If your baby learns to sleep through the night on her own, count yourself lucky. Many babies persist with frequent night wakings long after they’re necessary for feeds and way past mom reaching her exhaustion breaking point. And that can be dangerous! One of my moms avoided driving during the day because she was afraid she’d fall asleep at the wheel. But it doesn’t have to be that way. As a postpartum doula specializing in gentle sleep training for babies, I can help.
I know many moms have strong opinions on sleep training. To some, it sounds cruel or heartless. They can’t imagine letting their babies cry for even a moment. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve met a few moms who jump the gun—they’re so desperate to sleep through the night that they rush into sleep training before their babies are physically ready. In between are the moms who are interested in sleep training but don’t know how to do it and are afraid to screw it up. That’s when a postpartum doula can be a lifesaver.
Before I sleep train, I consult with the family to learn everything I can about their baby. First, I ascertain if sleep training is appropriate. Babies need to be healthy, at least 4 months old and at least 14 pounds, but I think the ideal window is more like 5-6 months. That’s when babies are generally out of their swaddles and developing helpful self-soothing skills like finding their hands to suck and rolling onto their tummies. They’re also past the 4-month sleep regression, which can wreak havoc with sleep due to big developmental changes. And once baby is eating solids (around 6 months), it can be easier to feel confident that baby is getting enough food during the day to be able to night wean.
If we’ve determined that your baby is ready for sleep training, the next thing I’ll work on is optimizing the baby’s sleep environment. We want to make sure there is adequate white noise, that the room is dark, that the temperature is not too hot or cold and that baby is dry and comfortable, not being woken by diaper leaks.
If baby is accustomed to eating a lot at night (which over time becomes more of a habit than a necessity), we need to gradually night wean by offering more food during the day and reducing the number of ounces or minutes spent on the breast at night. Often, I’ll introduce a dream feed, which involves slipping in a last feeding before mom’s bedtime without actually waking the baby. (I’ll be blogging about that in more detail later—dream feeds are an amazing tool!)
With all that in place, we’re ready to sleep train. I don’t believe in a one size fits all approach because every baby is different. Some babies need a lot of reassurance. They might need touch, such as rubbing their backs during check-ins, Some need access to a lovey and/or a pacifier (or even lots of pacifiers!). Other babies need to be left alone longer to figure out how to soothe themselves. Checking in too often may just upset them more.
With most of my clients, I’m the one actually doing the sleep training. Moms feeling tired and emotional worry they won’t be able to be consistent with it, so it’s easier to have someone who does this for a living step in.
I think the calm, confident presence of an experienced practitioner actually saves tears from both parent and child. When I’m sleep training, I instinctively know when to go in and when not to go in. And I’m transferring my positive, confident energy to the baby. As a mom, if you’re doubting yourself, how can you go in and soothe a baby? I have no doubt. I know I can do it and I know the child can do it. I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t think that.
Plus, sometimes when a mom goes in to check on her baby, the baby will cry even harder. But when it’s me going in, it’s easier on the baby. I’m something new, so they’re more open to it.
Some babies cry. Some babies just fuss and never cry. Either way, I’ve never seen sleep training backfire. If you do it at the right age, following and respecting the baby’s cues and what the baby needs, baby will quickly learn to sleep through the night. What makes me continue sleep training is the end result – parents and babies who are healthy, rested and happy.