Sleep training the gentle way

by Sr Ann Richardson
Sleep training the gentle way
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Most sleep deprived parents will try anything to get a good night’s sleep. Perhaps you are holding onto the hope that you can change your little one’s unhealthy sleep habits without your baby crying. All methods of sleep training entail some fussing and crying but does not mean that your baby has to cry for hours on end. By BYY’s parenting and sleep expert,  Ann Richardson.

Sleep training is about teaching your baby a new skill and breaking old expectations. While some crying is unavoidable the ‘cry it out’ method is not advisable, as it can make your baby feel abandoned and emotionally insecure. The goal of sleep training is not only to teach your baby to sleep through the night but to teach your baby to fall asleep independently and to put himself back to sleep should he wake during the night.

Click here for Can sleep training harm my baby?

Babies are able to begin to self soothe from around 3 months of age, but sleep training is not recommended under the age of 6 months.

Babies pass through light sleep states every 45 minutes at night (up to an hour in toddlers), so it is not possible to prevent your baby stirring at night, but it is possible for you to teach your baby to go back to sleep without your assistance.

This means that you will give him a chance to see if he can put himself to sleep (or back to sleep). You do not have to leave your baby on his own for long periods of time and by portraying a message of consistency and confidence your baby will feel secure, not abandoned.

When sleep training is done in the correct manner to meet your child’s needs on all levels, especially his emotional needs, there should be no negative effects whatsoever – in fact a well-rested child with well-rested parents plays an important part of creating a loving and secure home.

There are different methods of sleep training – no one is better than the other – do what feels right for you at the time. We’ll discuss these methods in another article. One thing though, remember to be consistent and stick to one method for at least a week.

Have the courage to be firm, without guilt or fear that your baby will resent or love you less. Healthy separation is always a sign of healthy attachment. Follow these guidelines:

Confidence

It is important to communicate confidence and calm to your baby when you start.  He needs to see an emotion that makes him feel secure that you are comfortable with what you are doing.

Consistency

It is no good to start with sleep training at bedtime only to relent later out of desperation and give your baby his ‘crutch’ (such as feeding to sleep).  The message that your baby receives in this case is that he must cry long and hard to have the old method reintroduced. Any inconsistencies will simply prolong the process of sleep training.

Collaboration

Sleep training is an act of teamwork between you, your partner and your baby. It’s  completely essential that you all work together and do not undermine the process for each other.

If your child has developed a habit where he is dependent on you for sleep, he will protest within minutes (probably even seconds!) of you changing things. This is where the hard bit comes in: accepting that your baby is going to cry, however, you are going to control how long he is going to cry for, and you are going to be there for him every step of the way.

Also read Sleep Training: What you need to know

Gentle sleep trainingChanging unhealthy sleep habits is exhausting and the key to its success is to focus on the goal (reward!) at the end of it all.  Accept that you will be tired and frustrated at times but try not to get bogged down in the immediate drama of the moment, and remind yourself of your long-term goal.

The process of falling asleep unassisted is a skill that needs practice, so bear in mind that success comes only after a period of practice, so don’t give up!

Also read Is your baby ready for sleep training?

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