Sleep training means helping your baby get to sleep and stay asleep if he wakens during the night. The goal is to establish a schedule of both nighttime sleep and daytime naps that are reliable and consistent for both you and your baby. However, sleep training methods vary from cry-it-out processes to easing into a natural rhythm. Start sleep training when your child is developmentally ready.
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Do not sleep train a newborn. Feed newborns on demand and help them differentiate between night and day by clustering feedings every three hours during the day and feeding them a full feeding on demand at night. Night feedings are entirely normal. Help your baby become used to the outside world and routines by establishing a bedtime ritual of bath, pajamas, fresh diaper and feeding before being put in a bassinet or crib for some nighttime sleep. Respond to nighttime wakings by offering a full feeding. Discourage snacking by making sure the baby takes both breasts or the majority of a bottle.
When Your Baby is Ready
At 3 to 4 months of age, your baby's natural rhythms are starting to become established. She is getting used to regular day feedings and your bedtime routine, which helps her know when it's time for bed. By this time, your baby sleeps for longer periods of time, up to six hours at night, sometimes as many as eight hours. She is ready for you to support her with sleep training, barring any medical issues. Continue nighttime feedings, making sure she is taking in a full feeding and not just snacking. If you suspect she's snacking, based on a regular day feeding, see if your partner -- if you are breast-feeding -- can soothe her back to sleep without a feeding by rubbing her back.
Sleep training your baby isn't dedicated to nighttime sleep alone. To ensure your baby gets good sleep, focus also on naps. Most babies need a morning nap and afternoon nap until they are about 12 to 18 months old. Although the nap ritual isn't as critical as the nighttime ritual, expect your 6- to 9-month-old to need reinforcement as his emerging skills make it difficult to get to sleep.
Tracking your baby's signals that she's tired help cue you that it's nap time during the day and she's ready to sleep at night. Yawning is an obvious sign but so is rubbing her eyes and being irritable. If it's not the exact time that your baby usually sleeps, but she's clearly showing signs of fatigue, put her down for a rest. Baby development is dynamic and exact timing isn't as important as recognizing what your baby needs.