Sleep Training “What If’s”: Part One
September 11, 2014 · Posted in Infant Development, Parenting, Sleep · Permalink

Tips from our book, A Mothers Circle:

Parents often second-guess why their baby is crying. They feel guilty and, looking for an out, they imagine that their baby is sick or teething or hungry. Here is the first of a three-part series answering frequently asked sleep training questions.

“What if he is hungry?”

The specter of a miserably hungry baby crying out in the night hangs over most parents on the eve of their sleep work. Parents are somehow not reassured upon hearing again that a three-to-four-month-old baby who weighs at least twelve pounds can get through an eleven-to-twelve-hour period of nighttime sleep without a feeding. They have become so accustomed to feeding their baby at regular intervals through the night that this seems incredible to them.

If your baby is only taking one night feeding you might be ready to cut out that feeding completely. If your baby is like Leslie’s, needing only a minute of nursing before falling back to sleep, it is easy to see that he is not actually hungry. But if your baby has been taking eight ounces of formula or nursing for ten to fifteen minutes several times a night, he has without doubt grown accustomed to refilling his belly throughout the night. In this case, we do not recommend doing sleep work all in one fell swoop, particularly if your baby is only three to four months old. Rather, you can first help your baby to learn the skill of falling asleep on his own at bedtime. Then you can gradually cut down on his night feedings.

Some parents choose to wake their babies for one night feeding before they go to bed themselves. Having slept from 7:00 or 8:00 p.m., babies typically are so soundly asleep at eleven or twelve at night that they wake up only partially, then fall directly back to sleep after a feeding. Even though he is still getting this one night feeding, the fact that you are waking him up instead of the other way around makes your message consistent. Once your other goals are accomplished, you can eliminate this late-night snack.

Another option is to respond with a feeding only once during the middle of the night, but do it when your baby awakens on his own. Then do not feed the baby until morning. This done over a week-long period will teach your baby to fall asleep on his own and to only wake once for a nighttime feeding. After this is firmly established you can move on to eliminate the nighttime feeding completely.

Babies are creatures of habit. And they are smart. On the first night without his middle-of-the-night feeding your baby probably is a little hungry and is expecting to be fed. He cries because he knows he will be fed. But he doesn’t need to eat. Giving up the middle-of-the-night feeding is not easy for your baby; it is stretching him. But almost immediately he will naturally begin to eat more during the day and he will not be hungry at night.

Some parents prefer to gradually train their babies to expect less during their nighttime feedings. They continue to feed their babies when they cry at night, but diminish the number of ounces, or minutes on each breast, until a feeding is so minimal that it is clear their baby no longer needs it.

“What if he wakes up soon after he goes to sleep?”

Sometimes a baby will awaken forty minutes to an hour after he has fallen asleep at bedtime and parents can misread this short sleep as an early evening nap. Treat it as a night waking, not as a nap.

“What if he is teething?”

Parents regularly invoke teething to avoid sleep training. The truth is, babies are teething throughout this entire period. Unless your baby’s tooth is actually just cutting the gum, or his gums are inflamed, there is no need to interrupt or forestall sleep work. If the erupting tooth is obviously giving your baby pain, consult your pediatrician about options for relieving your baby’s discomfort.

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