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? Or…
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. But, 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.
I’m going to lay them all out plainly, so you can easily sidestep the mistakes of parents who struggled before you.
Bad Expectations & Misunderstandings
Soon-to-Be Baby Sleep Training Disaster #1
The first foundational mistake parents often make in regards to baby sleep training is having unrealistic expectations and misunderstandings on sleep training.
- They believe baby sleep training means having to endure hours and hours of crying. (There will be some crying, but unless your baby is colicky and cries for no reason, the length of crying time can be minimized.)
- They assume that just because an older child was easily trained at 6 weeks, their second will follow suit. In fact, different personalities react to sleep in different ways.
- They have the mistaken belief that once you’ve helped him learn to fall asleep, you’re done. (Two words for you: growth spurts.)
- They think baby scheduling is a rigid form of parenting. My schedule was always written in generalities: nap 1.5-2 hours after eating, etc.
Here’s the honest-to-goodness truth about sleep training.
Learning to fall asleep is a skill.
Since we wake up and fall asleep numerous times at night (and baby sleep patterns are similar) you have to learn how to put yourself back to sleep.
Your baby will either learn how to do this with your help at around 3-4 months, or he will learn it by himself.
Do you want to risk being his “get to sleep again” crutch until age three?
Let me encourage you to gently start guiding your baby down the sleep independence path.
It’s totally possible. You don’t have to kiss your rest goodbye for the first 3 years.
I’ll help you. First by highlighting the things you DON’T want to do, then launching into the things you DO want to do.
Not Having a Routine
Soon-to-Be Baby Sleep Training Disaster #2
So let’s talk about the easiest step in baby sleep training. Setting up a routine.
This is NOT a good 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 have to be lulled to sleep. 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 boardbooks
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.
Confusing “I’m Tired” with “I’m Exhausted”
Soon-to-Be Baby Sleep Training Disaster #3
I know that this seems backwards, but an overly-tired exhausted baby NEVER sleeps as well as just a plain ‘ole sleepy baby.
Learn the sleepy cues, so you can avoid slipping over the line into “too exhausted to fall asleep”.
These are signs that you’re opening the window of sleep. If you see these, pounce into your sleepy routine.
- Yawns (an easy gimmie you can’t miss)
- Turns his face away from you, avoiding your attempts to interact
- Sucks his thumb or caressing a loved blanket or toy
- Slowing down from active play to quiet play
- Eyes have glassed over and have started to lose focus, like he’s staring at nothing
- Frowns frequently
- A half hour (for newborns), 1 hour (3-9 month olds) or 2 hours (9-12 months) after he’s eaten
If you see these signs…you’ve passed tired and moved into exhausted. You are going to have to work hard to soothe him down enough to sleep.
- Fussy, loud cries
- Rubbing eyes hard
- King Crankypants: nothing pleases him (also could be a sign of teething…)
Not Considering Outside Factors
Soon-to-Be Baby Sleep Training Disaster #4
There are a variety of situations that can disrupt a parent’s attempts to sleep train their baby.
For example, premature babies are playing growth catch-up in that first year. They will have an extended time of “newborn sleep”. If you had a preemie, regardless of how old your baby is now, this is a great article on preemie-related sleep challenges.
If your baby has colic or acid reflux, read through this primer for parents of fussy babies. It will give you a great emotional boost.
Another factor is your baby’s personality. (Yes, he has definite likes and dislikes.)
I wrote a blog post on how personality can affect breastfeeding, but the same info can be used in understanding which sleeping techniques may work best for your infant.
Starting at the Worst Possible Time
Soon-to-Be Baby Sleep Training Disaster #5
Don’t start your sleep training adventure when your in-laws are visiting. Or two days before vacation. Or when you’re going back to work.
Open up your calendar and search for a week where you’re home every night.
You’ll need time to help your baby start establishing healthy sleep patterns.
And speaking of starting, unless this is your fourth or so baby, don’t expect to begin sleep training at the hospital.
The 4-6 week old age is a good “sweet spot” to get gently started. Until then, concentrate on building up your milk supply and bonding with your newborn.
Ignoring the Nursery
Soon-to-Be Baby Sleep Training Disaster #6
There are nurseries that are perfect for magazines...and then there are nurseries perfect for sleeping.
Shoot for “perfect for magazines” when you have visitors. Zero in on “perfect for sleeping” the other 99% of the time.
Is it Dark?
I have blackout curtains and a 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.
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?)
Nursing Your Baby to Sleep
Soon-to-Be Baby Sleep Training Disaster #7
If your baby is less than 3 months old, this mistake doesn’t apply to you. You should nurse that baby whenever he’s hungry, no matter what time it is. It will keep both him and your milk supply growing steadily.
Just to clarify, I’m not talking about nursing before bed. That’s important and part of a good soothing routine.
I’m talking about nursing to sleep.
If you let him snack-to-sleep, he’ll want to do that every time he wakes up. Whether he’s hungry or not. Don’t let him get into the habit of using your nipple as a living pacifier towards Napping-Land.
Occasionally, when the kids were sick or if we were traveling, etc. I would nurse my babies to sleep. You won’t be arrested by the “bad parent” police if you choose to do this.
Or perhaps choose to nurse to sleep because it’s comforting for both of you. That’s cool. Just be aware of possible consequences. Breaking the habit later can be done, it just may be harder.
Soothe, cuddle, and then lay her down in the brief few twilight seconds between “awake” and “asleep”.
The one exception I usually made when it came to nursing to sleep was when my babies were sick or teething. When they don’t feel good, nursing to sleep may be just the good loving medicine they need. Then, when they feel better, we would adjust back to the regular nurse, then put down sleepy but awake routine.
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.
What is your greatest challenge when it comes to getting your little one to sleep?