After many a bleary-eyed morning, the question all new parents want answered is “how do you sleep train a baby?” Although there are different ways to sleep train a baby, and each sleep training method will have its pros and cons, there are some sleep training mistakes common to many tired parents. Sleep training is not just about baths and story time. The end goal is to help your child learn to go from being awake to being asleep independently. This list will help you prepare for success when your child is ready for sleep training. And if your first sleep training attempts were unsuccessful, it will help you recognize where you can improve.
Mistake #1: Starting Sleep Training at the Wrong Time
How to sleep train baby may not be as important as when to sleep train. Sanjeev Bhatala, a member of the Canadian Pediatric Society’s Early Years Task Force, believes “there’s good evidence that once babies are six months old, [sleep training] doesn’t do any harm to attachment, and even five years later, there are no cognitive or emotional drawbacks.” According to the National Sleep Foundation, infants develop the ability to self-soothe between 4-6 months. Starting sleep training earlier than that will likely result in frustration for everyone.
Also, do not start sleep training if your baby is battling an illness; teething; you are about to go on vacation; your regular routine will be disrupted for any temporary reason; or if you are going back to work in a few days. These changes will make it increasingly difficult to establish the consistency you need to be successful.
Mistake #2: Inconsistency
Consistency is key! A consistent bedtime routine signals that sleep is imminent. A warm bath; comfy pajamas and zipping into a temperature-controlling Woolino Sleep Bag will set the stage for a sweet trip to dreamland. Making a plan and sticking to the routine will create something psychologists like to call a “conditioned response”. These pre-sleep warmups will signal it is time to wind down.
But more than just the bedtime routine, caregivers need to be on the same page of the playbook. If one or more caregivers cannot agree to the sleep training plan, it is probably best to wait until everyone is onboard. Mixed signals create what psychologists like to call “inconsistent positive reinforcement”. If one parent is responding to every whimper while another is attempting to employ the Cry-It-Out Method, you will be inadvertently reinforcing the child’s resistance to sleep. If you decide to sleep train, both parents must be consistent. If that’s the plan then stick to it!
Mistake #3: Not Applying the Routine to Nap Times
You are likely to be more successful sleep training your baby if all sleep times are handled in a similar manner. Feeding and rocking a baby to sleep for naps will interfere with sleep training a baby to self-soothe in the evening. Work your plan every time you put your child down to sleep. You may need to speak with your daytime childcare givers and Grandma, so that everyone is consistently leading the child to self-soothe to sleep. Consistency is key!
Mistake #4: Missing Medical Issues that Interfere with Sleep
As mentioned previously, 4-6 months is typically a good age to start sleep training. Babies are able to self-soothe and need fewer night feedings. But if your child is still having difficulties, especially if they are older, there may be an underlying medical issue that needs attention before you can successfully begin sleep training your baby. A visit with your pediatrician may uncover sleep apnea; restless leg syndrome; teething or some other medical issue that must be addressed before your baby can rest peacefully. Start your sleep training plan with a visit to the pediatrician to cover all your bases and avoid missing medical issues that interfere with sleep.
Mistake #5: Challenges in the Bedroom
The Pinterest perfect nursery may not be perfect for sleep training. Nightlights should be dim; white noise can help drown out other household sounds; and blackout curtains may not look as stylish but will be much more helpful for daytime naps. The atmosphere you are creating should be soothing, comfortable and as distraction free as possible.
Mistake #6: Moving your Child into His Own Room While Sleep Training
It is advisable for infants to sleep in the same room as their parents before 4 months of age. It is also advisable to make the move to their own space at least a week or two prior to sleep training. That is a lot of transitioning, so ease into it slowly. Allow time to become familiar with the new space before expecting the child to be comfortable and able to settle in their new room.
Mistake #7: Feeding Your Child Multiple Times a Night
In the early weeks and months, nighttime feedings are important for the rapid growth of newborns. As the months progress, babies go for longer stretches without feeding at night. Each child’s needs are different and nighttime feedings may continue to be a part of your routine well into the first year, but it need not be the first way you respond to nighttime stirrings. Allow your child the opportunity to self-soothe and settle before assuming they are hungry and need to feed.
Mistake #8: Keeping the Pacifier and Other Sleep Aids
The way your child falls asleep at the onset of bedtime or naptime will be the same way they return to sleep upon waking in the middle of the night. Much like relying on nursing or rocking a baby to sleep, a pacifier or “lovey” becomes necessary. To avoid the need to retrain when you want to remove the pacifier or other sleep aid, do not use it to begin with. Training a child to fall asleep unassisted will ensure long-term results and a well-rested baby. Your child’s Woolino Sleep Bag will become a comfy substitute for a loose “lovey” or a pacifier that slips through the crib cracks.
Ultimately, there are no real mistakes in parenting if you are pursuing what you think is best for your child. The path to sleep training will be different for every family and what works for some will not work for others. These sleep training methods will hopefully make the journey less stressful and more restful.