When my children were young I remember wondering if I would ever have a good night’s sleep again. Or finally hitting the pillow but being too anxious to fall asleep because I knew that once I was asleep, most likely the baby or one of my older children would wake me for some reason. Sound familiar?
I have worked with new parents and babies for almost twenty years and without a doubt one of the biggest stressors in their world is lack of sleep–particularly lack of uninterrupted nighttime sleep. No wonder “sleep training” has become such a popular topic. So what exactly is “sleep training?” After speaking with dozens of pediatricians, child psychologists, parents and “sleep specialists” what I discovered is that there doesn’t seem to be a precise definition, but most believe it involves leaving a distressed baby alone until he/she learns to fall asleep (AKA “crying it out”). As far as my company’s tried and tested baby sleep training tactics go, this is a misconception. There are other sleep training strategies that can work for you and your baby, leading to a restful night’s sleep for everyone!
There are of course no rules that say your child must sleep through the night or sleep in his own bed by a certain age. There are many different philosophies and practices regarding babies and sleep, and ideally you will find one that works for you and your family. The professional sleep training advice I provide in The Baby Nurse Bible, is relevant to families who are looking for specific solutions to get their baby to sleep better at night.
Sleep is a necessity, but it is also a learned behavior. Babies, and adults too, wake many times during the night. We aren’t even aware of how many times we wake and fall back asleep. As adults we have learned how to get ourselves back to sleep without much effort. Babies, on the other hand, who are continually placed in their cribs while already asleep are not given the chance to learn this behavior.
By about three months old, some infants are able to sleep for long stretches at night without feeding or soothing. However, if your baby is accustomed to being soothed as means to falling asleep he is probably not sleeping as well as you would like him to—and thus you are not sleeping as well as you’d like to!
Soothing methods such as feeding or rocking can be helpful to initially calm your baby, but it’s best that he doesn’t rely on them to fall asleep again (if you want to avoid repeating the cycle the next time he wakes). Whether it is a bottle, breast, or rocking, weaning this habit will allow your baby to learn to fall asleep on his own. Again, I am not implying that parents who choose not to do this are wrong. This is just the approach that my team uses and we’ve gotten results.
Babies are not capable of distinguishing between what they need and what they want. Our goal as parents (or sleep specialists) is to make that distinction. Your baby CAN learn to fall back to sleep on his own. You can’t teach him not to wake up, but once he learns to soothe himself and to fall asleep on his own, his wakings will be brief and he will be on the road to developing good sleep habits.
Keep in mind, it is impossible to predict how long it will take to instill a successful sleep routine. It may be several hours of protests and multiple wakings for the first three nights or for the first three weeks. Halfhearted efforts will not work. But if you stick with it, the length of crying will decrease progressively over a period of days to weeks. The number of wakings will also decrease as a result. So if you’re looking for peaceful nights that lead to well-rested parents and baby, give sleep training a try.