or more hours on its own.
In reality however, there are many different methods and schools of thought about which sleep training technique is the “right” one, but the truth of the matter is that it all depends on the individual child and the mother’s and father’s parenting style. Every baby is different; some have no trouble developing a regular sleep routine or sleeping for seven hours straight. Others need help feeling comfortable and developing normal, healthy sleep habits. It all depends on the needs and personality of the individual child. There is one constant, though: the earlier you instill good bedtime habits in your little one, the easier it will be for them to develop a healthy sleep schedule.
Why Do Some Babies Need Sleep Training?
Sleep plays just as important of a role in the early development of babies and children as it does in the life of a happy, healthy adult. Sleep training babies is important because it helps develop lifelong healthy sleep habits.
When babies are just born, their bodies don’t produce enough melatonin to know whether it’s day or night. That’s why it is completely normal for newborns and infants to require feeding every few hours and have sporadic sleep patterns. Sleep training should not be attempted on a newborn. Newborns require round-the-clock feedings and have not begun to establish their own biological rhythms. During this time it’s completely normal for your infant to only sleep an hour or two at a time.
How Can I Tell if My Baby’s Ready for Sleep Training?
By the time a baby is about 3 to 4 months old, night feedings decrease and they will begin to develop their own sleep schedule. If you notice that the baby is having a hard time falling asleep and/or staying asleep they probably have a sleep problem and you should start thinking about sleep training. Here are several signs that your baby is ready for sleep training:
- Generally, babies that weigh at least 12 pounds and are at least 4 months old can begin sleep training.
- If you can stretch the amount of time between feedings without issue, your baby may be ready for sleep training.
- The baby has periods of being awake and alert for at least two hours during the day.
- If the baby has a healthy appetite and regular evening eating schedule.
- If the baby has the ability to learn a new way to sleep. This largely depends on the observations and beliefs of the parents. Remember, every baby is different.
Now that you’ve given your baby an assessment and are ready to dive into sleep training, it’s important to know several of the basic methods. When choosing a sleep training method, it’s of utmost importance to consider the child’s personality, temperament and habits, as well as the levels of commitment and patience of the parents/sitter.
Breaking Down the Most Common Sleep Training Methods
Method: The Cry-It-Out Method, also known as the CIO Method or Progressive-Waiting Approach.
Founder: Richard Ferber, Director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital Boston.
How it Works: Criticized by some as cruel, the CIO Method involves putting a baby to bed and letting it cry for short intervals, with regular check-ins by mom, dad or the sitter. Ferber recommends letting the child cry for gradually increasing increments of time. For more details, check out this handy chart from Noobmommy.com.
Method: The No Tears Method, also known as the No Cry Sleep Solution and No Cry Sleep Training.
Founder: Elizabeth Pantley
How It Works: This rather Pavlovian-method focuses on the sleep associations of babies. These can be sucking a bottle or pacifier, breastfeeding, rocking the baby to sleep, etc. The parent or sitter utilizes a “Gentle Removal Plan” by giving the baby a pacifier, bottle, or breast, and then continually taking it away as the baby falls asleep. The idea behind this is that the baby will gradually learn what it feels like to fall asleep without associating a specific object or action with it. Critics of the No Tears Method claim that this approach can cause the child to grow dependent.
Method: Karp’s Five S’s
Founder: Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block
How It Works: Karp’s sleep training technique operates on the assumption that humans are born less developed when compared to other mammals. Karp believes the first three months of life are like the “fourth trimester” and that babies will instantly relax and therefore sleep, when they are made to feel safe, as if still in the womb. Karp’s 5 S’s are:
- Swaddle – Swaddling recreates the tight confinement of the womb.
- Side/Stomach position – This is not a sleep position, rather a relaxing position where the baby is held on the right side, slightly face down.
- Shushing – The loud “sssh” sound that Karp recommends is meant to imitate the sound of white noise that is present in the womb.
- Swinging – A gentle but constant swinging or jiggling of the head reminds babies what it felt like in the womb.
- Sucking – Karp is a strong proponent of pacifiers as sleep associations and recommends using them.
Those who oppose Karp’s Five S’s argue that keeping a tightly swaddled or stomach-down is dangerous and, if the baby is left that way, can contribute to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Sleep Training With A Sitter
Regular routines and sleep schedules are important, just as important as getting your sitter or nanny on-board with your sleep training program. When embarking on the sleep training journey, make sure to sit your sitter down first to explain your plan and evaluate your expectations. Remember to be reasonable and realistic; for example, the cry-it-out method can be especially difficult for sitters or nannies.
After sleep training starts, it’s important to check in with your sitter regularly. Ask if your baby went to bed right at 7:30, what time dinner happened, or how long it took for the baby to stop crying. Ask how the sleep training process is going and if the sitter has any questions or concerns. These regular check-ins may seem awkward at first but open lines of communication are just as important as consistency in sleep training. If you prefer, ask your sitter to keep a journal that you can read at your leisure.
What To Do When Sitter Doesn’t Follow The Training Schedule
Consistency is a key component of sleep training, and if your sitter isn’t following your instructions it can be more than frustrating. In the event that your sitter hasn’t been following your sleep-training plan, there are a few things you can do before having to find a new one:
- Clearly explain the sleep-training schedule and your expectations. Write down the schedule, including timeframes, and have a couple copies handy throughout your home for the sitter to easily reference.
- Explain why consistency is so important for a sleep-training schedule. Take this time to share with your sitter why you chose the sleep training method you did and the philosophy behind it. Your sitter may become more likely to stick to the schedule one they understand the reasoning behind it.
- Follow up with your sitter by checking in regularly. Once you’ve set several standards or expectations, follow up to make sure they’re being met.
- When you’ve tried it all and nothing seems to work, or if your sitter continuously ignores your instructions, you may have to find another sitter or childcare provider. This is a decision that is entirely up to you and must be made after taking your own specific needs into consideration.
The sleep training methods mentioned above are just a small sample of baby sleep techniques that exist. When it comes to choosing the right sleep training technique for your child, it all depends on your baby’s personality and temperament, and your own parenting and lifestyle preferences. To learn more about the different sleep training methods that exist, or to get ideas about which sleep training method to try, take this fun and informative What’s Your Sleep-Training Style Quiz by Mom365.