When we had our first child, my husband and I were clueless about most everything baby-related. After a few months of being completely overwhelmed and exhausted, I was desperate to find that elusive thing that evades most parents of newborns—SLEEP. We all hear during our pregnancy “to get your sleep now,” but until you actually experience it, it’s truly hard to fathom. After doing my homework, I learned a lot about different methods of sleep training and through trial and error, found the best fit for me and my daughter.
Many people think sleep training is synonymous with “cry it out,” the often- controversial method of putting a baby into their crib and walking away. While some people do still use that method, there are a variety of types of sleep training methods that use other gentler techniques. Most pediatric sleep experts agree that true sleep training typically shouldn’t begin before 4 months old.
Parents can begin sleep training by ensuring their baby has a well-established routine through their day that includes regular naps and an early bedtime, typically between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. According to Harvard Health Publishing, it’s important to establish a calming and consistent bedtime routine, like a feed and bath followed by pajamas and stories. It’s best not to feed right before bed so sleeping isn’t associated with breast or bottle. With my son, after his bath I would take him to my bedroom, massage his legs and arms with lavender lotion and read “Goodnight Moon.” It’s a great way to soothe your child before bedtime.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that babies don’t sleep in their own room until at least 6 months because of the fear of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). However, you can still sleep train using a co-sleeper or crib in your own room.
How can you begin sleep training?
Once you begin sleep training, you typically soothe your child in a darkened room and then put baby down drowsy, but still awake. If the baby begins to fuss, pat their back and soothe them, then walk away. You can use timed intervals that work for you on when to go back and check on them. This interval method is known as The Ferber Method or progressive waiting. Another method is to sit in a chair next to the crib to help soothe while slowly inching away each night until you are out of the room.
Sound machines that emit white noise and soothing sounds can also help mask outside noise and calm your baby. Many new sound machines are now combined with night lights, music, projections of cute animals or kid-friendly scenes, and are linked to smartphone apps.
Depending on a child’s age, a weighted blanket can be soothing for sleep and can be safely used on a baby. Essential oils can be used to help soothe your child. Lavender is among the most popular scent, and chamomile a close second.
Experts vary on the use of a pacifier, arguing they can be a crutch for self- soothing. However, many parents believe pacifiers can actually help children to soothe themselves. Both of my children had WubbaNubs, a pacifier attached to a stuffed animal, and this helped them if they woke during the night.
For those of you who are interested in sleep training, talk to your pediatrician and do your research. My favorite reference book was “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child,” by Marc Weissbluth, M.D., which covers all types of methods and discusses children’s sleep from newborn to adolescence. Remember, a well-rested child means a happier child and parent!
*Always contact your pediatrician with any questions