Fact: There are few things better than holding a sleeping baby.
There’s just something about that sweet smell, those flushed cheeks, and the warmth of a chubby, snuggly little peanut that just can’t be beaten. Whoever invents a candle that can capture the essence of that experience will be a billionaire.
And while caring for a baby is filled with these precious moments, it can also be incredibly exhausting sometimes. Suddenly there are a whole lot of diapers to change, bottles to sanitize, and onesies to hand scrub after the latest blow-out – it can be hard to treasure the special moments because you’re just so darn tired.
When your kiddo falls asleep in your arms, it can feel like a gift, and you might be tempted to do everything in your power to keep her asleep – which often means shutting down all household activities so as not to wake her up. If she gets woken up too early, she’ll never go back to sleep!
It is common for parents to find something that “works” to get their baby to fall asleep and stay asleep without considering how these practices could hinder their baby’s ability to sleep in the long run. Maybe you’ve found yourself taking long car rides to nowhere, nursing until the baby falls asleep, or putting miles on your walking shoes without ever leaving the living room, but you shouldn’t have to live that way. Having such rigid sleep parameters can make you feel like a prisoner in your own home!
At some point, every kid will need to learn how to soothe herself back to sleep without a grown-up’s help. There will inevitably be weeping and wailing as your baby learns to self-soothe, but helping your child master this valuable skill will help both you and your kid to sleep through the night. And the great news: it’s never too late to teach self-soothing strategies to your baby! Here are three sleep training tips for self-soothing, so you can both reach the end goal of better sleep.
#1 – Do the prep work
One of the worst things you can do to sabotage your child’s sleep is let her get overtired. We get it – sometimes overtiredness is inevitable – but most of the time, a little bit of planning can prevent the dreaded overtired. By monitoring your child’s sleep needs and wake windows, you can tweak her schedule to ensure that you get her to bed before she gets overly tired.
Your child will learn how to self-soothe more quickly if you follow a consistent routine and make sure that you meet all of her immediate needs. A baby that is primed to self-soothe
- is tired (but not too tired) before you put her down
- follows a consistent bedtime routine
- has a fully tummy and water accessible (if she’s old enough)
- has a sleeping environment conducive to sleep (cool temperature, dark, sound machine, etc.)
When you anticipate her sleep needs, you equip her with the tools to succeed as she learns how to self-soothe.
#2 – Give it a minute (or five)
Our second tip today is to give your child a little bit of space when she starts fussing. That’s not to say that you should leave your baby to scream and cry in her crib for hours on end, but just to pause before picking up. When you first start to hear the tell-tale rustling of a rousing baby, don’t rush in there to pick her up and rock her back to sleep. Instead, give her at least five minutes to try and calm herself down. The kicker here is that the timer doesn’t start when she begins moving around – it starts when she begins crying.
Of course, if something is obviously wrong, you can rush in to help, but if her life isn’t in danger, a few minutes of monitored crying won’t hurt. You might be surprised that leaving a baby alone for a few minutes – even when she is grunting and groaning a little bit – can teach her to put herself back to sleep on her own, but it’s true!
Giving your baby a little bit of space to learn how to calm herself is one of the first steps to training your child to sleep alone.
#3 – Try alternatives to picking up
Our last tip for today is to avoid picking up your baby when she’s crying in her crib. It’s important to remember that as a baby is sleep training, she’s not crying because she’s mad at you – she’s crying because she’s confused and frustrated by a change in routine. It can certainly feel personal when her cheeks are red and tearstained, and she looks at you all accusingly, but rest assured that your baby will still love you in the morning.
Instead of swooping in to pick up and rock your baby back to sleep, try sitting beside her and patting her bottom or back. You can also sing lullabies and speak in soothing tones to calm her down. We are under no delusion that sitting next to a screaming child and whispering lullabies will immediately result in a sleepy baby. It may take five, ten, thirty minutes (or more!) of consistent reassurance the first few times you do it, but eventually, she will get it. Gradually as she learns that you are still nearby, you can stop patting her booty and rubbing her back, and then you can stop singing, and she’ll realize that she has the skills to soothe herself without your help.
Whatever you do, be sure to fully commit for at least three days. Being wishy-washy will only confuse your baby more and prolong the agony for everyone. Remember, there is no “right way” to sleep train that works for every child every time, so be patient and calm as you both navigate through this journey together.