New parents are usually the more exhausted people in any room, caring for a baby is a 24/7 job. Getting more sleep is the goal of most new parents so methods like sleep training can look like the answer. The term “sleep training” is a loaded one. Most parents associate the idea with sitting on the floor, outside the nursery listening to your baby cry and scream themselves to sleep, leaving everyone traumatized and exhausted. A new wave of sleep experts say sleep training is more about teaching your baby that they are capable of falling asleep independently – but you decide. Every parent needs to choose the best way of managing sleep for their family. Some parents do fine on a few hours of sleep, others need more to have the patience to care for a baby. There are many factors to consider when caring for your baby.
Ideally, you want your baby to be able to fall asleep without you since they will inevitably wake at night and look for you to provide the same song, rocking, breast that helped them fall asleep the first time. But the best way to accomplish this isn’t clear and as with all things parenting, there are no rules. Even the “sleep experts” don’t agree on the best way to help babies sleep longer. Or if we should want them to. I mean of course we want to sleep longer, but for breastfed babies with small tummies that empty quickly, frequent nursing sessions through the night can keep your milk supply strong and help your baby get the nutrition they need to grow.
One thing the experts agree on to help your baby fall asleep is a consistent bedtime routine. Around six weeks old, pick the same time every evening to bathe, sing, read and feed your baby then place her into her crib. Consistent wake up times help too.
If you choose sleep training it should start between four and six months, according to some experts. There are many methods of sleep training, all involving some form of allowing your baby to cry and fuss without any soothing. Sleep training is not recommended by many lactation consultants, babies cry for many reasons and responding to your baby’s cries given them confidence in you and the safety of their environment.
Instead of sleep training, here are some tips for instilling good sleep habits early on:
- Offer the breast frequently during the day. You want her to get the idea that the daytime is for eating and nighttime is for sleeping.
- Wait to respond to nursery noises. It’s natural for a baby to wake up occasionally during the night and they may fall back asleep without help from you. Wait outside the door to make sure your child needs soothing and not just whimpering in his sleep. If you go in the nursery, it may turn into a full-fledged wake up necessarily.
- Aim for an early bedtime. An earlier bedtime—like 6:30pm or 7:00pm—may help your baby sleep longer. Putting your baby down earlier means less of a chance for them to be overtired. Just like adults, overtired babies can find emotions get in the way, making the nighttime routine more difficult.
- Open the blinds. Help your baby learn the difference between night and day by opening the blinds in the morning and going outside during the day. Try to keep the nighttime nursery environment quiet and dark. These cues help your baby learn the expectations and routines for night and day.
Sleep deprivation is definitely a real thing – and it can make us desperate for some rest. Try to sleep when your baby naps during the day, although this is tough if you also have older children. Be kind to yourself and focus on caring for yourself and you baby and ask for help if you need it!