Sunday, March 21, 2010

Baby Sleep Training: What I Found to be True

Alright, peeps. Its the post you've all been waiting for. The one that's going to magically make your baby sleep through the night starting at day one.

We certainly wish so, right?

I would bet money that most moms would say the #1 challenge of having a newborn baby is the lack of sleep (unless they have the perfect child that sleeps through the night at day one). There are not many things worse than being woken up several times in the night over and over and over again. Who likes to function on a few hours nights of rest? Not me. And I am pretty sure not you either. Knowing this about myself, I was set on teaching my baby sleeping skills fresh out of the womb. Of course every mom has their own theory as to what's the best way to get babies to sleep through the night. You may find that what works for me may not necessarily work for you. It's up to you to decide what is best for you and your baby. With that said, let me share with you some things that I found to be true in helping babies sleep at an early age.

Now let me get up on my soap box.

For some, there is this notion that babies shouldn't be put on a schedule until they are older. I don't know where people get this idea. My theory is this:
they are going to have to learn good sleep habits sooner or later. Why not sooner, rather than later? It will be so much harder for them to learn them when they are older and already have their patterns and habits fixed, and may even cause some serious stress for both of you. Start good habits early on! Babies thrive on schedules. They will trust you and feel more secure when they have a consistent and good sleeping routine. I also believe that babies are happier and less fussy when they are on good sleeping schedules and getting the sleep they very much need (much like adults). There is nothing more secure and comforting for a baby than a predictable schedule. Scheduled naps and scheduled bedtimes are all important for a new baby. They know what to expect. Also, it gets them into predictable routines and habits that will make them better sleepers for the rest of their lives.

Of course, each baby will vary on when they begin to sleep through the night. However, I feel that sticking to these following suggestions will help your child be a better sleeper, getting you the nighttime sleep you have been eagerly waiting for.

(With that said I want you to keep in mind that simply because you are following a schedule does not guarantee a sleeping baby through the night. Especially in the first few months, your baby may be getting up several times to eat. That is ok. Doctors say that by four months your child can safely sleep through the night without needing to get up to eat. By this time you can be training your child to sleep through the night if you want to get a full night's sleep yourself. Some babies may even start sleeping through the night earlier without needing to get up to eat, and some may even take a little longer, but keep in mind the 4-month mark.)

ROUTINE: Babies love routines. Routines help your baby know what to expect at bedtime so they learn that its time to sleep. As part of bedtime routine I try to remember the 6 Bs. Here they are:
Body lotion
Bottle (or boob)

You can obviously add to or change this list and make it your own. Its not so important what you do, but that you do the same thing each night. You can also modify your routine for naps so babies can distinguish the difference.

*Keep in mind: Later to bed does not mean later to rise! Babies actually sleep much better when they go to bed earlier. Doctors say the prime time is anywhere from 7:30 to 8pm.

- Swaddling seems to work best for most babies. Babies like to feel secure and safe and swaddling seems to do just that. It is also said to be a safety precaution against SIDS. As they get older and swaddling becomes less optimal, you can begin training your baby to fall asleep without being swaddled (we will save that for another post down the road).

- Some mothers find that putting on some soft music before bed helps their baby sleep better. I actually felt the opposite. I found that little to no stimulation was the best type of atmosphere (the only exception being a white noise- a fan, for example). A very dark, quiet room is best to reduce the amount of stimulation they get while sleeping. The reason being- babies are constantly being stimulated throughout the day and it's important for them to not be overstimulated. Overstimulation will make it harder for them to sleep. Nap time and bedtime should be a time where stimulation is almost nonexistent.
- Doctors say that babies sleep better in a comfortably cool room with more layers (versus a warm room with less layers). This also stands true in preventing SIDS.
- For naps in the day, purchasing some blinds or drapes to cover the windows is a great way to block out the light. "Night lights" are not very necessary for young babies. In fact, I would not recommend them until your baby is starting to be potty-trained and will need to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.

SLEEP TRAINING METHODS: There are several sleep training methods that are used. Everyone likes their own for their own reasons. Here I have shared a few with my personal feelings about each one.

1. Crying it Out: Some moms are against this method with the idea that crying is harmful for the baby, or unkind and a betrayal of the trust your baby is developing about the world around him.  Some mothers simply find it difficult themselves to hear their little one crying (and if you find you are that way then maybe this is a method you do not want to choose). Sleep experts who support the CIO method say it isn't traumatic for babies to cry alone for short periods of time with frequent check-ins by Mom or Dad — and the end result is a well-rested, happier child. They say no-tears sleep strategies may cause babies to be overly dependent on comfort from a parent at bedtime, making it harder for them to learn to soothe themselves to sleep. You'd be surprised that as hard as it is to let them cry out it out- they quickly learn how to go to sleep without crying at all, making it much easier for you and for whoever may be watching your baby. It is also a great way to help your little one learn to sleep on his/her own, creating great sleep habits for the long run.  There are many great books on the market that give more information supporting each side. Ultimately, it is up to you to make a decision that is best for you and your baby.

2. Feeding to Sleep: I believe this to be one of the worst ways to train your baby to go to sleep. Not only does it make your baby dependent on feeding to sleep (making it hard on you) but it teaches them poor eating habits as well. 

3. Rocking to Sleep: if you are going to rock your baby to sleep, then you will most likely need to rock your baby to sleep every night. They will learn that to be their routine and they will need it. If you don't want to have to be dependendent on rocking your child in order for them to fall asleep at night, then I'd recommend you do not do it. 

4. Binky for Bed: Binky or no binky. Here are the pros and cons with regards to bedtime- the binky will help them fall asleep and can be a good source for getting the couple extra hours you might want in the morning. Downside- you'll have to get out of bed to put it in their mouth. You can really go either way with this and still have a great sleeping baby. 

5. A lil bit of everything: This makes the least sense to me. Inconsistency will only confuse your baby making it harder for him to sleep. 

CONSISTENCY: With whatever method you choose, consistency is vital. If you are going to teach your baby to go to sleep on his own with the crying out method, then you have to let him cry it out. You can't let him cry it out one night, and the next night go get him out and rock him to sleep. This will only throw him off and interrupt what you are trying to teach him. When your baby is in bed, he needs to stay in bed. The second you take him out of the crib you are teaching him that in order to go back to sleep mom has to come get me and rock me back to sleep (otherwise i will cry and cry until she does so). If he gets up in the middle of the night, give him a minute to see if he can soothe himself back to sleep. This is so important for a baby to learn in order to have good sleep habits as he gets older. If he is really having trouble going back to sleep, then it may be a good opportunity to go in and give him his binky (if you are using one).

*Keep in mind, however, that situations may warrant a change in method for a short time being (ex. if your baby is ill, a new atmosphere, as your baby gets older, etc.).

NAPS: I can not stress enough how important naps are throughout the day. When babies get their scheduled naps throughout the day they will sleep so much better at night. They will be less fussy and happier. Make sure your baby is having consistent naps and getting the recommended sleep he/she needs. Here is a good link to give you a general idea of the amount of sleep your little one should be getting.

CONFIDENCE: Being the confident capable mother that you are is so important. Babies can sense stress, anxiety, and worry and it can make them irritable. Remember, you can do this! You are a great mom! Just because your baby is crying or is not sleeping does not mean you are a bad or an incompetent mother. Part of confidence also entails sticking to something you are going to do. You need to follow through with your decisions. Be confident with your teaching and habit forming.

Lastly, remember that each baby is unique and may vary in sleep training. What may work for one baby may not work for another. Ultimately it's up to you to make the best decision for you and your baby.

I know that's a load of information all at once about a somewhat controversial topic. I hope some of my personal insight helps.

Stay tuned for my upcoming post on helping Mom sleep too.

In the meantime, sweet dreams!

- Dayna

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