Whichever sleep training method you adopt, there are some key areas to be addressed beforehand that will give you a better chance of success.
Development and health:
By 5 – 6 months, most babies are developmentally ready to learn how to self-soothe and resettle when they wake up overnight. Before you consider sleep training, you want to first, get a clearance from your paediatrician to rule out any other health or medical factors that could be playing a role in your child’s sleep. Check your baby’s weight to see if they can start to reduce night feeds down or cut them out altogether. Remembering, if it’s your preference to keep one or two overnight feeds, you can certainly do this AND teach your baby to sleep on either side of the feed.
Teaching your baby how to sleep won’t happen instantly. If you have already been through a prolonged period of broken sleep, following a sleep plan that could make your nights deteriorate initially takes real resolve. Starting a new sleep plan only to abandon it a couple of days later will do neither you nor your baby any good. What’s more, it’s likely to be even harder the next time you try, because your baby knows that within a couple of nights you’ll go back to how you were initially settling them. Make sure you and your partner are committed to your strategy before you begin so you can give it 100%.
It is strongly advised that you don’t have plans to go on holidays, nights away or too many commitments for three weeks after commencing the program. After the training is over and your baby is falling asleep independently, you will have a bit more flexibility around nights away from home. **If you like to get out of the house a couple of times during the day, this can be incorporated into your sleep plan throughout the training period.
If you or your baby have developed poor sleeping habits at night, the initial days of sleep training can be hard for both you and your baby. This may leave you both groggy the next day. To help this situation, you will need as much back up support as possible through this crucial time. Ask friends, relatives or neighbours to babysit for a couple of hours during the day, so that you can catch up on some lost sleep.
All successful sleep strategies involve leaving your baby to sleep alone, eventually. You cannot do this if you worry your baby is not safe in their sleeping environment. If your baby is sitting on their own then their cot needs to be on the lower base level so they aren’t at risk of falling out. Make sure your baby’s bed is safe and that there are no toys in it, which they might choke on, no bumpers or mobiles. If your child is in a bed that they can climb out of, make sure the room is safe with an option of a secure safety gate on their door. For safe sleeping guidelines, read this reference.
Parents can feel a lot of guilt about not comforting their babies while they are crying. While it’s important for your baby to have a good night’s sleep, we often forget that parents’ sleep is just as vital. There are going to be big changes in the way your baby falls asleep and resettles during the night. It is expected that there will be lots of protests, tears and unsettledness during the training. The first couple of nights, in particular, are going to be difficult, but by night three, you’ll probably notice your baby falling asleep faster. By the end of week one (sometimes sooner), they may start going to sleep independently with little or no fussing. Once your baby learns how to fall asleep on their own, the better the overall sleep will become.
While babies show similar behaviour at certain ages, they are all individuals. Some are really quick to pick up on new routines and methods and others take a bit longer. You need to be patient with your child and understand that these are big changes we are making and feel positive that they will be able to learn in their own time.
Illness, teething and regressions after sleep training:
When you are little, being sick is hard. When fighting off illness, sleep is one of the body’s ways of healing itself, so making sleep a priority is important for your baby. When your baby has a cold, ear infection, minor illness or teething discomfort, you might find yourself able to continue with the sleeping routines and settling techniques you already have in place. However, when you know your baby is really unwell and wakes during the night, it’s best to attend to them promptly and do whatever they need to feel soothed and comfortable. Once your little one is on the mend, you should start bringing back the regular sleep routines you have in place. Once you have healthy sleep habits established, it’s like riding a bike; your little one will readjust back to them in no time and be self-settling like a champion.
What you can expect
There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution with sleep training your baby. The techniques and progress for any one baby may not be the same for another baby. Each child is different and will learn at their own pace. In most cases, most families report noticeable results in as few as 3 days, but changing these habits can take up to three weeks. There are different learning phases your baby will go through, notably, a reverting phase at some point in the three weeks. It is important to know that this is just your baby progressing through the training and is all part of the learning process. Some babies will revert quite significantly and others seem to breeze through, no problem!