OK, let’s get this out there right now. There is NO one way to train babies to sleep in their bed or to sleep through the night. Sleep is natural. Babies will sleep when they are tired enough. They can’t help it. Eventually they conk out. And sometimes they are so tired they sleep through the night. Other times, not so much.
Every baby is different, and every family is different. Telling parents that there is only one way to get their baby to sleep is just plain wrong! There are techniques that may help, but each situation requires a combination of these techniques to work. So here is my not-so-scientific-but-seems-to-make-sense take on sleep training.
Babies have to have certain needs met in order to sleep peacefully. This is not so different from older kids and adults. These needs include:
- Comfort – they can’t be too hot or cold, or have a belly that is too full, or a wet diaper on top of diaper rash, or not enough space to stretch out. Likewise, if they are sick, or running a fever, you might as well resign yourself to a rough night.
- Safety – This is crucial. Babies are all about safety. Leaving a baby completely alone is a big no no. Babies are programmed to know that a baby alone is prey for something. Instincts have not yet caught up to the fact that most babies today are not born in the wild. A baby needs to know that someone is there to protect them from harm.
- Lack of Stimulation – Ever try falling to sleep right after watching a scary movie? Or seeing some tragedy on the evening news? Or having a fight with your partner? Same thing with babies. Roughhousing, having lots of strangers around, or too much visual stimulation can contribute to babies having trouble falling to sleep.
- Toned down lights – Babies don’t need complete darkness, but pulling the blinds for a mid day nap, or having no more than a nightlight on in their room is helpful. Dimming the lights throughout the house after dinner is also a great idea. Darkness tells the brain that it is time to rest. Turn off any light that is not necessary as you begin your evening routine.
Sleeping With Infants
Co-sleeping is great if it works for you. It provides lots of warmth and safety for baby, and breastfeeding mothers can take care of the 2am feeding while half asleep. You can read lots of horror stories about parents rolling over onto their infants and smothering them, but that rarely happens unless you have a sleep disorder. However, until your baby can raise their own
head, make sure they sleep on their back and are not close to any soft pillows or blankets that could impair their breathing.
Lots of parents like the idea of co-sleeping, but having an infant in the bed does not afford them a good night’s sleep. If the baby wakes you in the night with kicking or turning over, they need their own bed. Parents need a full night of rest, too. Keeping a bassinet or specially designed infant bed next to yours is a good way for everyone to sleep.
For the first six months or so, keep the infant in or near the room where you sleep. Getting to a hungry baby quickly means they may not fully wake up and will go right back to sleep after feeding.
Moving To Their Own Bed
Some parents enjoy having a “family” bed and will sleep with their children until their preteen years. Many others prefer to move a baby to its own bed around 10-12 months of age. Whatever works best for your family is the way you should go.
When it is time to move to a baby bed, introduce it to the baby. Put some favorite soft toys in the bed and let them play in it. Stay right beside the bed while they play so that they don’t associate the bed with Mommy or Daddy going away. Have some play time in the bed for several days before you try to get them to sleep in it.
The night you decide to begin to have them in their own bed, go through your usual bedtime routine of story time, rocking, walking, or singing. Turn the lights down, turn on a white noise maker (if you have one), and hold the baby until they are very drowsy. Tell them that they are going to sleep in their own bed tonight and gently place them in the bed.
They will likely respond with a “What’s this?!? It’s time to go to sleep, and this is not where I sleep!” Pick them up and let them get drowsy again and put them back in their bed. They will again remind you that you are putting them in the wrong place.
After a couple of times of picking them up and putting them down, leave the room. This may distress the baby, because they will sense that you have not understood them. They do not know that they are in a sleeping place. Do not let them “Cry it out”. Go back into the room after a minute or two and lay them back in the bed, patting their back for a few minutes. Then leave
again. Keep going back in and explain that you have not, in fact, misunderstood, but that this is where they will sleep now. This could take an hour or two and is very distressing for everyone involved. It is best if you don’t give in and let the baby back into your bed, because otherwise they will have more difficulty learning that their new bed is the place for sleep. But it is important that you not leave the baby to cry for long. They will maintain their sense of safety if they know that someone is near and hears them when they call.
Another way of easing them into sleeping apart from you would be to remove the mattress from the bed and place it on the floor. Then, you will be able to lie down with the baby until they are sound asleep. Make sure they are nice and warm when you leave them, since they have been used to sleeping with another warm human being. They will likely wake up during the night and call for you, or get up and try to look for you. (This is why the mattress is on the floor, to protect against falls.) Respond quickly and take them back to their bed and stay with them until they fall asleep again. This method may be less distressing overall, but may take longer before the baby realizes that they are to sleep in their own bed. And, it could be less expensive, because there really is no need to purchase a baby bed – or even a toddler bed.
Again, there is NO correct way to sleep train your baby. I am interested in hearing how sleep training goes for you. If you have any suggestions of things that worked for you, please share them in the comments below. May you all get the rest you need!