It’s natural to help babies go to sleep by rocking or walking with them until their eyes get droopy and their breathing evens out.
However, it may not be possible to coddle them to sleep every night, so they need to learn how to fall asleep on their own. Fortunately, with sleep training, you may be able to teach a child to go to sleep by themselves.
What is sleep training, and how can it help you get babies to go to sleep on their own? If letting your son or daughter cry until they’re tired and fall asleep hasn’t worked, you can learn a variety of other techniques to try and get babies to settle down and fall asleep.
You’ll also learn when the appropriate time is for using sleep training with your child and how to avoid traumatizing them during it. The goal is to have your child go to sleep without crying or fussing every night, not to make them feel abandoned or insecure.
When to Start Sleep Training
While it depends on how well your baby’s development, in general, sleep experts recommend starting sleep training when they are four to six months old. By starting the training early, experts think that babies are too young to remember nightly routines like rocking or nursing them to sleep every night.
Four months old is also a good time for training because many babies go through “sleep regression” as their sleep cycles change so that they have longer periods of light sleep.
As well as changes in sleeping, babies are developing new skills like moving their limbs and rolling onto their tummies that can wear them out, making it easier for them to go to sleep.
Parents shouldn’t start sleep training babies younger than four months because their circadian rhythms have yet to begin developing. Also, they still need nightly feedings, which disrupts their sleep and prevents them from sleeping through the night.
The Problems with Letting Babies Cry
The “cry it out” method of letting a baby soothe itself to sleep first was recommended in the mid-1880s. Coddling a baby was thought to lead to a dependent child and adult, and children were also not to inconvenience adults. However, this school of thought started changing around the middle of the 20th century.
By studying this method, psychologists found that babies physically grow by being held, and problems of insecurity can develop if their cries are not answered.
Also, it showed that children became more dependent if they were taught to cry it out. Children whose parents or caretakers were attentive to their cries became more independent than those left to cry themselves to sleep.
However, a more recent study from Australia shows that babies who were left to cry it out fell asleep up to 15 minutes faster than other babies and they didn’t develop any residual effects from soothing themselves. Also, sleep training did not stress them out as once thought.
Before Training Your Baby
It's essential to establish a nightly routine before using sleep training to encourage babies to get to sleep on their own. At around two months old, you can start putting your baby in their cribs when they're drowsy to acquaint them with the idea that they can go to sleep without help or too much fussing.
Some sleep experts recommend feeding your child at the beginning of their nightly routine to keep him or her from associating feedings with going to sleep.
A routine can consist of feeding your baby, then giving them a bath, massage, and then dressing them in pajamas. They can be put into bed for bedtime stories before they’re left to fall asleep on their own.
There may be some fussing and crying until they learn that mom or dad will come back when they need them and that it’s okay to go to sleep by themselves.
Sleep Training Techniques
What is sleep training? Here are six methods for sleep training babies, including:
Check and Console
The check and console method is also known as the Ferber method or graduated extinction, among other names. It involves checking on the baby at preset intervals, like every three minutes, without feeding or rocking them to sleep since that means they’re not going to sleep on their own.
After going through their bedtime routine, you would put the baby in their crib, leave the room, and wait to check on them. Allow for a minute or two to pass before going in to check on your baby. If need be, you should reassure them of your presence, give their back or tummy a pat or rub, but refrain from picking him or her up.
Keep leaving and checking on your child but wait a little longer to check on them each time until you reach 10 to 15 minutes.
So, the first time you might wait a minute before checking on and reassuring them, then the next time you may wait two minutes. Keep extending the time between visits for another minute or so. Within a week, you should see some progress.
Cry it Out
The cry it out method is also known as the extinction method because you extinguish a baby's crying by not responding to it. So, if they cry when you leave the room, try to ignore them and let them cry themselves to sleep.
Using this method, parents would go through the regular bedtime routine, place the baby in their crib while they’re awake, and then leave the room.
If, or when, the baby starts crying, you try not to respond to it. While some parents can hold out for a few minutes, others may be able to allow their children to cry all night without responding to them.
Parents can usually tell if a baby is crying in earnest or only to get attention. For parents who elect to use this method, they may hear a lot of crying for the first couple of days, but then it should begin to taper off until the baby learns that crying doesn’t get the response they expect or want.
This sleep training method can be tough for parents because it involves sitting in a chair by the baby's crib to watch them cry as they fight going to sleep. When the baby falls asleep, the parents should leave the room, but come back if they wake up and start crying again.
Each time they cry, go back to the baby’s room and sit down to reassure them that you’re present. Then, move the chair a little further away from the crib on each subsequent night until it’s outside of the room. By then, your child should know you will come back if they need you and will fall asleep easier.
The shush-pat method, also known as the pick-up, put down, shush-pat method, involves picking the baby up when they start fussing or crying when trying to go to sleep on their own. Then, when they start to quiet down, but before they fall asleep, place them back in their crib.
For babies who are under the age of seven months, parents can stay in the room beside the crib to pat their babies backs or stomachs to soothe them. Then, when they settle down, you can leave the room. If the child starts to cry harder, parents can pick them up for soothing.
After they stop crying, and before going to sleep, parents should put them back in the crib. Parents can let older babies cry for a couple of minutes before checking on them and using the shush-pat method to calm and reassure them of their presence.
Bedtime Routine Fading Method
This method involves continuing to do what you've always done before putting your baby to bed, such as rocking or feeding them but gradually lessen the amount of time in which you do it. So, one week, you may choose to do it for only 20 minutes instead of 30 minutes. Then the next week, shorten it to 15 minutes. By shortening it, your baby should learn to go to sleep on their own.
Bedtime Hour Fading Method
The bedtime hour fading method is different than the previous one in that parents put their babies to bed at the same time they usually go to doze off every night. Then, as they get used to it, move up the time gradually until they are going to sleep at the time you desire.
So, if your baby is put down at 7:00 each night, but cries until they fall asleep around 8:00 pm, put them in their cribs between 7:50 to 8 pm each evening. The next week, if you want them to go to sleep earlier, say at 7:00, put them in bed 15 minutes earlier until you are putting them in bed at seven or just before that time.
It will take some patience and consistency to use these sleep training methods to teach your child to go to sleep on your own. However, you will be able to lay them in bed and have them go to sleep peacefully every time once you learn what is sleep training?
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