Continuing our Sleep Training Series, we explain the highlights of Dr. Weissbluth’s Sleep Training tips for months 1-6 from Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.
Today, we’re going to cover No-Crying Sleep Training tips for months 1-6. Why? Even though you won’t start sleep training your baby until they’re almost halfway through the first year, the steps you take even during pregnancy and up until 4 months will make a difference both in your baby’s sleep habits and in your own peace of mind.
See, your baby’s first year is when you’ll sleep the least. Pop culture and grandmothers tell you all the time but any parent knows reality never truly sets in until you’re sleep-deprived and you feel more tired than you have ever felt in your life. Even when you ask parents of toddlers, they’ll tell you they can’t remember how “fussy” their baby was. Well, take it from us, it will probably be really really hard.
There are many sleep training tips for months 1-6, 6-12, and even beyond out there so for the next few posts on our blog, Sleep Training tips for your baby’s first year will be mostly taken from Healthy Sleep Habits Happy, Child by topic. Stay tuned by signing up for our newsletter.
Why Sleep Train?
We sleep train babies for the same reason we lookout for what they’re eating. Safe and healthy sleep allows your baby to be happy and healthy. At the same time, it keeps you sane, because an overtired baby is always equivalent to a tired and cranky parent. Sleep Training in its simplest form is making sure your baby falls asleep before they become overtired, thus ensuring healthy habits for when self-soothing and sleeping through the night come into play later on.
“It is as important not to let children sleep when they are in biological wake mode as it is to help them sleep when they are in biological sleep mode” – Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
What are common sleep training methods?
If you still have a lot of questions and you’re new to the topic, head over to our blog post 5 Most Common Sleep Training Methods. If “cry-it-out” is the last thing you want to do, don’t worry. That’s just one way to do it and you can avoid it entirely.
Pre-Sleep Training Tips for Months 1-6: Babies and Parents
Preparing for Baby Sleep During Pregnancy
If you think your sleeping patterns during pregnancy don’t affect your baby, you’d be surprised. According to Dr. Weissbluth, “Based on the regularity or irregularity of the mother’s sleep/wake patterns, activity/reset patterns, or eating patterns, there may be a kind of prenatal programming affecting the baby’s own rhythms”
This means that setting rhythms during your late pregnancy for sleep (as much as your discomfort will allow) can truly benefit your baby after they’re born. Two great tools to have by your side are a sleep log, as a diary is much harder to scan, and visual aid of the stages of sleep development of your baby.
Tips for Sleeping during pregnancy are actually very similar to those you want to apply to your baby’s sleep. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine:
“[…] keeping good sleep habits is especially essential when a woman is pregnant.
“On behalf of the AASM, Dr. Mindell offers the following sleep hygiene tips for all moms-to-be:
[…] keeping good sleep habits is especially essential when a woman is pregnant. On behalf of the AASM, Dr. Mindell offers the following sleep hygiene tips for all moms-to-be:
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule
- Make your bedroom dark, cool and comfortable
- Sleep on the left side, which is best for the developing baby
- Don’t clock-watch
- Don’t stay in bed and try to sleep. If, in 10-15 minutes, you are struggling to fall asleep, get up and move to another room and do something distracting, but not stimulating. Read or perhaps listen to soft music
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine
- Allow yourself time to unwind before bed.”
Sleeping Habits of Newborns
When you’re the parent of a baby who’s a few weeks old and you hear the phrase “sleeping like a baby,” you want to pull your hair out. If sleeping like a baby means sleeping for 2-3 hours and then waking up screaming, please let us never aspire to that.
Still, though, it’s likely the unfortunate expression came from the first week or so of baby sleep in which newborns sleep so much they actually lose a little weight because they’re not eating as much. This is, according to Dr. Weissbluth, totally normal and shouldn’t alarm you. Sure, the sleep thing won’t scare you, but more so the weight loss. Enjoy the incredible long sleep of newborns and prepare for the next six weeks.
Dr. Weissbluth on newborns
“The first week of life is like a honeymoon. It will become more difficult in the evenings starting at 6 weeks of age counting from the due date. For 80 percent of babies: they settle down at night a few weeks later. For 20 percent of babies, it will become more and more difficult to soothe and sleep the baby all the time starting at several days of age, counting from the due date. These babies settle down at night at three to four months of age.”
Follow the 1-2 hour rule
For the first four months, you basically have one rule to follow which is called the 1-2 hour rule. What does this rule state? “Babies become overtired after only 1-2 hours of wakefulness” You count your baby’s awake hours and make sure they don’t go over 1-2 hours being awake. Naturally, they might be able to stay awake longer, especially if stimulated. However, the longer you wait, the more fussier of an overtired baby you’ll have on your hands. 1-2 hours and it’s lights out for baby.
“Try to keep the intervals of wakefulness brief,” keep an eye on their drowsiness signs and move baby to a crib ASAP. Follow their preferred method of winding down to comfort and calm them. This could include feeding, recreational nursing, a session in a swing or rocking chair, a pacifier, etc.
Keep in mind that you know what’s best for your child even better than they do. They may want to play with you when they’re dangerously close to being past that 2-hour timeframe. Distinguish and act on the difference between what your baby wants, and what they need.
“Have the confidence to be sensitive to her need to sleep and lie down with her or leave her alone a little to let her sleep. How long should you leave her alone? Maybe five, ten, or twenty minutes; there’s no need for a rigid schedule. Simply test her once in a while to see whether she goes to sleep after five to twenty minutes of protest […]. If this approach fails, pick her up, soothe her, comfort her, and then either try once more to get her to go to sleep, or play with her for a while and try again later.”
Dr. Weissbluth’s Sleep Training Tips for Months 1-6
Formal Training Won’t Stick, But Neither Will “Bad Habits”
There is no such thing as creating a “crying habit” or overfeeding your baby. Listen and soothe your baby’s needs when they arise. Feed when necessary, sleep when required, and don’t worry about the formal training at this stage. “Babies less than six weeks old fall asleep at night very late and do not sleep very long during the day or night. Try to soothe your baby to sleep during the day before she becomes overtired. Always respond to your baby. Avoid the overtired state”.
“Eighty percent of babies more than six weeks old become more settled at night, sleep a little longer at night, and begin to become drowsy for night sleep at an earlier hour. Try to soothe your baby to sleep at an earlier hour if she shows signs of drowsiness earlier. ”
“Twenty percent of babies more than six weeks old do not appear to become more settled at night, do not appear to sleep longer at night, and do not become drowsy at an earlier hour. Nevertheless, try to soothe your baby to sleep at an earlier hour even if she does not show signs of drowsiness earlier. Spend extra time soothing: prolonged swinging, long luxurious baths, and never-ending car rides. Fathers should put forth the extra effort to help out. Do not let her cry.”
Your baby has no circadian rhythms or internal biological clocks so you can’t set your baby to clock time.
- Feed baby when they seem hungry
- Change when necessary
- Allow sleep when they’re sleepy
- Don’t be alarmed if they lose a little weight- it’s normal
- Get your own rest when you’re able
- Don’t detach baby from nursing if they’re doing it to soothe or if you want them to self-soothe to sleep. It’s too soon. If they fall asleep while latched, allow it for now.
Prepare yourself! “All babies are most fussy, cry the most and most wakeful at six weeks of age”
Why: your baby is more social, excited, and stimulated by what’s going on around him.
As you get used to your baby’s new developments, set earlier bedtimes. Put your baby down earlier and earlier and allow longer night sleep periods to come through. Your baby, according to Dr. Weissbluth, will probably be somewhere in between regular fussy or “easy” and the extremely fussy or colicky baby. In fact, this could be when your baby “forgets” previous sleep patterns.
Don’t give up! Roll with the punches and you will be rewarded in the long run.
Think your baby is crying because they’re sick? Healthy but overtired is the name of the game if you don’t keep an eye on that golden 1-2 hour rule.
“I have examined many children who cry with such intensity and persistence that their mothers are sure they’re sick. During their crying, they may swallow air and become very gassy. […] it is tempting to assume that their formula doesn’t agree with them or that they have an intestinal disease- but only at night? These children are healthy but overtired.”- Dr. Weissbluth
During this time, as the Sleep Training time is rolling around, your baby is becoming less portable, and therefore going out with them is becoming a difficult task.
Dr. Weissbluth’s Sleep Training Tips to remember during this time:
- Crying most likely means: hungry, fussy, or overtired
- Things causing too much stimulation when it’s time to sleep: handling or irregular handling, mostly being up too long.
- Symptoms that arise around this time such as heightened screaming can stop if consistent naps and earlier sleep times can solve this almost entirely. “It’s never too hot or too cold to sleep well.”
- It’s time to implement the morning nap between 9-10 a.m.
Things to celebrate: more smiling, more cooing, more laughs, and squeals, essentially your baby is much more social.
Regular 9am and 1pm Naps
At this stage, your baby should continue to be going to bed earlier and earlier. Start the routine early which will include feeding, perhaps bathing, etc. For night feedings, remember during this transition that before your baby would “sleep through the night” and now they won’t. This is because your baby is going to bed earlier and the night feeding, maybe even two of them, will become the new normal up until around nine months of age.
Sleep training tips for months 1-6 always include the added knowledge that you have of your own baby, which as far as you’re concerned, is like no one else’s. Perhaps your baby likes to cry a little, you enter the room, give her a pacifier, roll her and she goes back to sleep. That’s all well and good in months 4-6 but in the future, babies tend to use these moments to start a prolonged playtime. Be the parent and go only when your child needs you, not when they want attention.
Heads up in the earlier months because Dr. Weissbluth says:
“It may be very difficult to establish regular naps at four to five months of age in some babies because their biological nap rhythms are maturing very slowly. Some babies don’t evolve into a schedule of regular long naps until five or six months of age, especially if they had extreme fussiness/colic when younger or if their parents were inconsistent or irregular about naps during the first four months”.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on the clock! 1-2 hours and your baby should be showing signs of drowsiness.
Notes on Napping
“[…] if a nap doesn’t occur, it is best to keep your baby awake and go to the next sleep period, whether it is another nap or nighttime sleep. Probably this next sleep period will take place a little earlier because of the missed nap. Try to strike a balance between not letting your child become extremely overtired and preserving or protecting the age-appropriate sleep pattern.
The most important thing to keep in mind at all stages of sleep training for months 1-6 is that keeping your baby from having healthy sleep is as bad as keeping your baby good nutrition. Both are vital to their health and happiness and consistency is the key.