Between frequent feedings and diaper changes, newborns have plenty of reasons to wake up during the night. It’s normal for your baby to have you up at all hours for the first month or so. After that, it’s generally time to think about training them to sleep through the night — for the good of both you and your baby.
Just as babies begin walking and talking at different times, their readiness for sleep training also varies.
Dr. Dabhia says the main factor is ensuring your baby is developmentally ready to start learning to sleep longer at night. Infants have very high metabolic rates, which means they need to eat and sleep often. When they’ve shown appropriate weight gain and are growing well, they can go longer between feedings, which is a key to successful sleep training.
“Usually around four to six weeks of age is an appropriate time to start thinking about a long-term sleep training plan,” says Dr. Dabhia. “Between six to eight weeks of age, babies are neurologically ready to sleep longer periods of time.”
Babies at this age may sleep five hours a night, which can feel like a luxury to weary parents. However, because they are still growing rapidly, limiting feedings to daytime may not be enough for most babies during the first six months. As your baby grows, they will be able to sleep for longer periods.
Initially, parents may feel more comfortable having their baby sleep in their room in a crib or bassinette. After two or three months, however, Dr. Dabhia says babies are more aware of their surroundings and may awaken more easily. This may be the time to move the baby to their own room.
Parents often ask if they should rock their baby to sleep or let them fall asleep in their crib.
“Initially, babies are probably falling asleep as they're feeding, and the goal would be to try to detach them either from the bottle or the breast before they fall fully asleep,” she says. “As they get older, ideally you’re feeding them well before it's sleep time and in a different space than where they're normally going to fall asleep.”
Soothing music, nature sounds or “white noise” also may help with sleep training.
What if your baby starts to cry when you place them in the crib, or wake up and cry during the night? Should you hold them or let them cry it out? Once you’ve ruled out illness, teething or other things that can affect sleep, most sleep training methods recommend against picking up a crying baby, but the answer also depends on how much the parents can tolerate. Dr. Dabhia recommends working with your pediatrician to discuss which method may work best for your family.
While travel, illness, time changes and other factors may require adjustments in your sleep training approach, try to get back on track as quickly as possible.
“It's not one size fits all, and what worked for your first child may not work for your second child,” says Dr. Dabhia. “I think the most important thing is to understand that personalities of children are different, but consistency, once you do choose a certain sleep training technique, is the most important factor to success.”
If you’re being consistent and your baby still isn’t learning to sleep at night, don’t give up. Tired parents can feel frustrated and helpless, so don’t hesitate to ask your pediatrician for help. Often, simple adjustments to your approach can make all the difference.
“Babies are able to sleep long stretches if we allow them the opportunity to learn how to sleep,” Dr. Dabhia says.