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How to get your baby to sleep

Baby sleep training

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Baby sleep training

Explore the different baby sleep-training methods that can help your little one sleep, and find out which is right for you.

 

Baby sleep training can be difficult terrain to negotiate. It's an often controversial and understandably emotional topic, and no one sleep-training method will be right for every baby, or indeed for one baby all the time. To find the right sleep-training method and give you an idea of what you might like to try, we've outlined the key points of each popular method.

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Baby sleep-training methods

Controlled crying or ‘cry it out’ (CIO)

  • The idea, initially popularised by pediatrician Richard Ferber, is to let your baby teach itself how to self-soothe.
  • Put your baby to sleep drowsy but awake and leave the room, returning for a short period if your baby is crying, but leaving them to cry it out alone for longer and longer periods at a time.
  • Develop a bedtime routine – such as a bath, book and lullaby – to get your baby into a sleep schedule and prepare them to wind down for the night.
  • As this sleep-training method relies on consistency, it requires a lot of commitment and it can be tough to see it through. It’s best to have an agreed-upon plan (preferably with a partner) before you go into it, and experts say you should try to stick to it for a couple of weeks unless you decide to put it on hold indefinitely.

No-cry sleep training method

  • For those who don't like the idea of leaving their child alone to cry, the ‘no-cry' method (not a completely accurate name!) aims to help babies develop secure and comfortable associations with bedtime.
  • It involves soothing or nursing your baby until they fall asleep, then using a reassuring hands-on touch if they happen to wake during the night.
  • Most ‘no-cry’ experts, such as pediatrician William Sears, caution that this process is intended to be very gentle and gradual, so can be quite slow – over a period of weeks or even months.
  • As with any sleep-training process, it's good to try to develop a routine and create the cosiest and most comfortable environment for your little one to rest.

Co-sleeping

  • Some advocates of ‘no-cry’ methods, including parenting educator Elizabeth Pantley, endorse co-sleeping, which involves your baby sleeping in the same bed as you.
  • It allows for comfort and convenience when you are breastfeeding, and can promote a stronger bond between you and your baby.
  • It's important to be aware of the safety risks associated with co-sleeping: if you or your partner have been drinking, smoking or are otherwise incapacitated (eg even if you feel you’re particularly exhausted), you shouldn't co-sleep.
  • If your baby was premature or had a low birth weight, you shouldn’t co-sleep.
  • You might want to place a cot right beside your bed with the side down, or attach a cot mattress to your bed. You should always keep bedding light and minimal, so your baby doesn’t overheat, and never leave your baby alone in your bed.

Gradual retreat

  • A modified approach to controlled crying, gradual retreat allows for you to be closer to your baby while they are learning to self-settle.
  • You place a cushion or chair near your baby’s cot, and put them down to sleep. If they start crying, you gently pat and reassure them, then return to the cushion or chair, moving it slightly further away from the cot. The process is repeated until your child falls asleep.
  • This can be a time-consuming approach and doesn’t allow you to go back to bed until your baby has properly settled, so it requires a lot of patience.

Pick up put down

  • A type of ‘no-cry’ method, ‘pick up put down’ cautions against the reliance on nursing, patting and rocking to get your baby to sleep, which are advocated by experts such as Sears.
  • This method advises that you go to your baby when they cry, pick them up to reassure them with a phrase you reuse each time (‘it’s OK,’ or ‘time for sleep now’) and put them back down. Repeat as often as necessary until your baby falls asleep.
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