At baby doc box we talk a lot about sleep and provide many tools for helping your baby sleep through the night at several ages and developmental stages. As pediatricians we think dealing with your baby’s sleep is one of the most important parenting quests you will embark on.
First off, babies are capable of sleeping through the night much younger than most of us expect. There are many babies who are sleeping through the night by the time they are four months old. We define sleeping through the night as six or more uninterrupted hours of sleep (without feeding or intervention, but that doesn’t mean your baby won’t stir, cry or coo). Eventually that six hours will become eight, ten, twelve. Yep, we said it, at some point, hopefully before their first birthday, your baby will be sleeping twelve hours at night. And they’ll still nap during the day!
Babies need a lot of sleep. They do a ton of their growth and development while sleeping. In fact, they are making thousands of neuronal synaptic connections while they snooze! So, it makes sense that more sleep is better for them. Our goal here is to support you in realizing that there is nothing selfish or harmful about helping your baby learn to sleep longer and better as long as it is done safely.
A lot of books and doctors discuss this topic with families, referring to it as “sleep training”. We find that term less desirable, harsh sounding and cold. At baby doc box we prefer to discuss your baby’s healthy sleep habit formation. This concept relies upon what we know about both your baby’s developing brain and their nutritional needs to create age appropriate parenting recommendations for sleep.
We first talk about having a plan and knowing your baby. If your baby starts consolidating hours of sleep at night on their own, go with it! Do your best not to interrupt your sleeping baby. The caveat to that is the breast-feeding mama whose breasts are engorged and in pain during this period of sleep consolidation. At that point it is up to you to decide whether you pump and store or wake your babe up to feed them for relief.
For those of you whose baby is not consolidating sleep by three to four months it is time for you to steer them in the right direction. First, pick a time to start your pre bed ritual (bath time, story time, song time, etc.), we recommend keeping this ritual soothing but short. We also suggest an early bedtime (time by which they will be asleep) between 6:00 and 8:00 pm. An infant’s developmental stage by four months is ripe for instilling habits and routines. If you follow a similar pattern preceding bedtime each night, their brain will recognize this and aid them in the transition to sleep.
Next comes the hard part. What are you going to do when you put your baby down on their back to sleep and they start to cry….? This is where knowing your baby’s nature and having a plan and a partner who’s on board with that plan is vital. It is OK to let your baby cry. We get asked all the time, for how long is it OK? Our response: as long as it takes. We wish there was an easy way to teach or trial different self-soothing techniques with your baby, but only they can develop the one that works best for them.
In fact, we feel that it is a parent’s responsibility to give their baby an opportunity to learn to self soothe, as hard as it may be. By never letting them cry we deprive them of the opportunity to develop the skill of soothing themself. The importance of learning to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own always takes precedence over crying, but that might not work for you and recognizing this is important.
Consistency in healthy sleep habit formation is vital. Your baby will get easily confused if you go in after fifty minutes of crying one night and five minutes another night. Babies are capable of remembering that they just need to cry a little longer and someone will come in and pick them up. If you do go in after a set interval of fussing, make your intervention as minimal as possible, try a pat on the tummy or a soothing “you’re OK” and then back out you go. Rinse and repeat until your baby starts to learn that they can self-regulate and put themselves back to sleep.
Nobody denies that it is painfully difficult to hear your baby cry. It is physiologically disturbing for parents to listen to their crying infant. But parenting is hard work. We do the hard work to raise secure, confident, healthy children.