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If your baby is at least 4 months old, you can begin to implement sleep training. Although it can be emotional to transition your baby to a sleep schedule, both mama and baby will greatly benefit from extended sleep periods. Generally, sleep methods are based around the idea of your child being put in his crib drowsy but awake. For a baby, he should be about 90% asleep, but just aware enough to realize he’s being placed in his crib. Remember not to purposefully over-tire your baby in hopes of him sleeping longer; this always backfires! The more sleep your baby gets in the day, the more sleep he’ll enjoy at night. Sleep begets sleep.
As the mom, you have freedom to choose a training method that fits your family and feels right for this specific child. No matter what method you choose to follow, here are some universal truths about babies and sleep:
- If your child is overtired when you put him to bed, it will only be harder for both of you. Observe your baby and chose the right timing to begin sleep training. An early bedtime is the most likely to succeed.
- Carefully consider and choose the best sleep training method for your family and this baby. You might even adopt a combination of a couple methods. Do your research ahead of time, and once implementation starts be consistent.
- Consistency, consistency, consistency! This can’t be stressed enough. Baby is too small to read between the lines and make new sleep habits by himself. He is relying on you to teach him how to sleep.
- During any sleep training method, early bedtime is key. You can always push bedtime back an hour, but start early so you don’t run the risk baby is too tired to sleep well through the night.
Now let’s jump into the meat and potatoes of the most popular sleep training methods. Read the summaries below, and do your own research. Talking to your health care provider about creating an individual plan specific to your child is also a great idea. Don’t feel pressured to adopt the same method your friend or cousin or neighbor chose. Do what is right for you and your family, and this specific child. And then stick to it.
- Cry It Out Method: You’ve finished your bedtime routine, kissed your babe goodnight, placed him in his crib, and now you leave the room. That’s it. Don’t go back in and check on him or soothe him. Give him the opportunity to learn how to soothe himself. This is usually the quickest and most effective method depending on the temperament of your babe. Many sleep experts consider it less confusing than methods encouraging you to check on baby. However, this method is the toughest on mom and dad, and many parents abandon it after night one. It’s not easy hearing that baby cry! If you do stick it out, you should see results very quickly.
- Timed Checks (also know as Ferberizing): This method is based on Cry It Out, adding timed checks that increase everyday. You put babe in his bed and leave the room. If he immediately starts crying, wait 2 minutes. Then enter the room, console him for about 5 seconds, and leave the room again. Continue this until he falls asleep. The next day, do the same thing, but this time give him 5 minutes to cry and self-soothe before you enter his room. The way you apply this method depends on you. You can choose to start with 10 minute increments instead of 2 minutes, and increase each day by 5 minutes. It really depends on what mom and dad can emotionally handle. And be consistent once you make a plan. When you do enter the room to soothe babe, don’t soothe him for more than a few seconds, or you’ll start the whole process from the beginning. You’re still trying to teach him to soothe himself to sleep.
- Chair Method: This method is a bit different. After you put your child in his crib, sit on a chair near him to reinforce you have not left him alone. The first night you can leave the chair close to the crib and use your voice to soothe him when he cries. Over the next several nights, gradually move the chair further from the crib until the chair is outside the room and babe can’t see you. At this point he’ll still hear you talking to him if he cries. If he wakes up in the middle of the night, sit in the chair and do the same exercise, talking to him gently until he soothes himself to sleep. Eventually there will be no need for the chair.
- Fading Technique: After you place your child in his crib, start patting his back and/or use your voice to “sshhh sshhh sshhh” him for however long it takes him to fall asleep. Don’t pick him up. Just pat and “sshhh.” This method takes a long time to fully work and is usually used for children who were used to being rocked or walked to sleep. They will gradually learn to self-soothe from this method, but “gradual” is the key word. Don’t expect babe to transition quickly with this method.
- Pick-Up, Put-Down Method: This is a gentle method used for babies under 9 months old. It can take a long time to fully implement, but can be soothing to mom if you’re not ready for a more aggressive method. Put baby in his crib. If at any time he starts to cry, pick him up, calm him, and put him back down. You repeat this until he falls asleep. Make sure you don’t soothe him to the point of falling asleep on you. You still want him to be semi-alert when you place him back in the crib so he can learn to self-soothe.
Consider the sleep training methods above, and discuss them with your husband. Encourage each other as you implement your chosen method (or combination of methods), and be consistent. Any method can be difficult and heart-wrenching in the beginning. But if you are consistent, you should see results that bring sweet sleep to the whole family.