During the first few months of your baby’s life, you are prepared for sleepless nights. As your child gets older, the sleepless nights take a toll, and it becomes harder and harder to wake up every time your baby is awake. The good news is that by three to four months of age, your baby is ready to sleep through the night. Your baby can learn to self-soothe early, but this is not the same as sleep training.
Sleep training may sound a little unloving at times, but learning how to sleep independently is considered a necessary life skill for babies. The key is to help them practice nodding off independently without nursing, rocking, or using a pacifier. Removing these are important because these are the tools that the baby will wake up looking for in the night, the same ones they use to fall asleep.
The right age for sleep training varies according to your baby’s development, say, sleep coaches, usually around four to six months of age. Also, some babies go through a sleep regression at around four months, so they may be losing sleep as they learn new skills. Try these methods to get your baby to sleep on its own.
1. Establish a Routine
By following a regular schedule, you get your baby used to it. Put them to bed at a consistent time every night, say 8 p.m. When they are about two months old, put them in the crib when drowsy. Even if your baby cries, let them cry it out, as they will soon get used to it.
Try incorporating a feed, bath, or massage just before bedtime to calm your baby. Feeding should be at the start of the routine, so your baby does not associate feeding with sleeping. Get your child tired enough during the day with enough playtime and stimulation. Be careful, though, as your baby may have trouble falling asleep if they are overtired.
2. Ferber Method
There are many other names for this method: the check and console, graduated extinction, progressive waiting, and interval method. Whatever name you hear, it remains the same. You check on your baby at defined intervals but do not feed or rock them to sleep. Feeding them or rocking them would mean they aren’t falling asleep on their own.
Put your baby in the crib after going through your baby’s bedtime routine. Leave the room and after some time, go back in and talk to your baby by saying a few words in a reassuring voice. A touch or pat may also give the baby the reassurance it needs to know that you have not abandoned them. Some babies may require parental presence for longer. This has to be repeated often, increasing the time intervals between visits. Keep doing this until they fall asleep. If they wake up later in the night, start the process again. The check-and-console or Ferber method may take up to a week to work.
3. Extinction Method
The full extinction method works based on the baby’s developmental stage, though it’s also controversial because the parent leaves the child for the night. This method is to extinguish crying by not responding. You go through your bedtime routine, put the baby in the crib, and walk out. Unless they need a feed in the night, you come back only in the morning.
While this method involves a lot of crying and a lot of willpower on the part of the parents to not go into the room and console the baby, the crying does get a lot easier after the first two or three nights. It is recommended that you try this method for a minimum of one week before giving up on it.
4. Chair method
The chair method is one of the most gradual ones. This one also requires discipline on the part of the parents. As in the others, you put your baby in the crib in this method. After this, instead of leaving the room, you sit in a chair next to the crib. You can leave the room when they fall asleep but sit back down in the chair whenever they wake up. You will have to continue sitting in the chair until they fall asleep. Move the chair further away from the crib every few nights until you’re out of the room.
5. Pick up, put down, and shush-pat method
This method is recommended for babies that are younger than seven months. This method involves the parent staying in the room. If the baby has trouble falling asleep, just give them a gentle reassurance like a pat or a shush. If they start crying profusely and it does not seem like it will stop, pick up the baby and soothe them briefly before putting them back down before they fall asleep. This method may not work for babies older than six or seven months, as your presence may be too stimulating for them to fall asleep.
6. Bedtime-Routine Fading method
The fading technique is probably the most commonly used sleep training method. In this method, you continue with whatever method your baby usually falls asleep with – like rocking or nursing – and every day decrease the amount of time doing it. This continues until you do not have to do it at all.
7. Bedtime-hour Fading method
The second fading method, this one, is vastly different from the bedtime-routine fading method. This one is to get your baby to fall asleep pretty much as soon as they hit the crib, but it takes some time. In this method, put your baby into the crib and watch when your baby ends up sleeping.
This could be done with a baby monitor. For the next couple of nights, put your baby to bed at the time they fell asleep the first day. And then gradually move this up to an earlier time. For example, if you put your baby to sleep at 8 pm and it takes 30 minutes to fall asleep, 8:30 is their natural bedtime. After a few nights, move up the whole routine earlier by 15 minutes. Keep doing this until your baby is used to sleeping earlier, more at a time when you are comfortable, like 7 pm.
Any of these methods may work for you and your baby. If one does not, try another one until your baby learns to sleep on their own. As your baby grows older, you should adjust wake times, naps, and bedtimes so they continue to fall asleep on their own and stay asleep.
Stick to a routine: this helps babies and parents to adjust to life later on. The nights of crying can be a little overwhelming to parents, but remember that this is all for the greater good. A baby that can learn to fall asleep on its own will be ready for anything later, like going to preschool.
Always remember to follow safe sleep practices for your baby. Babies should always be allowed to sleep alone. The baby should be put to sleep in a crib. Put your baby in the crib on his back, whether at night or during a nap. Babies should never be put in the crib on their side or tummy. Your baby may have grown enough to roll over to the side during sleep or when awake, and your baby can stay in that position after.
But you should always put your baby to sleep on his back. The baby mattress in the crib should be firm, and the crib’s slats should be close together. All pillows should be removed from the crib. If you are using a blanket, it should be no higher than the chest level of the baby and tucking in firmly around the mattress. The room temperature should be comfortable. By around five months, you can start removing hanging toys on the crib. And crib bumpers should be removed once your baby starts climbing on the sides of the crib.
Get your partner to assist you in training the baby, as some of the methods do require a fair bit of waking up for the parents as well. Before you start any sleep training method, consult your baby’s doctor, briefing them about how your baby sleeps at the time and get them to okay a sleep training regimen. Your doctor will tell if your baby is developmentally ready to go through sleep training.