The Right Time to Sleep Train
When is the right time to sleep train your child? Seems like an easy question right?
There is no shortage of experts who have opinions about the “right” age or developmental stage for sleep training but consider this: Independent sleep, regardless of age, is a major change in your child’s life. As adults, we know how hard it is to change our routine or our habits but your innocent baby has no frame of reference for this. If you have decided to sleep train, it will likely be the first time you will encourage your child to do something on her own. We want to make this transition to independent sleep as easy on her as possible.
This is why the question of when to sleep train and when NOT to sleep train is so important. A big part of your success depends on having optimal conditions in place before you start. It is just as important as the commitment and consistency I know you’ve heard so much about.
In this post, my goal is to give you the best possible conditions for starting a sleep plan. If you have these conditions in place, you are much more likely to be successful and it will be a much easier transition for your sweet Beautiful Baby.
What is the Best Age to Begin a Sleep Training Program?
Most experts say the best time to sleep train infants is between 4 and 5 months of age. Prior to 4 months, babies need to feed frequently through the night and cannot be expected to follow a routine. By 4 months old, babies are becoming more cognitively aware and can go for longer stretches without feeding. They are also beginning to learn the difference between day and night and can comprehend a routine. Is it the “best” age to start sleep training? That depends on many factors. I feel it is more appropriate to say that 4 months is the earliest possible age for implementing a sleep training program if the conditions are ideal. If you are considering sleep training, wait until your baby is at least 4 months old and get approval from your healthcare provider before you start.
Should I Sleep Train If My Baby Was Born Prematurely?
It is crucial to use your premature baby’s adjusted age when considering sleep training. For example, if your baby was born 3 weeks premature, do not sleep train her at 4 months. Her adjusted age is only 13 weeks so she is not developmentally ready for independent sleep or sleeping for long stretches without feeding.
A caregiver should always get approval from the baby’s healthcare provider before starting a sleep program. If you have done this for your premature baby and you feel that both you and your baby are ready, then you can move forward.
Should I Sleep Train When My Baby is Sick?
Your baby should be as healthy and happy as possible when you start a sleep training program. Think of the last time you were sick. Were you coughing and stuffy? Did you have chills or fever? Was it easy for you to fall asleep? It was probably a tough few days for you and although you were tired, it might have been hard for you to fall asleep and stay asleep. You probably needed some extra comfort.
Your baby needs extra comfort when she is sick too. It’s not a good time to make changes.
It’s no secret that sleep training can involve some crying and it is not appropriate to leave a sick baby to cry, even for a few minutes. She needs you to respond and tend to her because she may be in pain, have trouble breathing or have a fever that requires medication. She also needs rest and will probably need your help falling asleep. When a baby is ill, independent sleep has to go out the window. It’s the best way to ensure she gets adequate rest so she can feel better.
If your baby becomes sick in the middle of your sleep training program, you should put it on hold and only resume when you have received your healthcare provider’s approval. Any qualified pediatric sleep consultant will allow you to put consulting services on hold until your baby is feeling better.
Should I Sleep Train While My Baby is Teething?
Active teething, meaning that your baby is in pain from a tooth that is just about to break through the gum, only lasts a few days, but it’s not the best time to implement a sleep training program. Although teething is not an illness, it can cause the same symptoms as illness. These include low grade fever, discomfort in the mouth and ears, rash around the mouth from drooling and loss of appetite. Those few days are hard on most babies and as such, they need you even more than they normally do. If you’re wondering if your baby is, in fact, teething, check her mouth for red, swollen and tender gums. This, in conjunction with other symptoms will tell you if a tooth is about to pop. If this is the case, definitely wait to start sleep training.
We’re About to go on a Family Vacation/ The Holidays are Approaching
Traveling with kids can be a wonderful way to get rest and relaxation but it usually means that the family schedule will be thrown out of whack. This can be particularly frustrating if you have just spent 2 weeks trying to implement an independent sleep routine. Most children take a week or so to get back on schedule after a vacation so investing time, effort and money into a sleep program doesn’t make sense if a vacation is approaching, especially if you intend to share a hotel room or hotel bed with your baby. You will have to pretty much start from sleep training square one when you return.
The same goes for the holidays. If you know you will be attending family events, staying out late and falling out of your own routine, it’s best to wait till after the holidays to implement a sleep program.
You Don’t Feel Ready or Don’t Feel Your Child is Ready
Sleep training takes consistency, commitment and a plan. If you make a hasty decision out of sheer exhaustion, you are far less likely to be successful. I often hear from Moms who say they made a haphazard attempt at sleep training one night because it was 4am and they just couldn’t take anymore rocking or nursing. They put their babies down out of frustration, tried to let them cry it out, only to go back in the room a few minutes later feeling guilt ridden and miserable. This is not the way to get started. The Cry it Out method really doesn’t work in the long or short term and it can be damaging to your connection with your child.
The goal of any sleep training program is to show your child that she can sleep on her own without being afraid.
But maybe you’re not ready to show her.
Maybe in your heart, you feel she’s not ready either. If this is the case, wait until you have considered all your options. It is better to wait for the ideal time and be successful than to choose the wrong time and fail. Build a plan with a knowledgeable and understanding professional who takes the time to get to know you and your family. I guarantee you will see progress when you have a plan in place and the fortitude to stick with it.
Thinking about independent sleep for your family? Book your enlightenment call with me today.