Sleep training often gets a bad rep. Contrary to popular belief, it is more than possible to implement gentle sleep training practices that don't involve crying it out.
I practice gentle parenting methods, but I equally don't allow my toddler to completely run the house schedule. Not because I want him to conform to what I want with no regard for his wishes, but because our entire family thrives when we have good sleep.
Gentle sleep training is all about guiding your baby in the right direction, not forcing them into a sleeping pattern that suits you, ignoring their needs and desire to be held.
Our job as parents is to ensure our children learn the basic skills necessary to thrive in life, while simultaneously allowing them a bit of freedom of their own. We have to let them know that we respect them and their emotions, while still doing what's best for them. It's a tough thing, but ultimately, I always advise parents to follow their gut. Every baby and family is unique, and their needs will vary.
I know how it feels to be a new mom, totally lost and out of it from lack of sleep. There is a certain point where it becomes a little dangerous, and you need to know when to get help from family members or friends. So, seek help when you need it, and implement the following tips into your life to get your baby's sleeping cycle on track.
The very first thing you need to know when going into this is that your baby does not need to cry it out. It's not necessary, and I personally wouldn't recommend it.
This topic is widely debated, and various news sources have put out claims and studies that both prove and debunk the idea that allowing your baby to cry it out leads to emotional and behavioral issues later in life.
There's a reason our bodies feel driven to hold our babies. It's good for them, and it's good for us.
We let our son cry for short periods of time (between two and five minutes), but only when we were 100 percent sure he was fine, and only when it wasn't a serious cry. As soon as I became uneasy or felt my instincts kick in, I would go get him.
If his cry seemed to come from a place of fear or hunger, that was a no-go. He would be in my arms quicker than the first wail lasted. If he just seemed a little whiny, we'd leave him be. Nine times out of ten, he would fall asleep within a couple of minutes.
If you get worried and you feel the urge to check on them, do it! If they just aren't going to sleep (even if they're not crying) after being in the bassinet or crib for a little bit, go get them. There's no shame in that.
You can also try comforting them while they're still laying in the bassinet or crib. This way, they know you're there for them, but they won't be jostled as you lay them back down.
As I mentioned above, my husband and I let our son "cry" for a few minutes at a time. If he still wasn't asleep after that time ran up, we would go pick him up, cuddle him and make sure everything was fine. We repeated this process until he fell asleep.
Sometimes this doesn't work. Sometimes you just have to bring the baby over to where you are, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is not a failure!
I was blessed with a baby that started sleeping throughout most of the night from a young age, but I never expected him to. In fact, it caught me off guard and I ended up pumping a few times in the middle of the night to make up for his missed feedings.
And yes, I freaked out on several occasions, waking him up just to be sure he was okay.
You can't expect your baby to start sleeping through the night right off the bat, especially while they're still young. If they do it, great! Keep an eye on the clock to make sure they aren't going too long without a feeding, but otherwise, let them sleep!
If not, it's totally okay, and it's totally normal. Babies have small stomachs and need to eat frequently. It's just the way things are. But don't worry - it doesn't last forever. You WILL sleep for more than 3 hours some day.
Even though you know your baby isn't going to sleep for more than two hours - heck, even if you know your baby isn't going to fall asleep at all, - pick your ideal bedtime. 6:30PM? 9:00PM?
Whatever it is, pick a time and go through the motions of laying them down for bed at that time every night.
Turn the lights low, turn on the nightlight, get the sound machine going, read them a bedtime story, whatever it is you want your routine to be, start as soon as you can. This gets their body and mind in a rhythm, and they'll soon start expecting it. After a while, they'll subconsciously start expecting to lay down at this time.
The sooner you start this habit, the better. We started the second or third day home from the hospital, and I think it was possibly the best decision I've ever made.
Even if you and your hubby are still wide awake, make sure you turn the television on low, turn the lights off and talk in hushed tones. This is especially important for parents who have babies that still sleep in their room.
You can always go in the other room if you're feeling wide awake, or simply turn the volume down and enjoy some Netflix quietly. When my son was little, I was always too nervous to leave the room and watching tv in my bed with him in his bassinet worked just fine. Unless your baby is a light sleeper, it doesn't tend to be too big of an issue.
Creating an environment that's conducive to sleep is important, even from day one. You certainly don't have to start the day your baby is born, but I personally recommend that you start as soon as possible.
As I mentioned above, newborns are too young to sleep through the night or have a real "bedtime," but you can gently guide them in that direction. By the time they are old enough to sleep for a few hours at a time, they'll already be used to going down at a certain time.
Remember, there's no reason to keep them awake during the day, or try to change their sleeping habits. You're simply setting them up for success in the future.
I know it's hard to fight the urge to kiss their little toes and hear your baby's adorable giggle, but it's important that you try to avoid it during nighttime feedings. I remember reading this in several different articles and even in some forums.
That's not to say we didn't break this rule, but we tried our hardest not to.
If you get your baby riled up during a nighttime feeding, they probably won't be as inclined to drift back off to sleep. Babies, especially newborns, have a hard time differentiating between daytime and nighttime as it is. Remember, gentle sleep training is all about setting your baby up for successful sleep in the future. You can let them know when it's appropriate to play, and when things should be calm.
Just because it's advised that you don't get your baby excited and stimulated late at night, that doesn't mean you can't hold them. In fact, I strongly urge you to! At no point should you refuse to hold them when either one of you needs it.
If you breastfeed, of course, you'll have to hold them. But bottle feedings can be a bonding experience as well.
If you need a break, there's no shame in getting help from a friend or family member. Some babies require more attention than others.
Whether you handle the nighttime feedings, or you get help from someone else, keeping things calm and loving is the best way to show your baby that it's still nighttime. They're much more likely to drift back off to sleep this way.
Sometimes your baby won't feel like going back to bed, and that's okay! Gentle sleep training is about knowing when to let your baby take the lead.
It's not about molding them to fit your schedule, but it's also not about letting them run everyone's schedules 100%.
They're humans, with their own emotions and desires, and the best you can do is instill good sleeping habits for the most part. On the nights where they simply don't want to sleep, we can't feel defeated by it. Let them play, hold them, cater to whatever it is they need and remember that tomorrow is a fresh start.
Just because your baby doesn't feel like going back to bed, it doesn't mean you should throw in the towel completely. Be gentle, but stay dedicated.
Whenever I felt like turning on Winne the Pooh and just giving up, I tried to remind myself that we both deserve to sleep.
A well-rested baby is a happy baby. A well-rested mama is a happy mama.
When everyone is sleep deprived and running on fumes, it's hard to keep the home moving the way it should. Everyone knows the first few weeks at home are best spent relaxing and bonding with the baby, but come on. The laundry won't fold itself, and everyone is still wearing clothes.
There's no sense trying to do everything by yourself when you don't have to. If you're feeling in over your head or anxious about it all, ask for help.
I don't know what it is about postpartum hormones that make us want to do everything on our own, but I strongly urge you to push through those feelings at least every now and then. It's like we feel we have something to prove to ourselves or our family.
Whatever the reason, it's totally ridiculous. When the baby is going through a sleep regression, as a friend to come spend the night with you and help with nighttime feedings. Even just having some company can help improve your mood.
It really is unsafe after a certain point. When people reach a certain level of exhaustion, it's nearly impossible to think rationally or be a good person, let alone a new parent.
There's nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it.
You have to remember that enlisting family and friends to help with baby duty is nothing new. Even back in our caveman days, you can bet moms were breastfeeding each other's babies to let new moms sleep, and they definitely took turns caring for the little ones. No one should have to take it all on alone.
The American Association of Pediatrics recommends that new parents keep their babies in the bedroom with them for the first four months of life before moving them to their own room.
Of course, it's not recommended that you bedshare, though many parents choose to at their own discretion. The important thing is to keep your baby safe while they sleep.
It's an unfortunate, heavy topic that we won't get too deep into in this article, but it should be mentioned that the risk of SIDS dramatically decreases after the 3-4 month mark. While you may be eager to help your baby sleep through the night, don't forget to keep them safe, first and foremost.
Even when your baby is still a newborn, it's okay to leave the room if you're wide awake. Just because it's recommended that you let them sleep in the room with you until they're 3 to 4 months old, doesn't mean you have to stand around watching them all night long.
It's good to give yourself breaks here and there and if you feel like watching television or doing something else that makes noise, it's better for the baby that you let them sleep in a quiet room.
I used to do this all the time. Sure, I went and checked on my son about 40 times every hour, but at least he got uninterrupted sleep. And even though I was worried almost every moment of it, I got a break if you can call it that.
Don't let your baby sleep in rockers, bouncers, or really anything else other than a bassinet for that matter. Not only is it unsafe, it can create bad sleeping habits.
Naps are one thing, but letting them sleep in these things during the night is a big no-no. Since babies are still developing the muscles in their neck, it's not uncommon for them to slump down and restrict their airflow.
On top of that, even when you're sure they'll be okay and you're wide awake watching them, letting them sleep anywhere other than their bassinet at night gets them out of their rhythm. This leads us to my next point.
Though babies are too young to follow directions or understand rules, it's still important to set boundaries and expectations for yourself. In the same token, you're setting your little one up for success by letting them know where and when they're "expected" to sleep.
Think about where you want them to sleep, and what habits you want to instill in them? Make it happen, Mama! Try to think of the future, and what you want it to look like.
Often times we self-sabotage by allowing our kids to get away with things out of convenience, and in the end, it comes back to bite us. This is coming from a mom who is currently trying to wean her almost-2-year-old from the pacifier.
So, trust me. I get it.
This is more about personal preference than anything. I think it's great to breastfeed our babies to sleep, and let them nurse for comfort whenever they want it.
I also know there's a vast number of moms who say they want their baby to fall asleep after feeding and lay down instead of wanting to stay on the breast all night long.
It's a tough situation. You want your baby to feel comforted, loved, and fed. But you equally want to sleep without a baby attached to you for the majority of the night.
Unfortunately, there's not much you can do. You can try laying them down after a feeding before they fall asleep, so they don't grow accustomed to sleeping at the breast. Really though, at at the end of the day, if you have a needy baby, it just is what it is.
Never skip feedings. If your little one wakes up and wants to breastfeed or have a bottle, give it to them! You can simply get them in the habit of being laid back down immediately after feedings.
If they cry afterward, it's all up to you how you want to handle it. You can soothe them without giving them the breast or bottle for a few minutes and hope they fall asleep, or you can resume feeding them.
There's no one answer for how often babies will need to eat. Just follow your instincts and do the best you can to be attentive, but firm about where you'd like them to sleep at some point.
On the nights where you completely backslide, don't beat yourself up over it. Sometimes you simply won't have the energy to handle things perfectly.
This is real life. You can't be too hard on yourself. Our expectations of ourselves are often far too high.
If you have a night where you "give in" and let them sleep next to you (safely!), or you decide to go ahead and play their favorite show at one in the morning, that's just life. Every single day can't be the exact same, that's just a fact.
The key is not letting this happen too often. Tell yourself tomorrow is a new day (even though they're really all starting to blur together) and start fresh in the morning.
All you can do is try your best to be consistent when it comes to sleep training and setting your child up for successful sleeping habits. Take everything a day at a time.
I've talked to countless new moms who feel completely lost when it comes to getting their babies on a solid sleeping schedule, even a year or two in. At the end of the day, there's only so much advice you can take from other women.
Follow your own instincts and do what feels right to you. What works for one family, won't always work for you and your baby.
So really, all you can do is try to be consistent, and be as gentle and loving as possible during these delicate first few years. It will get easier!
Reference: This one mom's experience.