Baby Sleep Expert Marietta Paxson, M.S., MAFT discusses six common mistakes some parents make when sleep training their baby.
Starting Sleep Training Too Soon
From 0-4 months babies lack the ability to self-soothe, and it is important for them to get the help needed to soothe to sleep. When a baby younger than four months is forced to sleep train, not only can the attempt fail to provide better sleep, but the baby and parents may experience extreme amounts of stress. Make sure you baby is at least 4 months before you begin any sleep training. Furthermore if your baby was born early, even by 2 weeks, you will want to wait until your baby is 4 months old from the due date as opposed to the birth date. We want to make sure your baby is 100% developmentally ready to sleep train and be the most successful once started.
Not Having/Following a Plan
It does not matter what you are trying to change, consistency is the most important piece in getting results. This is as true in baby sleep as it is in exercise. Consistency when sleep training means two things. First, choose and stick to a sleep training method. There are plenty of methods from CIO (Cry It Out) to No-Cry solutions. It honestly doesn't matter which method you choose as long as you can stick with it and be consistent. If being consistent is hard for you, then I would recommend a more direct approach, leaning close to the CIO side, because you will see results faster. If you are someone who thrives on patience and consistency, a more gentle method may be great for you! Whatever plan you choose make sure you are consistent and true to that method. Do not switch back and forth from checks to no checks. It will do nothing but confuse your baby and delay results.
The second part of being consistent is about having a plan. This means you need to define exactly what your training method looks like and what you will do in unusual or unique situations when sleep training. Sleep training is stressful, and when we are stressed we tend to not think clearly and make decisions that might end up hurting our cause instead of helping it. One example of this is knowing what you will do when your baby only takes a 20 minutes nap instead of the needed hour long nap to truly rejuvenate your baby. Depending on the age of the baby, they may need an additional nap shortly after, or perhaps an earlier bedtime, or perhaps no change to the schedule. Having a plan and thinking through the possible situations before you begin can assure you are making the right decision when you are in the thick of it. With my Sleep Plan Package, clients get two weeks of support from me, where they can ask any and all questions they have! When parents are stressed they turn to me, and I can help them make the best choice for their child to improve faster!
Sleep Training an Overtired Baby
Did you know that you can teach your baby to fall asleep on his own at the beginning of the night (aka sleep train), and he might still wake up frequently at night? When parents tell me they have a baby who is falling asleep unassisted, with no sleep aids, at the beginning of the night but still waking more than normal for the age, I always consider lack of sleep as the problem. Therefore, the first thing I look at is the sleep schedule. I make sure they are on an age appropriate sleep schedule and getting enough sleep in order to help them sleep better at night.
The same principle applies when you are in the middle of sleep training. If your baby is going to bed too late or not getting enough sleep during the day, your baby may wake up as often if not more often while sleep training and after. Make sure you are providing them with the appropriate number of naps and an early enough bedtime while sleep training to help them sleep their best as they learn and even after they've accomplished falling asleep on their own.
This is also the most important part of sleep between 0-4 months of age. A baby who is well rested will sleep train much easier. If you are interested in receiving exclusive access to my Newborn Survival Sleep Guide to keep your baby well rested, sign up for my newsletter and you will be granted free access. You will learn exactly what newborn sleep looks like and how you can help you baby stay well rested until he is ready to sleep train.
Keeping a Sleep Aid
Unfortunately, many parents attempt to sleep train with an aid present. The most common one is the binky. I hate to break it to you, but if you use any type of sleep aid your child hasn't actually been sleep trained. This means they may continue the same sleeping patterns you are trying to break or regress at any point later on. Occasionally, a baby who is old enough to find and reinsert his binky can keep it, but my recommendation is to ditch it when you sleep train so that you don't have to do it all over again later when he has regressed or you want it gone. Of course always get your pediatrician's approval to stop using the binky.
Rescuing Your Child
As parents we want to fix whatever may be causing our babies distress. Unfortunately, there is bound to be crying when we are choosing what is best for our child (cue the car seat scream). The same is true for sleep training. Your child will cry some, and it doesn't matter if your baby has been crying for 5 minutes or 50 minutes, you will want to rush in and fix it. The problem is that when you do rush in to fix the problem you are depriving your baby of the opportunity to learn how to fall asleep without you. I am not asking you to let your baby cry longer than you have already agreed to in your chosen sleep training method. I am, however, asking you to stay consistent with the method you have chosen and not to deviate from it. When you are pushed to your very limits in sleep training, you will also be the closest to actually seeing progress. Unfortunately, you will be so tempted to go in and 'rescue' your child that you will want to burn your sleep plan. I can guarantee that if you do run to the rescue in those crucial moments, you will sabotage any success you might have had.
Many parents will text me, almost asking permission to break their sleep plan because they are at their breaking point. I almost always have them remain consistent with their plan. More often than not, I then get a follow up text within minutes telling me the baby fell asleep because they did not go in. Can you imagine all the unwanted consequences from 'rescuing' your baby only moments before he would have fallen asleep on his own? You not only would have caused confusion about how to fall asleep, but you also would have reinforced the idea that you will do it for him. Just like anything in life, the moment you want to quit often means you are at the brink of success. It is the same with sleep training. I know you want to go in there, but please trust me and give it some more time! Trust in the ability of your child and let him figure this out! He can do it!
Feeding Too Much or Not Enough
Yes, you read that right. It is possible to feed your baby too much at night, and it is possible to not feed your baby enough. I always refer clients to their pediatrician to know exactly how many feedings their baby needs at night. But generally, between the ages of 4-8 months 1-2 feedings are appropriate. If you are feeding your baby more than 2 times at night, you may create an association between eating and sleeping. Even when your baby is falling asleep on his own this association can be created from too many feedings at night. On the flip side, if you are trying to force out feedings before you child is physically ready, you will likely have a baby who continues to wake to eat, and struggles to go back to sleep because he is hungry. If you are unsure how many feedings your baby needs at night, talk with your pediatrician. If you want my personal opinion, I'd love to have you participate in my free Q&A happening weekly on Facebook.
Marietta is offering a free Newborn Survival Sleep Guide for anyone who subscribes to her website littledreamers.us.
She also has a free Q&A on her Facebook page every Wednesday at 8 p.m.