Rest Little One & Sleep Sweet
One size does not fit all when it comes to sleeping! So, if some of this doesn’t resonate with you, or you don’t feel like sleep training is going to be a good fit for your family and your baby, that is absolutely ok. You can also modify some of these methods if you feel that will work better for you and your baby.
Aside from sleep training which I will detail below, here are some things I learned- mostly by trial and error with six kids over the course of 16+ years. Many babies wake through the night for comfort and food, and it is not recommended to begin a sleep training method with respect to sleeping through the night until at least five months old. Starting earlier to teach your baby how to initially fall asleep on their own doesn’t interfere with their for nutrition and can begin earlier than five months old. Steer clear of unscheduled naps, as they can interfere with bedtime and routines. Of course, there are times when a cat nap is not going to be preventable, and it will happen. But as a general rule of thumb, I stuck to 1-2 scheduled naps (which varied by child, their age and their personal sleep needs) and that was it.
Creating a bedtime routine was essential for our sanity, and our babies learned to associate certain activities and smells with sleep. This routine can look different for everyone and can involve things like a bath or shower, a particular lotion used at bed or nap time, a certain song when you brush their teeth, a specific song or songs that you sing when it’s bed or nap time, reading a book, nursing or offering a bottle, and for our family it also involved a white noise machine in their bedroom. Having a routine and having things to associate with sleep, or rather that the time to sleep was coming, seemed to help our babies once we started implementing these things.
Most babies like to be swaddled! If you’re not swaddling and your baby is struggling with sleep, try swaddling arms in if they are under 8 weeks old. If they are over 8 weeks old, they need to be arms up/arms out swaddled due to safe sleep concerns with rolling over. That being said, my fifth child slept much better NOT being swaddled. Just keep in mind that it’s not a ‘one shoe fits all’ situation and if what you’re doing doesn’t seem to be working after giving it 7-14 days, switch gears and try something else.
If you have a child who just does not sleep well, and you’ve tried it all…the schedules, the routines, the sleep training methods- you’re not doing something wrong. Some children are just not good sleepers and I experienced this firsthand with our fourth child. I wish I had learned to relax, let go and stop blaming myself so much earlier than I did, as would have saved all of us a lot of tears and frustrations. It took us doing a slightly modified version of cry it out, (with the help of some headphones and a baby cam) to finally get him to sleep through the night at 18 months old, using a method we started at 16 months. We were all exhausted and frazzled and looking back I wish I would have tried this method sooner, because it was very effective for him. Now at almost 8 years old he’s a happy, healthy, well-adjusted and loving child that sleeps a solid 8-10 hours a night and says he has no recollection of sleep issues as a baby.
If you can, take turns with your partner. I recognize this is not an option for all families due to work schedules and/or single parents, but if your baby associates bedtime and bedtime routines with both parents, it makes it a lot easier for everyone involved and it can give an exhausted parent a much needed break. It also makes it easier and doesn’t cause sleep disruption if one parent is not home and the baby is used to being put to sleep by either parent.
As you consider some of these methods, keep in mind that the ultimate goal of sleep training is to teach your baby to happily and easily fall asleep on their own, and more importantly to sleep through the night.
1. The Fading Method: This is considered a gentle sleep training method and relies mostly on soothing techniques which ae then used to associate nap or bedtime. The idea is that slowly over time, your involvement in helping them fall asleep fades out until you’re able to put them to sleep by simply laying them down. This method includes rocking, breast or bottle feeding, snuggling, back patting, singing lullabies and reading books.
There are two ways to approach this method, one is called “camping out” and the other is “timed check-in.”
-Camping out occurs when a parent stays in the room until they fall asleep, offering comfort, patting, singing and so on as necessary.
-Timed check-in involves setting an alarm 5-10 minutes apart and comforting your child with patting, singing and repeating this until they fall asleep. You will want to increase the timed intervals in which you go back to check on your child to the point where your baby no longer fusses or cries when being put down. This fading approach of timed check-in’s is almost identical to the Ferber approach
2. The Pick Up/Put Down Method: This method is just as simple as it sounds, you respond to your baby’s cries and comfort them by picking them up, soothing them and then putting them back down. Many parents will soothe until their baby is asleep and then put them back down, whereas others will try to put them down drowsy but awake. As your baby gets older, you may experiment with the “drowsy but awake” method of putting them back down, and you may also want to see how they do being put down awake after being picked up and comforted.
3. The Chair Method: This method involves a parent staying in the room with the baby until they fall asleep, but the parents don’t use any kind of soothing techniques, nor do they offer comfort- they are just physically present and nothing more. Initially, you sit in the chair right next to the crib, and as the nights go on you move the chair further and further away until you eventually leave the room.
4. The Ferber Method: Using this method, you will respond to your baby’s cries at set intervals, and these intervals space out longer and longer as time goes on, until eventually they stop waking at night. For many this looks like two to five nights of waiting five minutes before going in to comfort your baby. After those few nights of five-minute intervals, you space it out to 10 minutes between, then 15… and so on until eventually you’re no longer going into the room because they’ve stopped waking/crying.
5. The Cry It Out Method: This is an often-controversial method, as parents have raised concerns about abandonment issues stemming from this and many believe it can cause unhealthy sleep associations. The reality is, that for older babies who simply do not sleep and have not responded to any other sleep methods- this may be a sanity saving method for parents so it is worth the mention. I will preface by saying for psychological reasons alone, I do not think that this is an effective or reasonable method for a baby under 12 months. Some will go on to say it is never an effective or reasonable method, but sometimes as a parent you have to give weight and importance to your own mental health.
When utilizing this method, parents perform the bedtime routine with their child and then they leave the room for the night. Once they leave, they do not respond to their baby’s cries at all during the night, and let their baby fall back asleep without any assistance. This can be a really difficult method, harder on the parents than the baby!
This is the method we had to try on our fourth child when he was 16 months old, and even at that we did a very slightly modified version. We did not initially leave him completely without checking and offering comfort, we did the Ferber method intervals. The entire process took us almost two months- it was exhausting but worth it in the end. We started with the Ferber method, and while that helped us a bit by getting him to sleep initially, he was still waking a lot during the night (more than our newborn) and getting him back to sleep was proving to be more that I could mentally and physically handle. After it became clear that going in to comfort him at intervals after he initially fell asleep was not working, we decided to go 100% cry it out method for any time he woke during the night. This was hard and the first few nights we took turns watching him on the baby camera. However, by night five he was crying for a few minutes before self-soothing and falling back asleep. Within two weeks the middle of the night wake ups completely stopped. SUCCESS!
There is no right way to do any of this, so much of parenting is trial and error, finding what works for your baby and family and then implementing it. These methods also aren’t overnight remedies, they do take some time and some work, but they will assist with positive sleep associations and the end result will be a baby who sleeps through the night.
-Julie P. (Mother of 6)
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