In our natural sleep rhythms, we all wake up in the night and usually go back to sleep on our own. If we wake up enough to eat a meal or have a conversation it takes longer to fall back asleep. The same for your baby. In order to teach your baby to self-soothe, you need to allow him to fall back asleep without a feeding or attention. While young babies need nighttime feedings, babies as young as 6 months of age can be trained to sleep through the night. There are a couple of weeks of training time that can be hard on parents and babies. But at the end of those weeks, the whole family has the ability to sleep through the night, and you are rewarded with rested, happy children.
Some parents enjoy the closeness of nighttime feeding and prefer to not train their babies to self-soothe. I have also found that these parents tend to have a more laid-back lifestyle and don’t mind catching a nap during the day or being a little sleepy. One way to minimize the length of the night-time wake periods if you choose not to sleep train is to keep the lights off and keep interaction minimal so your baby knows night-time is mostly sleep time. Also, teeth should be cleaned if feeding at night to avoid teeth decay from the milk against the teeth.
For those that are interested in teaching your baby to sleep through the night, here is how you do it:
- Choose a consistent bedtime that works with your family schedule, realizing that sleeping through the night means 8 to 10 hours of sleep. So, the earlier he goes to bed the earlier he will rise.
- Establish a consistent bedtime routine.
- Put your baby to bed at night when he is drowsy, but not asleep yet, in a boring environment (quiet, dark room).
- When baby wakes up in the night, don’t go in the room.
- For me, it was helpful to sit in the hallway where my son couldn’t see me, but I could hear the tone of his cry and know that he was safe.
- I would write down the time he started crying and the time that he stopped.
- I would use that time to pray for him. It was a lesson for me as a mom to know that there are times in life I won’t be physically there with my child, but I can always be praying for him.
- I would repeat the process each time he woke up.
- Then, I would have documented evidence that he was waking up less often and crying for shorter periods of time each night. Eventually (often sooner than I thought) he was not waking up in the night.
- For this method to work quickly and effectively, it’s best for baby not to see or hear you.
- Some parents aren’t comfortable without letting the baby know they are there. If you choose to check on your baby, then go in briefly and say quietly “time for sleep” then leave the room. Also, set a timer and gradually increase the length of time between check-ins. This takes longer because children learn that if they cry long enough, Mom will eventually come in the room.
- Some babies require some crying time to self-soothe each night.
My youngest son was this way. He’s now thirteen years old. I told him, I was writing this post and he said, “I’m glad you taught me how to sleep.”
“Really? But you cried every night!”
“Yes, but I don’t remember any of that.”
“And I guess, your glad that as a 13 year old boy, you don’t have to cuddle mom to fall asleep each night.”
He laughed, “Exactly!”
What to do when you share a home with others?
Many of my patient families share the home with their in-laws or parents. Grandparents often struggle with hearing a baby cry. One option would be to explain the whole training process to the grandparents and ask them to help you train your baby. Showing them the times you have written down, and how it is working could help them agree with the plan. Another option would be to not feed, but offer a pacifier or blanket when baby wakes in the night. It would still involve a little interaction and crying as baby adjusts. Eventually, when your baby wakes up in the night, he will reach for the blanket on his own and go back to sleep.
Is it possible to sleep train when you share a room with your baby?
Yes. When you first put your baby to bed and you’re still awake in another room, you can follow the above steps. For night-time wakings pretend to sleep.
One vacation, our family of four was sleeping in the same room. My youngest son (mentioned above) was about 2 years old, but had been sleep trained and by this age was no longer crying when he first went to bed. But, in the middle of the night he woke up and started talking to me “Mamma asleep?”
“No, Mamma’s talking to you.”
“Yes. Daddy’s sleeping.”
He continued to chatter quietly for a couple of hours. It was the cutest thing! He’s my quiet one, so I just soaked up this time. But, the next day I was tired. That night he did it again. The next day I was even more tired. Finally, the third night I just pretended to sleep when he woke up ready to chat and he fell right back to sleep. But now that he’s thirteen, I would love to go back in time and cuddle and talk all night to my two-year old bundle of cuteness!