Sleep can often feel like an elusive, long-forgotten friend when you become a new mom. From midnight feeds to early mornings, your sleep pattern may have completely changed from your child-free days.
Sleep training with your infant, however, can give you control over both of your sleep patterns. Plus, it can create long-lasting, healthy sleeping habits for many years ahead.
Here are eight tips on how to create happy, healthy infant sleep routines, including introducing bedtime rituals and seeking help from pediatric sleep training online when needed.
1. Start Sleep Training Your Infant Around 6 Months Old
The best time to start introducing sleep training methods is when your baby is 6-months-old. You can start by getting to know your baby’s sleeping habits and eating schedule. Jot down when they tend to sleep, how long their wake windows are, and how long they can stay awake before they start fighting sleep.
This enables you to create a loose schedule around your baby’s sleeping and eating timetable. For example, at 3-months-old, they may stay awake for two hours at a time. Between 3 and 6 months, your baby should also settle into a familiar routine. Naturally, they’ll start to fall asleep at a similar time each day so you’re able to pre-empt nap time and get them to bed when they start to become drowsy.
What about creating a sleep schedule for a newborn baby?
Unfortunately, your baby has just spent nine comfortable months tucked up in your womb, so they aren’t going to understand the difference between day and night just yet. In other words, a sleep schedule simply isn’t going to work for a newborn. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t develop some kind of routine that helps you and your partner get some valuable shut-eye.
You can expect a newborn baby to sleep for between 14 and 17 hours per day, sleeping for two or three hours at a time. Within a few weeks, this should increase to three or four hours each time. If your baby doesn’t wake up on their own after these times during the night, you may need to wake your baby for their feeds. However, knowing when you have these peaceful few hours to yourself can help you plan an indulgent bath, a much-welcome nap, or some quiet time in front of the TV. Just be sure to give yourself this much-needed “you time” to switch off, relax, and recharge yourself to be ready for the next feed.
2. Create a Flexible Schedule that Works for You Both
Once you begin to get an idea of your baby’s unique timetable (remember – every baby is different!), you should find that a sleep schedule follows. But don’t worry if it isn’t the same every day – flexibility is key here.
Some moms find that their babies like a routinized schedule that’s the same every day, while others may settle better with a more relaxed, less restrictive pattern. Try to embrace the natural flow of your baby’s sleeping and eating habits, resting at the same time as them.
3. Pick the Right Bedtime
As your child grows, you’ll probably find that your flexible schedule starts to become more predictable and timely. Picking the right bedtime for your baby will increase the likelihood of them falling asleep quickly and easily, removing that dreaded bedtime battle.
An infant’s bedtime tends to be around 6:30 to 7:30 PM, or it may be a little later. As you’re getting used to your baby’s sleeping habits, look for when they show those signs of tiredness. Is it after they’ve had their supper? Or do they seem to stay awake for quite a while afterward?
Some babies (like adults) are natural night owls while others are early risers. Figuring out which category your baby falls into will enable you to pinpoint the right bedtime for them. Letting them stay up a little bit longer than you first anticipated may mean they drift off with greater ease. Or, putting them to bed straight after their supper when their eyelids start to droop may ensure they don’t go beyond this sleepy stage (and may save you from tiredness-induced tantrums).
4. Implement a Sleeping Ritual
One great way to encourage a relaxing sleep environment is to establish some consistent, predictable rituals that you follow each bedtime.
To start, this may be singing a lullaby or rocking your baby in your arms until they fall asleep. Then, as your baby gets older, you can start introducing other activities like reading a book or bathing them. See what works for your baby, but try to do the activity in their bedroom so they associate it with sleep.
Another great tip is to ensure mommy and daddy take turns with this ritual from a young age (if possible). That way, both of you are associated with bedtime and there shouldn’t be any tantrums over who’s putting your baby to bed! Furthermore, if your baby is sharing a room with a toddler, including them in the bedtime rituals can help immensely, as well. Get them involved in bath time or let them choose the book you’re going to read so they feel included. After all, a baby’s sleep can be promptly affected by a jealous toddler who wants to be in on the action!
5. Get Them Used to the Dark from an Early Age
While it’s tempting to leave a light on so they don’t get scared, dark is actually a friend – not a foe – when it comes to your baby’s sleep. It encourages the release of the hormone melatonin which helps prepare our bodies for sleep. Plus, at this very young age, your baby isn’t developed enough to be afraid of the dark. Getting them used to this from an early age should reduce any fears in the future, too.
If you feel you need a light on to help with the night feeds or when you’re creeping in and out of your baby’s room, opt for the light on your phone or from a small flashlight instead.
6. Leave the Room When They’re Fighting Sleep
After you’ve been through your bedtime routine and your baby’s fighting sleep in bed, it can be tempting to wait around until they drift off into the land of nod. However, it’s better if you leave the room when their eyelids are starting to get heavy. That way, if they wake up and see you’re not there, they won’t be as startled and are less likely to cry out as if something’s wrong.
Infants tend to rouse every 40 to 50 minutes, so it’s important they learn to drift back off to sleep. Not relying on you being there when they fall asleep will help remove any anxiety they may feel when they stir. This also goes a long way toward teaching them the all-important life skill of being able to fall asleep on their own.
Another top tip here is not to run back into the nursery at the first sound of a noise. At around 3-months-old, babies are capable of soothing themselves back to sleep. So while it may be tempting to pick them up and soothe them if they start to fidget, try to wait a few minutes to see if they fall back to sleep on their own. If they continue to fuss, try to check on them first without picking them up.
7. Create a Daytime Schedule, Too
As well as your fine-tuned nighttime schedule, both yours and your baby’s sleep may benefit from a daytime routine. As we’ve already mentioned, babies find comfort in familiarity and routine, so following the same structure throughout the day can help bedtime run smoother.
Try to create the same wake-up times, nap times, playtimes, and feed times (with a touch of flexibility, of course) to bring a rhythm to both your days. For example, after the morning feed, you may enjoy some cuddles (and a cup of coffee for mom), then a stroll around the park.
8. Seek the Advice of a Sleep Training Consultant
Some babies adapt to sleep schedules better than others, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have a precise bedtime routine straight away. And don’t be afraid to ask for help if you think you need it.
Sleep experts can offer great advice and tips that are tailored to your baby’s unique routine. They’ll help determine which approach will work best for your baby, offering subtle changes you can make to your baby’s sleeping, feeding, and napping schedule. They can answer any questions or concerns you may have and offer pointers on how you can improve what you’re already doing.
Finding A Beneficial Sleep Routine for Mom and Baby
Following some of these tried-and-tested techniques should enable you to create a happy, healthy sleeping pattern for your baby. This, in turn, should help improve your sleep, too.
Remember, sleep training is unique to every baby (and mom), so don’t worry if one tip doesn’t work for you or if you find something completely different works better. Be patient, flexible, and open to ideas – you and your baby will be meeting the sandman in no time at all.