Sleep training can begin between four to six months.
There are several approaches to sleep training. The ‘cry it out’ approach by paediatrician Dr Richard Ferber advocates letting the child cry himself to sleep rather than pick him up whenever he cries. The goal is to teach your baby how to sleep on his own and put himself back to sleep when he wakes up during the night.
The way to do this is to put your baby in his cot – drowsy, but awake. Once you’ve finished his bedtime routine, leave the room. If your baby cries, wait a few minutes before you check on him but don’t take him out of the cot.
Dr Ferber advises parents not to start with this approach until the baby is at least five or six months old. The decision is yours but if it’s hard for you to stay away from your baby when he cries or if your baby is especially sensitive, the ‘no tears’ approach might be more suitable. This approach supports picking up your child whenever he cries and soothing him back to sleep and has been advocated by a number of sleep experts.
If neither of these approaches appeals to you, you might opt for a middle ground instead such as the methods recommended by paediatrician Dr Harvey Karp. Dr Karp says the best way to calm your newborn and get him to sleep is by recreating the noises, movement and snug environment of the womb. In his book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, he advocates swaddling the baby, holding him rolled towards his side or stomach, shushing, jiggling the baby with small movements and giving him a pacifier or thumb to suck on. If done correctly, the techniques, says Dr Karp, should work on 98 per cent of babies. When swaddling, avoid overheating your baby and using loose blankets. The back is the right position for sleeping but when baby is fussing, moving him to the side or stomach will help soothe him.
No matter what you do to get your baby to sleep, ensure that he associates sleep with comforting, positive images. If he feels this way from a young age, it is more likely that he will fall asleep on his own and not be kept awake by nightmares.