6 Mistakes to Avoid When Sleep Training your Baby
Are you thinking of sleep training your baby? Have you heard lots of differing advice and you’re not sure what to do or not do? I often hear of confusion as to ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and while there are some basic sleep skills we can teach babies from newborn (check out my 5 EASY STEPS TO TEACH YOUR BABY SLEEP SKILLS) I believe there is no absolute right or wrong but better or worse ways of approaching baby sleep!
I want to make it clear that all the advice and support I offer, now and always, is based on gentle and holistic strategies. I do not use any forms of controlled crying or crying it out. I believe that responding to your baby’s needs is always the priority – day and night! Have a read of a fantastic book called ‘Why Love Matters’ by Sue Gerhardt. It’s an amazing and beautiful way to really learn and understand your babies needs in the early days, weeks, months and years. Even in utero!
So I want to outline 6 mistakes to avoid when sleep training your baby.
Starting too early
I’d advise not to begin sleep training your baby until they are a little over 5 months. Ideally 22 weeks. Prior to this, your baby simply isn’t developmentally mature enough to cope with sleep training, In fact, up until this point, it’s more common than not to still be feeding through the night too so it’s really best to just put things in place from the early weeks to support their own sleep skills and wait until they are physically and emotionally ready for the gentle changes that come with sleep training.
In fact I’d suggest 5-7 months is the optimum age to sleep train but of course, whatever stage you’re at, sleep training can be done. Bear in mind, as your baby gets older and turns into a toddler it’s more tricky as habits are more deeply ingrained!
Be mindful that what’s always important is going with your babies needs. I know some baby experts have really clear guidelines as to amounts and timings and while can be important, I believe that trusting your instinct as a parent and being as in-tune with your baby as possible offers a much more nurturing, enriching and bonding parenting experience.
What’s your plan?
Often parents want to make some changes but they are really not sure on what a plan might be, what one looks like and haven’t thought through all the details. A sleep plan does not need to be complicated. It just needs to cover enough to have know what you will do with each sleep time, wake time and how to respond to each waking. I’ve written a post ‘Before You Start Sleep Training Your Baby’ which you might find useful. A sleep plan is something we could work through together if you felt you needed professional support and guidance to help you through whatever stage you’re at with your little one.
Sleep is a skill
Understanding that sleep is a skill we all learn is sometimes quite a surprise to hear! There’s that old saying ‘sleeping like a baby’ as if babies are born knowing long, restful, deep sleep. Well, we all know that is definitely not the case! I think that saying is more related to the amount of sleep a baby needs in total, with no thought to the frequency they need to wake for feeding, changing and nurturing.
Your baby has had so much help in the womb. It was warm, cosy, noisy and moved a lot! So it’s a big change when they have to learn how to sleep without that same environment. This is of course why we mimic some of these things for them such as white noise, swaddling and rocking them to sleep. We’re helping them to sleep and this is what I mean by sleep being a skill. Babies are not born knowing how to fall asleep by themselves and even harder, to resettle after a natural sleep-wake cycle!
Perhaps your expectations for your baby are high and you may not have realised. Do you feel your baby ‘should be sleeping through the night’ because people ask you all the time “are they sleeping through the night yet?” Are you preparing to return to work and feel your baby ‘should be sleeping through the night’? Your lifestyle, your needs as a family, society and fear of judgment from others can be a factor in how you manage your baby’s sleep. It might be helpful to reflect on these things. Be patient and kind to yourself.
Lack of routine
Sometimes it can be easy to focus on sleep. Just sleep. But actually it’s important to think about the whole picture. What I mean by this is holistically look at other aspects of your baby’s world. Their routine, their environment, their diet are also very crucial when thinking about improving their sleep.
I always talk about routine being your friend, your BEST friend and this is something that when put in place, can really help with sleep now and set the foundation for all aspects of your baby as they grow into a curious toddler and pre-schooler.
Very often I’ll talk to parents who are so keen to crack on with a sleep plan. Hurray! But when we talk some more, it becomes clear they are planning a trip away, or there’s some big changes happening in the home soon. In this case I always advise to wait until everything is as settled at home as it can be.
So I recommend holding off with sleep training if your little one is about to start nursery or have a new caregiver, you’re planning a family holiday, you’re going back to work, you’re moving home, you’ve got workmen in, you’ve got family coming to stay….you get the picture! You will get the most positive results from sleep training when all things like these are not happening!!
Obviously life is life and things crop up and changes happen so there will be times you may have to deal with the things in the middle of sleep training but ideally, keep disruptions and major changes to a minimum to help get your baby sleep better faster!
Overlooking their sleep environment
Having an optimum sleep environment is SO important too and something that can overlooked. There’s several things to think about here…
What’s the temperature of their sleeping place?
Ideally it should be 16°-20° and is best maintained with thin layers and socks rather than thick clothing that can help them get too hot (this is a factor when increasing the risk of SIDS. I always encourage parents to follow the guidelines of The Lullaby Trust.
Are there blackout blinds to ensure no sunlight creeps in?
Tiny slithers of light can disturb a baby so easily, especially as it’s the time in the early hours when sleep naturally becomes lighter and therefore it’s easier to be woken by sunlight.
Is it too stimulating for them?
Have a look around their room. Are there lots of toys, mobiles, colours and stimulating things to keep them from feeling calm and settled. What we see as adults may not be as impactful upon our eyes and nervous system as it is to your little baby whose senses take in so much all the time. Try to ensure toys are tidied away and it’s a quiet, neutral place to wind down for sleep.
Is it too quiet for them?
Remember how I earlier talked about just how noisy it was in the womb (your blood pumping, your heart beating, your amniotic fluid sloshing about) and sometimes babies find it hard to settle if it’s too quiet. Also, on the other hand, big noises and bangs can be equally unhelpful for your baby’s sleep which is why white noise can be great. It can sooth and mask unwanted noises and keep a stable comforting noise instead. Once your baby is six months or over, thing about pink noise. It is on a slightly different frequency and research shows it can help improve the depth and quality of sleep. Have a listen on NOISLI to hear the difference. It might even help you too with relaxing and productivity!
So there you have it. 6 mistakes to avoid when sleep training your baby. If you’re thinking about sleep training, bear these things in mind BEFORE you begin and you’ll be on the road to success! To recap, think about…
Your baby’s age. Don’t start too early.
Your plan. What are your sleep goals and how might you get there? Think through a plan first.
Sleep is a learn skill. It’s your job to help your baby learn this skill. Not to do it for them but to encourage them to do it for themselves!
Do you have routine in place for day to day and not just sleep? They are all connected and important!
The timing of when you begin sleep training is key. Wait until after that holiday, until they are well settled in nursery. A more settled home and routine will encourage the sleep training to be more productive.
Don’t forget to look at their sleep environment. Is it too warm, too cold, to bright, to stimulating?
Good luck with any changes you decide to make. I’m only an email or phone call away if you feel you do need some sleep support. Don’t forget to check my blog on my website www.thelittlesleepcoach.com and even more, you can join my The Little Sleep Coach Community and never miss a thing and get your FREE Ultimate Infant Sleep Guide as well as lots of other advice and support.
In this together