Sleep is a natural biological rhythm, but sleeping well is a skill that takes time to develop.
Sleep habits develop from birth and are a combined result of nature and nurture. Infant sleep ‘training’ techniques are used to help your child get to sleep or stay asleep.
Working out what technique to choose can be difficult, because they can all work. However, some only work in specific circumstances and some are better suited to certain babies and parents more than others.
It’s important to understand your bub before deciding what sleep ‘training’ technique to use. You need to consider your bub’s age, temperament, goodness-offit with your temperament, health, and the environment.
Until four months of age, your newborn has immature sleep/wake rhythms, which makes them unable to respond to all techniques. Your bub may enjoy cuddles and close contact, or may prefer space and having time on their own.
We’re all unique and the capacity for your bub to sleep is different in all circumstances. Create a peaceful environment and ensure Mum and Dad are well rested before trying any of these sleep ‘training’ techniques:
All babies are unique. Cue-based techniques are gentler than extinction techniques, but that’s not to say extinction techniques are wrong. In fact, in some situations with strong-willed infants, extinction gets results quicker and is less frustrating for everyone. Conversely, extinction may not work if your bub needs more touch and reassurance.
Some bubs self-soothe and resettle easier than others. Different infants and situations mean using different techniques, but crying it out is never recommended.
Comforting (intermittent comforting) is used for bubs older than four months. It emphasises control (not crying), responding to the intensity and distress of your bub’s cries as you go in and out of the room.
This technique needs a plan outlined by your child health professional, as it won’t work if done randomly. It can be tough going, so make sure you have support. Ensure bub is healthy, and all commitments can be put on hold for four days. Work on both day and night sleeps. This technique works quickly when used for the right bub at the right age, but can backfire and cause added stress and insecurity for all concerned if it’s not the appropriate choice.
Sleeping alongside bub’s cot is a good technique if you don’t want to leave the room and bub wants you close. You often don’t need to do anything, it’s your mere presence that helps your baby feel secure enough to drift off to sleep.
As bub gets older and more confident with sleep (around 16 months), this technique becomes the chair method and you can slowly move out of the room.
This is a gentle technique, where you are tuned in to your baby’s cries. It takes focused listening and being close to give comfort and support when needed. Sometimes it will be a cuddle, and at other times a ‘shhhh’ pat in the cot to help bub get to sleep.
Hands on settling
This is similar to responsive settling, but is used for bubs that need your comforting touch at all times. It could involve stroking the forehead or applying gentle pressure over the chest and legs – with or without rocking. Both these gentle techniques work well, but can be irritating when used for babies that don’t enjoy constant touch, or when you are anxious.
When using any technique to help get your bub to sleep, it is important to remember that it takes them about 20 minutes of light sleep to fall into deep sleep. Get to know what your baby needs and give them time to form a habit (four days to three weeks, depending on age and circumstance). If you and your bub are struggling with sleep, consult your child health professional.