Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Preparing for Sleep Training–or Sleep Training for Newborns

(Note: this post was originally written in April 2009, and is kind of a follow-up to another post I wrote about sleep. Since most “experts” will tell you that it isn’t really possible to sleep train an infant younger than 6 weeks, but I believe that any kind of training starts in the womb – or at least when the baby is born – these are my thoughts on how to “prepare” your baby for sleep training. Just like we have to teach our children how to use the potty, we need to teach them how to sleep. Sure our bodies need sleep, but how many of us really listen to our bodies anyway? We need to teach ourselves and our children how to listen to their bodies and take care of them. Here’s how we taught our #2 how to have good sleep habits)

I think J is finally figuring out the whole day/night thing. She still has her evening "fussy time" as I call it, but yesterday it happened earlier in the day - which means bedtime ends up being earlier! (and I'm hoping it will do the same today!). She's starting to be more alert when she's awake, and sleep less easily during the day (i.e., she doesn't guaranteed fall asleep in the car on the way somewhere. She may nod off, but will wake right back up when we get wherever we're going. Last night she fell asleep at 8:30, stirred around 9:30 (i.e., woke up, sort of) - I was able to soothe her back to sleep without picking her up! She slept until 6am, with a feeding around 2am.

I'm hoping this will continue tonight. So far things are looking okay!
Now, I'm no expert on newborn sleep, but I've been reading a lot about sleep, and looking specifically ways to teach your newborn how to sleep. Unfortunately, because babies aren't usually developed enough to figure out the sleeping thing until after 6 weeks, most sleep books say just that - "Your baby will probably not learn how to sleep well until after 6 weeks, so don't worry about it now." Okay, so they don't say it just like that, but basically, that's what all of them are saying. Most books on sleep training don't even give any practical advice until your baby is around 4 months old. So I have been scouring every bit of reading material for things to do to help your newborn sleep well - because I believe that you can at least do something. Most sources had one or two good ideas, but none of them had enough to give you an arsenal of ways to get your baby to sleep. I think hitting them with everything you've got is usually the best way to go.
First, before I continue - three very important points to convince yourself of. Do whatever it takes to really REALLY believe these three things, and you will save yourself a lot of frustration and tears:
  • Newborn babies are not really sleep-trainable until six weeks after their due date (now, before you get all discouraged, READ ON!)
  • There are some things you can do to try to help your newborn's sleep organization mature a little faster - just don't hang all your hope on it.
  • The term sleeping through the night, for a newborn (i.e. younger than 4 months) is 4-5 hours.
Okay, now that you've got that through your head, here are the things to do to help your newborn sleep through the night earlier (while these things may not necessarily work right now, be assured that they will eventually help - and if you get used to doing them now, you may avoid problems later):
  • Turn on the lights/open the blinds during the day (when the sun is shining), and when the sun goes down, keep the lights low (or off) where your baby is in the house. It's really tempting to keep the lights on in the evenings when you wish your baby would go to sleep, but she's not, so you're up doing things like the dishes, watching a movie, playing on the computer, etc while you wait for baby to decide to go to sleep. I'm not saying doing these things are bad - just try doing them without the lights on (okay, doing the dishes will probably be kind of hard). This will help baby adjust faster to light=daytime, dark=nighttime. Remember, baby just game from 24hr darkness, so the more you can do this, the faster baby will figure out the light/dark thing. I think this is the most effective idea I found.
  • Keep stimulating activities to a minimum after "bedtime." You get to decide what "bedtime" is - Since I would eventually like J to be going to be around 9pm, that is what I call "bedtime." The most surprising thing I found out about stimulating activities is that eye contact is a stimulating activity for babies! Making eye contact with a baby causes their pupils to dilate, raises their heart rate, and all that other crazy stuff. So, no eye contact with baby after the time you want them to fall asleep.
  • Put your baby in his/her bed to sleep. This idea was from The No-Cry Sleep Solution. I didn't have any problem with this, but her experience convinced me that this is pretty important - she always let her baby sleep in her arms during the day, and so her babies wouldn't sleep in their cribs at night since they just wanted to sleep in her arms. So, the best way to get baby to sleep in his/her bed at night is to...? You guessed it - let him/her sleep in his/her bed! So during the day, for naps, make sure your newborn naps in his/her bed.
  • Try to soothe without picking them up after you've laid them down to sleep. It makes sense. Just let them lay in the crib/cosleeper/bassinet/whatever and try to get them to go back to sleep without picking them up. It worked last night for me, I'll let you know if it keeps working.
So, I think for newborns, those are the key ideas. There's not much else you can do for your newborn (and remember, J is only 3 weeks old, so by newborn I mean REALLY newborn). After 6 weeks, basically any sleep book will have good advice for helping your baby develop good sleep habits. Most people don't give advice for how to help your newborn sleep through the night starting from day 1, so this is the list of what I have found that is really newborn sleep advice.
Oh yes, and one more piece of advice - make sure your husband is as convinced as you are of the first three facts (mostly the one that says pretty much no matter what, you can't expect your newborn to sleep through the night until after 6 weeks).
Note: I would add that you need to remember that you should cuddle your baby ALL THE TIME when he/she is awake! Just not at sleep time. Sleep time = sleep time, not cuddle time. I have found that doing a LOT of cuddling when baby is sleepy but not asleep is very effective to getting baby to calm down and go right to sleep. Just try to resist the urge to always be holding your sleeping baby.


  1. Thanks for sharing your link(s). It always drives me nuts when people say, oh, this baby probably doesn't need as much sleep -- but seriously -- a 20 minute nap plus a 2 hour nap in a whole day for a newborn? I don't think so! (That was today). I'm going to read your review on the HSHHC now. Thanks!

  2. I knew I had something to add, but forgot... I was going to say, the other "sleep training" thing we've done with the newborns is help them flip their nights/days to match with ours. I really think that they're backwards because when they're inside we rock them to sleep all day by our movements, when we sleep is when they wake up -- so, they're backwards. To flip them, we just didn't let them sleep more than 3-4 hours in the day, then let them go as long as they want at night -- rather than leaving it all up to them to decide when to get up. It's going to be either me or them being awakened, and I'm choosing them during my day!

  3. In addition to HHSHC I read another book when lukas was born - except the name of the book escapes me at the moment. A friend of mine swears by it. Her babies were all sleeping 8 hours strait by 6 weeks old. AMAZING. I think mostly she just has amazing sleepers. Anyway, this second book says essentially when your baby wakes up, feed, then play, then within that 2 hour window put the baby back to sleep and repeat. The only thing that was weird for me, was the authors literally wanted you to wake up your baby after 1 or 2 hours of sleep and feed him and play with him again. I didn't do that exactly. When my baby had slept 2 or maybe up to 3 hours a day sometimes I would wake him up. 1 hour just seemed way to short. so the update, Lukas is 1 year old and his names are super regular - two 2 hour naps. And he sleeps from 5:00 pm to 7:00 am. (Although I'm trying to push back his bedtime to coordinate with the other kids - 6:30) I think those two books TOGETHER have really made a huge difference, because it wasn't until I read that second book and merged the ideas that I felt I was making any difference before the 4 month mark when I was going crazy from sleep deprivation myself. I know somebody out their knows what that book is called, its a pretty popular one.