I know how your feeling, you’re at the end of your tether. You’ve just put your precious little bundle down, warm, snug and safe, sleeping soundly, already deep in the grasp of sleep. You marvel at the incredible little being you have somehow been blessed with and slowly, quietly leave the room. You walk to the kettle, grab your favourite cup and before you can even get the tea bag in you hear the loud and unmistakable wail from your precious little bubs room who five minutes earlier was so deep in sleep, cosy in your arms, that a steam train could not have woken her. You yell, “C’mon give me a break!” Problem is this is the fifth time you have gone through these motions already today. Yesterday and the day before were no different. Bub just will not sleep on her own, it is starting to drive you nuts! It is time to take action! It is time to teach this baby to sleep! It is time to get some of your own time back! It is time to have that cup of tea.
It is a mighty big step to take. The transition from placing bub fast asleep into the cot, to placing bub wide awake often screaming her little lungs out is tough. In fact it is really, really tough. It’s possible that you may even find it harder than your baby does. Commitment is the key to sleep training success, so if you want a sleeping baby then you must persevere.
Now just before I begin I want to add that in no way do I wish to convey that my methods are the only way to help your baby sleep. Ultimately you will do what you believe is best for your baby and for your family in order of achieving the right family balance. But my advice is one hundred percent genuine, tried and tested and has been incredibly successful for our family.
There are a couple of different techniques in which one might go about carrying out this mighty big step. The first technique is a good starting point for Mums and Dads hesitant to leave their baby to cry for too long. It focuses on a good behaviour reward system. Basically, if you have ever trained a dog before, praising Fido for sitting on command, then you will understand the fundamental concept here. It will appeal to parents who cannot sit back (or pace around the house) listening to bub cry for the allocated times. It concentrates on rewarding bubs silent moments by casualing wandering into her room wearing the biggest smile and commenting on the pause in tears, reassuring her that you are still around. I think my exact words when I used this method were “Good girl, you stopped crying. Now time to go nigh nigh” then I would casually walk out, which then of course would be followed by an increase in wailing volume! And of course initially waiting for that break in bubs screams may not happen for a very long time. In fact to start with you will need to be just out of bubs view and when you hear a break (taking a breath) get in there with your big smile! If you persist this will work, your baby begins to realize that you have not left them, you are still around and you will be back – if they remain calm. This technique does however take patience on your part. If you have time (initially) to stand outside their room ready to leap in when the crying stops then give this a try. For parents who are a slave to other young siblings wants and needs, well, this may not work so well for you as it takes total commitment. Commitment to be close by when the crying ceases for two seconds – not in the toilet wiping Master twos bottom or toasting that piece of bread that Miss four has spent the past forty minutes asking you for. Missing the opportunity to reward bub with your presence will only give out mixed signals and essentially lead to confusion for your baby. They call me mummy.com has a great article on this type of sleep training, suggesting it is based on understanding your baby and communicating with her. A simple, but effective philosophy.
I find a variation of this technique works really well for babies who are already sleep trained but are spending the night away from their cot. Holidays can be a nightmare for parents. Your baby sleeps beautifully every night, you couldn’t be happier, you go on holidays, your baby cries and cries and will not go to sleep. It’s like your baby has been reset! Our recent trip interstate saw me wandering in and out of our fourteen month olds room for about fifteen minutes smiling ear to ear as I looked down at her, singing ‘the lion sleeps tonight’. Although probably very annoying for my husband John, who was trying to watch an episode of Jack Irish on TV, it worked wonders for our baby who was content knowing that I was still around and had not left her, she was safe to go to sleep and so she did.
Well then, the fastest and quickest method to get your baby to sleep on their own and through the night is the self settling method or the sooth your baby to sleep method or as it is commonly referred to – the cry it out method. Of course you’ve heard of it, everybody has. A recent study on this topic found that mother and child who used this method had improved sleep and mothers were less likely to experience depression and other emotional problems. Rahil D Briggs, director of the healthy steps program states “while stressful for the infant, it almost certainly falls under positive stress – which creates growth in the child, in the form of coping skills and frustration tolerance that serve to be critically important throughout the life span”. If your interested in reading the rest of the findings from this study check it out here.
The self settling technique was originally conceived by paediatrician Richard Ferber, who wrote the best seller “solve your childs sleep problems“. Ferber referred to the method as “sooth your baby to sleep”. He does not associate himself with the term ‘cry it out’, he does, however, agree with a number of paediatricians who believe that crying for a great majority of children is simply inescapable. Paediatrician Marc Weissbluth another leading sleep researcher who wrote Healthy sleep habits, happy child, also advocates self soothing methods in order of changing sleep associations. His methods are much simpler and probably have you as the parent feeling even lousier! None the less, they have a place in sleep training and I for one have used his methods more than once. Both methods work on the theory that baby is given the opportunity to fall asleep on their own, without the help of Mum and Dad. So when your precious little one wakes during the night, as per ones natural sleep cycle, instead of screaming the house down and crying for Mum to come and pick her up, feed, cuddle and sooth her for the next hour, your baby will have the ability to put herself back to sleep.
The Ferber method – Graduated extinction method click here
The weissbluth method – Extinction or CIO
Weissbluth recommends starting this training at baby’s night time sleep. He also recommends an early bed time for babies at 5:30pm – 6:30pm.
Place baby in cot as soon as baby appears sleepy.
Leave the room and don’t re-enter even if baby is sobbing, do not offer comfort.
Follow a predictable nap schedule the following day, but do not sacrifice night time sleep for day time sleep.
So what do I actually think of these sleep training methods and which one do I use?
Initially our first baby was Ferberised. It didn’t take long, three or four days maximum. Our subsequent babies have been a combination approach using both these methods.
Sleep training begins in our house at or just before six months of age. For the first six months I strictly follow baby sleep rituals that help my baby’s body clock adjust and help baby to make sleep associations. Click here for the top 10 baby sleep tips.
Day 1: I initially carry bub to her room quietly singing the same song she had first began to hear not long after she was born at nap times (the lion sleeps tonight). I place baby in cot drowsy but still awake, for the first sleep of the day. Kissing my beautiful little cherub on the cheek I whisper “sweet dreams darling, I love you. Nigh, nigh”, words that I repeat in the same order at every single nap time. Then I walk out, wait for the howling to begin, which initially may take a minute or two, and return to the room at three minutes to sooth and comfort my baby briefly repeating the same words without picking her up. Again I leave the room, this time allowing five minutes of crying before I return to comfort and repeat the bed time ditto my babies become so accustomed to. I wait ten minutes the next time and then again wait another ten minutes, just as, you may have noticed, Ferber would suggest. However, unlike Ferber’s method, I will not enter the room again, instead leaving my baby to go to sleep on her own (weissbluth). I will repeat this method for the rest of day one.
Day 2: First nap of the day begins with the soothing sound of my singing voice (well in my head it sounds soothing!), followed by the very same bed time ditto and kiss. I leave the room and do not return (except for a quick peek about 20 minutes into the silence).
Day 3: The same as day 2.
Day 4: The same as day 3. I think you get the picture.
Ok, so why did I start with the Ferber model and switch to Weissbluth?
Well, to begin with it is a huge step for a baby to take. Being placed in the cot, left on her own for the very first time. Frightened and panicked, she is going to cry. Returning to the room to begin with reassures her that I am still around, in fact I am just on the other side of that door. It is thought that babies between the age of four to seven months have developed ‘object permanence’ (a post for another day), they realize that objects (or Mums) exist even when they cannot see them, so by returning to her at the allocated intervals I am simply proving to her that I have not abandoned her. I do not, however, want to continually return to her room as this may unintentionally reinforce the crying and the sleep training will in turn take longer to have an effect.
Of course your baby needs to be physically and emotionally ready to take this step (as do you!), which means the self settling method shouldn’t be carried out before bub is four months old. Personally I have found six months old to be the perfect age for my children.
At six months of age your baby should be getting enough calories during the day that they no longer need a night time feed. If I am planning on sleep training I always time this with night weaning, as there is no point training if bub is only going to wake for the night feed anyway. Provided your baby is a healthy weight and without special needs, then night weaning is essential in getting bub to sleep through the night. If you would like to learn more on this topic then click here to head to my night weaning page.