Trouble getting sleep? Baby cries whenever you put her in bed and leave the room? Hoping to find a way to teach your infant to sleep without all the fuss?
First off, know that this is but one of the MANY new skills that your child is working on, and that he will learn this in his own time. And even when he does learn to go to sleep on his own, there will be times needing extra help again (when vacationing, feeling sick, uncomfortable from teething, working on a new skill such as walking, experiencing separation anxiety, etc).
This may be the #1 most common "problem" for parents in the US, and a source for tons of books and advice for how to "fix" it. I believe the true source for the disconnect is that our lifestyle is simply not compatible with a baby's natural instincts, which is to be close to mom and dad at ALL times. That doesn't mean that co-sleeping or wearing the baby is the only answer (though it can be done safely-- parents should be aware that somewhere down the line they will want to have their own space, and the child will need to go through the same steps to get there).
Much of this is age dependent. Newborns through about 3 months of age can't be expected to follow any kind of pattern, and all cries should be attended to. This is the time for bonding, feeling safe and secure, needs being met. In these early months, the chance your baby needs food or diaper-change at any given hour are really high, so you may as well be close at hand
At around 4-5 months of age is when I recommend starting a true bedtime (and nap time) routine for baby in his own crib and room. This is about the earliest he can be expected to learn the patterns and feel safe without you immediately there.
Remember, your child's desire to be next to you even in sleep is completely NATURAL, and actually a very good survival instinct!
Helping baby learn to sleep on her own
- Anticipate sleepy times, don't let baby get overtired. The stress from missing nap or bedtimes may lead to restlessness. Look for classic signs like yawning, rubbing eyes, and crankiness.
- Create and stick to a pre-sleeping routine that follows a predictable schedule and pattern. For example 6pm dinner, 6:30pm bath, 7pm books, 7:30pm soft music and cuddles before laying down to sleep at 8pm.
- Make sure baby's basic needs are taken care of ahead of time (diaper changed, well fed, burped).
- Keep lights dim, voices and activity mellow for about 30 minutes before naps and 1 hour before bedtime.
- Darkness. Black-out curtains work wonders in the summertime. Keeping one small night light on is helpful to see your way in and out.
- Keep room temperature comfortable, somewhere around 68-72F, and baby dressed in comfy clothing such as cotton. Avoid poorly placed buttons or zippers that can be uncomfortable to lay on. Consider a 'sleep sack' for warmth in the winter once your baby is old enough to roll and crawl out from under the covers.
- Use baby's bedroom primarily for sleep, especially the crib.
- White noise and/or soft music is a great way to transition to sleep. You may wish to turn it on while in the room putting baby in crib, and let it play softly on timer for 30min to 1 hour. The Graco Sweet Slumber works great for us, and has a bonus night light you can use for checking on baby in middle of the night.
- Help baby get in the mood by holding, soothing, rocking for few
minutes before putting into bed. Put him down and say the same thing every time, such as "time to sleep (make sleep sign), you are so tired, I love you (give kisses), now goodnight (or take your nap)"
- After this, LEAVE the room even if he is still a little bit awake because staying too long can actually stimulate him to want to interact with you.
-If you are hearing loud cries, try giving him a few minutes to see if he settles down on his own. You may be surprised how quickly your baby can soothe himself, especially if you keep this up over days to weeks.
- If the crying concerns you, or is continuing for more than several minutes, it's fine to pop back in briefly (without turning on any lights) to check on things, give reassurance, then repeat the goodbye ritual ("time to sleep, you're tired, I love you, goodnight"). You may also want to reset the music/white noise timer to make sure it keeps going.
- The "Ferber Method" encourages you to take longer and longer between checks so that you are still there to soothe your baby, but not too frequently for him to learn to comfort himself. It is super helpful to stare at a clock to help realize that 2 minutes of crying, though small in theory, can feel like forever in the moment.
- Trust your instincts. If the crying sounds unusual or especially woeful, check in on baby and make sure things are okay. Sometimes the unexpected happens and needs your attention, like getting a leg stuck in a funny position, having an allergic reaction to something, or needing nose cleared to breath easier.
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