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Gentle Sleep Training for a Newborn

Updated on June 10, 2011

Being a new Mom sleep training was something I was dreading, but at the same time looking forward to. All of those nights of only getting 3-4 hours of sleep was wearing down on me. My baby slowly mastered the technique of falling asleep on his own with slow and steady patience from me. I couldn’t bring myself to just let my baby cry all night so I took a very slow approach in the beginning. I’m a strong believer that babies under 4 months of age should not be left to cry. This is a delicate age when they are trying to figure out the world and that there will be someone there for them if they need help. Anytime my baby cried, I’d pick him up and soothe him right away or meet whatever needs (feeding, diaper changes, burps, etc).

From the beginning, my husband and I would take turns holding our infant son out in the living room so at least one of us could sleep. My baby refused to sleep in the bassinet; anytime we’d try to put him down he would immediately wake and begin hysterical crying. He was fed, changed, and healthy but had a hard time being removed from the comfort of our arms. We got the occasional 1-2 hours he would sleep in the bassinet, but that was rare.

At about 4 weeks his sleep was starting to develop. If you’re having a hard time getting your baby to sleep somewhere else other than your arms I recommend being as patient as humanly possible. The first thing I did was figure out when my baby was the sleepiest. At 4 weeks, this was about 7 am. I would take advantage of that extreme sleepiness and place him in the bassinet. If it lasted over 10 minutes (which it was usually about 1-2 hours) I deemed it success. Slowly, the time my baby was the sleepiest became later in the evening. After a good meal, I’d wrap my baby up and start soothing him. I recommend developing a bedtime routine that will be done every night to help the baby understand what was to come next…sleep!

My baby was an active little guy and he hated to be swaddled. Any traditional swaddle he’d fight and get out of. I did some looking online and was able to find a product called the Halo Swaddle Sleepsack. It’s a zippered sack that has a Velcro swaddle attachment. My baby was unable to wiggle his way out of this and it helped him increase how long he’d be asleep. At about 3 months, I stopped using the Swaddle portion as it began to hinder my baby’s sleep. He’d wake up and start to fight it. Read you baby to figure out if it is doing more harm than good.

Once his sleepy time was in the evening I began the long process of teaching him how to fall asleep on his own. I helped him a lot in the beginning, and with some time and a lot of work he began to get it. After our bedtime routine of feeding, changing his clothes and diaper and soothing time of rocking and a good pacifier it was time for my baby to go to bed while he was asleep. Make sure baby is always placed down on his back as a prevention to SIDS. In the beginning, he’d start to cry as soon as he noticed he was in the bassinet. I’d put my hand on his chest so he knew I was there and if that was unsuccessful in calming him I would pick him up and start the soothing process over again. Once he was calm, it was back to the bassinet. I would repeat the process until he was able to stay asleep after placing him there. He would sleep upwards of 2 hours at a time until his feeding. After he was done eating, the process began again.

After he was able to stay asleep when putting him down (took about 2 weeks) I began the process of helping him learn to fall asleep on his own, but still with some of my help. I was still doing his bedtime and soothing routine, but instead of rocking him to sleep, I would rock him to deep relaxation. I’d place him in the bassinet and stay with him with my hand on his chest until he was asleep. If he cried, I’d pick him up and calm him and try again until he was asleep. I was shocked that most nights this process would take only 15 minutes and we’d both get to sleep a few hours before I would have to feed him. Eventually, he was able to be put down in the bassinet and fall asleep completely unassisted. It took work, but it was worth it.

Take Away:

1. Your patience will pay off! It’s hard to believe, but it does get better!

2. Babies under 4 months of age should be picked up whenever they cry to learn that they will have someone to take care of them if they need it.

3. Figure out when your baby is sleepiest and try to take advantage of that time to put him down in the bassinet or crib.

4. Begin a bedtime routine and soothing routine early so your baby learns to know what to expect.

5. When it’s time (either asleep or awake), place your baby in the bassinet or crib on his back to allow him to sleep on his own.

6. If he cries, it’s ok to pick him up and soothe him. Young babies have a hard time soothing themselves and may just get so worked up they can’t sleep.

7. If your baby has mastered staying asleep in the bassinet or crib, start putting him down sleepy but awake to allow him to learn. If he cries, I still think it’s acceptable to pick him up and soothe.

8. Repeat the soothing process until your baby is able to fall asleep on his own.

9. Falling asleep is a learning process for most babies. It takes work, but it’s achievable. With a little help from a loving caretaker young babies can learn to fall asleep.

If you’ve been using a bassinet by the bed like I did and your baby has outgrown it, learn how to Move your baby to the crib and when to begin sleep training.

If your baby is having many issues with sleeping, it may be a good idea to bring up any concerns with your pediatrician.


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