Rethink Infant Sleep Training
What is sleep training, anyway? Sleep training is often used synonymously with the cry it out, but thats not accurate. There are plenty of sleep training methods out there. The cry it out sleep training method is just one of them. But in the end, all sleep training methods are about the same thing: teaching your baby that theyre capable of falling asleep independently. Learning to self-soothe in the middle of the night will not only help your little one get more sleep, but you as well.
How To Sleep Train Your Baby
While it is true that sleep training is way tougher on you than your baby, that doesnt mean you need to suffer while you navigate this big baby milestone. In fact, sleep training doesnt have to mean buckets of tears for you or your baby! Heres everything you need to know about sleep training basics, from when to start sleep training to how.
What We Found When The Children Were Six Was No Difference To Their Sleep And No Difference To Their Behaviour Harriet Hiscock
When the children were six years old, the researchers found no difference on any measure negative or positive between those who were sleep trained and those who weren’t, including in their sleep patterns, behaviour, attachment, or cortisol levels.
“What we found was no difference to children’s sleep, no difference to children’s behaviour, and parents were no more harsh, abusive or disengaged from their children,” says Harriet Hiscock, one of the study’s authors and a fellow at Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council.
The study’s finding that sleep training can reduce sleep problems for some families in the short term, meanwhile, is consistent with a large body of research. One authoritative 2006 review of 52 studies found that more than 80% of children who received an intervention demonstrated “clinically significant improvement that was maintained for three to six months”.
But there was no objective sleep measure used in more than 77% of the studies included in the 2006 review part of the reason why, of the 52 studies reviewed, the researchers considered only 11 of them to have high-quality data. There also was no objective measure used in Hiscock’s study. As one review of sleep training research put it, “there are weaknesses” even in many of the randomised controlled trials, “as many intervention studies have used parental reports, questionnaires and diaries, and not objective measurements such as actigraphy data, as outcomes”.
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Eventually With Or Without Training Most Children Stop Requiring A Caregiver’s Help At Night
Whether families choose to sleep train or not, there is good news: eventually, with or without training, most children stop requiring a caregiver’s help at night.
One study of more than 4,000 children, for example, found that 71% of five-month-olds who regularly woke at night stopped night wakes by 20 months, and 89% ceased by 4.5 years old. .
The bottom line on sleep training?
“It’s only worth doing when parents want to do it and see it as an issue they need help with,” says Hiscock. “I meet parents who might be up three, four, five times a night, but they’re happy to be, or they’re coping and managing with that.”
Mindell agrees. “If you’re rocking a baby to sleep at four months of age, they’re waking once a night, it’s working for the family, why would you mess with success? Why would you do sleep training?
“We only really recommend it when there’s a problem,” she says.
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Pick A Realistic Start Date
Choose a block of time, ideally about three weeks, during which you dont expect any major disruptions or changes in your household, including trips, moving, or the arrival of a new baby. Some families decide to start sleep coaching during a summer or winter vacation so the grown-ups wont have to juggle sleep training with work. Thats a good strategy, but be careful to keep your childs schedule consistent even if yours is not. For instance, dont introduce a nice, sensible 7:30 p.m. bedtime the very week you plan to let her stay up until 10:00 with the grandparents on Christmas Eve, or are going to have a horde of entertaining young cousins camping out in your back- yard over the Fourth of July.
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Key Ingredients For The Sleep Zone
Becoming a pro at the Feed Play Sleep routine, and transitioning baby to sleepy time when theyre primed for zzzs is great, but if their sleep environment is not ideal all your routine efforts might be pointless.
To help ensure your baby stays asleep for as long as their tiny body needs, mix the following goodies into your babys sleep zone:
- Darkness. Bust out the black-out curtains in your babys room, as darkness tells the brain to release melatonin, a hormone thats critical for sleep. To help baby associate darkness with sleepiness, and brightness with playfulness, keep them in well-lit rooms when youre in the feed and play portions of your daily routine.
- Cool Temperature. Stickiness and sweatiness: two things that are super distracting when youre trying to sleep. Set your baby up for satisfying sleep by helping them stay cool.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends a baby be dressed in light clothing for sleep and to keep the room at a temperature that is comfortable for an adult, which is generally a cooler temperature. In addition, a study published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine reported that using a fan during sleep reduced the risk of SIDS by 72%.
Not only will these ingredients help baby go to sleep but will also offer cues that its still time for sleep if they wake up in the middle of the night.
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The Sleep Training Ferber Method
This method, invented by Dr Richard Ferber, is also known as the sleep training cry-it-out method, or the check-and-console method.
Once youve put your baby down in bed with their soothing bedtime music or night lights, you leave the room, and if they protest, you come back in and stroke them and soothe them with words, like there, there, or goodnight baby, go to sleep, or your words of choice, before leaving again.
If they cry or protest, you go back in, again, stroke and soothe them, preferably not picking them up, and leave again till they fall asleep.
If they continue to cry, you stick to the same routine, adding a minute each time before going back into the room.
This takes a while as this can go on for an hour or more, but no one said sleep training was easy!
The point of the Ferber method is to reassure the baby that you are always there, but its bedtime now, so its time to sleep.
This method is taken from a more extreme version of the Ferber Method, and the most controversial, the Extinction Method, which is also known as the sleep training Cry it Out method.
This was invented by Marc Weissbluth and entails taking your child to bed, saying goodnight, and leaving them there to cry it out until they go to sleep.
Many experts and parents highly criticise this method and, since there are many other ways to get a child sleeping through the night on their own, deem it unnecessary.
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Will Sleep Training Work For Older Babies Or Toddlers
While your toddler may have slept through the night as a baby, they may now have some sleep issues youd like to correct. If theyre fighting sleep, crying out for mom and dad in the middle of the night, or refusing to stay in their big kid bed, sleep training may be appropriate for toddlers as well.
If your child is older, youll want to consider your childs personality and age when choosing a sleep training method.
Some popular sleep training options for older children include:
- The fading method: Similarly to the pick up, put down method, this method can work well for children who are used to being rocked or physically comforted to sleep, as it employs a more gradual approach.
- The cry it out method: We wont lie, this method can be difficult on parents ears! However, this may be your fastest bet if you have a determined, strong-willed toddler!
- Camp it out method: If youre trying to transition your toddler to a new bed or environment, sleeping next to them for a few nights might be enough to give them the confidence they need.
Just like with a younger baby, youll want to consider any age-specific milestones that might indicate that its not a great time to work on sleep training, such as if your child is experiencing , an illness, or a big change in their routine.
Cry It Out Sleep Training Method
Cry it out is the most widely known sleep training method and it requires you to not intervene if your baby is fussy or crying when you put them down at bedtime. This is sometimes called the extinction sleep training method. Since some babies have specific health or feeding needs, its not a bad idea to speak to your babys pediatrician before starting CIO.
How to do it: Here, theres no rocking or nursing your baby to sleep. Instead, with the cry it out sleep training method, you feed, burp, and change your baby and put them in their bassinet drowsy, but still awake. You say goodnight and then…leave. You exit if your baby is softly cooing and about to drift off…or if theyre fussing or crying. And once you leave, youre not to come back until your babys next scheduled feeding or they wake in the morning. This, of course, means you need to try your darndest to tune out your babys tears. And, well, it can be rough.
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Pick An Effective Start Date
There’s never a perfect time to start sleep training, but avoid scheduling it around major events in your baby’s life Most parents begin on Friday to take advantage of the upcoming weekendand some use vacation days so they won’t have to worry about sleep deprivation at work. And remember: You’ll always be more successful if your baby has been napping well.
Where Should My Baby Sleep
For the first 6 months your baby should be in the same room as you when theyre asleep, both day and night. This can reduce the risk of SIDS .
Particularly in the early weeks, you may find your baby only falls asleep in your or your partners arms, or when youre standing by the cot.
You can start getting your baby used to going to sleep without you comforting them by putting them down before they fall asleep or when theyve just finished a feed. It may be easier to do this once your baby starts to stay alert more frequently or for longer.
If you use a baby sling to carry your baby, make sure you use it safely. The Lullaby Trust has information about swaddling your baby and using slings safely.
No One Should Ever Do That To A Three
Hall once received a telephone call from a concerned grandmother, she says, saying that her son and his wife had taken their three-month-old to a sleep trainer. “The sleep trainer had been basically really hard line, and this kid was now seven months old and was having huge attachment issues,” Hall says. “I just wrote her back and said, no one should ever do that to a three-month-old. They don’t have object permanence, they don’t know that if you’re not in the room you haven’t disappeared from the planet. It’s psychologically damaging.
“And this is the problem with having a lot of people out there who just put up a shingle and start working with parents and telling them what they should or shouldn’t do, without an understanding of what they’re potentially doing to these babies.”
For some babies, there are no tears, while for others, it can be hours of crying
Older babies’ reactions can vary. For some, tears are brief or non-existent. For others, it can be hours of crying, even to the point of vomiting . And while methods like camping out where parents stay in the room but don’t pick up, nurse or cuddle the baby often are considered gentler, they can upset and confuse some babies more than harder-line strategies and tend to take longer.
This article is the second part of a two-part special Family Tree report by Amanda Ruggeri on safe and healthy baby sleep. Read the first part here, on the biggest myths of baby sleep.
Crying it out but still waking up
How Do I Sleep Train
Once you are confident that its time to start the sleep training process, youll likely want to do some research to determine the right approach for your child.
There are many different methods to tryfrom gentle sleep training to cry-it-outand plenty in between. I encourage you to focus on what you think is most realistic for your family and not to compare your baby to anyone elses child or experience.
All babies are different, and each child will require a slightly different approach, so its important that you consider your little ones unique traits and base your sleep training approach on that.
Determining your childs sleep profile is one way you can figure out the best approach to take with your child during the sleep training process.
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Sleep Training Will Severe The Bond Between You And Your Baby
Babies cry for several reasons, and sometimes for no reason at all. Remember, they love attention.
As long as you provide everything necessary for your babys comfort, crying will not damage your bond even if they cry for a while.
But the relationship between you and your child is in danger from exhaustion by sleep deprivation which may increase postpartum depression.
With the help of a sleep consultant, you and your baby can finally get some rest.
A Note About Sids: Safe Sleep Is Critically Important
No one likes to talk about sudden infant death syndrome it is a terrifying topic. SIDS is defined as the sudden death of an infant, which remains unexplained after a thorough investigation. These deaths occur in the first year of life, with the highest risk occurring between 2 and 6 months of age. Fortunately, these deaths are becoming less common, thanks in large part to the early 90s Back to Sleep campaign, which urged parents to place infants to sleep on their backs. Suffocation is also a major risk for infants if they do not sleep in a safe sleeping environment.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended the following practices, which have been demonstrated to make sleep safer for babies:
Put your child to sleep on her back only .
Use a firm mattress with no loose pillows, blankets, stuffed animals or any other soft materials that can cause suffocation. This includes crib bumpers and sleep positioners.
Avoid tobacco smoke, alcohol or drug exposure during pregnancy and in infancy.
Encourage use of a pacifier through at least 6 months of age by offering it at bedtime and nap time.
Obtain all regular childhood immunizations.
Avoid overheating. Your child needs only one more layer than you are wearing.
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Crucial Step In Starting Sleep Training
Some of the initial steps in sleep training include creating an ideal environment for scheduled sleep and establishing a bedtime routine. Though you can start implementing both of these as soon as you bring your baby home, we know that newborn sleep is rarely predictable and having a set bedtime routine is unrealistic. When your baby is 2-4 months of age, they reach a stage where they learn to be able to go a couple of hours without feeding, and to self-soothe. This window for behavioral sleep training is a golden one.
Sleeping training can be difficult because caregivers need to be consistent with when bedtime is, where it takes place, and how its initiated. Being able to figure out the right time and place can be overwhelming, but if you have already been tracking your babys sleep up to this point, the routine you notice in your logs should give you a great idea of when to initiate training in a sustainable way that wouldn’t come as a shock to your baby.
How To Cope With Your Newborns Erratic Sleep Habits
Even though we understand how physically draining your babys unpredictable snoozes are to you, it is perfectly normal for them. This aids their development and wont last forever. Thats why experts advise that you wait until they are developmentally ready to handle sleep training.
Meanwhile, take sneak naps when you can. As soon as the baby is down for the count, get some shuteye.
Set the mood. Play some quiet music in the background, dim the lights and keep loud noises away. When your baby is too fussy to settle down and sleep, setting a sleep-inducing mood might do the trick.
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