Tips for parents on infant sleep training and safety

April 14, 2021

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

It’s 4 a.m. and you’ve been up with your baby every two hours – all night long! In the morning, you are exhausted! You may ask, “Is my baby ever going to sleep through the night?” Parents all around the world have struggled to get their babies to fall asleep peacefully and to stay asleep at night. Many will turn to co-sleeping, sleep coaches or sleep training to help their little ones get to sleep.

What is sleep training?

Sleep training is a term used to describe different ways we help babies learn to fall asleep by themselves. Fading, pick up/put down, cry it out and the chair method are all terms that describe different ways to sleep train. There is no one right way to teach your baby how to fall asleep peacefully. It is important for you to pick a method that is right for you and your baby, and make sure the method is developmentally appropriate for your baby.

Is sleep training safe?

According to researchers, sleep training is safe and beneficial for parents and babies. When a baby learns to self soothe and put themselves back to sleep, they get a better night’s rest and so do mom and dad. Research shows when done safely, taking into account developmental expectations, sleep training is not harmful to children or to parent/infant bonding.

Babies are not cognitively mature enough or ready to self soothe until the age of 3 to 6 months old. At that time, families can begin allowing a baby to self soothe when they wake at night.

What are the appropriate ages and sleep expectations by age?

When thinking about sleep training, it is important to consider the baby’s age and development. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that babies do not have regular sleep cycles until about 6 months of age. Newborns sleep about 16 to 17 hours in a 24-hour period, but they may only sleep one or two hours at a time. Babies have small stomachs and their bodies are not meant to go long hours without feeding. It is not unusual for babies to wake one to three times each night for the first 6 months of life.

We all wake up multiple times throughout the night as we transition through sleep cycles and babies are no different. How we, as parents, manage the night time waking can make all the difference in the world in establishing good sleep habits.

Tips and tricks for creating good sleep habits:

  • Feed your baby before bedtime. A hungry baby will not sleep well or long. Do not put the bottle in the bed with your baby.
  • Place your baby in the crib on their back when they are sleepy, but not asleep. This helps babies learn to fall asleep on their own.
  • Establish a night-time/bedtime routine. Babies and young children thrive on consistency and routines.
  • Use white noise or sound machines to help soothe your baby to sleep.
  • Swaddle your baby. Parents should stop swaddling babies when they begin to work on rolling over. For most babies, this is around 2 months of age.
  • Turn the lights off. Some babies will become stimulated when they wake if there is any light in the room.
  • When your baby wakes at night, allow him/her to try to self soothe back to sleep. If your baby is not able to get back to sleep on his/her own, parents should then intervene. Attend to feeding and diaper changing, as needed, but try not to pick your baby up. Gently place your hand on your baby’s chest to let them know that you are there or gently pat them for comfort until they become drowsy, but are not fully asleep.
  • Try not to talk, sing to, or stimulate your baby at night. Babies need to learn nighttime is for sleeping and daytime is for playing.

Weighted sleep sacks, swaddles and straps:

The weighted sleep sack, swaddle, wrap and sleep suit have become part of the sleep training conversation. Families with young babies may be considering purchasing one of the many brands on the market or even received one of them as a gift. These wearable blankets and swaddles are designed to deliver gentle pressure as a soothing effect to the infant or young child that is similar to the parents’ touch. Below are some thoughts to keep in mind when considering these items for your little one.

For sleep sack/swaddle: Some babies may develop sleep problems as they get older if they become used to things associated with falling asleep such as a hand on the back, rocking to sleep and patting to sleep. By creating a cuddle effect or a hand on the chest or back, the weighted sleep sack or swaddle may lead to sleep onset associations in the future.

For swaddling:

Be sure to discontinue swaddling once your baby begins to roll over.

We hope these tips help you and your baby get a restful night’s sleep.

Post by:

Shelly Nalbone, APRN, CPNP, IBCLC

Shelly provides appointments for children with routine and minor illnesses and breastfeeding counseling appointments for mothers and babies. She also works closely with the pediatrician team to ensure that all patients receive excellent care and service. 

Shelly believes that parents are...

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Jinae Spear, MMS, PA-C

Since joining Texas Children’s Hospital in 2015, Ms. Spear has showed her passion for pediatric patients and their families. Her background includes general pediatrics and most recently the Department of Surgery. As a Physician Assistant, Ms. Spear is dedicated to delivering compassionate and...

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