Ilana Wiles: How I Successfully Sleep Trained My Kids
Ilana Wiles shares her experience on sleep training her children.
Listening to your baby cry it out can be heartbreaking. Here are some tips to make sleep training easier on both you and your baby.
We think of the first 3 months of a baby's life as the fourth trimester, a time of transition from womb to world. In terms of sleep in utero, your baby is used to being gently rocked, continuously fed, warm in the dark and always close to his mother's heartbeat and voice. Up until birth, everything has been regulated. Now, your baby needs to adjust to life on the outside. These early weeks and months are a time to welcome your baby to the world and to make him as comfortable and secure in his new environment as possible. He will need regular day and night feedings and most likely will need help to get and stay asleep. So anything you do to help your little one from nursing to rocking, from swaddling to pacifier, sound machines, bouncing- any methods or devices you come up with that help, you can feel good about. This is not a time to worry about setting up bad habits. Babies vary tremendously even from day 1 about how easy or difficult it is to get them the sleep they need. Some babies seem to be born with an internal clock and drift off to sleep easily and sleep for long stretches. Well other newborns are more erratic and seem to fight sleep at every turn. Both examples are healthy and normal ends of the spectrum. What differs is how hard your job is as parents. The good news is all babies can learn to be good sleepers once they have reached a certain age and weight. And by 3 months, we actually say 12 weeks and 12 pounds-- most babies are ready to start learning how to sleep through the night. By 4 months, can be sleeping 11 to 12 hours at night and taking 2 regular naps a day of an hour or more.
At about 4 months of age, babies are physically able to give up their nighttime feedings. At this time, it actually becomes counterproductive to feed your baby in the middle of the night. This is often very hard to believe since up until now, the baby has needed this fuel to make it through the night. But babies change quickly in these first few months. Now long stretches of uninterrupted sleep are what your baby needs to grow best. During sleep, while the body is resting, the brain cycles through different levels of sleep. It needs this to process the information it is taking in during the day. Eating activates the body. Think of all the sucking, swallowing, digesting and eliminating that is required during and right after a feeding. The whole digestive system is turned on. This is quite a lot of work for a baby's body to do. What their bodies really need is to be in a state of restorative sleep. So feeding in the middle of the night can actually be disruptive to your baby's sleep. By not feeding your baby in the middle of the night, his metabolism is allowed to slow down and his important brain work can get done. Parents worry that they will be depriving their baby of food. But babies are so smart. They will naturally eat more during the daytime feedings to make up for any calories lost by not eating at night. Think of it this way, "I am helping my baby's body to get the fundamental rest it needs and I am helping my baby's brain to do its work and get its fundamental nutrients by letting my baby have a night of uninterrupted sleep."
Teach your baby to fall asleep on his own by helping him practice self soothing.
After you have accomplished the goal of having your baby fall asleep on his own at night, then it is time to turn your attention to daytime sleep. A baby's daytime and nighttime sleep are interrelated. One affects the other. A baby who is sleeping well at night will take better naps and vice versa. By 4 months, babies need to take at least 2 naps a day. Some babies will even take 3 naps. Each nap should be a minimum of 1 hour. And actually a nap of 1-1/2 to 2 hours is better still. The morning nap usually begins 1-1/2 to 2 hours after the morning waking. We recommend putting your baby down for his naps at the same time each day. This will establish and reinforce your baby's internal clock. 1 to 2pm are typical afternoon naptimes for babies between 4 and 15 months. You can use an edited version of your nightly bedtime routine in the day-- clean diapers, story or song, a bottle or nursing. Keep your baby's room dark, comfortably cool and quiet. While your baby may have been able to sleep during a party or in his play pen during the first few months of life, this no longer holds true. Your baby can and will be awaken from a nap. So make the conditions conducive to uninterrupted sleep. The benefits of doing the exact same thing whenever you put your baby to bed is that he gets a consistent and clear message. Trust that your baby is ready to sleep and do not wait for signs that he is tired. While frequent short naps are fine when they are younger, longer naps provide him with more hours of deep sleep.