How To’s of Sleep Training
February 8, 2011 · Posted in Infant Development, Sleep · Permalink

You and your partner have decided that you are ready—or desperate enough—to try to teach your baby good sleeping habits. After endless nights of broken sleep, a new logic has emerged: This is not good for our baby or for us. So now what?

❍     Enlist each other’s support
Sleep work is best when both parents are actively involved. Talk openly about your feelings and plans and lean on each other for support and encouragement when you are faltering.
❍     Clarify your motivations
•    Write down your goals and the reasons behind them. You may well be turning for reassurance to these ideas at a weak moment in the middle of the night. For example
•    We can’t go on like this. The baby is always cranky.
•    I am overtired.
•    My husband and I are fighting.
•    The baby could be waking up every night like this until he is two or three years old.
•    Other babies sleep well. So can ours.
•    This is in our baby’s best interests.
❍     Select a day to start
A Friday or Saturday night is a good choice because you will not have the pressure of a workday hanging over you. Don’t make other plans for the evenings during the first week of sleep work. Make your baby’s sleep training your only commitment.
❍     Talk to your baby
Tell your baby about what will be happening. Keep it simple.  For example, as you sit to rock him and give him his last feeding say, “Tonight you’re going to learn how to fall asleep on your own. Mommy and Daddy will be right here and we are going to help you sleep better. We’ll see you at morning time!” The tone of your voice can convey to your baby that something new is going to happen and that he is still safe.
❍     Get your sleep chart ready
You can use the chart in the appendix of A Mother’s Circle or you can use your own to keep track of the minutes and intensity of your baby’s cries, as well as how long he sleeps.
❍     Take a deep breath and begin
This is a commitment. Recognize that it will require some unusual discipline and strength from you.
❍     Put your baby in his crib before he is asleep
On the first night sometime between seven and eight at night it’s bedtime as usual. Use your baby’s now-familiar bedtime routine to ready him for the night. Carefully watch your baby to be sure he does not fall asleep in your arms or at your breast. Put him in his crib when he is drowsy but not fully asleep. Even if your baby does not appear tired, put him in his crib. Say goodnight in a loving manner.
❍     Look at the clock when your baby begins to cry
Make a note of the time your baby begins to cry on your sleep chart and keep track of the duration and intensity of his cries. Pay attention to the intensity so you can determine whether it is escalating or calming down. This chart can be helpful. You can see your baby’s progress, however slight.
❍     Note what time the crying stops
Wait until the baby is quiet and note the time that he stops crying. If there is a pause in your baby’s cries and then he resumes, begin timing anew.
❍     Repeat with every waking
Even though this seems like a lot of work in the middle of the night, it is short-term work for a long-term goal of uninterrupted sleep. It may seem easier to just go in and nurse for four minutes and get your baby back to sleep, but in the long run you will be waking up in the night indefinitely if you approach sleep this way.
❍     To check or not to check
There are differing ideas about whether or not interval checking in on babies when you are sleep training is helpful or not. While checking in on the baby may be helpful to a small group of babies, our experience has been that the vast majority of babies over four months old become more agitated when their parents go and see them in the midst of crying. Babies are smart but not sophisticated enough to be soothed by your presence without the whole package of holding, rocking, or nursing that they are used to. It’s like a tease to them. We have found that while it reassures parents, it infuriates babies.
❍     Support one another
If it is the middle of the night and one of you is still sleeping, rouse your partner. Both of you should be fully awake so that you can support each other during the difficult process. If either of you feels yourself faltering, remind each other of your goals.
❍     Listen to your baby cry
Parents respond differently to this difficult task. You may decide you need to listen intently to every cry and gasp your baby makes. Alternatively, you may decide that you need some emotional distance from your baby’s crying. If the sound of your baby crying becomes too painful for either of you, have that person take a break: take a walk, a shower, or listen to music on headphones.
❍     Pay attention to your reactions
Make it a point to try to understand what the crying elicits in you. Is it fear? Is it anxiety? Discerning your own response can shed light on how you project your past onto your baby’s cries.
❍     If you feel you must check in
If the intensity of the experience feels overwhelming and you feel you need to check in on the baby then keep it short—no longer than one to two minutes.
❍     Be consistent
Although many families falter a few times during sleep training, try to remember that if you do give in and feed or rock your baby to sleep after a prolonged interval of crying, his crying has been for naught. As the nights continue you should see a great reduction in crying time and night wakings. New self-soothing behaviors like thumb sucking, holding a cloth blanket or small toy, or a new favorite sleep position will emerge. Anticipate, though, that on the fourth or fifth night there may be a regression, more crying or wakings. This is the night when parents typically give up and feel that their efforts are not working. However, this is the most critical night to hang in there and proceed. There will be a significant positive change after this night.
❍     Designate a wake-up time
Choose a definitive time before which is “night” and after which is “morning.” Try to stay consistent. In other words, if 6:00A.M. is your designated “morning,” any wake up before then is considered a night waking.

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