Every baby is different, and unfortunately their eating and sleeping patterns can change from one week to the next. Your new baby did not come with a handbook, and his/her development can’t be based on what your older sister did for her baby at the same age. Some babies sleep splendidly as soon as they are home with you, while others may struggle to sleep soundly until they are toddlers. Is there a strategy or technique for teaching your baby to sleep on their own?
Before parenthood, many of us thought that we’d simply be able to feed our newborn and gently place them down to sleep, without any issues or hassle. Instead, parents often discover that their baby may fall asleep after being fed and then rocked to sleep, but as soon as they are placed in their crib the crying starts. A popular concept referred to as “sleep training” may be something to consider.
Sleep training involves helping your baby to fall asleep on their own, without nursing, rocking or using a pacifier. It’s not just having your child “cry it out”, but the concept behind teaching your child they have the ability to fall asleep on their own. Experts state that whatever tools you are using to help your baby fall asleep at night will be the same things they look for in the middle of the night when they need soothing. If they are relying on your soft arms to hold them, while rocking them to sleep, they will miss that comfort and movement when they realize they are in their crib alone. With sleep training, the goal is to comfort your child so they are drowsy but not fast-asleep before lying down for the night. Inevitably, this causes tears, especially in the beginning.
Experts disagree on how much crying is acceptable during sleep training. But research does show that babies older than six months may benefit from sleep training and “controlled” crying. Again, every child achieves developmental milestones at different times so it’s important to know your baby and follow his/her cues. To a parent’s benefit, most pediatricians state that there’s no evidence suggesting it’s psychologically damaging to let a baby cry, as long as it’s for a reasonable amount of time.
Good sleep habits are important regardless if you are 2 or 22 years old. Being able to fall asleep well – and stay asleep – is an important life skill no matter what age you are. Putting a healthy sleep routine into place for your child will help minimize the amount of crying as your child grows and matures. Of course, in the beginning, it may be quite hard to hear those cries and see those tears, but don’t give up.
Around the age of 4 months, babies tend to go through a sleep regression because sleep cycles change. During this time, babies sleep a bit lighter making it a good time to begin working on their sleep development skills. However, if you have a 9-month-old and you’ve never tried to work on a sleep routine, it’s nevertoo late to start. Some experts believe there are benefits to beginning a sleep routine a little later, too. Older babies can typically sleep all night without feedings and they also tend to understand routines better, day or night. Every situation is different, so it’s best to consult with your pediatrician before you implement a sleep-training method. It’s especially important to discuss any thoughts on withholding night-time feedings on younger babies (under 5 months).
Make sure you follow a regular schedule and put your child to bed at a consistent time. This can begin as early as 2 months. By placing your child in bed when they are a bit drowsy but still awake and establishing a calming routine like feeding them and then a bath, will help your child respond better and be ready for sleep.
There are many different methods highlighted in books and articles. Finding the right method for you and your family may take some trial and error. There may be crying and some fussing at night in the beginning of a new sleep training implementation. Keep in mind, if your baby is old enough not to need food in the middle of the night, is active, healthy and happy during the day, one of the most important benefits necessary to thrive is sleep. Doing what you can to create a comfortable sleep oasis is important to your child’s development.
As your child continues to grow, he/she will have the skills needed to fall asleep without too much fuss. Sure, sleep routines will change due to illness, vacations, daycare and/or school, but offering as much consistency as possible and being tuned in to their needs will help all of you adapt to change accordingly. Trying to stay on track with your child’s good routines and not acquire bad habits will be an important part of a restful night’s sleep!
If you would like to learn more about healthy sleep habits for your child, please contact the Association of Childcare Physicians by calling (618) 235-2311 or by visiting our website. Dr. Kellow and Dr. Shaw want your children to stay healthy and safe, learning beneficial sleep habits early.