With all of the horror stories floating around out there, it’s hard not to… Sleep training isn’t easy. As a parent, it’s one of the first opportunities to teach a child how to do something on their own, so it’s a task riddled with pressure, questions and self-doubt. If sleep training feels like the right decision for your family, then there’s no need to fear it. A positive sleep training experience is entirely possible.
Here are some tips for a positive sleep training experience.
1. Make the bedroom a sanctuary
“Go to your room” is something I heard a thousand times growing up as a kid, and I’m guilty of saying it to my older children now. But when it comes to sleep training, the bedroom should never be used as a place for punishment to avoid associating it with something negative. Designate a different room or area for time-outs. The bedroom should be a safe and comfortable place.
Before (and throughout) the sleep training process, spend plenty of time in the baby’s room playing or reading books and never force baby to stay in their crib or their room if they clearly don’t want to.
The more comfortable baby is in their room, the less they will dread it at bedtime.
2. Start early
Babies are actually born with naturally good sleep habits. They sleep when they feel tired and don’t know any different. Sleep training a younger baby can make for a positive sleep training experience. While young babies don’t sleep for long stretches, they do normally fall asleep on their own without much of a struggle.
Encourage that behavior – because the ability to fall asleep without help is the KEY to sleep training!
3. Conduct trial runs at nap time
While daytime sleep should be different from nighttime sleep, naps are a good way to get a feel for what sleep training will be like. The daytime is much less intimidating to begin sleep training. Both parent and baby will be somewhat more well rested than at the end of the day and there’s not as much pressure to get it right since naps are much shorter sleep periods.
While there’s no need to perform an entire bedtime routine at nap time, the key things to practice will be putting baby to sleep in the same place where they’ll be sleeping at night, and putting baby down while they are drowsy but not actually asleep.
If you can successfully get baby to go down for a nap on their own, then you’ll have a lot more confidence moving onto to bedtime.
4. Choose a realistic bedtime routine
Obviously sleep training involves some level of sacrifice, at least at first. But that doesn’t mean you should be wearing yourself out every night with baths and massages and stories and missing out on your social life. A bedtime routine doesn’t need to be elaborate.
Consistency is the key to a good bedtime routine so keep it simple and achievable. It could be the simple task of changing into pajamas and reading a special book (check out this list of the best bedtime books). Or maybe there’s a lullaby you like to sing. Even a special stuffed animal or blanket that’s reserved specifically for bedtime can do the trick. Diffusing some calming essential oils around bedtime can also help to calm the minds of both parent and child. Try to find one thing that soothes and calms each of the five senses. These simple habits, when done consistently, will give your baby the signal that it’s bedtime, no matter where you are or what time it is.
Having the option to be flexible in your baby’s bedtime routine will keep you from resenting the task altogether.
5. Eliminate the pressure
There is SO much pressure on parents to get sleep training just right. A common question new parents often hear is “is the baby sleeping through the night yet?” implying that something is wrong if they aren’t.
And if that wasn’t pressure enough, there’s also so much contradictory information about sleep training. Everyone has a method that they promise is the BEST and you always seem to be on the wrong side of the cry-it-out vs no-cry-it-out debate.
Accepting that all babies are different and sleep training is not a competition, or even a milestone, will help to take some of the pressure out of it. Sleep training will only be successful if both parent and baby are ready, and not because another baby who’s the same age or weight (even a sibling) was ready. Whatever method you choose to sleep train your baby should be the one that works for your baby and your family and no one else’s.
Remember that sleep training is not an all or nothing situation. It’s perfectly fine to take a break and try again another time.
6. Ask for help
Sleep training is not for everyone. Some babies have a much harder time sleeping than others and it can lead to a very unpleasant experience. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re struggling with it.
While it’s great to have your spouse or partner around to tag team during those late nights, a friend to talk to (especially another mom who’s been there and done that) can do wonders for building up your confidence.
If the sleep deprivation is really getting to you and you’ve tried every method of sleep training without success, it could be time to call in an expert.
Sleep training a newborn is all about establishing a good routine and developing the sleep habits that will become an important part of their lives. It’s about teaching them how the world works – when we sleep, when we eat and when we play – in order to be a functional human being. Sleep training a child is a long process, and the earlier they can learn, the easier it will be in the long run. By following a strict routine with a newborn, you may even be able to avoid sleep training in the future.
The goal of this sleep training guide is to:
Help your newborn baby identify the difference between day time and night time.
Establish a daily routine that focuses on healthy sleep habits.
Lay the foundation for stricter sleep training at a later age.
Help you predict what your baby needs and recognize the reason they are crying.
The reason why sleep training a newborn is so essential is because sleep at this age is instinctual and not something they have learned to fight (yet). This promotes a much more positive experience for both parent and baby. Remaining positive throughout the sleep training process is important to successful sleep training as the child gets older.
Here is a guide to sleep training a newborn (0-6 months), which includes routines to follow during the day, at nap time, bedtime and in the middle of the night.
Sleep Training in the Morning
Open the curtains
Let as much sunlight into your home as possible or sit by a sunny window. The point is to associate “daytime ” with brightness and noise.
Change baby out of their pajamas
It may seem like a tedious and unimportant task because many newborns stay in sleepers all day long. But the simple, routine, act of changing clothes in the morning will signal to your baby that it is time to start the day, and not just another one of their many wakeful periods.
Skin to skin contact
Several times a day, strip baby down to a diaper and lay them on your bare chest or cuddle next to them in bed. This is a great thing to do while nursing or bottle feeding baby as it can also keep them awake and stimulated so they will feed better.
If you’re a busy mother, or have other children to take care of and don’t have the time to lie in bed all day, then consider carrying baby around in a wrap-style baby carrier while shirtless.
A lot of effort should be put into those daytime feeding sessions. Feed baby as often as they want to during the day, whether it’s breast or bottle.
If you’re breastfeeding, now is the time to master the latch and try out different breastfeeding positions. Make sure to empty each breast even if it means feeding on the same side twice in a row. That will increase your supply and provide baby with more hind milk. Try using the breast compression technique to ensure baby is getting enough of the fattier hind milk and to help speed up the session.
Try your best NOT to let baby fall asleep during the feeding! Sucking is extremely soothing for a baby and it’s natural for them to drift off or get tired halfway through. If baby continues to fall asleep while nursing, they won’t get full enough and will wake up wanting more just a short while later.
Get a good burp
Different methods work for different kids but this is so, SO important. Try gentle bouncing or laying them on their tummy across your arm or leg instead of patting their back. Adding a little bit of pressure against their tummy with the palm of your hand, or holding their stomach against your rib cage as you bounce up and down can help to eliminate gas.
The number one reason why newborn babies cry after a feeding is because of gas. Often, babies will put their hands to their mouths or root around when they need to burp which can be confusing if they just finished nursing. For babies who are struggling with gas, try using colic tablets or essential oils to ease their tummies.
Get a good poop
This will usually happen on it’s own, so it’s really just a waiting game. You can try “pumping” their legs or holding them in a “sitting position” to get things moving along. The reason why you want to watch for this before putting baby down for a nap is so that they will be comfortable as they sleep and will have no reason to wake up before they’re ready to.
Newborn babies can poop frequently throughout the day (especially breastfed ones). Make sure to use a good bum balm to help avoid rashes with frequent changes. With time, you will learn how often and when they need to go. Their specific habits and routine usually remain constant as they grow older so this is just another way of getting to know your baby.
Talk or sing to baby, have tummy time and lots of skin to skin contact. A colorful play mat is a great tool to have for keeping young babies entertained. The environment should be stimulating and playful but not over-stimulating, so watch for cues that baby is done with a certain activity.
If you’re not sure exactly how to play with a newborn, then just take them around with you as you go about your day and talk to them while you do it. Babies don’t need a lot of entertainment at this age but they love to hear voices and watch faces.
Watch for signs of sleepiness
Throughout the day, keep an eye out for signs that they are ready to sleep. Some babies get very fussy, others may simply stare off in one direction and start the “slow blink.” As soon as you catch the hint that they are sleepy, prepare yourself to initiate the nap time routine.
Sleep Training At Nap Time
Put baby to sleep in their bed
Wherever you want baby to sleep at night time is where you should put them for naps as well. It may be tempting to hold and rock that baby for the next 2 hours but the sooner you can get them accustomed to sleeping in their own bed, the better (don’t worry, you can get in lots of cuddles during “playtime”).
Try to avoid letting baby nap in a car seat, bouncer or swing, as this can develop bad habits as they get older. Remaining consistent about where they sleep will help them get used to their bedroom and learn not to fear it.
Make sure that baby’s room is as comfortable as possible. Try using a warm or cool mist humidifier to make sure that their room is set up with the right conditions for them to sleep.
Keep the curtains open
Daytime sleep needs to be different from night time sleep, so keep the room bright. If it’s a dark or cloudy day, then leave a light on while baby naps. Make sure that there is a significant difference in baby’s room during nap time versus at night.
It’s common to try to avoid any and all noise while baby is napping, but that will become something you need to keep up for years. Most newborns are deep sleepers (hence the term “sleeping like a baby”).
Play music in the background, use a sound machine or open a window to let in street noise. If you have older children, don’t shush them while baby naps. Basically, go about your regular every day activities. This will teach baby to nap despite life happening around them.
Some babies tend to startle in their sleep when they hear loud noises, such as a dog barking or a car horn. Swaddling can help keep the startle reflex from waking them up.
Wake baby up after 2 hours
… and start all over again. It might sound cruel to wake up a sleeping baby but wouldn’t you rather save that sleepiness for 3 am? Several smaller naps throughout the day work better than a few longer ones at the newborn age so that baby can eat more often.
Sleep Training at Bedtime
Make sure that baby has been up for at least 1 – 2 hours before bedtime
Even a 10 minute nap in the car can sustain a baby with enough energy to last all night. It will take some work to plan out baby’s nap times but it is much easier to put a sleepy baby to bed than it is to wrestle with an energetic one.
Dim the lights
The wakeful period before bedtime should be focused on darkness and quiet – different than the wakeful periods during the day. Dim the lights, close the curtains or install blackout blinds.
You still want to make sure baby gets a really good feed, burp and poop
*Ahem* this is your life now…
Tone down the playtime
In the hours before bedtime, choose less vigorous playtime for baby. Avoid swings and bouncy seats or over-stimulating toys. Talk in quieter voices and play soft background music. Try to avoid having the television on.
Bathing and massaging baby are a great way to wind down before bedtime. Opt for sleep-inducing essential oils and use calming bath products designed to help baby relax. Let baby have some time without a diaper on before that longer nighttime stretch. Make sure that playtime before bed is calming and soothing instead of stimulating.
Change baby’s clothes
This is the other part of the day when it’s important to change baby’s clothes to signal that it’s bedtime. It doesn’t really matter what you put baby to sleep in because it’s just the act of changing into pajamas that will create that routine habit.
Try NOT to feed baby right before bed
A feeding before bed is important to keep baby full but if you don’t want to nurse them to sleep every time they wake up, then you need to disassociate it with bedtime. Aim for a half hour before bedtime so that they don’t fall asleep while nursing. You can feed baby first, then gently bounce or dance around with them to get out all those gas bubbles. Or change them into their pajamas after the feeding.
Initiate the “BEDTIME ROUTINE“
This is the last thing you will do with baby before you put them to bed for the night. It can include a bedtime story or lullaby, turning on a projection nightlight, some gentle rocking or cuddling in a chair, or goodnight kisses and hugs from everyone in the family.
Over the years the bedtime routine will evolve as your child grows. But it should always include a calming activity that is reserved specifically for bedtime so as to give your baby the bedtime signal.
Put baby to bed when you see the early signs of sleepiness
It’s worth repeating here – put baby down when they are sleepy but not actually asleep. The younger the baby, the more they are acting on instincts and as long as all of their needs are met, they shouldn’t protest when you put them down.
If baby cries when you put them down…
Try feeding or burping again until they get drowsy. If baby falls asleep while nursing, just try to get them into bed as soon as possible afterwards. Try your best to remain positive about the process, or baby will sense your anxiety.
Once down for the night – DO NOT WAKE BABY UP TO EAT.
Newborns need to eat on a regular schedule, but because you have been pumping them full of food during the day, you can worry a little bit less about how much they are eating at night. They WILL wake up when they are hungry but it should be longer than 2 hour intervals. The older and bigger they get, the longer they will be able to go without a midnight snack.
Use a baby monitor to listen for when baby wakes up, and try to get to them as soon as possible. Try not to let baby cry for too long, as this will stimulate them more than necessary. Newborns will normally only wake up to feed so there is no point in letting them “cry it out.”
Sleep Training in the Middle of the Night
If and when baby wakes up in the middle of the night…
Do not turn on any lights
Keep the room as dark and quiet as possible. A soft nightlight or mood light offers just enough lighting for you to see what you’re doing but the idea is to help baby associate night time with darkness and quiet.
Keep baby dressed
Save the skin to skin contact for the daytime. If you swaddle baby then it’s up to you whether or not to unswaddle them, but the idea is not to disturb or stimulate baby any more than necessary.
Because you’re pumping them full of milk during the day, you don’t need to worry about how much they’re getting in the middle of the night. This is a great time to use the breast compression technique while breastfeeding. Most likely, baby will fall asleep during nursing. If they do, try to get them back into bed as quickly as possible.
Do not talk to or stimulate baby in any way
If you’re smooth enough – you might be able to convince baby that this is just a dream and that they aren’t really awake at all…
Only change a diaper if it’s poopy
If baby had enough poopy diapers during the day then the chances of a poopy diaper at night are slim (though they do happen). Good quality diapers can normally retain urine for an entire night’s sleep. If you find that baby is soaking right through them, try a different brand or move up a size. Some babies are prone to diaper rash, but skin can also become too sensitive with frequent changes. If you absolutely must change a diaper, use a warm wipe or washcloth and try to make it as quick as possible so you’re not overstimulating baby.
Get a good burp
But don’t try any fancy positions that might overstimulate baby unless they seem to be having a lot of trouble with gas.
Immediately return baby to crib
Don’t make a big deal out of night time wake ups. Try to make them as quick and quiet as possible and don’t take baby out of their room.
Continue this routine for all night time feedings until morning and then begin the daytime routine all over again.
By following a routine with your newborn throughout the day, you will be able to get them on a consistent schedule. This will help you to predict what they need and when, so that when they cry, you can rule out the common reasons. Having designated awake and nap times will also allow mom to get more rest and/or work done without having to constantly wonder when baby will be ready to eat or sleep. You could even try using an app to track baby’s sleep patterns. The routine will eventually become second nature to mom and baby, and will continue to change and evolve as baby grows. It will also help to reduce the stress and anxiety caused by sleep training at a later age.
Have you tried all these tips and your baby is STILL not sleeping through the night?
There could be something you’re missing. All babies are different, and there isn’t ONE plan that works for everyone. Don’t be afraid to seek help from an expert. Read my review of The Baby Sleep Site for more information.