You need rest. You’re grumpy. Plum pooped. In fact, you’re slurring sentences so badly people think you have a drinking problem.
In desperation, you start searching the Great Google for answers to questions like…
How do I get this baby to sleep more than 30 minutes?
How many Red Bulls can be safely consumed in 24 hours?
Suddenly the search term “baby sleep training” shines across the screen like a sunrise in Mordor. Your heart goes all pitter-patter and fluttery. After all, the ultimate romance these days is sleep.
Beware! Done wrongly, baby sleep training is the darkest of foes. It takes those hopes of a restful tomorrow and dashes them on the Cliffs of Crankiness.
There are 7 pitfalls in sleep training babies that trip up many new parents. Let me teach you how to avoid being one of them.
Baby Sleep Training Mistake #1:
Trying to Sleep Coach Too Early
Trying to sleep train a baby under 6 months is just asking for lots of screams and little benefits. Why? Because their little developmental clock is ticking so fast nothing “sticks”.
Trust me, as a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach, starting to train to early leads to a lot of tears (for baby and parent) and takes just as long as if you had just waited a few weeks, so you really gain nothing (but bad memories).
Instead of trying to force your circle newborn into a the square peg of sleep coaching, we teach our clients the skills of Sleep Shaping and Sleep Survival.
Sleep Survival (Under 16 Weeks)
- Feed your baby on demand, whenever that is.
- Sleep when your baby sleeps, or have someone help you so you can get more than 5 hours cumulative sleep a day.
- Wear your baby if that helps him/her sleep better while you’re puttering around the house.
- Nurse to sleep, rock, bounce, whatever works, and don’t feel guilty about any of it.
- If your baby sleeps better in his car seat or a swing, use that and don’t feel guilty about it.
- Yes, there are techniques you can use to improve your newborn’s sleep. Set up a time to talk with me or Amy and we can help you create the perfect Sleep Survival Plan for your newborn.
Sleep Shaping (Under 22 Weeks)
- Continue to feed on demand, whenever that is.
- Work on helping your baby’s sleep environment a “sleep happy space” (more on that in #6 below).
- If your baby is rolling over, start weaning off the swaddle.
- Start keeping a sleep log, if you haven’t already, and watching for your baby’s natural daily rhythm (more on this in #3 below).
- Watch for your baby’s sleepy cues. He will probably start showing he’s ready for a nap after being awake for 1 to 1.5 hours.
- It’s very common for babies at this age to have a sleep regression and suddenly have MEGA problems with naps and/or nighttime sleep. Some of that is because this is the stage that “newborn” fades into “baby”. Some of that could be caused be medical issues (like reflux). Set up an appointment with a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach, and let a professional give you several strategies to help you get through this difficult period, and know when it’s okay to start baby sleep training.
Sleep Training (22 Weeks+)
If your baby has passed his 4-5 month milestone shift (and is a lot more “baby” than “newborn” during the day, increased interaction, etc.) it may be time to start using a gentle sleep coaching method. There are several different methods you can do this, the Sleep Shuffle being one of them.
Of course, if you’re not sure if that’s the right method for you, sit down with a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach and get some professional help in creating a custom sleep training plan. Amy and I would love to meet with you and help you create a plan!
Baby Sleep Training Mistake #2:
Misunderstanding the Science
One of the largest misconceptions parents have regarding sleep is that they don’t realize that falling asleep is a skill. We ALL wakeup several times at night. We roll over, or steal the blanket from our spouse, or pick up the pillow from the floor. It’s called a “Partial Awakening” and we do it multiple times a night.
The difference is, you’ve learned how to put yourself back to sleep after those episodes.
For many babies, they rely on you to help get them back into a sleepy state. They’ll have a partial wakening period, but then yell and have you come and rock them, or bounce them, or nurse them (for two minutes), to help them fall back asleep.
That’s where Gentle Sleep Coaching comes in. You are there, actively encouraging and soothing your baby, while they learn this important skill.
It’s not “See you in the morning, kiddo!” Baby sleep training is a team effort.
Baby Sleep Training Mistake #3:
Not Having a Good Routine
Here’s an example of a BAD bedtime routine:
- Play horsey and tickle monster for thirty minutes.
- Get him dressed for bed, blowing on his tummy frequently.
- Give a kiss, lay him down on the crib.
- Turn off light.
- Listen to him scream in rage for an hour, wondering (with frustration) “What’s wrong with this kid? GO TO SLEEP!”
That may work for pets, but it doesn’t usually work for humans.
Would you fall asleep with that routine? I know I wouldn’t. I need to be lulled. Comfy pajamas, a warm cup of coffee (decaf!), quiet music, dim lights…all set the tone for sleepiness to settle in. Some “brainless” activity is a prerequisite for my snoozes.
Your baby is the same way.
Prepare her for the change in brain waves by giving her by trying one of these techniques:
- a light massage in a dim room
- a warm bath
- light singing or soft music
- Nursing or giving a bottle (WARNING! – see #7)
- reading one of Sleeping Beauty’s Top 10 Best Bedtime Books for Babies
Pick a few of my favorite sleeping tricks, and then do them near the same time, in the same pattern every night. It makes a huge difference in your baby’s long term sleeping success.
Baby Sleep Training Mistake #4:
Missing His Sleep Window
Sometime after 5 months your baby’s brain starts to make the magical nighttime hormone called “melatonin”.
Interestingly enough, do you know what cues our brains to make this wonder-drug? Social cues that it’s bedtime (i.e. the bedtime routine), and darkness (i.e. good blackout curtains on the windows).
There’s a special time in your baby’s active (and increasingly tired brain) where the brain makes melatonin. Catching this “Sleepy Window” is a huge boost to your nap training efforts.
Here’s the kicker, though: If you miss that window, even for a minute, the brain will STOP making melatonin, and start making the cortisol hormone.
Cortisol is Red Bull for babies. (It’s also the same hormone that let you pull all night study sessions at Steak and Shake.) Your baby will get “wired” and be a zillion times harder to get to settle down to sleep.
Baby Sleep Training Mistake #5:
Starting at the Worst Possible Time
If you want your efforts to be successful, you need to make sure you are starting your efforts at the right time.
Do not start baby sleep training if…
- Your baby is younger than 6 months. (See #1 above.)
- Your baby has a cold or is sick. That’s a time for comfort and cuddles instead.
- Your baby is teething. Wait a few days for the nubs to appear, using these techniques to get you through the long nights.
- You have visitors in the house.
- You are going on vacation in a few days (or a holiday approaches).
- You are going back to work in a few days. (It’s very common for babies to have sleep disruptions the week that mom goes back to work – they are craving Mom time!)
You want to be able to see a block of time in your calendar where you can focus on the training and getting caught up on extra sleep.
And if you’re nap training, plan on doing nothing but nap training for a week or so. Nap coaching is tough and remains one of the sleep subjects that drives so many exhausted parents to our door.
Baby Sleep Training Mistake #6:
Ignoring the Nursery
There are nurseries that are perfect for magazines…and then there are nurseries perfect for sleeping. (Or, in this case, nurseries that are perfect for both!) Shoot for “perfect for magazines” when you have visitors. Zero in on “perfect for sleeping” the other 99% of the time.
Your Baby’s Nursery…Is it Dark?
I had blackout curtains and an old sheet covering our nursery window. Not exactly gorgeous, but all 3 of my children have been consistently late sleepers (8:30-9:00 am) and awesome nappers. It’s a lot easier to take down ugly drapes for visiting guests than it is to re-program a 5 a.m. waking habit.
Make the room as dark as possible to help your baby learn the difference between playtime and sleeptime. When naps are over, slide over the blackout curtains and brighten up the room!
Your Baby’s Nursery…Is it Quiet?
The fewer distractions you can offer, the more likely he’ll stay sleeping longer.
GET A NOISEMAKER.
Even if you don’t have other children crashing around the house. It will drown out the mailman’s knocks, the neighbor’s dogs, and the occasional crazy honking driver that only seems to come by during naptime.
Whichever you choose, make sure it doesn’t automatically turn off after an hour. (What’s the point in THAT?) Personally, I like this noisemaker.
The Crib…Does It Match Your Baby’s Sleeping Personality?
I know this sounds weird, but different babies sleep in different ways. Some babies move around so much they get their legs stuck between the laths or bang their head on the headboard.
Both situations end up with 3am Screamfests.
Good new, though, there are some safe crib bumper designs out there that can really help!
Baby Sleep Training Mistake #7:
Nursing to Sleep as a Crutch
Right off the bat, let me share this disclaimer:
Most of the time, there’s nothing wrong with nursing your baby to sleep.
After all, that’s one of the biggest perks of breastfeeding, right? I LOVED looking down at the suckling sleeping faces of my girls. It’s so precious.
It’s only a baby sleep training disaster if your older baby (over 22 weeks) cannot fall asleep without it. (You know, my whole “falling a sleep is a skill” thing.)
If your older baby is waking up at night to “nurse” for 2-3 minutes before falling asleep, he has developed a nursing-to-sleep crutch. That only a gentle sleep coaching method will be able to crack.
Once your doctor has given you the thumbs up that he doesn’t need those feedings, you can start to weaning him off the habit. He’s stopped using you for calories, now it’s just for soothing. He will need to learn how to fall asleep without a nipple in his mouth if you both are going to get good uninterrupted sleep.
Leaving The Dark Side,
Moving into the Light
The best thing about mistakes is that, with a little sleeping training perseverance, you can usually overcome them.
And if you can’t overcome them, you can bet your baby’s sweet little tushie that a professional sleep expert certified in all the latest gentle sleep coaching techniques can.
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