A Better Bedtime: Sleep Training Your Baby

As a new parent, waking every few hours to tend to your newborn can become tiring. And you’re probably wondering what tips and techniques you can employ to help your baby rest longer through the night.

“Sleep training” is the term often used to describe the ways parents ease their newborn into achieving a full night’s sleep. It’s not a linear process, but it provides a formula to help you know when 3 a.m. crying should be soothed, and when your baby is ready to do it his or herself.

There are a few methods associated with sleep training. Different approaches may work with different babies.

“It’s really a hot-button issue in pediatrics,” said Patrick Tate, MD, a pediatrician at South Hills Pediatrics Associates of UPMC, of sleep training.

“But there’s really no right or wrong or long-term effects, no matter how you do it.”

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Preparing for Sleep Training Babies

Dr. Tate said consistency is key when it comes to helping your child rest through the night. Parents should first establish a sound bedtime routine and ensure their child’s crib meets recommended safety standards for babies:

    • Parents should not co-sleep with a baby younger than 1-year-old. And while sleeping alongside your older children isn’t as much of a safety risk, it makes the development of a regular sleep schedule all the more challenging.
    • They should ensure the baby’s crib is outfitted with a tight, fitted sheet and free of toys, pillows, and loose blankets. Babies should be placed on their backs wearing pajamas that fit snuggly.
    • Follow a bedroom routine that begins — and never ends — with a feeding. “Begin by feeding, end with your bath time, your song, your cuddle, your kiss,” Dr. Tate said. “So the baby is drowsy but not quite asleep as you lay them down.”

Sleep-Training Methods

Method One: Self-Soothing

With this approach, you refrain from nighttime soothing and allow the infant to cry alone until he or she goes back to sleep.

You should not begin a “cry-it-out” method of sleep training until a baby is at least 4 months old and has already demonstrated the ability to sleep through the night.

“And I really wouldn’t advise it until a baby is at least 6 months of age,” Dr. Tate said.

After a few days, you should notice your baby crying fewer times and for shorter lengths during the night. If you’re concerned, talk to your pediatrician about an appropriate length of time your child can go without comfort. You should not allow your infant to cry indefinitely.

Method Two: Parental Soothing

This method is the opposite of self-soothing. It advocates a slower approach to nighttime independence. With Parental Soothing, you comfort the baby each time he or she cries, allowing your baby to adjust to a full night’s sleep at their own pace.

This may not be a good method if you’ve been regularly soothing your child up to this point and are becoming frustrated with a lack of progress.

Method Three: Adult Fading Method

This method is a blend of the two above — it involves slowly weaning your baby from the nighttime soothing he or she has become accustomed to. This can be done by slowly lessening your nighttime involvement over the course of a few weeks.

Some people try soothing their infant with diminishing attention and touch each night, lengthening the span of time between crying and reassurance. Others sit by the crib while the infant is going to sleep — then move their spot farther away each night.
Learn more about basic sleep training methods for babies

Expert Tips and Tricks to Help with Sleep Training Your Baby

When you’re beginning a method, it’s important to remember that progress will not always seem linear. Here are extra tips to streamline the process:

  • If any, all nighttime interactions should be soothing — dim the lights, speak in low voices, and keep stimulation low
  • Distinguish between daytime and nighttime feedings by making daytime feeding playful and nighttime feeding calm
  • Remember, crying always seems longer to a parent— fifteen to twenty minutes is the average time for an infant under 5 months of age

 

You don’t have to follow a specific method if you find that your own approach is working better — you know your baby best. If you are struggling, talk to your pediatrician. They will be able to answer any concerns about the best method for you and your baby.

“There is no one best practice,” Dr. Tate said. “But knowing that they’ll eventually get there is the bottom line.”

Find more information by speaking to the experts at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. To make an appointment, call 412-692-PEDS (7337).