A good night’s sleep is a key ingredient to good health. People of all ages struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep and get quality sleep night after night. Infants, especially, seem to struggle, which means the parents suffer right along with them.
Dr. Maria Gray, a board-certified pediatrician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, understands that there are endless books, articles and parenting sites focused on how to help your infant sleep. The abundance of information and opinions, she says, can be overwhelming for new parents.
According to Dr. Gray, the most common sleep problems infants experience include:
- Difficulty falling asleep on their own without the aid of a bottle or rocking
- Frequent waking during the night
She recommends sleep training — following a specific method to help a baby learn to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night — as the key to solving these concerns.
“I always discuss sleep at each well-child visit and bring up the topic of sleep training when a child is 4 months old. However, I give more sleep-training strategies at the 6- and 9-month visit,” says Dr. Gray. “Parents may not understand that by 6 months a majority of babies don’t, for nutrition purposes, need to feed to fall asleep or during the night, and there is definitely no need for those feedings by 9 months.
6 infant bedtime tips
Dr. Gray offers her top tips for helping your infant sleep.
1. Never put a baby to bed fully asleep. Put your baby to bed while they are drowsy so they can learn how to soothe themselves to sleep. This is the skill they will need when they wake up in the middle of the night.
2. Create — and keep — a bedtime routine. Introduce your bedtime routine as early as the first month of life. Start the routine early in the evening so that your baby is not already overtired, and keep the environment calm and quiet. Your baby will begin to associate the routine with sleep. Do the nighttime feeding at the beginning of the routine, then bath time, pajamas, shushing and rocking until your baby is drowsy.
3. Master a method. Parents do well with specific sleep training guidelines. Dr. Gray’s preferred method is the Ferber method, also known as graduated extinction, which calls for allowing babies to cry for a set amount of time before comforting them, gradually increasing the time you wait before going to your baby. Start with waiting one minute before comforting your baby and increase the time over several nights until your baby learns to fall asleep on their own.
4. Keep a log. Take note of each night’s bedtime routine — what worked and what didn’t. You can use a cellphone timer to track how long your baby cries before you go in to comfort them, so you’ll know when to intervene the next night.
5. Be patient and consistent. Sleep training usually only takes a week or so of consistent implementation to take hold, but consistency is key.
6. Know yourself. If you or your partner find listening to your baby crying too challenging, consider spending the night away from home or sleeping where your baby’s cries can’t be heard while the other parent handles the sleep training.
“Outside influences can often get in the way of sleep training,” Dr. Gray says. “Whether it’s a parent’s unwillingness to let the baby cry it out, noise or a new environment, it’s important to not let these things get in the way of sticking to the plan. A week of hard work, less parental sleep and listening to your baby crying a bit, will pay off immeasurably in the end.”
This article is the first in a series of articles on children and sleep. Future articles will address issues related to sleep in the toddler, adolescent and teen stages of life.