Your Ultimate Guide To Sleep Training Your Baby

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What is it about sleeping babies that make them so beautiful to look at? Apart from their preciousness, another answer could be you’re just relieved that after all the gymnastics and convincing, your little overachiever is finally asleep.Yet, the air is filled with some nervous energy as the pretty picture is interrupted when your baby wakes up for a feed or some other reason. This is the exact situation I felt with my first newborn, but not anymore.If you experience feelings of fear or dread as night time approaches, I put together the following guide to demystify what it takes to sleep train your baby. None of the divisiveness you read about in many parenting forums will be found here – only actionable tips. Even though this guide is chock full of information, the most important thing is for you to pay attention to your baby’s own unique ‘sleep signals’ and be confident about the steps to take next.Baby Sleep Training: What is it?The reason sleep training is a hot subject for debate is that it’s often implied that there’s only one right way of doing it. This is far from true when you observe that parents all over the world approach sleep training in different ways. For instance, in parts of Asia, parents co-sleep with their babies and continue to do so for many years, being close by to calm them when needed. In many places in Africa, baby carrying is the norm and a mother’s breast is the answer to nearly every complaint a child might have. And in many Scandinavian countries, there is an obsession with babies spending time sleeping in the outside for the fresh air. So what is sleep training here for us? Our approach? It’s not just the steps you take before laying your baby down in the crib. It’s a more holistic approach that incorporates the whole day and the environment. This includes daytime preparation, bedtime prep, the sleeping environment and tips for difficult sleepers. A holistic view ensures that intervention is needed less and less. A Reminder About SIDSWhile reading any baby related literature, you probably will notice this unfortunate term, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, AKA cot death. Although experts don’t know exactly what causes it, it’s closely tied to suffocation or asphyxiation while sleeping. It’s because of this that parents are told to put babies down to sleep on their backs.Research has shown that back sleeping reduces the risk of SIDS by almost 50%.[i] The American Academy of Pediatrics and other relevant bodies have campaigned to keep this message clear, and the ABC acronym was coined for easy remembrance:Alone (not sharing a bed with anyone)On their backIn a cribIn spite of the campaign, some parents fear that back sleeping carries a risk of choking if babies spit up while lying down. In reality, because of our anatomy and the effects of gravity, food doesn’t travel from the stomach to the windpipe in that position. Other factors have been linked to SIDS such as:Alcohol consumption by parents. Which limits their inhibitions and reduces quick response to incidents. For breastfeeding mothers, alcohol consumed shows up in the milk and affects babies’ sleep. One drink of alcohol takes about 2 hours to be broken down to no longer be a concern for nursing. The more drinks consumed, the longer a mother will have to wait to breastfeed safe quality milk.[ii]Cigarette smoke, just as with direct contact – even a little secondhand smoke is bad for a baby’s developing lungs.[iii]Should I Sleep Train My Child?Getting enough sleep is necessary for your baby’s healthy development and since most babies are born not knowing how to fall asleep on their own, sleep training provides them with this inevitably useful skill. Besides, many parents experience that persuading their growing babies to fall asleep on a daily basis (many times a day for that matter) is exhausting and affects family life in some negative ways, such as ignoring older siblings or snapping at partners in annoyance.If however, you’re more than satisfied with your baby’s current sleeping habits and every aspect of getting her to fall asleep is something you’re happy to continue as the days go by, there’s no need to raise an alarm thinking you are doing something wrong. 1) Preparing for Sleep Training[iv- vii]Knowing your child’s demeanor should influence how you approach sleep training. Because babies go through such rapid developmental changes, there are periods in their growth calendar when they are particularly fussy and clingy, which might leave you confused. Wonder no more, this table includes how important milestones in your baby’s life impact his or her sleeping. Age (months)What your baby experiencesHours of sleep and nap timeNewborn – 1.5Require frequent feeding. Can’t tell the difference between night or day.Can sleep 6 – 8 times a day with each lasting 2 – 3 hoursTotal: ~18 hours1.5 – 3Still can’t tell the difference between night and day.Can sleep 4 – 5 times a day with each lasting 2.5 – 3 hoursTotal: ~ 16 hours3 – 4.5Are establishing a sleep cycle.A little separation anxiety.Can sleep 5 times, 2 of them lasting 4 – 5 hours (long) and 3 lasting 2 – 2.5 hours (short)Total: ~15 hours4.5 – 6Can distinguish between night and day. Internal clock is set called circadian rhythm. Are staying awake longer during the day. Can have a 4 hour nap spread over 3 sessions.5 – 8 hour sleep at night without feeding may be possible. 12 hour nighttime sleepTotal: ~14 hours6-7The ability to roll over and lift their head successfully means the risk of SIDS is lowered.May drop night feedings between 6-12 months. Transitioning from 3 to 2 naps of 1.5 – 2 hours each10-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep may be possibleTotal: ~14 hours7-9Are experiencing a lot of developmental milestones and are experiencing separation anxiety.Expect sleep regressionCan have 2 naps a day totalling 2- 3 hours11 hours of nighttime sleepTotal: ~13 – 14 hours9-12Physically able to consume all their calories during the day time.Their increased physical activity tires them but makes winding down a challenge.2 naps a day still ideal of 1.5 – 2 hours each. The first nap usually longer10 – 11 hours of nighttime sleepTotal: ~12 – 14 hours12 – 16Developing speechMolars will be formedAre increasingly more engaged with their environmentLength of nap decreases. A gradual transition from 2 naps to 1 with a total nap time of 3 hours10 – 11 hours of nighttime sleepTotal: ~12 – 14 hours16 – 24Are aware of toys and playthings and need encouragement to go to sleep – sometimes up to 30 mins winding downOne nap of 1.5 – 2 hour in the afternoon with the morning nap dropped.10 – 11 hours of nighttime sleepTotal: ~12 – 14 hoursWhen is it Ideal to Begin Sleep Training?You can start sleep training from day one. Start by practicing habits you would like to continue like massages or timing. If you haven’t started already, don’t fret, sleep training is not a one-off event. It will need to be revisited after regression occurs. Sleep regression is when a baby’s normal sleeping habits are off and they continually awake or refuse to nap.The ideal time for you and your baby is when there are not too many changes happening, and a regular routine is established (more about routines later). From the table above, you will get an added advantage by sleep training in the 4-7 month window and the 11- 16 month window. The first window is because, they are now getting into the rhythm of day and night time, are still young that no hard habits have been formed, and can’t climb out of their crib yet. The second window is because sleep regression around the 10th month is past. Postpone sleep training if babies are sick and please consult your doctor if this is the case.Popular Sleep Training MethodsMany books have been written about baby sleep training; we can’t possibly go through all of them. These methods are sometimes of small variations of each other. What nearly all experts agree on though is that parents should put their babies down to sleep when they’re getting drowsy and not when they are asleep. Four well known sleep training methods are:Extinction (aka Cry it out.) Usually associated with Dr. Marc Weissbluth [viii] Gradual Extinction (aka controlled crying) by Dr. Richard Ferber [ix] Fading (or No Tears) commonly related to Elizabeth Pantley [x] and Dr. Sears [xi] The Pick Up Put Down Method by Tracy Hogg [xii] DROWSY BUT AWAKE VIDEO: (Understanding “Drowsy But Awake””)Extinction Parents lay their babies down to sleep and only fetch them in the morning or after an hour if it’s a nap. The goal is for babies to realize that nothing will change and have no other choice but to fall asleep. The crying is hard on parents and their children.Gradual Extinction Parents lay their babies down and leave the room. The difference here is that they can comfort their child (not picking them up) when crying happens.There is a waiting time before comforting can happen though and this time increases after each visit