This is one of the most common questions I’m asked as a sleep consultant. Is there a magical age to sleep train your baby? What if I start sleep training too late? What if I start too early? How soon is too soon?
Google “baby sleep training” and you’ll find lots of articles, advice and information out there. Including a hotly-debated article in The New York Times titled “Sleep Training at 8 Weeks: ‘Do You Have the Guts?”
Confession time: I successfully sleep trained each of my three children at three months of age. By 12 weeks-old they were sleeping through the night with no night feeds. They were healthy, eating well, had proper growth and weight gain, and I had the knowledge and confidence to take it on. It’s a decision that to this day I am confident and sure of. They are now seven and four years-old (twins) and are happy, healthy, rock star sleepers who love me dearly…most days.
I know it’s possible to sleep train your baby before the recommended age of 4-6 months of age. It can be done. But for most cases, I don’t recommend clients start formal sleep training until a baby is at least 4.5 months of age.
Here are four reasons why:
Your baby needs to be ready.
While healthy sleep habits can begin early on, even as early as eight weeks of age, it’s only at around four months of age that babies internal sleep rhythms are beginning to develop enough to start following more of a sleep routine. Biologically it can be difficult to put a baby on a set sleep routine in the 4th trimester so it’s important to first factor the corrected age of your baby. If your child was born premature we need to make sure we are basing our start time around their biological age. So, not when they were born but rather when their estimated due date was. One of the biggest sleep training mistakes I see parents make is starting too soon without the proper support and education to guide them and then quit when things don’t come together. It can be discouraging and that discouragement becomes an obstacle in starting the process again.
You need extra reassurance.
It’s also very important to make sure that your baby has absolutely no medical issues first. Talk to your doctor during your baby’s 4-month appointment. Getting the okay from your doctor and having them on board can give you that added reassurance that you need to stay 100% committed to the sleep plan to successfully sleep train your baby.
Your body needs to be ready.
It’s important to be aware of your milk supply. Sleep training should never compromise mom’s milk supply. If you’re concerned with your supply or struggling with it, sleep training may need to be delayed or a more gradual method to sleep train your baby should be chosen. It’s okay to keep 1 to 2 feeds at night if that’s where your comfort level lies. By six months of age I begin to encourage parents to cut feeds if they’re prepared to do so.
You have to have the confidence (and support).
Lastly, you need to ask yourself if sleep training is for you. The decision to sleep train your baby can be a tough one and it’s important that you and your partner be on the same team. Sit down and make sure you are able to support one another throughout the process. Make sure you are 100% ready to sleep train your baby and if you’re not, that’s okay. You can start sleep training when you feel more comfortable doing so and possibly have more confidence in the process. Until then, take small steps like setting up a consistent and safe sleep environment, start to follow a more biologically appropriate schedule and be careful not to extend wakeful periods to avoid overtiredness. Choose the method to sleep train your baby that works for you and work on the associations like night feeds once you are more ready to do so.
Alanna McGinn is a Certified Sleep Consultant and Founder of Good Night Sleep Site – a Global Pediatric and Family Sleep Team. She provides free child and family sleep support through her Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. She invites you to join her sleep community as she works towards Good Night Sleep Site’s mission of a healthier rested family unit. For more sleep tips please visit Good Night Sleep Site.