There are many different books dedicated to teaching infants to sleep well. The hard part is finding the right book or strategy for your family. Each family has a unique story with different characters, environments, and home scenarios. Creating a good sleeper is not about following a prescribed sleep strategy; instead, it is about tailoring a sleep philosophy to suit your unique situation. Before making any decisions, take some time to characterize your family scenario.
First, understand your caregiver team and your team’s goals. Second, figure out your child’s disposition. Third, define your family’s sleep environment. Fourth, understand your family calendar.
I like to break sleep development into two stages. The first stage begins at birth and extends through 4 to 5 months. This is the period where you teach your child the skills they will need to be self-reliant sleepers. Your goal during this time is to teach your child to fall asleep and to fall back asleep independently. During the second stage, you challenge your child to apply the skills they have learned. This is the time when you no longer intervene.
You trust that you have taught your child, and they will use this new skill set and make you proud. The 1, 2, 3, and 4s of creating a good sleeper
- Around 4 to 5 weeks, infants start to develop circadian rhythms. In order to get yourself and your baby to function on a daily cycle, try to respect this developing rhythm. You can do this by feeding during the daytime (7 am to 7 pm) in a bright area and engage your baby as you feed. In contrast, keep your nighttime feeds (7 pm to 7 am) in a dimly lit room and keep them quiet.
- Around 8 weeks, start to develop a consistent bedtime routine that begins with the breast or bottle feed, includes baby massage, and ends with your baby entering the sleep environment awake but drowsy.
- Respect the fact that your baby needs a lot of sleep during the day. Between 2 and 6 months, plan to place your baby back down to nap after being awake for no more than 90 minutes. This will help you to have a content baby during the day. It will also help you with evening sleep. If you respect the need for sleep during the day, you will have an appropriately tired baby at night. If you don’t, you will have a fatigued and fussy baby at night.
- Around 12 weeks, you should notice that your baby’s bedtime has drifted from about 9 pm to around 7 pm. At this point, you want to prioritize a consistent bedtime. Start your bedtime routine about 30 minutes before you anticipate bedtime.
- Try to provide your baby with independent play time during the day. Give your baby a few minutes to play alone before you engage him/her. You want your baby to be comfortable with independence.
- Between 2 and 4 months, your baby should sleep 6-8 hours overnight. If you feel that your baby might be capable of doing this, when your baby stirs, climb a slower more deliberate sleep ladder (a strategy from the book “The Healthy Sleeper” that we will discuss during the IG live session) and see if your little one won’t take the initiative and go down with minimal or no help.
- Make sure your baby is sleeping in his or her own sleep environment. This is the age babies start to appreciate their sleep environment. Whether it is napping or sleeping at night, you want to put your child to bed in a familiar setting. This will make your baby more comfortable falling asleep and it will help him/her to fall back asleep when he/she awakens overnight.
- Around 4 months, you will see children start to consolidate their daytime sleep and develop a 3 nap daily schedule. Let your child take the lead but anticipate this.
- Most people have heard of the four month sleep regression. As a parent, your confidence might be shaken as your strategy seems to be faltering. Double down on your strategy and remain extremely consistent. This regression is a moment of neurological development where babies are hyper-alert and active. If you overreact, it will undo the work you have done to this point. You should stick to the sleep ladder and realize that this phase will pass.
- Some time between four and six months, your baby will most likely mature and become capable of independent sleep. Your baby will consolidate sleep and spend 11 hours overnight without requiring a feed or some external soothing. When you feel that it is time to make this transition, commit to a 1 to 2 week period and consistently employ a strategy that suits your family. I often recommend a sleep wave (a second strategy from the book “The Healthy Sleeper” that we will discuss during the IG live session) but you need to find the strategy that fits your situation.
Whether it is a wave, a fade, or an extinction model, consistency is the secret to success. One last word on consistency. I always emphasize consistency with flexibility. It is always important to remember that parenting is a dialogue. You must always remain present to what your child is feeling or when a situation may have changed. This is never more important than with sleep. If you had an unexpected event in your family or you or your partner cannot follow through on your plan, re-assess the plan and start again. This post is meant to be an introduction for our IG live tomorrow. We will elaborate on a number of these topics tomorrow. If you cannot attend or have other questions, always feel free to reach out, and we can discuss this in more depth.