I have been sleep training and sleep conditioning infants for sleep for over 20 years. Imagine my surprise when I went to a class and realized I could be doing so much more.
What I learned:
- There are different scenarios for each situation.
- We can help everyone with just a little “Out of the Box” thinking.
- Look for the ‘not so obvious’.
- I sleep train or sleep condition children up to the age of two years.
Let’s spend a little time today on the difference between sleep conditioning and sleep training.
Sleep Conditioning is a method by which you will start with a child at birth and monitor their sleep, eat and awake time in a routine that is beneficial to the infant and easy on the parent. As you do this in a proper manner, the child will begin to sleep longer at night. Once the child is consuming a certain amount of milk per daytime hours, you can begin expecting the child to sleep through the night.
Sleep Training is a method used to teach children to sleep and parents how to allow their children to sleep. Sleep training starts after twelve weeks of age. Many sleep trainers will not begin sleep training until after four months. My personal belief is that when you wait, the parents have lose another month of sleep. Babies can be taught to sleep at three months even if no sleep conditioning has been done. By this time mom and dad are exhausted from getting up multiple times during the night and are ready to listen to advice on how to get their precious wee one to sleep.
There are a number of methods used to sleep train a child. Some are affective, and some are not. You want to hire someone who has been in the field for a while and had experience in sleep training. If you are a parent who will not allow any crying, you will not be able to teach your child to sleep. Here are some reasons:
We are taking your child out of their comfort zone.
We are teaching them methods to sleep which are unfamiliar to them.
You have conditioned them to act one way, and we are going to teach them to act another.
Babies have no method to communicate other than to cry. Crying is not all bad. It releases cortisol which is called the stress hormone. Crying is NOT stressful for a baby, crying releases stress. If you are having a stressful day, you may cuss, hit a wall, go running or eat an entire pie. A baby can only cry. Stress for a baby is generally overstimulation, being hungry, cold, wet or sick. Being tired and not allowed or able to sleep is overstimulation. Not getting enough sleep is overstimulation.
Parents who do not allow their child to cry are shutting down a very important communication tool their child has. Crying is normal. All babies should be allowed to cry.
That being said, we try to minimize the crying when sleep training. We make sure everything is optimal, and the baby is in a safe environment. We use a sleep number to determine how much crying is allowed and we watch that number decrease with each nap or nighttime. Sleep training can take as little as three days and in some rare cases up to ten days.
What is sleeping through the night?
In researching the Internet, I found most people are content with five to six hours of solid sleep and consider that “sleeping through the night.” That is good for a six week old, but in my experience, I consider sleeping through the night a gradual process that takes 10 – 12 weeks. By the end of that time, the child can be sleeping 12 hours straight.
You may be saying, WHAT! Are you kidding me? No, this is completely possible. If you enjoy getting up with your child every three hours or even once or twice a night, you may want to go on to the next blogger. If however, you are sleep deprived and just want to be able to sleep through the entire night you may want to give me a call.
If you have a toddler who is getting up multiple times during the night or even one time during the night, you have a child who is in need of a little intervention. You are being played.
Now, perhaps I have offended you. “My child does not have the ability to ‘play’ me. Or, I would never intentionally allow my child to manipulate me in any manner. In that case, I would suggest that you do not understand the mind of a child.
Habits (getting up multiple times or not taking naps) are encouraged by you, perhaps not consciously. Dr. Bruce Lipton states that in the first 7 years of a child’s life everything seen, heard and felt by a child is accepted in their mind as truth. The first seven years molds all of our subconscious thinking. As we grow into adults, we operate on 99% subconscious and 1% conscious thinking.*
Every time your child acted in a specific manner and you bowed to that behavior you are telling them this is acceptable in your eyes. And this begins at birth. It takes a baby three times of having a behavior repeated to develop that behavior as normal. When you come home from the hospital and feed your child and then allow your child to sleep on your chest and you do this three times in a row, it is now the accepted way for your child to go to sleep. When the fourth time you feed them and then decide to take a shower, you lay them in their crib, they will cry because they do not know how to sleep without you holding them on your chest.
This behavior continues throughout their formidable years. The first time they wake up early from their nap and you rush into get them instead of allowing them to find their way back to sleep or soothing them back to sleep, you have begun the ‘habit’ of them waking early or foregoing their nap entirely.
I understand the advantages of attachment parenting, but I also understand the need for personal space in the bedroom.There comes a time when it is time to move the child into their own bed, and this can be very traumatic. The trauma usually comes more from the parent than the child. Children love independence and although there may be a little protesting when the big move occurs it can be overcome with consistency and patience.
I would love to specifically address one issue that is near and dear to my heart, “sleeping through the night” a phenomenon that some babies seem to be doing. You are probably wondering, is it really possible? Can my baby really do that? What exactly is sleeping through the night? How do I do that? Do I need a specialist to come in and do it for me or can I do it on my own?
I have had consultations with parents who have had 7 and 8 month old babies who are still getting up one or two times a night for a feeding. I have also had parents of 2 and 3 year olds calling me because their toddlers are still getting up at night. What is going on? They certainly do not need to be eating during the night. They should be getting all the required ounces and nutrition during the day. The nighttime awakenings are just a habit they have gotten into and have successfully convinced their parents that they need.
Can my baby do that? You bet! Don’t let them fool you. Babies do have a daily requirement of food that they need. Generally by 12 weeks they are able to get the nutrition required during daylight hours. The rest is a habit that has been formed by them waking up since birth every 3 hours. Remember, the feedings that you eliminate at night will be made up during the day. That will happen by you adding ounces to each bottle. We always keep a close eye on them making sure they continue to gain the ½ pounds a week. We have never had a baby have to go back on the middle of the night feedings once they were sleeping through the night, because of weight loss.
Sleeping through the night (7 PM – 7 AM) is entirely possible for a baby who weighs 12 pounds or is 12 weeks old (full term). Some people consider 11 PM – 7 PM a full night. I think a baby should be able to do that by 10 weeks, with the full 12 hours by 12 weeks of age.
Can I train my baby on my own? To be able to do it on your own you must emotionally detach from your baby during nighttime hours. Some parents can do that, some cannot. My philosophy is “at night there is no love, only business” If you are a parent who can snuggle, love and cuddle during the day and stick to business at night you should be able to sleep train your baby to sleep during the night. Consistency is the key.
What about the no cry methods? Let’s be honest. You are taking away something from your child that they are accustom to receiving and they are going to cry. We have methods that do not involved ‘crying it out’ however, there is no method that you can use that will have no crying. It really depends on how focused you are to getting the job done. If you start at one month and gradually stretch your baby, there should be little or no crying. When a baby is not sleeping through the night, it is not the baby’s issue, it is always the parent’s issue. As Newborn Care Specialist’s and Sleep Specialist’s we have more discussions on how to train the parents then we have on how to train the baby.
This is a time when a Newborn Care Specialist’s services can extremely helpful. They typically start when your baby first arrives home from the hospital. They begin your baby on a sleeping and feeding schedule. The Newborn Care Specialist will gradually help your baby sleep a little longer each night until your baby is sleeping the entire night. This is generally a 2 – 3 month process.
What do you do if your baby is already passed the 3 month mark and still not sleeping? You can do an in-person or telephone consultation with a Sleep Specialist. This really is a priceless service. Many times you will be able to do it on your own with the guidance of a Sleep Specialist. If you feel you would do better if someone else did the job, the Sleep Specialist can come into your home and do the sleep training for you. The length of her job will depend on the plan you decide on.
What about multiples? Can they be trained as well? Absolutely! There is little difference in training two, three or four. The only difference is that you may have to separate them while the training is taking place so they do not wake each other up. Once the training is complete, they are back to sleeping together.