3 Methods for Sleep Training a Baby

it doesn’t have to be horrific

by: chrisa theodoraki

First thing’s first: all babies—no exceptions—are destined to sleep through the night eventually. Woo hoo!

But as the mother of a baby who woke up every night until she was three years old (!), I wish I’d realized earlier (waaaaaaaaaay earlier) there are things I could’ve done to help my daughter fall asleep independently—and remain asleep.

These things are called “sleep training” and unlike what I thought during those horrendous days of brain fog and hallucinations, sleep-training methods aren’t evil. They don’t involve neglect nor the unbearable guilt associated with the infamous Cry It Out method, which lets babies self-sooth by crying uncontrollably, indefinitely.

I’ll be honest: sleep training isn’t easy. It requires some serious patience and consistency. But it isn’t rocket science either. Just think of it as a more complete and comprehensive way of raising a healthy sleeper.

When to start sleep training your baby

Sleep training should generally not start before your baby is four to six months old[1] for a number of reasons. First, this is the age when babies are developmentally prepared to self-soothe. It’s also perfectly normal for very young babies who breastfeed around the clock to wake up for food. What’s more, younger babies still have no concept of night and day and their sleep cycles are naturally much shorter than the sleep cycles of adults (unlike us, they tend to wake up after each sleep cycle is complete).

Sleep training basics

All sleep training methods involve introducing a predictable daytime schedule and a bedtime routine, as babies feel safer and function best with structured schedules. Just as we adults need our glass of pinot and Netflix to unwind before hitting the mattress, our babies need their own downtime. An ideal bedtime would range between 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., according to Baby Center.

A warm, relaxing bath, a bottle of milk or a nursing session, then reading a story together are activities that set up the scene for night sleep. Follow the same sequence at the same location every night. Babies thrive on predictability.

So before giving in to 4 a.m. repeats of Fantasy Island in the company of your wide-eyed baby, try one of the following sleep training methods.

The Ferber

The Ferber is the most famous variation of the Check-and-Console method, which advocates checking on your baby at set intervals and consoling them. If done consistently, the Ferber could fix a hectic sleep pattern in less than a week[2]. For this reason alone, for many parents it’s worth Ferberizing before trying anything else.

The Ferber allows some “controlled crying,” which initially doesn’t last longer than two to three minutes. This method is fairly straightforward. Following a bedtime routine, you place the baby awake in the crib and leave the room. You allow the baby to cry for two to three minutes, then you re-enter the room and give consolation for about 15 seconds without picking her up. The same routine is repeated by prolonging the amount of time it takes to check on the baby. For example, the three minutes become five, and finally ten. Any remaining intervals on the first night should not exceed ten minutes until the baby finally falls asleep.

If the baby wakes up again later, the you wait three minutes and start the process over.

The second night, your waiting time before picking your baby up can start at five minutes, then 10 and 12 minutes. By slightly increasing the waiting time every night, you teach your baby to fall asleep on her own.

With all this said, it’s important to feel 100% comfortable with the amount of time you allow your baby to cry, and therefore the intervals should be flexible. As long as the intervals are increasing, you are in charge of how long the crying lasts.

The Disappearing Chair Method

The Disappearing Chair is a very gentle method that involves a minimum of protesting. A caveat: if your baby can’t sleep when she feels your presence, this method might not be suitable for you.

You place a chair right next to the crib and stay there until your baby dozes off. Reassure and soothe the baby if needed, but sit back quietly and try not to distract. When all is quiet, you leave the room. If baby wakes up, you return to the chair and repeat the same scenario. After a period of time, you move the chair a bit further away from the crib. The chair will eventually move closer to the room door and when the baby is ready, it will “disappear” from the room.

You are free to decide how long it takes to move the chair farther away. For some people it works the next night; for others, it might take weeks or even months. Our patience levels vary, and so do the needs of every baby. On average it takes two weeks to successfully sleep train a baby using the Disappearing Chair.

The Pick-Up, Put-Down Method 

A gentler version of Check-and-Console is the Pick-Up, Put-Down Method (PUPD).

But wait a minute, you might think, does this even qualify as training? Because the name alone suspiciously sounds pretty much like what new parents do 24/7. This is indeed a sleep-training method that was made popular by a British nurse, childcare expert and best-selling author Tracy Hogg in her book The Baby Whisperer. It advocates the gentlest approach to sleep training our little ones. This is how it’s done:

Armed with boatloads of patience, you place the drowsy baby, who is still awake, in the crib. When your little one falls asleep, leave the room. If baby starts crying as soon as she is put down, place your hand on her chest gently and calm her down with a “Shhhh.” If the crying continues, you pick up baby and console her with repetitive sounds for no more than three minutes, before placing her back. Every time the baby dozes off, you can leave and come back only to repeat the process: pick up, soothe and put down.

It’s important to avoid making eye contact, smile or distract the baby with fun toys and sounds. The objective is to kindly and respectfully teach your little bundle of joy that sleep is something they must learn to do more independently. For this reason, when trying the PUPD, gradually remove your hand so it doesn’t become a sleep prop.

You should choose the method that suits you and your baby best, and always listen to your mommy instincts! With consistency, patience and kindness, you can help your mini-me sleep better, and you’ll both feel a million times saner. Good luck!

 

[1] Lauren Kupersmith, MD, Serenity Now! How to Sleep Train Baby, The Bump https://www.thebump.com/a/how-to-sleep-train

[2] Dr. Ferber states that you should usually see “marked improvement” in your child’s sleep “within a few days to a week, Very Well Family, https://www.verywellfamily.com/the-ferber-method-dr-ferbers-sleep-book-2634262

 

 

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