Congratulations, on your new baby. You waited a long time to meet your little guy or girl and now your little treasure is here. It is such an exciting time in your life. However, it is completely normal to have lots and lots of questions. Your new baby did not come with instructions. This job is an on the job training position.
You will second guess many of your choices and decisions on this parenting journey. I still do 35 years later. I can confidently say that there were times I would have done something different. However, I did the best I could with what I knew at the time. Even though we made mistakes along the way as we navigated the parent role, all of our kids turned out amazing. They even still love us!!!!
So, your question is, when is the right time to start sleep training? This is a question that I often get asked. When you are a new parent and your little one is getting up around the clock it can be exhausting. You want to get your life back on schedule or something that resembles a schedule. Don’t worry, your little one will soon have the skills to make that happen. You just have to wait until your baby biologically develops circadian rhythms that will allow for a sleep schedule. This usually develops after 16-18 weeks of corrective age. The corrective age is the age your child’s due date would have been for a full-term pregnancy. If your child was born early then you wouldn’t start until 16-18 weeks after the date that they were due.
Before this time, your child does not have organized internal sleep rhythms to allow for formal sleep training. If you try before this time you and your baby will become frustrated.
However, there are some things you can do to establish a healthy sleep foundation before a formal sleep training process with your child. This will give your baby the tools to be prepared and make sleep training easier when it is the right time.
1. Provide a safe sleep environment. You can find more information about safe sleep environments here.
2. Create a conducive sleep environment. Make sure the room is dark, quiet and cool. You can use blackout shades or black trash bags to cover the windows so that no light can come through. A white noise machine to help with any outside noise and is a great signal that sleep is coming. You don’t want one of the white noise machines with lights and pictures as this will keep your baby in a light stage of sleep and not allow them to go into the deeper stage of sleep.
3. Have a consistent and calming soothing routine. This will cue your child that sleep is coming and help your baby start to relax. When it is time to start formal training, your baby will already feel comfortable with this process.
4. Provide a consistent sleep environment for naps and night sleep. This will also be a cue that it is time to sleep.
You will want to make sure your baby is getting plenty of day sleep and watch the wake periods. Keep wake period short during the day. Watch your baby for sleep cues. You may start to see those sleep cues as early as one hour after waking from the previous sleep cycle. Once you see those tired signs, you will start your soothing routine and put them down to sleep.
When you take your baby to the 4 months check-up with their pediatrician, ask if your little one is healthy enough for sleep training. Also ask your doctor to advise on how many night feedings, if any, your baby should have so that you can put it right into your plan. In this way, you will feel more confident in your efforts once you start.
Until your baby can be formally sleep trained just take this time to get to know your baby. Give yourself time to heal and if you are breastfeeding, then focus on making sure you have an adequate milk supply. During the first 4 months do whatever you need to do to assist in getting your little one sleep while following safe sleep practices. Your baby can’t learn bad habits yet. At this age, there is nothing you do during this time that can’t be undone once they reach that four-month mark.