Sleep Skills: How to Sleep Train Your Baby
Waking up three, four, five, or more times a night to the sound of crying. Stumbling half-asleep into the child’s room and reaching into their crib. Rocking them, nursing them, or singing to them before laying them down and going back to bed yourself. Repeat. If this scene is all too familiar to you, you may want to look into sleep training your baby. Amy Willson, owner of Louisiana Baby Company, has answers to any questions you may have about the process of teaching your child independent sleeping skills.
What exactly is sleep training?
“Sleep training can be a lot of different things,” Willson answers. “It varies depending on the method. My goal is for your baby to fall asleep themselves without any extra hoops such as feeding or rocking, and then to be able to fall back asleep themselves if they wake up in the middle of the night.”
After having her own children and experiencing their sleep struggles, Wilson started educating herself about sleep. She became a childhood educator and a doula to help families 7 years ago, which is when she noticed some parents struggling to get their infant to sleep. So, in 2018, she got formally trained in the method she uses now where she lives with families for 3 days as she works on getting their child to sleep properly.
When do you know your child needs sleep training?
For starters, a child should not begin sleep training until they are 12-16 weeks old. If they are of age and are waking up either as soon as you put them down or 30-45 minutes later, there’s a chance they need sleep training.
“Your baby can wake up and not really need anything. You could have the sound machine, the blackout curtains, the special onesie or sleep sack, and the perfect temperature, yet nothing is helping them,” Willson says. “The baby is overtired, you’re exhausted, and you’ve tried anything under the sun to get them to sleep longer.”
There are circumstances in which your child should not undergo sleep training, however. If they are sick, teething, or have had immunizations lately, it’s best to wait until they are feeling more like themselves. Also, it’s not a good idea to sleep train if you’re going through any major changes for the baby like moving to a new house or while traveling.
What may sleep training entail?
“I will come in and meet your family before bedtime, hang out with and get to know your baby, and make sure their nursery is optimal for sleep,” says Willson. “I let the parents sleep the first night while I watch the baby’s body language and listen for the variations in their cries. A baby’s cries will tell you if they need something and that we aren’t ignoring a legitimate need as opposed to the baby crying out of frustration. Parents are designed to respond to their baby’s cries, and there isn’t anything wrong with that, but sometimes parents can be poor interpreters. Sometimes your baby is telling you they just want to be left alone rather than rocked, shushed, or fed.”
What are the benefits of sleep training?
The myriad of benefits to sleep training includes a list of health improvements for both you and your baby. If a baby is not sleeping well, they may not eat well or meet developmental milestones. At the same time, your mental health will be impacted by the severe sleep deprivation.
“Good sleep can help babies be less fussy and more open to learning,” Willson notes.
Your marriage will start to see improvements as well, as you will be spending less time staring at each other in the middle of the night when your baby wakes up and asking whose turn it is to rock or feed them to sleep. This conflict will be resolved by your baby sleeping more.
What are some sleep training tips or tricks?
“I suggest starting with healthy sleep habits right when your baby is out the womb,” Willson says. “Everyone wants to hold and snuggle the baby all the time, but you may need to put the baby down for a nap every so often just to get them used to the crib, if they’re willing to.”
When a baby is used to being snuggled in a warm environment, it’s natural for them to dislike laying on a firm, flat surface. So, they need to be accustomed to sleeping on a surface. Make sure your baby does not get overtired. Educate yourself on appropriate wake times for your child; for newborns, wake times range from 45 minutes to an hour and increase from there.
“It’s okay to hold your baby all the time at the very beginning, but if you notice your baby can be put down without being fed first, then try that,” Willson adds. “There is no right or wrong with sleep, but there is sustainable and unsustainable.”