You don't have to cry it out to eliminate your baby's nighttime wakings. Kim West, author of "Good Night, Sleep Tight: The Sleep Lady's Gentle Guide to Helping Your Baby Go to Sleep Must-Know Advice from the Sleep Lady" and "The Good Night, Sleep Tight Workbook", explains how to implement her Sleep Lady Shuffle -- and have the whole family snoozing better in two weeks.
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1. Make sleep a priority.
Why should you worry about your baby's sleep habits? Remember that the human brain -- yours and your baby's -- runs on sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has linked babies' frequent night wakings to everything from postpartum depression in moms to future obesity and behavior problems in kids. As Marc Weissbluth, MD, the author of "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child," explains, children who don't get enough consolidated REM sleep have shorter attention spans, so they don't learn as well. These babies also release more of the stress hormone cortisol, setting them up for frequent night wakings and stunted naps. Tired yet?
2. Get the green light.
Before you start any sleep-training method, make sure all the necessary people are on board. Begin by talking to your pediatrician. Rule out any underlying medical conditions, such as reflux, sleep apnea, and allergies. Also, get a feel for how often your baby should be eating and sleeping within a 24-hour period. Next, get your partner involved. Make your plan together, deciding how you'll react to wakings at given times. If your 10-month-old is nursing six times a night, both of you must agree that you'll feed him once before bed, then not again until morning.
3. Log your baby's sleep.
If you have a hard time remembering how many times your baby woke last night, much less how she slept last week, a log will help you notice patterns. After a week of tracking her days and nights, start by figuring out her ideal bedtime. You might say, "Oh, she's always fussy at 7 p.m. -- that's probably when I should be putting her down, and I'm missing the window." A log will also let you see that your baby may not have cried during the night for as long as you thought. Five minutes of fussing can feel like 50 when it's 2 a.m.
4. Create a routine.
Fifteen minutes is all you need to perform a quiet, soothing ritual that will help your baby's mind and body prepare for sleep. Remain in his nursery or near his crib and choose the same two or three quiet, calm activities, such as reading or singing. Be sure to keep anything stimulating -- tickling, TV -- out of the equation. For babies over 6 months, incorporate a favorite stuffed animal or blanket into the routine.
Getting baby on a regular schedule is an important part to helping him sleep through the night. Find out the best ways to establish a bedtime routine.
5. Pick a start date.
There's never a perfect time to start sleep training. But if you're using the Sleep Lady Shuffle method, it's best to start when you know you'll have at least three weeks without any changes in time zone, cribs, or bedrooms -- especially if your baby is alert and sensitive. The most popular night to begin is Friday because of the upcoming weekend. Some parents use vacation days so they won't have to worry about being at work in the morning. And remember that you'll always be more successful if your baby has been napping well.
6. Set the scene.
The right environment means everything when it comes to sleep training. Keep the room cool and comfortable -- between 65 and 70 degrees. If your baby's room gets a lot of light -- and she has trouble with naps and early wake-ups -- install room-darkening shades. (You may also want to invest in a night-light.)
7. Put baby down awake.
Run through your bedtime routine with the lights on, then place your baby in the crib drowsy but awake. Expect some tears, especially if she's used to falling asleep in your arms. For the first three nights, sit next to the crib in a chair, offering gentle, intermittent reassurances and occasional touches. If she becomes hysterical you can pick her up, but put her back as soon as she calms down. Stay beside the crib until she's sound asleep. Respond to night wakings the same way.
8. Move a chair.
Use the same calming techniques and move the chair progressively farther from the crib every third night until you're outside her room and out of view. It's important to keep moving. If you stay in one spot for more than a few days, your baby will grow accustom to your being there, and this will become her new sleep crutch.
9. Go back to bed.
Within a couple of weeks, you should be able to put your baby down to sleep at bedtime, say good night, and close the door -- and she should be able to quickly put herself back to sleep during those inevitable night wakings.
10. Stay consistent.
One of the biggest mistakes parents make, no matter what method they use, is being inconsistent. At some point your little one will cry for you in the middle of the night, even if you think you've all made it over the sleep-training hump. Go to his cribside to check on him and make sure all is well -- just be sure not to restart an old sleep crutch during this check. After that, try comforting him from outside the door, if you can. If you regress due to illness or travel, get back on the training wagon as soon as possible. Otherwise you risk sabotaging the weeks of hard work you've already put in.
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