Teaching your baby to sleep well begins early. During the first four months of life, an infant can learn to self-soothe and fall asleep without a caregiver’s help (see previous post “sleep as easy as 1,2,3,4”). Once they have acquired this ability, it is another challenge to convince him to use it. In my perfect world, at the end of four months, your baby will possess the necessary skills, flash you a confident smile at bedtime, and give you 11 hours of sleep before you even pick up a book on sleep training.
This article is for the baby who has acquired these skills but needs a little convincing before he can make it 11 hours. There are many different strategies to coax your baby to use their skills and sleep through the night. Each strategy shares one common theme – consistency. The key is to choose the strategy that speaks to you and do it consistently for two weeks.
One of my favorite techniques is the sleep wave from the book “The Happy Sleeper.” This method employs a very short scripted visit from a parent every 5 minutes after a baby has begun to cry. It is important to keep the script short (“I love you and I know you can do this”) and recite it each time you enter the room. It is also important to leave immediately after you say your scripted words. Each visit should take about 10 seconds. Initially, your baby will become frustrated when he realizes that you are not bringing the goods. Over a few nights, he will begin to recognize your behavioral pattern. The predictable nature of these 5 minute visits reassures and comforts the baby and allows him to fall back asleep.
This is an excellent tool during the 9 month sleep regression. At 9 months, babies have developed object permanence and separation anxiety. Even the best sleeper awakens every couple of hours when he realizes his parents are not there. The sleep wave provides an excellent vehicle to reassure him that you are present while still giving him space to settle himself to sleep.