Sleep deprivation is a common complaint of new parents. Although a lot of joy surrounds the arrival of a new baby, so does large amounts of new information, particularly for first time moms and dads. In this article I will focus on what parents should be doing in order to have an infant that sleeps through the night by 4-6 months of age.
I will start by stating that babies are not born with the ability to sleep through the night. These often sleep for short periods of hours which are distributed through day AND night. At around 3 months of age, most of an infant’s sleep, occurs at night. This is when pediatricians begin discussing sleep training. This is a great topic to talk about at the 2-month-old visit; this way parents prepare and have a plan to implement when baby is 4-months old.
In my experience, if parents follow the advice below, their chances of having a good sleeper are quite high. At its very core, my recommendation focuses on eliminating sleep associations. These sleep associations have been widely discussed and found to be the cause of most nighttime awakening and crying.
So, what are sleep associations anyway? basically any habit your baby has learned in order to fall asleep. Examples include sucking from a bottle, pacifier or breast, being rocked, rubbed or patted, a car ride or stroller ride. The best way to avoid forming any of these habits is by implementing the well known eat-play-sleep routine. Basically, eating is always followed by a period of playing and then napping. This schedule should be used during daytime. At nighttime, feed first and place the baby in the crib after immediately feeding.
What should I do If my baby has already created a sleep association? If this is your case, I recommend waiting until baby is at least 4 months to begin sleep training. Sleep training addresses these habits and usually involves some degree of crying. Start by establishing a bedtime routine. This routine should begin with feeding, followed by your typical routine, be it a bath, a story, or both. Next place your baby in the crib when you notice that he/she is drowsy; allow them to fall asleep without your assistance. This can upset the infant and in turn crying happens. Choose an amount of time you are willing to allow your baby to cry and gradually increase that time until baby falls asleep. Often, babies learn to fall asleep on their own by night 3, some may take 1-2 weeks.
For parents who wish more information on this last method, refer to the famous book “sleeping through the night” by Jodi Mindell. It is a great resource.
As always, feel free to comment below or contact me for help on this topic.
Adriana Rosado-Jimenez, MD, FAAP