When your baby reaches 3 to 4 months of age, their bodies are beginning to mature and they are able to sustain for longer periods without asking for milk. During this time, you can begin to foray into the territory of sleep training.
But before we talk about the ins and outs of sleep training, what exactly is sleep training?
Sleeping is one of the most natural things that human beings do. Sleep is also one of the most essential needs of your newborn baby. Ironically, sleeping may not come naturally, at least not immediately. You may find that your baby needs gentle prodding — or training — in order to learn correct sleeping habits.
Sleep training is the process of teaching your baby proper sleeping habits by helping them understand body signals and identify the cues that tell them that it is time to rest. In the process, they will also learn how to sleep on their own and sleep through the night.
However, even though it’s tempting to start sleep training a wee little newborn, you have to wait until they are physiologically mature to handle sleeping straight for at least 4-6 hours without waking up to feed. This is why it is best to wait until your baby is around 3 or 4 months old before attempting sleep training.
Another thing to keep in mind before beginning to sleep train is to never let your baby become overtired or overstimulated. Despite what you may think, these sensations will not cause your baby to sleep more restfully. On the contrary, they may become fussy and unable to sleep! Set a bedtime, instead, and in the hour leading to that bedtime, slow down all activities and follow a soothing bedtime routine.
5 Common Sleep Training Methods
There is no one specific way to sleep train. One approach might work for one family but might not work for yours. On the flipside, one method can work for your family but is ineffective for others. Let’s have a look at the 5 most common sleep training methods.
1. Ferber Method
The Ferber Method of sleep training is named after Dr. Richard Ferber, a pediatrician and the former direction of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital in Boston. In 1985, he published the book, “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems.”
With this approach, what you need to do is to put your baby down on their back inside their crib and then leave the room. If your baby cries, you can go in and offer some comfort by touching them and soothing them but not by picking them up.
As you progress, increase the amount of waiting time. For example, on the first night, you can check in on your baby every three minutes. On the second night, make it every five minutes, and on the third night, every ten minutes, until you barely have to check in.
2. Fade Out Method
This gentle sleep training method allows you to continue what you have been doing to lull your child to sleep, such as nursing and rocking. However, with this method, you have to gradually decrease the amount of time that you spend doing these things. The goal is to eventually not have to do these forms of soothing at all.
Although it may take some time before you see results, this is one of the most flexible methods out there. You don’t need to make major adjustments as this is flexible and not very demanding. With this method, you also allow your baby to gradually transition from their old sleeping habits to the new one.
3. Chair Method
Another sleep training method that you should know about is the Chair Method. Similar to the Fade Out technique, this is also one of the gentlest approaches that you can make. With this method, you can stay inside your baby’s room.
You are there but not necessarily touching your baby as you will be sitting on a chair next to the crib. You need to make sure that you stay seated; do not attempt to pick your baby up. As you progress each night, move your chair farther away from the crib.
For example, on the first night, you can stay right beside the crib. On the next night, move your chair by a couple of feet, and so on.
4. Minimal Contact Method
Also known as the pick-up and put-down method, the Minimal Contact sleep training method requires you to stay with your baby until they fall asleep. The goal is to minimize physical contact in order to help your baby learn how to self-soothe.
You can pat them to soothe them but back away right after. Unlike other sleep training methods, you are allowed to pick your baby up when they fuss, but you need to put them down right away when they are calmer. This way, your baby will get used to being put down.
Similar to other gentle sleep training methods, the Minimal Contact method is virtually guilt-free. Also, it teaches your baby that the purpose of picking them up is for comfort and not for putting them to sleep, which they need to do on their own.
5. Cry It Out Method
Finally, let’s also discuss the Cry It Out method. Arguably one of the most controversial approaches to sleep training, this method can lead to different results because some babies don’t do well with being left alone to cry.
The Cry It Out (CIO) Method, however, is popular among some parents who have found easy success in this method. This method starts similarly with other methods, requiring you to set a consistent bedtime routine and then putting your baby down drowsy but not asleep.
What differentiates CIO from other approaches is that it once you safely lay down your baby in their crib, you need to leave them alone. You never enter the room, no matter how much your baby cries, in order for them to learn (quite quickly) how to self-soothe.
Sleep training is important because it teaches a young baby the proper sleeping habits, which stay with them as they grow up. There are several sleep training methods out there, ranging from gentle to rigid, and it is up to you to determine which approach will work best according to your baby’s personality and preferences as well as your family’s needs and lifestyle.