If you’re dreading baby sleep training - or sleep teaching - you’re not alone! Whether you’ve received unsolicited advice from a friend who’s convinced your little one isn’t sleeping well enough, or you’ve found yourself confused by all of the different sleep training methods, we hear you. We’ve been there too.
So don’t worry if you’re sitting there desperately seeking some shut-eye and thinking ‘how the heck am I supposed to navigate this?’, because that’s where we come in.
We’ve put together a no-nonsense guide to all things infant sleep training - from when to start all the way to finding the perfect method for you.
Trust us, your baby will be a super sleeper before you know it.
What is sleep training?
Essentially, sleep training is a way of helping your baby learn how to fall asleep independently.
Although babies spend a lot of their time asleep, knowing when and how to sleep doesn’t actually come naturally to them.
Sleep training helps teach them to drift off without any help from you - just like how you’re able to pass out as soon as your head hits the pillow!
When should you start sleep training?
At four months old babies can - and should - start to self-settle, aka begin to fall back to sleep by themselves, which is a good indicator that they’re ready for sleep training.
But the choice is up to you.
Some experts recommend that you start at six months, and some parents find that they don’t need to sleep train until they go through a regression at nine months.
All babies (and parents!) are different, and that’s OK.
Sleep training methods
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to sleep training, but there are five common methods that most parents use.
Whichever you choose, the most important aspect to consider is whether you can be consistent, as you have to give it a try for a few weeks to really see results.
1. The chair method
The Chair Method is a gradual sleep training method that allows you to sit on a chair and stay in the room until your baby falls asleep.
Every few days, you move the chair a little further away from your little one as they begin to learn to fall asleep with less interaction from you.
The only things you’ll need? A comfy chair and a lot of patience, as you’ll have to block out at least two weeks in your schedule for this one.
Your two-week plan will look a little like this: nights one to three, set up your chair right next to the crib where you’re within arm’s reach.
The rule for these first few nights is that you can only pick them up once each night to soothe, but you can use other techniques (think: shushing, or singing) to help them settle.
Once they’re fast asleep, you can leave the room.
For nights four to six, move your chair halfway to the door.
This part might be tough, but you’ve now got to refrain from picking your little one up to soothe them, but you can continue to talk to them and settle them with your voice.
When you get to nights seven to ten, move your chair to the doorway where your little one can still see you, but you’re much further away.
Use all of your soothing techniques from nights four through six and, well, you get the drill, once they’re snoozing you can head on out.
For nights 11 to 14, move your chair completely out of baby’s room and soothe them from the doorway if they fuss.
Next, congratulate yourself on (hopefully!) having a sleep-trained baby.
2. Controlled crying: the Ferber method
The Ferber Method is simple to follow, but some parents find it difficult as it is considered a ‘crying method’ of sleep training, which is sometimes controversial.
How does it work?
Well, after going through your usual bedtime routine, start by putting your baby in their crib when they’re drowsy, leaving the room, and setting a timer for a specific amount of time (say, a minute) before going back in and reassuring them.
Continue to leave the room and check on them, slowly increasing the amount of time between visits until you’ve reached 10-15 minutes.
When soothing your little one, try your best not to pick them up or engage too much, so they learn to self-settle. Then, keep at it until they fall asleep!
This technique could take up to a week to work, but you should start seeing results within a few days.
3. Pick up, put down
If you’d rather give your little one a cuddle to soothe them, this method is for you.
Pick up, put down involves holding your child as they cry and placing them back in their crib once they’ve calmed down, continuing the cycle until they’re fast asleep.
Essentially, your job is to calm them down so that they can do their job of falling asleep!
Although relatively simple, this technique only suits babies that are younger than seven months, because they’re less stimulated by your presence.
4. Fade away
The fading technique is known as one of the most gentle sleep training methods (and probably what you’re doing already!).
With this method, you continue using your favorite tips and tricks to help your baby fall asleep, whether that’s nursing, singing, rocking - whatever works for you and your little peanut.
Then, you begin decreasing the amount of time you spend doing this until, in theory, you don’t need to do it at all.
5. Cry it out: the extinction method
The infamous cry it out method is essentially an extreme version of the Ferber Method we mentioned earlier.
With this technique, you try to stop baby crying, and encourage them to self-soothe by trying your hardest not to respond to them.
Begin by going through your bedtime routine, put them in the crib while they’re drowsy, say goodnight, and walk away.
When they fuss, instead of coming in and soothing them you’re meant to leave them to learn to soothe and fall asleep independently.
This slightly controversial method might leave you hesitant (no one likes to hear their little one cry!) but if your baby is no longer needing a night feed and you’re desperately seeking some shut-eye, it might be worth giving it a go for a few nights.
Which sleep training method is right for me?
Let’s be honest, there is no magical method that will solve all of your sleeping woes instantly.
No matter how many times your mom, best friend, or distant relative say there is, there isn’t!
Not everything works for every child, so it’s important you decide which technique you’re most comfortable with, and try it out for as long as you can. If, after that, you’re still struggling, reach out to the community on Peanut for help, or check in with an infant sleep specialist for more guidance.
Ultimately, trust your gut as you know your little one best.
You’ve got this.
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