5 Tips to Sleep Training Your Baby
Sleep training is hard, so we’ve put together 5 tips to help get your baby to sleep. There are so many methods to choose from, so much conflicting “data,” so many opinions… where is one to begin? How do you know which method is best for you and your child? One very common theme I get from parents during our consultations is that we all think we are alone in this. We all think the sleep struggles we are facing are “my own fault” or we feel embarrassed because we think we are doing something wrong by not having perfect little sleepers from birth. I wanted to list some of the 5 most common struggles that people seek out my help for. Hopefully in seeing this, you will realize you are NOT alone and these things are nothing that can’t be undone.
1. Refrain from feeding to sleep
By far THE most common struggle that parents come to me with. When our newborn cries, it becomes our instant go-to reaction to pop a bottle or breast in their mouth. This eventually, more times than not, leads to a sleep association of needing to suckle to sleep. Poor mom is often left being used as a human pacifier and not understanding how to redirect this behavior.
TIP: If/when your baby falls asleep while feeding, end the feed by breaking the latch or removing the bottle. This will generally wake the baby up, at which time you can swap in a pacifier or sit them up for a burp and a cuddle. If possible, try to do feedings in a well lit area so it’s not so inviting for sleep. Once the feed is done and the baby is still awake, proceed to the darkness, white noise, etc.
2. Refrain from co-sleeping
Some parents start this by choice, others find themselves with a 2 year old in their bed and no real memory of how this began, it has just become their norm. No matter the circumstances, bed sharing with your young child is not considered safe sleeping. Get your bed back to yourself, get yourself out of your kids bed, and/or get your hubby off the couch and back in bed with you.
TIP: Room sharing is a great alternative to bed sharing. Get yourself a bassinet or bring the crib into your room and have your baby sleep in it. This way they are still close to you, but much safer sleeping on their own.
3. Keep to early bedtimes
All too often I hear that parents allow their little ones to stay up late because they believe it will help their child to sleep later in the morning. This is actually not the case, and a late bedtime will often lead to the exact opposite of that desired outcome, and will create even earlier morning wake-ups. The reason for this has to do with the natural circadian rhythm in the brain. Our bodies naturally produce drowsy (melatonin) and awake (serotonin) hormones to help us sleep or wake up. If you fight against that natural rhythm, chances are you will end up with a cranky and overtired child on your hands. Interestingly enough, an overtired child will appear hyper and energetic instead of tired.
TIP: Bed times can fluctuate a bit depending on the child’s age. No matter the age, keep in mind that early bedtimes are a great start to a healthy foundation of sleep. Try to not have any screen time within the last hour before bed, look for the tired signs, and start your wind down routine early so you are not rushed.
4. Make a smooth transition to sleep
Sometimes our kiddos don’t exactly want to sleep when we want them too. This can lead to parents forcing “quiet time” or kids feeling like sleep is a punishment. We want the crib/bed to be a positive and calm place, not a sight that causes anxiety and putting up a fight. If bedtime has become a battle for you, you may have to look into restructuring your daily routine a bit, and possibly tweaking the sleep environment.
TIP: Aim for an earlier bedtime to prevent the bedtime meltdown. Set up a nightly wind down routine that will set the scene for good sleep. A wind down routine can be as short or simple as you’d like, as long as it is consistent. An example could be a warm bath, a nice lotion massage, clean PJs, a book or a song, cuddle time, and into bed. This routine will provide sleep cues and give your child the headstart on transitioning to sleep time.
5. Is it time for a big-kid bed?
Parents often think (rightfully so) that once their child can climb out of the crib on their own, that it’s time to move them to a big kid bed. I always strongly recommend waiting until at least 3 years old until making the switch to the big kid bed. The reason for this is that a big kid bed comes with a lot of freedom, and a child under 3 years old will often not fully grasp the concept of being told to stay in bed when they can clearly see the exit path. This all too often will lead to the child getting out of bed multiple times, leaving the room, crying, fighting sleep, creating a bedtime battle, and being overtired. See how it’s all connected?
TIP: If your young kiddo is already climbing out of their crib, drop the mattress to the lowest setting. In some cases depending on the crib design, you may even be able to put the crib mattress on the floor. Make sure the area around the crib is padded if you are worried they might get out, and “sleep proof” the room – meaning remove all toys and anything possibly distracting – so even if they do get out, there is nothing to do! They will learn to stay put if there’s no “reward” for getting out.
If you are experiencing any of these struggles, you are not alone! Or maybe your particular struggle is not listed here, but I assure you that I have pretty much heard it all at this point. Don’t be too hard on yourself, there is no shame in asking for help. Sleep is crucial to healthy development in children, as well as it being crucial for happiness, health, and overall mood elevation in adults. Like I said, sleep training is HARD, and you do not have to go at it alone.