The Complete Guide to Sleep Training Babies

Set Your Baby Up for Sleep Training Success

A picture of a sleeping baby
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If your baby is between four and six months, congratulations! After all of your sleep-deprived nights, she may be ready for sleep training. Sleep training babies requires a few steps to get started and some research into the right method that will work best for you and your baby. In this complete guide, find out everything you need to know about sleep training babies so both of you can sleep through the night.

Before you start sleep training your baby, go through a simple checklist first:

Check with Your Pediatrician

Talk with your pediatrician about your plan to begin sleep training and find out how much sleep baby should be getting each night. He should rule out any potential issues that could make sleep training more challenging, such as acid reflux, allergies or sleep apnea.

Log Baby's Sleep

If you're still getting up for nighttime feedings, baby may not be ready for sleep training. Log your baby's sleep time for a week and make note of nap times and length as well as how many times she's waking up overnight for feedings. Having a sleep log will help you stay on track with naps and nighttime bedtimes so that baby can maintain a sleep schedule.

Establish a Bedtime Routine

Set yourself up for sleep training success when you establish a bedtime routine. Make a list of what you want to do every night as you help baby settle down for the evening. Giving baby a nightly bath can be very calming. Read a book. Sing a lullaby. Swaddle baby to make her feel safe and secure.

Put Baby Down Awake

Don't wait until baby is asleep to put her in her crib. You can't show baby how to go to asleep on her own if you're waiting until she's asleep to put her down.

Be Consistent

Once you begin sleep training, be consistent and stick with it. Starting and stopping or not maintaining consistency will only make sleep training more difficult for you and your baby.

Pick a Sleep Training Method

Research the sleep training methods below and pick one that makes you the most comfortable. Take any questions or concerns to your pediatrician for even more support that will lead to sleep training success.

Now you're ready to choose a sleep training method:

Cry It Out

Just the sound of the Cry It Out (CIO) method may make you cringe, but there are many ways to approach it and none involve letting your baby cry endlessly without you going in her room. First, rest easy in news recently published by the American Academy of Pediatrics that state using CIO is not harmful to your child.

Most experts in favor of CIO agree this method involves teaching your baby to self-soothe instead of having you rush to her every time she cries. With CIO, you mainly put baby down and let her cry a short amount of time before going in her room. This can be incredibly tough on a parent to hear baby cry, so if your spouse can handle it better, step into the backyard to give your baby that set amount of time to cry. Just make sure someone is close by but knows not to go into baby's room at this point. This is where a video baby monitor can be a great comfort to parents. You can look at baby and know she's okay, even though she's crying.

Once time is up, check on baby in her room but don't pick her up. Your presence is reassuring to her, even though you'll be leaving the room again soon.

As for time intervals, that depends. One of the best-known CIO methods was developed by pediatrician Dr. Richard Ferber. In his book, Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems, Dr. Ferber suggests increasing time you're out of baby's room over many days. On day one of sleep training, you'll leave baby alone three minutes the first time, then increase the time you go back into baby's room to five minutes and then 10 minutes out of baby's room for the remainder of the night until she's asleep. The evening of day two becomes five minutes, then 10 minutes and, finally, 12 minutes, for example.

No Tears Method

If the thought of your baby crying at all just isn't for you, a "No Tears" method might be a better choice. The Baby Sleep Book by pediatrician Dr. William Sears is a great guide for this method.

With the No Tears approach, you'll be spending more time with baby at night to let her know you're there without timing your response to her cries like you would in CIO. Your goal is to teach baby to go to sleep with you close by. For example, you may rock your baby to sleep or nurse her until she falls asleep.

Once asleep, you respond if she cries overnight, paying attention to notice when a cry is a cry and a whimper is a whimper. This will keep you from running into the room when she makes one little noise but falls right back to sleep on her own. Some parents even choose to set up a small bed or sleep on the floor in baby's room so they can respond quicker when they're needed.

Many parents feel the No Tears method is a more-gentle approach to sleep training. They also agree it takes a longer time to get baby into the habit of going to sleep on her own than other methods do. If you choose this method, be ready to spend a few more weeks or even months on sleep training than other methods. Parents who choose this method, though, feel the extra time investment in sleep training is worth it.

Fading Method

Fading is a popular sleep training method too. It can be the perfect solution for parents who want to slowly ease baby into falling asleep and staying asleep on her own.

There are a couple of different approaches to fading. With one, you put baby in her crib drowsy and sit in a chair next to her until she falls asleep. Over the next several days, you slowly move the chair toward the door until you're gone completely from her room.

The alternate approach to this method is to go into your baby's room after a certain amount of time has passed, say five minutes, if baby is fussing. Some experts say you can touch her to let her know you're there, while others say you should stick to verbal reassurance only. The purpose of this approach is for you to continue to come into the room at a set time until baby falls asleep. While this may sound like the CIO method, you're actually not extending the amount of time baby cries until you go back in. If you've set five minutes as your time interval, you go back every five minutes if she's crying, not 10 then 12 minutes as in CIO, for example.

Pick Up, Put Down Method

In Tracy Hogg's book, The Baby Whisperer, parents are introduced to a method that requires a lot of patience and time but is an extremely gentle way of sleep training your baby. The Pick Up, Put Down method is just as it sounds. If your baby cries in her crib, you pick her up and hold her until she's sleepy before putting her back in.

This method starts with you putting baby in her crib, telling her good night and simply placing your hand on her chest to soothe her should she start to cry while you're there. You add what could be called a keyword or key phrase, such as, "Shh," or "Good night," just a word or short sentence that you'll use every night at bedtime. This becomes a signal to baby that the day is coming to an end and it's time to go to sleep.

If baby continues to cry, pick her up until she shows signs of drowsiness. Then put her back in the crib and repeat the keyword or phrase. If she wakes again, repeat the process.

Regardless of the sleep training method you choose, you'll need to have lots of time and patience. After all, baby has been used to having you all to herself any time she wants so sleeping alone in her crib all night is a completely new experience. She'll need some time to adjust and learn what it is she's supposed to be doing at night.

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