In the early weeks of a newborn’s life, a parent’s number one priority is caring for the new baby’s every need, with frequent feedings, diaper changes, and snuggles. Usually around the third or fourth month of a child’s life, a sleep pattern starts to emerge. But, what if it doesn’t? What if those months of sleepless nights start to catch up to you, and your baby hasn’t figured out how to sleep soundly either? It’s time to start looking at techniques for sleep training your newborn before they become a toddler.
Believe it or not, many new parents unwittingly have set bad sleep habits for their newborn. An article in Parents Magazine states that if your 6-month old is still actively waking in the night, it’s definitely time to initiate a more rigid sleep program. It will benefit everyone in your household, including your new baby that needs sleep to achieve optimum health. Following is a 7-day plan that can be helpful for your newborn (or even older child) when trying to achieve a better sleep routine.
Day 1: Set up a Routine
It’s easy to understand why most babies get their nights and days mixed up. In the early days of their life, they are mainly eating, sleeping, and soiling their diapers! Taking long naps during the days will only encourage more restless nights. Research today concludes that even early on, babies can be taught the difference between day and night, but it’s our job as parents to set the schedule.
To begin, wake up your baby early tomorrow and get in the routine of waking up at the same time each day. It also helps to position their crib or bed near a window, with the blinds up. By taking advantage of natural light, if they do wake up at night and see it’s dark out, they will begin to understand it’s time to go back to sleep.
When it’s almost time for bed, begin the same rituals. Quiet time, pajamas, reading…this will also help your baby transition into a nighttime of restful slumber.
Day 2: Keep practicing
Routines don’t happen over-night. You may need to slowly introduce feedings at certain times and a sleep/wake schedule. Does a nighttime bath soothe your baby? Maybe introduce this as a routine event. It’s important to take cues from the baby to see what they like and dislike. What’s important is to keep the nighttime events relaxed, while any daytime feedings and experiences are more lively and playful. This will help your child begin to see the difference between the two timeframes.
Day 3: Pushback begins
After months of restless nights, expect an unfavorable response during sleep training in the beginning. Crying will happen. As parents, it’s treacherous to hear them cry. Experts want to also reassure parents that psychological harm is NOT happening when all other needs are being met for the child during this time. The younger the infant, the easier this entire process will be. Children 6 months and older tend to cry it out more because they’ve been accustomed to the old routine. If the crying is too much to take, go in the room periodically for reassurance but limit the visit to 5 minutes each time that first night. It’s also important to keep him in his crib, keep the light off, etc.
Day 4: Hang tough
The longer it takes to fully implement the new sleep routine, ultimately the harder it will be on all of you. If that first night was an epic fail and you just couldn’t let your little one cry it out, picking him up and a rocking him until he fell asleep in your arms, try, try again. If you are inconsistent with the program and eventually give in each time, your baby will realize this and cry even longer, expecting you to appear in the bedroom like you’ve done every night before.
Day 5: Is it working?
Typically, it takes 3-5 days for babies and toddlers to adjust to this new routine. If there is still crying or restlessness, lengthen the response time. The Parents Magazine article states that checking on the baby is really for the parents’ benefit. If you notice you are fueling your child’s reaction each time you go in, peek in through the door instead but do nothing else.
Also, at about 12 pounds or 3-4 months, most infants are ready to give up night feedings. If night feedings are still happening, keep them quiet, quick, and comforting. Don’t sing to them and turn on the lights so that they can soon fall back to sleep after the feeding.
Day 6: It’s working!
Your sleep routine has been irregular for quite some time, so those first few nights of your baby sleeping blissfully (or waking up but able to fall back to sleep on her own) will seem surreal at first. On Day 6, it’s time to relax. Dress him in warm pajamas so you don’t have to worry about kicking off covers, turn the monitor down some so you only hear it if there’s really distress in the crying. If you DO hear crying, don’t rush in. At this point your child should be able to calm himself.
Day 7: Now it’s your turn
You have your sleep back, and have given your child the important gift of sleep. There will be setbacks, even for children who are typically good sleepers. You can always fall back on this program that worked when your child was young, expecting an easier transition the second (or even fifth!) time around.
Have more questions about your child’s sleep pattern? The Association of Childcare Physicians can help.
If you have questions about ways to help your child have a restful night’s sleep, or any other overall wellness concerns, please give Dr. Shaw or Dr. Kellow a call at 618-235-2311. If it’s time for a check-up, visit http://childcarephysicians.com to set up an appointment today.