You’ve made it – welcome to Motherhood! Taking care of your little bundle of joy is a 24-hour job and although nothing beats snuggling and watching your precious baby grow before your eyes, this job is exhausting. Thoughts of sleeping through the night keep flashing through your very tired mind and you wonder if you’ll ever be able to recover the precious sleep you’ve lost. You begin researching and realize there is no right way to do this baby sleep thing. Everyone keeps offering their own advice when it comes to sleep training, but what actually works?
As a practicing pediatrician and a mother, the most important thing that I can tell you is that there is no “perfect plan”. Above all else, you need to do what is best for you and your family. I can, however, share my own thoughts, perspectives, and suggestions for sleep training. When speaking with my patients I always like to start with some concrete information about infant sleep from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The rules of infant sleep
First and foremost, when it comes to infant sleep, the concrete, hard rules from the American Academy of Pediatrics are as follows:
- Babies should be put on their back to sleep; Not their side or their stomach. The incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) has dropped dramatically since this campaign began several years ago.
- Babies should not have anything in their crib until after one year of age.
- Swaddling is not recommended after one month of age.
- No smoking around or near an infant. Cigarette smoke has been shown to increase the incidence of SIDS, as well.
- Do not co-sleep with your infant due to the risk of smothering.
- Keep their room cool with a fan close to them. Do not overheat your baby. Studies also show this decreases the incidence of SIDS.
- Do not utilize a used crib or mattress
More information can be found on the American Academy of Pediatrics informational website.
When to start sleep training
For the first few weeks of life, your baby is going to feed very erratically. There will be no schedule. Instinctively, they are starving and also need to sleep. So, don’t even think or worry about a schedule.
Then, after two weeks of life, they start to space or decrease the frequency of their feeding needs. However, you still don’t need to worry about establishing a sleep routine quite yet. They are very instinctual creatures. They eat when they are hungry and sleep when they need to.
The one caveat to this rule is a baby with an upset stomach. If a child has tummy issues like colic, or what I like to call angry bowel syndrome, they often times will eat to self-soothe and not because they are hungry. If your little one is feeding every one to two hours, arching their backs, needing to be consoled almost all the time or if they are extremely fussy or seem to have gas and are spitting up constantly, they may be in need of a tummy fix. I recommend trying a dose of Organic Nighttime Gripe Water to help ease their stomach discomfort while also promoting peaceful sleep or Organic Probiotic Gripe Water if your little one has an upset tummy during the day.
Tummy troubles can affect your baby’s ability to establish any sort of sleep routine. However, having said that, in my opinion with both personal and professional experience, and as demonstrated in medical studies, for the first four months of life, you do not need to put your baby on a sleep schedule or “sleep train” them.
After four months of life, they are much more capable of self-soothing and therefore, sleeping through the night. After four months of life, sleep training can begin.
How to sleep train
So, what exactly is sleep training? It is training your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep for an uninterrupted amount of time, hopefully, 8-12 hours a night. It’s tough to go through this process, especially with your first baby. Instinctually you will want to “rescue” your baby when they cry. However, uninterrupted sleep is so important for you as a parent and it is essential for your baby’s growth and development. Keeping this in mind may help make it easier for you to resist the urge to run to the crib. It did for me!
There are many different books that discuss the various approaches and methods to sleep training. In my experience, the one that works the vast majority of the time is the Ferber method.
With this method, I recommend starting on a weekend. Sleep may be lost with implementation so it is helpful to have a full day to catch up on the sleep that was lost. Also, establish a ritual before bedtime, such as reading a book, singing a song and/or turning on music. The ritual will act as a signal for your baby that it is time to sleep.
The hardest part of this method of sleep training is “Ferberizing”, or “progressive waiting”. Dr. Ferber describes his method in depth in his book titled, “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems”. Essentially, you put your baby to sleep while they are still awake, after your routine, then leave the room and allow your child time to fuss and cry. The first time you try this, I recommend five minutes of crying. Then, validate their crying only with your voice outside of their door. Do not go inside their room.
Continue to double your time of waiting over and over again until your child falls asleep. For example, 5 minutes the first time, then 10, then 20, then 40, etc. Or, you can do this in 10-minute increments. Just remember to only validate their crying each time with your voice. The key is to not go into their room and make physical contact or eye contact with them. When they wake up throughout the night, you use the same technique.
The first night will be extremely difficult emotionally, both for you and your baby. I find it helpful to encourage one parent or family member to be the “tough-love” designee because again, you will likely want to rescue your baby. Remember, they will be fine. They might be a bit hungry, but they will make up for missed meals in the morning. This hunger-drive will go away after two nights. The second night they often give in to sleep much quicker and by the third or fourth night, you have a sleeper! Yay!!
Moms, dads – you’ve got this! However, if you try, but are unable to follow through, take a breather and try again. It will all be good! Just remember, no matter how many books you read or advice you get, go with your gut and most importantly, do what’s right for you and your family!