You may be looking up how to sleep train a baby before your little one even arrives. Sleep training is a great way to establish a healthy sleep routine and help your baby develop some important skills such as self-soothing.
Your baby’s sleep schedule will change several times throughout their first year of life. Sleep training can help combat sleep regression, which typically occurs around months three, six, and nine.
You can also rely on sleep training to help your child learn how to comfort themselves and become resilient, even during the natural period of separation anxiety that all babies start to experience when they’re about 7-months old.
Read on to learn what sleep training is, how old a baby should be to sleep train, and how you can get started. We’ll also offer some helpful tips to help you tackle some of the common problems parents face when they start sleep training.
What is sleep training?
Babies need a lot of sleep; newborns snooze up to 20 hours a day, while a 6-month-old baby will sleep anywhere between 14 to 17 hours a day. Babies will begin to sleep through the night around month two, but it can take some babies longer.
Sleep training can help your baby naturally adapt to sleeping through the night. You teach your baby how to sleep alone, how to fall asleep without too much coddling, and how to fall back asleep when they wake up.
Sleep training also regulates your baby’s sleep schedule, so they take naps approximately the same time every day and wake up at the same time every morning.
A good sleep schedule will not only make your baby happier, but it will help you get some much-needed rest and adjust your daily routine to parenthood.
When can a baby start sleep training?
Age is important. You can’t learn how to sleep train a 1-week-old, for example. At this age, babies are far too young to have a regular schedule and need all the comfort, cuddles, and reassurance in the world whenever they’re fussy.
Most experts recommend sleep training when a baby is around 4-months-old. Around 16 weeks, babies have fallen into a natural sleep-wake cycle that follows the traditional sleeping pattern throughout the night and waking early in the morning.
Most babies at this age will take two to three naps per day and sleep 10 to 12 hours at night. You shouldn’t worry about how to sleep train until you know that your baby is old enough and ready for the adjustment.
Signs your baby is ready
Every baby develops differently, so while some babies may never even need sleep training, others will take longer to fall into a normal routine.
Milestones vary, so one 4-month-old could be ready to sleep train while another has to slowly work up to it. Focus less on age and more on your baby’s development. If they display any of these signs, they may be ready to start sleep training.
- Have a nap schedule that they follow throughout the day.
- They have stopped most of their night feedings.
- They wake up less frequently throughout the night, and they are easy to put back to sleep.
If you aren’t sure whether your baby is ready for sleep training, talk to your pediatrician. They can also help give you some pointers on slowly introducing a bedtime routine and getting your baby comfortable before bedtime.
How to sleep train a baby for the first time
The first night you decide to introduce sleep training can be nerve-wracking. You may have been sharing your room with your baby up until this point. If this is the case, don’t put them in their nursery right away and expect them to fall asleep without fuss.
Instead, introduce them to their room a few days beforehand. Play in the nursery together, and let them spend time in their crib while you’re in the room with them.
Progress to taking daily naps in their crib. Then, when your baby is able to fall asleep and successfully nap in their own room, you can start sleep training them for the night.
Have a routine
Children thrive off consistency; a routine not only makes life easier but also encourages healthy development.
Your baby can have a bedtime routine just like we do. You may start with a warm bath followed by a light massage with some baby lotion.
You can also read them a book, put on some white noise or lullabies, and turn on their favorite mobile or a star projector.
Try to follow the same schedule as closely as possible every day. A few minutes here or there won’t make a big difference, but if you skip parts of your baby’s new routine, they will struggle more to adjust to sleep training.
Adapt to your baby’s health conditions
If your baby has reflux or sleep apnea, you will have to make accommodations. You should consult with your baby’s doctor and get their approval before you start to sleep train.
Doing so will ensure your baby is safe and reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
How to sleep train a baby with reflux
Acid reflux can put your baby at a high risk of choking during the night. Infant reflux is common, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. Some babies do not vomit their feedings back up; others have what is known as “silent reflux.”
Babies with this condition may experience painful symptoms that cause them to cry a lot, arch their backs, pull on their legs, and appear generally uncomfortable.
They may also wake frequently throughout the night, be prone to hiccups, and always seem to have a cough.
If you’ve ever experienced heartburn, then you’ll know what reflux feels like for your baby. There are a few ways you can help make your baby’s sleep more comfortable if they have reflux:
- Use an FDA-approved crib wedge or baby pillow to elevate your baby and help the acid stay in their stomach.
- Keep your baby upright for at least 30 minutes after every feeding.
- Avoid placing naptime too close to feedings. Leave at least an hour in between feeding and sleep.
The top 3 sleep training methods
Experts and parents alike have varying opinions on how to sleep train. Some believe that a child should learn how to self-soothe immediately while others advocate a gentler, more involved approach.
You will decide on how to sleep train based on your baby’s temperament and needs. You should not do anything you or your child are uncomfortable with, so remember that it’s okay to change your approach as you go.
Just make sure that once you decide on a sleep training model that you stick to it. Babies won’t benefit from a guilt-ridden parent who sweeps them into their arms every time they cry but leaves them alone later. This only confuses your child, upsets them, and will make it even harder for them to fall asleep.
The cry-it-out method
Many people will advocate this approach when you ask them how to sleep train. This is also the approach that many parents struggle to maintain because it requires letting your baby cry out for attention while you stand back and wait to reassure them.
Richard Ferber, a pediatrician at the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital Boston, suggests parents let their baby cry for short periods of time, then offer reassurance without picking them up. Gradually, you offer less reassurance as your baby becomes more adept at soothing themselves.
The no-tears method
Parents whose child does not do well with the cry-it-out method can try the no-tears approach. In this case, you soothe your baby to sleep as much as possible and comfort them as soon as they cry.
You should use the same words every time you prepare your baby for sleep, so they begin to associate it with bedtime. For example, you can say, “Shh, it’s time for bed,” or “It’s time to go to sleep.”
You should also set the right atmosphere by ensuring your baby’s nursery is comfortable, dark, and cool. Avoid placing any distracting items in or around their crib. They should fall asleep in a calm, quiet environment that makes it easy for them to doze off.
Following a schedule, your baby will gradually begin to grow tired and ready for sleep at the same time every day. You will find it easier to put them down for a nap and tuck them in for the night as time goes on, and they will eventually sleep through the night without any trouble.
The fading method
This tactic involves the parent sitting by the child’s crib and offering reassurance every five minutes or so. You gradually move the chair further from the crib each night until your baby is able to sleep without you present.
This is a good approach for the anxious parent who doesn’t want to just leave their baby alone right away, and for those whose babies have a difficult time falling asleep independently.
More tips on how to sleep train
Look for your baby’s cues. Your little one will begin to fall into their own sleep schedule, and you should try to adapt to their body’s needs.
Always take time off of naps before bedtime. When you’re learning how to sleep train, the most important thing is that your night schedule is consistent.
A baby who naps too much during the day will be less likely to stay asleep all night. Be patient. Your baby is learning how to sleep train right along with you. It’s a process, and you will both have to get used to things. Make sure both parents are on board.
One of the biggest setbacks for a baby who is learning how to sleep train is having one parent stick to a method while the other comes in to comfort them. Babies cry, and it doesn’t always mean they are in pain or need you.
The goal of sleep training is to regulate your baby’s sleep and teach them how to begin soothing themselves. This is a skill that will carry into other aspects of their life as well as they get older.