A sleep-deprived baby is no laughing matter, as the crankiness won’t just affect their behaviour but their appetite, too. And it doesn’t help that tempers flare much easier when both parents and baby are operating on a lack of sleep.
The good news is that most babies should start developing a regular sleep-wake cycle by 4 to 6 months. But some just can’t seem to go down easily and might need a bit of help. If you decide to go down the sleep-training route, keep the following in mind first:
*Have a good bedtime routine. Jennifer Lim, 35 and mother to Liam, aged 2½, shares that this was vital in determining the success of their attempts at sleep training. “Babies thrive on knowing what happens next, so by doing the same thing every day our son got the signal that bedtime was approaching and he mentally prepares for it,” she says. Bedtime routines don’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as showering your child, followed by a book and then a song before putting her to bed. It’s critical you stick to the order of events, every day.
*Be diligent with bedtime. Aim to always put your baby to sleep at the same time every night. An ideal bedtime for little ones is 7pm. In time to come you will notice that your child will start feeling sleepy at around the same time every night. Same goes for baby’s daytime naps too.
*Talk to the doc. Besides helping you rule out any underlying health issues that could be causing your child to have sleepless nights, they can give your professional advice on the suitability of a chosen method. Lim says that since she knew sleep training was controversial and wanted to do it right, she decided to consult with a sleep specialist.
*Pick a method that best suits your baby’s needs and stick to it. Some babies are more sensitive and thus more “high-need” than others. For these children, crying it out methods may not be as suitable. Picking a method that’s better suited to your child ensures the journey to success is as pain-free as possible.
*Be a responsive and responsible parent. While consistency holds the key to success, it does not mean that you have to “bite the bullet” and hold out to the bitter end. If your infant is wailing at the top of his lungs or throwing up, it may be time to rethink your chosen method. Maybe even take a break for a few months and try when bub is a bit older.
“Babies thrive on knowing what happens next, so by doing the same thing every day our son got the signal that bedtime was approaching and he mentally prepares for it.”
Here are the top five sleep-training methods:
1) Cry It Out
BY Dr Richard Ferber, paediatrician, author of Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems
WHAT This method is aimed at training your little one to self-soothe and fall asleep independently. Dr Ferber advises parents to give this technique a try once they find that their baby is physically or emotionally ready — usually between 3 and 5 months of age. However, some critics claim that leaving your baby to self-soothe independently can prove to be detrimental for his emotional wellbeing.
HOW-TO After baby’s usual bedtime routine, you place her down in the crib awake. Then, leave her to fall to sleep on her own, going to check on her only after a predetermined amount of time. The time baby is left on her own is progressively extended as you repeat the process daily. Don’t leave your child to cry for extended periods of time without intervening. In fact all throughout the training process, you are allowed to pat and comfort bub during your visits in, but refrain from picking her up or feeding her. This training programme is aimed at helping baby learn that crying doesn’t get her anything more than a quick check from you. Thus, in time to come, she’ll stop.
Three more sleep training methods coming right up…
2) Crying Down
BY Gina Ford, baby whisperer, Author of The Complete Sleep Guide for Contented Babies and Toddlers
WHAT Like Ferber’s “Cry it out” training programme, Ford’s technique is also aimed at getting baby to learn how to self-settle. One difference is that this technique does not allow for the use of sleep props — things baby usually needs to help her fall asleep. Examples of sleep props are cuddling, rocking, pacifiers or a milk feeding (either breast or bottle). Overtime, the use of sleep props can become a sleep association — without it, your baby will struggle to fall asleep.
HOW-TO After you’ve fed, changed and completed baby’s bedtime routine put her down in her crib to fall to sleep on her own. Even if baby were to cry, parents are encouraged to walk away. You can return to check on baby every 10 minutes only to offer a calming touch or a pat but should refrain from picking him up. If you are consistent, baby will progressively spend less time crying before sleep. Lim says her son spent two whole hours crying on the first day when they gave this method a try. He cried for less than an hour on the second day and only cried “for a few minutes” on the third day. She notes “It was very hard, but we stuck to our guns.”
3) Pick Up, Put Down (PU/PD)
BY Tracy Hogg, baby whisperer, author of Secrets of the Baby Whisperer
WHAT This technique of sleep training doesn’t require you to leave bubba to self-soothe independently nor make baby rely too much on your presence for him to fall asleep. It allows parents to pick their child up if he is refusing to or unable to self-soothe effectively.
HOW-TO Follow through with the normal bedtime routine and put baby down in his bed. If he isn’t crying or feeling uncomfortable, you can leave the room. If he wails, you should first adopt a wait and listen approach. In the event his crying escalates, you can return to the room, pick him up for a minute or two, offering him a calming pat on his back; avoid doing anything stimulating. Once he has stopped crying, put him back down while he is still awake and leave the room. Ensure you avoid making eye contact, smile or distract baby when you pick him up. You may have to repeat the process a number of times until your pee-wee stops fussing and sleeps through the night.
“It was very hard, but we stuck to our guns.”
4) Happiest Baby
BY Dr Harvey Karp, paediatrician, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block
WHAT Also known as the five S’s, the method involves a range of actions and postures that are aimed at recreating the sounds, movements and snug environment baby is used to when he was in utero. Karp says it is not necessary to follow through with all five S’s, pick one that’s best suited to your child’s needs.
HOW-TO The five S’s are:
*Swaddling Wrapping your baby with her arms tucked under a thin blanket, to mimic the close confines of the womb. Ensure you choose a breathable blanket to prevent overheating.
*Side or stomach position If baby is still fussing after you have swaddled him, move him so he is resting on his side or stomach. Then offer him a comforting pat on his back. This position is strictly adopted only for soothing purposes. Never leave your child to sleep on his stomach. Doing so increases the risk of him dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS.
*Shush The simple shushing sound, when whispered into baby’s ears, is similar to the sound created by the blood flowing around in mummy’s body. You should shush as loudly as baby is crying. For older toddlers, Karp suggests using white noise — repetitive loops of nature sounds like rain drops or crashing waves.
*Swing Do this while you are shushing baby. Support your newborn’s head and gently sway your baby, don’t shake him. If it doesn’t work, Karp advises you to try a rocking chair or carrying bub in a sling.
*Suck Give your child a pacifier or your thumb (be sure to wash your hands first) to suck on. You can do this step in conjunction with the previous few.
BY Dr William Sears, paediatrician, author of The Baby Sleep Book
WHAT Otherwise known as the “family bed” technique. Dr Sears is an outspoken critic of any sleep training method that involves leaving your baby to sleep through his tears. Besides the fact that all that incessant crying isn’t beneficial for baby’s physical health, the emotional turmoil may take years to heal, too. Dr Sears says the child centric approach is the healthiest, with an emphasis on physical closeness. Other experts argue that it will make your kewpie more dependent on your presence and there is the chance that you, the bolsters or blankets may suffocate your baby.
HOW-TO After getting through the bedtime routine, place your child in the same bed with you and hubby. You should adopt the cuddle-curl position where you bring your knees up and tuck your arms under your head or pillow as you curl up around baby, creating a protected space around him. Try to avoid putting him in between you and hubby to reduce the risk of injury or death by suffocation.
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