1. Sleep is a learned skill
Parents will say to me, “Oh I thought sleep was an easy thing, you know, ‘sleep like a baby.’” But sleep is something we need to teach babies how to do. Sleep training is the first boundary we set. Parents need to think of it in these terms and say to their child, “I need to teach you how to sleep.” The job of parents is to hold their hand and help them through it.
The premise of my work is that children need to self soothe. It’s a skill that carries them throughout life. They’ll head to pre-school, play dates and other activities where they have to be on their own. They will need to learn to self-soothe.
2. Consistency is the number one factor for success
It’s confusing to the baby if sometimes you use music or white noise to get him to sleep and sometimes you don’t or sometimes you rock baby to sleep and sometimes baby sleeps in the car.
Be consistent in the way baby is to put to sleep during the day and night. Give clear messages.
3. Come up with a plan and stick to it
If you decide to let your baby cry it out, i.e. cry himself to sleep, have a plan in place and stick to it. There are various methods (Ferberizing, cold-turkey). But whatever you choose, stick to the plan. Sometimes people will have a plan and two days into it say it’s not working and give it up. And stick to your plan for a whole sleep cycle. A sleep cycle will vary depending on the age of your child. But generally we’re talking 11-12 hours of nighttime sleep. Write down the plan so husband and wife know it -even at 3am.
4. Be Patient
How long does sleep training last? 3 days to a little over a week usually. But know that daytime sleep training is different than nighttime sleep training. Daytime sleep training might take longer. Stick with it. I like to say nighttime sleep is the engine. Daytime is the caboose. It may take longer for the daytime naps to come along, but know that it’s coming.
5. Think long term
I’m not opposed to co-sleeping. But then you have to think long term, that is, co-sleeping every night and for every nap. Ask yourself how do you feel about co-sleeping when that child is 3-years old or 6-years old. You have to think it through. Will you continue to co-sleep when baby #2 comes along? If you kick your first child out of the bed for the second child that will likely create sibling issues.
6. Timing is important
Don’t try to do sleep training when the baby is only two weeks old. For the first three months of a baby’s life he/she needs to feel secure.
So when can you start sleep training? Talk to your pediatrician before starting any sleep training program. Assuming you have a healthy child with no underlying issues, I start when the child is at least 16 weeks old and weighs at least 12 lbs.
7. Quick fix vs. Solution
What about moms and dads who say it’s easier and faster to just get up and nurse or give the baby a bottle for 10 minutes in the middle of the night rather than listen to them cry it out for 45 minutes? There’s a quick fix and then there’s a solution. Feeding a child for 10 minutes and going back to sleep is a quick fix. But it’s not going to solve your child’s sleep issues.
Imagine you have a toddler and you’re cooking dinner and your child whines that he wants a cookie. It’s 6:45 and dinner is almost ready. You tell him “No cookie. You have to wait for dinner.” If you give in, guess what happens the next time? There’s even more whining and crying.
It’s the same way with extra nighttime feedings. It might fix the immediate problem, but it’s going to make some things worse.
8. Create a great sleep environment
Use black out shades and white noise machines. Establish a bedtime routine. Use transitional objects, like loveys to help your child sleep.
Make a distinction between night and day ime. Young babies don’t distinguish between night and day. To deal with this night-day confusion, I say have a dramatic wakeup i.e open the shades and turn on the lights. Let baby know it’s time to wake up.
9. Have a blueprint in place
Traveling, sickness and teething can disrupt a baby’s sleep. Don’t start a sleep training if you’re planning to take a trip or if your baby is sick. When your baby’s schedule is thrown off, that’s okay. Just have a blueprint for getting your child to sleep. You can always return to it.
10. Be kind to yourself
Parents may read this and say, “Oh no, I’ve been doing everything wrong.” Know that it’s never too late to set a boundary. You can always start anew.
I tell parents to be kind to themselves. Parenting is really hard. Parents might think that they’ve been doing everything wrong. But we are supposed to get it wrong and figure it out. Be kind to yourself.
Annika Brindley, Annika’s Little Sleepers, Washington, DC