How do I know if it’s the right time for me and my baby to begin sleep training?

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newborn-659685_1920I speak to many parents each week regarding their child’s sleeping habits, and while I can offer tailor made advice to suit your specific needs, it doesn’t mean anything if you and your baby aren’t ready for it.

So how can you identify how you and your baby are ready for sleep training??

Here I will offer some thoughtful points to help you determine if you and your baby are ready to begin sleep training:

  • Your baby will begin to have preferences. Babies will learn early that some things feel good (e.g. being in mummy or daddy’s arms) and what doesn’t (e.g. dirty nappy). They instinctively learn to cry to get a clean nappy or be held if they need the comfort. At some point, though, a need can become a want. Your newborn will likely have limited self-soothing abilities or she will be great at sleeping, but then has their 4 month old sleep regression and suddenly has sleep problems. You will be convinced your, every-two-hour-eater is genuinely hungry or needs the comfort. Eventually, you will start to wonder if she really needs it as much as wants it. After all, maybe the only reason she “needs” it is because that’s all she’s ever known, not that she can’t sleep without it.
  • Your baby has the ability to learn a new way to sleep. There is a difference between babies who can and can’t learn to self-soothe. Experts will disagree far and wide at the “right” age, but all situations are different. The key here is whether you believe that your baby has the ability to learn a new way to sleep, so follow your instinct.
  • The timing is right for your baby. Many will agree that a 6 month old can learn to self soothe but does that mean it wouldn’t be better for YOUR family to wait until she’s more like 12 months? Maybe. It depends on the baby, their temperament, what they’re going through and a whole host of other factors. You know your baby best and need to figure out the right time for your baby. And, keep in mind that you can always try, take a break, and try again, if you doubt your timing after you start.
  • The timing is right for you. Hearing your 16-week old or 6-month old fussing or crying versus hearing your 11-month old can be very different as you will find at these stages you are in separate ‘emotional states’.  Even still, it is different hearing a baby cry or your toddler saying “Mama!” or “Dada!” Whether you use a no-cry method or a crying one, there is bound to be some uncomfortable moments. Are YOU ready for some rough days and/or nights? Are you able to deal with it getting harder for a few days before it gets easier?
  • Your baby actually has a sleep problem. Sometimes, expectations are actually to blame for a baby’s “sleep problem.” Is your 8-month old breastfed baby still waking up once a night to eat? For many, that is brilliant and age-appropriate. All babies are different and sometimes you just have to adjust your expectations. Once you lower your expectations and stop comparing your baby to others you know, it does wonders for your outlook.
  • You realise that you NEED to sleep train. Maybe you can’t go on waking up every hour to put a dummy in your baby’s mouth or even if you have appropriate expectations and you don’t have a true “baby sleep problem,” you need to decide that you need to sleep train. I’ve had clients who are surgeons and getting up once a night month on month is just too tiring. So maybe you need to sleep train to get a full night’s sleep. Similarly, some clients experience more health problems, difficulty functioning, or post-natal depression. I recently had a client tell me she didn’t understand how sleep deprivation could be used as a form of torture until she had a baby. I totally relate!
  • You have the realisation of the commitment in sleep training. One thing that’s difficult about my job is setting appropriate expectations about how long sleep training will take. Some are frustrated three days later that changes aren’t happening fast enough. For some babies and toddlers, sleep training means you are changing habits as long as two or three years old. Results are simply not always overnight (though some are!). Granted, most will have at least some success within 1-2 weeks that helps give you the boost you need for the long haul.
  • You are ready to be consistent and patient. You need to be ready to be 100% consistent. Hesitating or changing strategies hourly or daily can lead to more crying and frustration on both you and your baby’s parts. Sleep training should not be seen as a ‘quick fix’ to be implemented and accomplished in one day. You need to be consistent both short-term and long-term. Patience is a key part of sleep coaching, too. Particularly if you are using a no cry training method, you need to be prepared to be patient. Just like your baby won’t learn to walk or talk in a day, you can’t expect him to learn any new skill in one day. Commit to the change.
  • You are ready to create (or invest in) a sleep coaching plan. Whether it’s one of my personalised sleep plans or you make on your own, have a plan. Decide what your goals are and how you will achieve them. Monitor progress and tweak the plan. Sometimes a curve ball is thrown, illness, sleep regression, holiday, that you didn’t anticipate, so you’ll tweak the plan. If your first plan doesn’t succeed, try try again.
  • You have some measure of support to help you through the process. Sleep training can be very emotional and draining and, if you lack confidence, the best of plans will fail. It really does help to have support whether it’s a spouse, friend, message board, or me, having someone you feel accountable to “check in” with can help keep you going.

I hope this article has helped you decide whether you are ready to tackle the sometimes very emotional task of sleep training or has given you the “ok” to wait. Only you know what you live day in and day out. Trust your instincts and they will take you far.

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