Over the years, I've had the privilege to guide many parents through sleep training their babies, and as a new mom myself, I've recently sleep trained my own.
My daughter first slept through the night at 5 weeks, 3 days old. But had I not had more than a decade of nanny experience under my belt, I could have quickly become one exhausted mom with a constantly cranky baby in tow.
Abigail started out sleeping well, in 5 or 6 hour segments at night. She was waking once like clockwork to eat. In the beginning, I believe she was truly hungry at 1 am, her tummy too small to stay full till morning. But over the course of several days, she began drinking less and less when she awoke.
The first night she woke up and just had a few sips, an internal switch flipped and I went from mommy mode to nanny mode. I knew she wasn't hungry and vowed not to fall habit to midnight snack attacks. I made my husband take the same vow.
Sure enough the next night, the same time, Abby stirred. We resisted will all of our might to feed her. We didn't and within two minutes, she drifted off back to sleep. She's now 3 months old and has been sleeping from 8:30 pm to 6 am since.
The point of the story?
Sleep training is much easier if you know what's going on with your baby and if you make a plan and stick with it.
- Make sure all your baby's needs are met before putting her to bed. When your baby's needs are met, it can be easier to handle the crying that can often be a side effect of sleep training. Your baby should be changed and fed before bed and her room should be conducive to sleeping. Keep the room slightly cool, turn the lights off and always put your baby to sleep on her back, without any loose blankets. Instead use a swaddle blanket or sleep sack.
- Know when your baby is able to sleep through the night. By three months, or once a baby weighs about 12 pounds, they are usually physically able to sleep through the night. If your baby is waking up and only eating a few sips, chances are she's not really hungry and you may want to see what happens if you skip that feed.
- Realize when a bad habit is setting in. If your baby is waking up and just taking a little sip of milk or formula, chances are she's not really hungry. Continuing to feed your baby in the middle of the night, when she's not really hungry, will just reinforce waking to eat.
- Let your baby fall asleep in her crib or sleep space. You want your baby to learn to fall asleep on her own, and she won't be able to learn how to if you're rocking her to sleep. Instead, once she's groggy put her down, allowing her to fall asleep on her own in her own space.
- If your baby awakes and doesn't need to eat, don't pick her up. Reassure your baby that you are there by gently patting her on the back and whispering "Mommy is here". Don't turn the lights on. Once your baby is calm, but still awake, leave the room. If she cries again, wait a few minutes and repeat the steps above. Continue waiting a few more minutes before going to her each time she cries, and eventually, she'll learn to fall back to sleep on her own.
- Know how much babies really need to sleep. According to Dr. Richard Ferber, young babies need 12 to 13 hours per day to sleep and by six months, most sleep 11 to 12 hours total.
I can tell you without hesitation that babies who have good sleep habits are overall less fussy and more enjoyable to parent. Help your baby get the sleep she needs by creating a good sleep environment and by helping her to establish good sleep habits early on.