As a sitter who works with newborns and young infants, sleep training babies may be a part of the job. Especially if your family schedules you for the evenings and nights. Let us help you brush up on sleep training methods and techniques.
What is Sleep Training?
Let’s get to the basics first.
Sleep training, or sleep teaching, is how we teach babies to fall asleep without their parents or you comforting them. That truly means no help: no rocking, swaying, singing, etc. The goal is for the baby to fall asleep and stay asleep independently. Sleep training also teaches the little one how to fall back asleep if they wake themselves up in the middle of the night. Which means you and their parents get more rest.
Sleep training, however, is not night weaning. Depending on the age of the child and their feeding schedule, the baby may still need to be awakened for night feedings.
When Do Parents Start Sleep Training?
Generally, most babies can begin sleep training sometime between 4-6 months of age. At this point, babies will have a circadian rhythm that allows them to fall asleep on their own. Be aware that parents may change things up after speaking with their pediatrician.
Depending on the technique and the unique needs of their little one, sleep training can be completed in as little as a few days or much longer.
What Are Effective Sleep Training Methods?
Some parents use one way or a combination of these techniques. If their baby isn’t picking up on one, they may try something new. Be sure to let the family know what your experience is in implementing the technique with their child.
Cry It Out or Extinction
This technique is simple. Once you put the baby down for the night, you leave the room and let them cry it out until they fall asleep. That means no matter how much they cry, you don’t return until the morning or their next feeding.
This can be a tough method for parents. Especially when they hear the wailing through the baby monitor. Be comforted though, it may be the quickest one. But some babies do learn to self-soothe and fall asleep in as little as three to four days.
For parents who don’t want to leave their child sobbing, suggest The Ferber method. The Ferber method, an adaptation of Cry It Out, may be a better choice for them. This is sometimes called the “graduated extinction” method.
As they’re sleep training their baby, the child is only allowed to cry for a specific period of time. If they’re still crying when they hit that mark, then you can enter and check on them and console. You may have to do this multiple times throughout the night. Gradually, you go longer and longer.
Hopefully, within several days your baby will get used to your absence and learn to self-soothe. It should be noted that some babies struggle with this method. Seeing their parent or you enter and exit can cause even more distress.
Like the Ferber method, the chair method involves gradually longer periods of time. In this technique, once the sleepy child is in their crib, you sit in a chair and watch them until they fall asleep. The chair should be next to the crib on the first night. Do not comfort or pick up the child.
The following night, do the same thing but place the chair farther away. And so on until your chair is next to the door. Then the next night out of the room. This method also takes some time, but like Ferber, the hope is that your baby will self-soothe after initially feeling comforted by your presence.
For this method, make sure to check with the family about placement and intervals if you’re not there every evening.
Pick Up, Put Down
This may be the longest sleep training method. It’s also often done in combination with the Ferber method.
Here you follow the baby’s usual bedtime routine. Put your child in the crib when they’re drowsy, but still awake. If they cry, wait a few minutes for settling. If the baby does not settle, pick them up and soothe them. As soon as they are calm, put them back into the crib and leave.
Repeat until the infant falls asleep.
This technique is more about adjusting the baby’s bedtime than typical sleep training. If you notice the baby is crying for long stretches during their bedtime routine, their internal clock may not match up to your plan.
So if you want to shift it closer to the family’s preferred schedule, shift bedtime back or forth 10-15 minutes each night until you reach the desired bedtime. This is a good technique to use with the other sleep training methods.
Any sleep training method you choose needs to be combined with a good bedtime routine. Consistency is key here. The baby is learning something new. Routines help them, you, and their parents stick to a plan and a sleep schedule. This is why it’s very important for you to stay informed on their routines. Especially if you aren’t with the child every night.
Remember to also put the baby to bed when they’re awake and tired. Watch out for signs like yawning or them rubbing their eyes and stretching.
Have Grace And Patience
If babies are struggling with sleep training, parents and families can become short-tempered. You can establish yourself as a center of calm and minimize conflict by sticking to their plan. Offer suggestions when asked rather than independently changing the sleep training method.
When to Call A Doctor
Generally, sleep training takes between a few days to a couple of weeks. If the family is still struggling with sleep training past two weeks, recommend they reach out to their doctor for tips and suggestions.
Some babies vomit while crying it out as they are trying to sleep. If this happens once, it’s not a major concern. But if it happens more than three nights in a row, a call to the pediatrician is a good idea.
Sleep training will be a (hopefully) brief, but significant phase in your time with a family. Best to be as prepared as you can. Connect with your next family and child on Sittercity.