When I became pregnant with my first child a few years ago, I was over the moon. All of the mothers at my work would say things like “You’d better sleep while you can!” or “I’m so exhausted with my new baby!”
When our son eventually arrived, he was everything I dreamed of and more. But with the words of my colleagues still ringing in the back of my mind, I knew I had to come up with a solution early on that would help him sleep through the night as soon as he was developmentally ready.
So I decided to give my own version of “sleep training” a try — the process you can take as a parent to gently encourage your child to fall asleep independently.
By the time my four months of maternity leave had ended, my son was sleeping 11 hours straight.
Of course, it’s important to remember that every child is different and not every baby will take to sleep training right away. Moreover, sleep training isn’t inherently easy and takes time, effort, and consistency.
That said, if you’re looking to give sleep training a try, here are my top 5 tips to get you and your little one started.
Tip #1: Encourage full feedings
For the first six weeks, feeding times can be 20 to 40 minutes long. But because babies can get tired after 10 minutes of feeding while snuggling in their parent’s arms, they may fall asleep.
If you’re trying to sleep train, however, it’s important that you try and get them into the habit of completing “full feedings,” or staying awake during the entire feed. This will eventually lead to them dropping their night feeds naturally, which may help them sleep through the night.
For my son, he dropped the 10 p.m. feeding, followed by the 1 a.m., and eventually the 4 a.m. one, too.
To find out the length of time between feedings that is best for your child, speak with their pediatrician
If they do fall asleep, I recommend spending only 10 to 15 minutes trying to re-wake the baby to finish the feed. If your baby refuses to take a full feed or wake up, that’s ok. But try not to allow more than three feedings to go by that aren’t full feedings.
Consistency is key to sleep training A consistent routine is absolutely imperative to the success of your sleep training journey.
Tip #2: Establish a sleep routine as early as possible
Because infants love routine and crave it to understand exactly what’s happening next — in this case, you’re signaling that it’s time to sleep — establishing routines for both naptime and bedtime is essential.
Applying these routines as quickly as possible is equally important so that you set the precedent for them early on.
Naptime routines typically last 5 to 10 minutes and can include:
- gentle rocking
- a song
Meanwhile, bedtime routines can last up to 60 minutes and include:
- a bath
- a full feed
Tip #3: Keep their sleeping environment the same
Try maintaining the same sleep environment each time they either nap or go to sleep in the evening. By doing this, your infant will get used to waking up in the same place every day.
If your goal is to have baby taking all their naps and sleeping all night in the crib, you’ll need to begin to slowly introduce this new napping area for your infant.
For the first nap of the day, I would always try to put my son down in his crib, while facing the window. This kept him entertained and he’d end up falling asleep on his own.
I made sure he was completely swaddled up, still somewhat awake, and I stayed in the room and folded laundry or cleaned up. I kept the room dimly lit with white noise running the entire time.
Tip #4: Stick to a specific amount of time for naps
It’s important that you try and keep your baby to a fairly regular sleep schedule. This means naps should be at least 30 to 45 minutes but no more than 3 hours.
If your baby doesn’t get enough sleep, this could lead to them becoming overtired, fussy, and result in difficulty falling asleep — and staying asleep — in the evening.
Too much nap time, however, isn’t good and can potentially lead to them having problems falling asleep at bedtime or waking up extremely early the next day (think before 6 a.m.).
Remember that napping takes time to develop, so don’t stress if you aren’t seeing day-to-day consistency in time and length.
Tip #5: Eat-Play-Sleep-Repeat
While there should be a routine in putting your baby down for a nap, you should also implement a routine for when they wake up.
This is where you can use “Eat-Play-Sleep” (EPS). Your infant will:
- Eat. They should ideally take a full feed.
- Play. This could be anything from tummy time and errands to walks around your neighborhood.
- Sleep. This would be a nap or bedtime.
Once again, consistency is key. Much like with the routine for when your baby is about to go down for a nap or going to bed at night, this practice will help your child understand what’s coming next.
Sleep training is a great way for your baby to adopt consistent sleep habits
Whether you’re a first-time parent or about to welcome your third, sleep training can act as a great way for your baby to adopt more consistent sleep habits.
It’s important to remember, however, that sleep training is tricky and that every baby is different.
If your child doesn’t take to it right away, that’s okay. Ultimately, consistency is key. But if you feel as though you need a bit more help, check out some resources here.
If you want to find out if sleep training is right for your baby, speak with their pediatrician first.
Lauren Olson is the founder of Sleep and the City, a sleep training program. She has more than 150+ hours of sleep work and is trained in numerous child sleep training methods. Sleep and the City is on Instagram and Pinterest.