Have you ever heard of sleep training? This is a process that may become part of your professional child care routine, as well as if you are a parent. Sleep training is the process of helping a baby learn how to fall and stay asleep for 7 or more hours. In theory, it sounds like it should be easy, but sleep training can be a challenge if you do not stay consistent and patient. As many of you already know, newborns and sleep (especially at night) do not go well together. Typically they catch small cat naps throughout the day that can throw off everyone’s daily and nightly schedule. Just like anything else, babies need help learning how to sleep on their own for extended periods of time.
There are many different methods and schools of thought about which sleep training technique is the “right” one, but the truth of the matter is that it all depends on the parents and their individual child’s needs. Every baby is different; some have no trouble developing a regular sleep routine or sleeping for eight hours straight while others need help feeling comfortable and developing normal, healthy sleep patterns. What method you choose to use all depends on the needs and personality of your individual child. One fact is always true: the earlier you instill good bedtime habits in your little one, the easier it will be for them to develop a healthy sleep schedule.
Sleep plays a huge role in everyone’s life, especially babies. Sleep training babies is important because it helps them to develop lifelong healthy sleep habits. When babies are just born, their bodies do not produce enough melatonin to know whether it’s day or night. This is why it is totally normal for newborns and infants to require feeding every few hours and to have very sporadic sleep patterns. Sleep training should never be attempted on a newborn. Newborns require round-the-clock feedings and have not begun to establish their own biological rhythms. During this time it’s completely normal for your infant to only sleep an hour or two at a time.
So how do you know when your baby is ready to start implementing sleep training? When a baby is about 3 to 4 months old and night feedings decrease, they will begin to develop their own sleep schedule. If you notice your baby is having a hard time falling asleep and/or staying asleep they most likely have a sleeping issue and you should start thinking about sleep training around this time. Here are just a few signs that your baby is ready for sleep training:
- -Generally, babies that weigh at least 12 pounds and are at least 4 months old can begin sleep training.
- -If you can stretch the amount of time between feedings without issue, your baby may be ready for sleep training.
- -The baby has periods of being awake and alert for at least two hours during the day.
- -If the baby has a healthy appetite and regular evening eating schedule.
- -If the baby has the ability to learn a new way to sleep. This largely depends on the observations and beliefs of the parents. Remember, every baby is different.
Here are some of the basic methods below. When choosing a sleep training method, it’s of utmost importance to consider the child’s personality, temperament and habits, as well as the levels of commitment and patience of the parents/sitter.
Method: The Cry-It-Out Method, also known as the CIO Method or Progressive-Waiting Approach.
Founder: Richard Ferber, Director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital Boston.
How it Works: Criticized by some as cruel, the CIO Method involves putting a baby to bed and letting it cry for short intervals, with regular check-ins by mom, dad or the sitter. Ferber recommends letting the child cry for gradually increasing increments of time. For more details, check out Noobmommy.com.
Method: The No Tears Method, also known as the No Cry Sleep Solution and No Cry Sleep Training.
Founder: Elizabeth Pantley
How It Works: This rather Pavlovian-method focuses on the sleep associations of babies. These can be sucking a bottle or pacifier, breastfeeding, rocking the baby to sleep, etc. The parent or sitter utilizes a “Gentle Removal Plan” by giving the baby a pacifier, bottle, or breast, and then continually taking it away as the baby falls asleep. The idea behind this is that the baby will gradually learn what it feels like to fall asleep without associating a specific object or action with it. Critics of the No Tears Method claim that this approach can cause the child to grow dependent.
Method: Karp’s Five S’s
Founder: Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block
How It Works: Karp’s sleep training technique operates on the assumption that humans are born less developed when compared to other mammals. Karp believes the first three months of life are like the “fourth trimester” and that babies will instantly relax and therefore sleep, when they are made to feel safe, as if still in the womb. Karp’s 5 S’s are:
- Swaddle – Swaddling recreates the tight confinement of the womb.
- Side/Stomach position – This is not a sleep position, rather a relaxing position where the baby is held on the right side, slightly face down.
- Shushing – The loud “sssh” sound that Karp recommends is meant to imitate the sound of white noise that is present in the womb.
- Swinging – A gentle but constant swinging or jiggling of the head reminds babies what it felt like in the womb.
- Sucking – Karp is a strong proponent of pacifiers as sleep associations and recommends using them.
Those who oppose Karp’s Five S’s argue that keeping a tightly swaddled or stomach-down is dangerous and, if the baby is left that way, can contribute to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Regular routines and sleep schedules are important, just as important as getting everyone caring for the child to be on the same page. When embarking on the sleep training journey, everyone involved should sit down and discuss the plan and what they are trying to accomplish together. It’s important that everyone remains reasonable and realistic. For example, the cry-it-out method can be especially difficult for sitters or nannies.
After sleep training starts, it’s important to communicate and check in regularly.These regular check-ins may seem awkward at first but open lines of communication are just as important as consistency in sleep training. Sometimes it may be easier for parents and sitters to keep a journal to record sleep times and patterns. Sleep training is not for everyone but we hope that this has brought some light to the topic. When used properly it can have many benefits for the babies now and into their adult life.
-Written by Elizabeth