sleep training

20 Steps to Sleep Training Success

Living on caffeine and feeling like a mombie? Have you thought that you just can’t handle another night of 2 hourly wakeups? Thinking about sleep training, but don’t know where to start? Thinking about sleep training, but not sure what to do and unsure about the whole thing? Shouldn’t babies just naturally learn to sleep at some stage?

Well, yes, at some stage, our children will learn to fall asleep naturally, but it could take a really long time. I’m talking years and years. They could be at school and still not know how to sleep the whole night without assistance. 

Not all babies and children need sleep coaching. Maybe your firstborn was a dream sleeper, but your second seems to have barely slept longer than 20 minutes since they were born. Put the mom guilt aside, get knowledgeable, get informed, get some help, and make a sleep training plan. 

Sleep is not only crucial for parents, but it’s also vital for children’s development, wellbeing, and happiness during the day. Life is so much harder to deal with when you are exhausted, and I don’t just mean you, mom. When your two-year-old is not getting enough sleep, dealing with everyday frustrations is even more challenging, and the tantrums abound. 

But before you get started, have a look at these 20 tips to ensure your sleep training mission is a success. Change is good, but change can be difficult, so let’s get prepared. 

1. Get Prepared Mentally

Ask yourself if you’re really ready for change. Are you ready to stop rocking? Are you prepared to stop doing the dummy run at all hours of the night? How about feeding every few hours during the night? Are you ready to end the bedtime battles? You might be saying “yes, yes, yes, yes,” but think about it properly if you are truly ready to try a new approach. Are you prepared for some short-term pain for long-term gain? Sleep training will require a little extra effort for a few weeks.

2. See Your Doctor

Before you start any sleep training plan, go and see your family doctor, and have a proper check-up for your baby. It’s a great idea to rule out any medical issues that might be causing night wakes. Things like ear infections, allergies, teething, and food intolerances can cause night waking. Sleep training won’t help solve the issue if it’s a medical problem.

Get your baby’s current weight, and make sure they are gaining weight at a healthy rate and are heavy enough and developmentally ready to drop some or all night feeds. Getting your doctor’s okay about the health and weight of your baby is going to put your mind at ease and give you a greater sense of confidence.

3. Make Some Time and Space

Clear two weeks of any social engagements and try to spend as much time at home as possible. I know this sounds like torture, however getting a good daytime routine on track with solid naps will help with sleep training at night. Skipping naps for birthday parties or music lesson is not going to help during this time of change. It’s not forever; once sleep is going well, you can bend the rules here and there. However, while you’re making changes, try to keep the world as calm as possible for you and your baby. 

4. Be Prepared to Invest in Some Products

You might need to get some blackout blinds, a white noise machine, a new swaddle or sleep sac, maybe a lovey or toddler clock. There are a lot of different and wonderful sleep products that can help assist you and your baby get to sleep and stay asleep. Give some appropriate products a go, and use them for a few weeks before you make a decision.

5. Come With An Open Mind

Just because you have been rocking your baby to sleep for 6 months does not mean that it will continue to work forever and ever. Your baby changes rapidly, especially during the first 12 months of life. What worked at 6 months might not work at 9 or 12 months. Be open to new ideas and techniques for sleep. Give different methods a good consistent go before you decide they don’t work. You won’t see results after one day. Say you shift your baby’s nap from 8 am to 9 am, this won’t result in a magical change straight away. It is one step in the process to better sleep.

6. Be on the Same Page as Your Partner

This is so important. Make sure you agree with the sleep training method you have chosen, and you are there to support each other and your baby. Things will be tough if Mom wants a cry-based approach, and dad doesn’t. You don’t want to be arguing and getting upset while teaching your baby to sleep. Take the time to talk with each other, work out what method will make everyone happy, and support each other. This will help to keep your approach to sleep consistent and peaceful. 

7. Know That Things Might Get Worse Before They Get Better 

This is the worst part. But often, sleep will get a little worse before it gets better. Don’t give up. We all know that making changes is hard. It’s hard for adults, and it’s hard for babies too. If you have been rocking and feeding your baby to sleep for 10 months, there is going to be some resistance to new settling methods. Be prepared for things to get a little worse before they get better. Remember to stay consistent and give the new method a proper go. 

However, it’s also possible to see instant results. A routine shift, some more protein in your babies diet, and suddenly they are sleeping much better. Sometimes, a few little tweaks can make all the difference. Sleep training is a holistic approach that should take into account your baby’s life as a whole.

8. The Best Time to Start

It’s best to wait until your baby is 4 months old before starting any sleeping training. Before four months of age, your baby’s sleep is still quite underdeveloped, their sleep cycles have not matured, and they need to often feed and sleep during the day and the night. Before 4 months of age, they cannot self-settle or self-regulate. They need mum or dad’s help to settle into blissful slumber. This is a time for good sleep habits, but not sleep training.   

It is never too early to start with healthy sleep habits. You can begin good sleep hygiene as soon as you bring your baby home from the hospital. Good sleep hygiene means the routines, the sleep environment, and the habits around sleep that you are putting in place. These are so important for good naps and nights of good sleep for your baby.     

At 4 months of age, it’s a great time to start with really gentle, hands-on, in-room methods. By 6 months of age, any sleep training method you choose is appropriate to use for your baby. 

There are many different sleep training methods you can use. Make sure you one that is consistent with your parenting style and works for you baby. You may start with one approach but after a week find that your baby is not responding to the method. It’s an odd juggle and balancing act of consistency and progression.

9. But, It’s Never Too Late

Just because your baby is now a rambunctious two-year-old doesn’t mean that you missed the sleep training boat. In fact, working with toddlers and young children on their sleep can be really fun. You can actually talk to them, reason (slightly) with them, and work on sleep together. With older children, it just requires a little more creativity and fun. You can make fun routine charts, give them stickers, reward them for their excellent sleep habits. You can read them books about sleep. It can be an enjoyable and positive experience. Of course, they can protest much more loudly and vehemently than a 6-month-old, but it is never too late to get sleeping habits in place.

10. Setting the Scene

Your child’s sleep environment is crucial to how well they sleep during the day and at night. While Instagram is flooded with pictures of the most beautiful nurseries, this will not help your child sleep well. A good sleeping environment is dark, and I mean pitch black dark. The darkness helps for a few reasons: it is less stimulating when your baby can’t see anything, and most importantly, darkness helps stimulate the production of melatonin, a sleep hormone.

The room where your baby is sleeping should be cool. It is recommended that the perfect temperature for sleep is between 18 and 20 degrees. There should be white noise playing; this is very calming for newborn babies. It also becomes a sleep cue for older children, letting them know it is time for sleep. Lastly, if your baby is old enough, they can have a lovey in their cot to cuddle and comfort them as they fall asleep.

Environment and Safety

Your baby’s bassinet and cot should be free and clear of anything and everything. There should be no blankets, no pillows, no cot bumpers, no toys (save for the sleep-approved lovey if they are old enough). There should be nothing in their sleep environment except for their swaddled little bodies. You do not need fancy sleep nests or anything like that in the cot with your baby. Less is more.

11. Age-appropriate Routine

One of the best ways to help your baby sleep through the night is to make sure that their day time is going well. This means following an age-appropriate routine with sufficient day time sleep. Without enough daytime sleep, your baby will end up overtired at bedtime. Overtired babies wake a lot during the night and get up too early in the morning. Start by finding a good routine and respecting your child’s need to sleep during the day.

12.   Keep a Sleep and Feeding Log

This is the best way to see sleep improvement and what might be potentially causing sleep problems for your baby. Keep a log of the times your baby is sleeping, how long it takes them to settle, and how long they are sleeping. You can keep a record on a Word or Excel document. There are also some excellent baby apps which can help you to keep track of your baby’s sleeping and feeding habits.   

13. Read Some Books or Buy a Sleep Course

If you’ve got the time, go ahead and buy or borrow some sleep training books. There are many different books out there with many different methods. Find a book and a technique that resonates with your parenting style. Don’t just follow the advice of moms on Facebook or various forums. Use a book or course that has been researched, studied, and has excellent reviews.

14. Have Some Extra Help Around the House

Sleep coaching can take two weeks or longer. This length of time can mean that you are a little extra tired and housebound while trying to teach new sleep habits. This can be totally unrealistic for parents with older children and jobs outside of their homes.

Get some help from the grandparents or friends for a few weeks. Set up some play dates for your older children, so they get some much needed time out of the house. Have your mother-in-law come over and organise dinner for the older kids for a few weeks while you focus on the baby. Whatever you need to do or have during this time, don’t be afraid to ask for it.

15. Know That It Won’t Happen Overnight

You may be super lucky and see instant results, but it is often a few weeks before sleep really comes right. What tends to happen is that once one sleep issue is fixed, another one crops up. For example, after three to five nights, your baby starts to sleep through the night, and it seems like all is well in the world again. Then suddenly, daytime habits fall apart, and they stop napping. This is a really common occurrence.

Once nights are settled, you need to go back and work on naps again. Then your baby is month older, and their sleep needs change. At times it can feel like a merry go round. But be consistent, stay patient, and it will all come right in the end. 

16.   Stay Consistent

Just because you don’t see success in the first night doesn’t mean that you won’t see progress after a week or two with continued consistency and persistence. Chopping and changing routines and sleep methods every few days will not help. It will only confuse your baby, frustrate you, and lead to more sleep problems. Choose a technique, and give it a good go for a few weeks to see some improvement. You can always make little tweaks and adjustments as you go.

17. It’s Not a Linear Process

Just because you sleep trained once unfortunately doesn’t mean that your baby will be a champion sleeper forever and ever. Sleep needs change, your baby develops, and what once worked will often not work forever. I will use myself as an example.

At 4 months of age, my husband and I used a gentle, hands-on, in-room sleep training method with our twin boys. We successfully managed to get the boys down for naps with minimal settling and sleeping good stretches during the night. They still needed feeds during this time, and it wasn’t realistic to expect them to sleep through the night yet.    

At around 5 months of age, I could not do the dummy run anymore. I took the dummies away, and it took three nights before they were self-settling and sleeping through the night again. 

Things went pretty smoothly from here for a while. There were a few sleepless nights due to sickness and teething, but overall sleep was really good.

At around 18 months or even earlier, the boys figured out they could climb out of their cots. I had to teach them to stay in their cots. That has been an ongoing process for the last year. They will be good for a few months, then try to venture out again. We’re just about to move to a big bed, so again, that will need more sleep coaching. 

Each age and stage that we went through needed a different approach. Through each development, we provided our boys with love, consistency, comfort, and patience.  

18. Sleep Training Means More Than Crying It Out

Sleep training does not only mean to shut the door and not return until morning. Sleep training should be a holistic approach that looks at every element of your child’s life. You need to consider what they eat, when they go to sleep, or if they had any big development leaps. Don’t feel that crying it out is the only approach to sleep training. There are many approaches and many methods that you can use.

19. Use a Sleep Consultant

If you feel like you’re unsure about the best way to proceed, or you would simply like some support during this time, then a sleep consultant is a great way to go. You don’t have to read the books, because they already have. You don’t have to read up on all the methods, because they know them already. There is no need to scour the internet for routines because they can provide them and help you implement them. You don’t have to search and ask everyone for questions, because they know the answers to your questions, or they can get the answers quickly.

They can help guide you and give you confidence during this time. Sleep consultants will also have worked with many clients already and have excellent knowledge of many different sleep training issues and creative ways to solve them. Head over to Luna and Lullaby and schedule a free call if you are looking for some advice and help.

20. Know That Sleep Is Important and Let Go of the Guilt

Mom guilt! We all have it; I’m sure I feel it on a daily basis. Am I spending enough quality time with my boys, are they eating enough vegetables, am I being a good enough mom? There is so much guilt wrapped up in a mom’s life and so much social media judgment about what should be happening with your child’s sleep. This is something that we all need to work on as moms: letting go of the mom guilt. You should not feel guilty about helping your baby learn to sleep independently and consistently. Sleep is a skill, and helping your baby to sleep well is beneficial for the whole family.

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