If you’re stumbling through the bewildering new experiences that first-time parents face, believe me, it can be quite nerve-racking.
At the end of a hectic day of feeding, changing, bathing, and tidying up, all you want is for the baby to fall asleep, you’ll find the little one wide awake and rarin’ to go.
In an earlier era, when families were more closely connected and/or lived in neighboring clusters, all that a stressed-out mom or dad had to do was to send an SOS to granny, grandpa, uncle, aunt, siblings, cousins, or even older nephews and nieces. There were friends or neighbors who would lend a hand too.
And you could spend a blissful hour of Me-Time taking a leisurely shower, binge-watching your favorite crime series or even getting a few chores done.
But all that’s in the realm of “Once upon a time.”
Today’s parents need to figure it out themselves and chart their own route to keeping their precious little one comfortable, safe, and healthy. Blogs, forums, online consultation with pediatricians, parenting books, and videos are available, providing humongous amounts of information that you have to sift through and find what works for you.
A crucial aspect of your baby’s routine is sleep. Newborns spend a large part of the day sleeping, waking up for feeds, and changing diapers, or for an hour or two of play. But this doesn’t last for very long, and before you know it, you find that you have to arrange your schedule to suit the little emperor’s or empresses!
With time, parents become increasingly exhausted and stressed, mainly because of conflicting routines. This can even put pressure on the relationship between spouses. Anxiety, feeling tense and unable to cope, coupled with work pressures and your own sense of love and duty towards baby can be an emotional cocktail that’s hard to digest.
The answer is to find the right method of sleep training baby so that you get your rest and are able to carry on a stress-free schedule.
Effects of Poor Sleep
Children who haven’t regulated their sleep patterns may suffer from a variety of physical and emotional issues. They may develop behavior problems, obesity, cognitive difficulties, etc. On the other hand, parents may face issues such as depression, poor quality of life, anxiety, relationship problems etc.
What Is Sleep Training?
Studies show that nearly 20-30% of babies worldwide have sleep problems. This results in parents having to stay awake. The baby needs to learn to soothe him/herself to sleep, without depending on someone else to do it. Typical parental methods that soothe baby to sleep include rocking, jigging, comfort-feeding, singing lullabies, pacifiers, white-noise machines, swings, and cradles, holding a baby and walking about, or even taking them out in the car.
Another issue is that in many cultures, the baby sleeps in the same room as the parents during the first year at least. This means that the parents are even more sleep-deprived during that time.
Sleep training is an inclusive term that comprises different methods of assisting babies to stabilize their sleep patterns by themselves. It means putting the baby to bed while fully awake and allowing her/him to fall asleep without external soothing.
It can be started between 4-6 months. Wait till the baby can go longer without feeds so that you get a longer stretch of time.
There are several different approaches to this and they require consistent effort and participation from the parents.
Different Methods and Approaches
There are several training methods that are recommended by pediatricians and sleep experts. The main ones include:
- CIO technique: The Cry-It-Out method as it’s popularly known is a well-known, traditional approach. Parents are trained to develop a consistent routine of stroking and cuddling baby till they stop crying and fall asleep naturally. They can leave the room and if the crying resumes, wait till it stops on its own. This method has its proponents and opponents. While it is quite effective and produces relatively quick results, most parents are concerned about babies being traumatized and feeling abandoned
- Ferber Method: Is a watered-down version of CIO. The essentials remain the same, but here, parents’ response time to the crying is gradually increased till the baby learns to self-soothe and falls asleep naturally. In both CIO and Ferber methods, there is no evidence of long-term trauma on the baby, but parents may find it difficult to stay calm while the baby cries alone in another room.
- Fading: This is a slightly more elaborate and extended method. It means gradual distancing from baby without any physical or verbal responses. Parents must be alert to signs of drowsiness before they start the bedtime routine. They can stay within touching distance initially, then slowly begin moving away, while staying within sight of baby. If the baby persists in fussing, soft verbal or hushing sounds can reassure her/him that you’re still around. It is considered to be a gentler method, but requires more effort and consistency.
Tips on Sleep Training
- Bedtime routine: Begin the routine at least 30 minutes ahead of bedtime. Make sure that they don’t fall asleep at the breast or bottle and finish the bath and story-time while baby is still fully awake.
- Time it Right: Avoid starting sleep training if you’ve recently moved, or you have guests or a particularly busy time at work. You need to be calm and in control of yourself.
- Wait for cues: Stay alert to sleepiness cues such as rubbing the eyes, yawning, or peevishness. Ensure that the baby is not over-excited, or just finished a big meal.
- Train while awake: Baby should be awake when the training starts. This makes it more effective.
- Control your own response: Of course, it’s heart-breaking to hear a baby crying, but you need to delay your instinctive response in the interests of the long-term goal. Learning is never easy and consistency is the key. Remember that babies often sleep fitfully and may often go right back to sleep after a few yells and whimpers.
While sleep training, consider the larger good and the benefits of developing good habits at an early age. The baby’s developmental need at this age is for good rest and sleep since they don’t really need a night-feed or change. Adjust sleep and nap times as the child grows. You may need to tweak the sleep training methods with every change in a baby’s life, such as day-care, travel, colds, family events, illness, digestive problems, the arrival of guests, or even a new sibling.