When it comes to the timing of sleep training, parents often have two questions:
1. At what age can I start sleep training?
2. When is the best time to sleep train?
If you have decided, or considering, sleep training, I can certainly help you answer these questions and help guide you to the path that makes most sense for your family as well.
I always recommend checking with your child's doctor to get the all clear before sleep training.
At what age can I start sleep training?
Assuming your baby is healthy, gaining weight appropriately, and has the all clear from the doc, you can start formally sleep training your baby as young as 12-16 weeks old (adjusted age). At this point, your baby has exited the 4th trimester and you are officially out of the newborn stage. Also during this time, many parents see a change in their baby’s sleep habits (hello, 4 month sleep regression!) and it causes some peaked curiosity on how to help baby sleep better.
There is a gray area here (12-16 weeks)…industry standard is 16 weeks/4months. Why?
Because it is assumed that baby has gone through or will presently go through the 4 month sleep regression which is a pretty important milestone in baby sleep development. The idea here is to have baby’s sleep cycles reorganized like yours and mine and help them connect sleep cycles on their own.
But in some cases, 12 weeks is perfectly fine to move forward with formal sleep training. These are the typical situations in where sleep training this young may be the right call:
1. Baby is not eating over night but waking up often to be soothed (very common in NICU babies)
2. Baby is or has already formed sleep associations and parents are ready to separate from them (i.e. being rocked or fed to sleep)
3. Parents have tried many of the “right things” and have reached the end of the line on what to try next
Additionally, I have found that Pick Up/Put Down (the healthy habits builder for younger babies) is just too stimulating and makes babies really upset and takes so much longer and thus more tears (no one wants that). So this is another reason why I sometimes recommend moving forward with a more formal sleep training method (usually the chair method with this age).I’ve done formal sleep training with a baby as young as 11 weeks old because all of these boxes were ticked (and it was very successful).
Younger than 12 weeks though, you aren’t doing a formal sleep training but rather instilling healthy habits. Following an eat, play, sleep routine, teaching baby to fall asleep on their own (usually via Pick Up/Put Down) or managing however you feel is best for this intimate time in your baby’s life.
When can/should I start sleep training?
Now that we have tackled the earliest age in which you can start, let’s talk about some things to consider when identifying the best time to do the work (yes, work). Consider this a prep checklist:
1. Look at your calendar and schedule to identify about 2-3 weeks where you don’t have much going on- where things are pretty normal when it comes to your schedule. This is because you are going to want to dedicate the effort to this work to ensure it is successful as fast as possible (unless you like prolonging the process and creating a situation where you’ll have more tears and difficulties? Didn’t think so).
2. Is baby healthy? The best chance for a quick and effective solution to your baby’s sleep issues is to implement the changes when they’re healthy and thriving. There’s going to be some fussing and protest in the first few nights, and we want to make sure it’s only due to the change in their routine, not because of actual discomfort due to illness. If they’re healthy, it’s much easier to pinpoint the reasons for their fussing.
3. Is your partner on board? If you’re raising your baby with a partner, it’s important that both of you are committed to the process. This can be a trying ordeal for the first couple of nights and if your partner thinks it’s not a good idea, there’s likely going to be a point where they manage to convince you to give in and resort to whatever “sleep prop” you usually use to get your baby to sleep. So before you get started, make sure you and your partner have both signed on and can rely on one another for support. Can you do it alone? Yup, 100%. But it is helpful to have the support of your partner and to simply make sure you are on the same page when it comes to how you are tackling baby raising issues.
4. Is your work schedule clear? Changing up someone’s sleep habits is almost never met with a lot of enthusiasm for the first night or two, so nobody’s likely to get a lot of rest for the first 48 hours. If you have an important meeting or a major event coming up in the next few days that you need to be in peak condition for, you might want to wait until next weekend to get things underway. Although, you are already probably sleep deprived so maybe this won’t matter too much?
5. Is Baby’s sleep environment ready? One thing that is grossly overlooked when it comes to sleep training is the sleep environment. And this is really important!! Their room should be as dark as you can possibly get it. Put up some blackout blinds or, barring that, tape up some garbage bags over the windows. It’s not pretty but 100% darkness will really help with daytime naps. Get a white noise machine and set it on a low setting at least 3-6 feet away from baby, have a sleep sack ready, and check the temperature (68-72F/19-22C is ideal). Get rid of any mobiles, crib aquariums, or light-emitting devices that claim to help baby sleep (I assure you, they don’t.) An ideal nursery is flat-out boring. Baby should recognize it as a place to do nothing but sleep, so keep their toys and stuffies in another room.
6. Are YOU ready? So many parents I’ve talked to are very casual about this process and then are stunned to realize its more than they anticipated - this is work and it is not easy. The BIGGEST factor on whether this will be successful or not is your willingness to stay 100% committed to the process (also having a rock solid outlined plan to follow is incredibly helpful, too). Don’t go into this willy-nilly. Be ready. Your baby will likely cry, you will need to be really honest with yourself on how much you can handle and ask for help as necessary. Or get ear plugs. On average, the first night of sleep training comes with 60-90 minutes of crying before baby falls asleep. It is IMPERATIVE that you stick with your plan and do not back down.
7. Don’t wait for the “perfect” moment. Getting started and having to stop because of some bad planning is likely going to cause some confusion and minimize your chances for success. There’s always going to be something that isn’t exactly ideal. Teething, crawling, rolling over, and other developmental milestones, shouldn’t impede baby’s ability to sleep through the night, and they’re not going to stop popping up until your little one’s about ready to graduate from high school. Other than real illness, you can sleep train during regressions, teething, etc.
Are you overwhelmed? It's ok, I was too. There is a lot to consider when approaching this work (and we haven't even touched on methods to choose from!). But you don't have to do this alone. If you feel like the time is right and you’re ready to get started, let’s get going! Get in touch and we can start putting together a plan for your baby right away.
I know it’s a big decision, (It certainly was for me when I first made it with my little one) but the outcome is amazing for the whole family- I’ve never worked with a family or talked to a family who didn’t think it was worth it.
I am ready when you are and you can get the process started here with a free evaluation call!