When I was pregnant with my first child, I read plenty of books about pregnancy. Each described how the baby was growing and how my body was changing, but no chapter covered what to do once the baby was actually out in the world. As I fumbled along those first few months of motherhood, I casually complained to a friend about how exhausted I was. "When are you going to start sleep training?" she asked. "Excuse me? What is sleep training?" I replied. This sounded like music to my ears and hard work at the same time — I wasn't sure if I should jump for joy or start to cry.
I discovered that embarking on this new phase of parenthood was going to take commitment. Baby Center simply and accurately describes sleep training as, "the process of helping a baby learn to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night." Sounds incredible, right? This is what every parents wants: a baby that falls asleep and stays asleep. But getting to that end result is where the hard work comes in, and even though it may seem tough at times, staying committed is worth it in the long run.
Before you start making plans for endless nights of uninterrupted sleep, it's only fair to tell you that you can't start sleep training immediately after your baby is born. According to the Baby Sleep Site, you should start sleep training within four to seven months. Around the time, your baby is developmentally ready to adopt more adult-like sleep patterns. An added bonus for sleep training at this age is the fact that your baby hasn't gained much mobility yet, meaning he's less likely to move around in the crib and keep himself awake longer.
When it comes to sleep training, there are many opinions on which method is most effective. Before you are ready to begin sleep training your baby, research all the different methods for sleep training and decide which one feels right to you and best suits your personality and parenting style. No matter which plan you choose, there are a few general habits that help to make any method of sleep training successful. As Parents magazine pointed out, making sleep a priority, creating a routine, and preparing a peaceful and relaxing sleep environment will increase the success of your baby's sleep training.
As your leading your little on down the path of excellent slumber, remember that associations they make with sleep can skew the outcome of your sleep training goals. As Today's Parents pointed out, the habits babies form when learning more permanent sleep patterns make a difference in how they will sleep in the future. For example, rocking the baby until he's all the way asleep doesn't teach him how to self-sooth to sleep on his own. But rocking for a few minutes, then putting him to bed drowsy, but awake, helps to form a habit of going to sleep all on his own.
Although sleep training may sound a little like a nighttime baby bootcamp, all you're really doing is helping your baby listen to the cues their body gives them and soothe themselves into dreamland. Your baby already knows how to sleep — by sleep training, you are gently nudging them along the road to a well rested childhood.