When to let baby sleep through night without feeding
How long should a baby sleep at night without eating?
Photo credit: iStock.com / AleksandarNakic
Most babies are able to sleep through the night – or sleep for at least six hours without waking up to eat – sometime between 3 to 6 months of age. Healthy babies who are born full-term are generally able to sleep through the night without a feeding starting at 3 months of age or when they weigh 12 to 13 pounds. However, babies' sleep cycles only become consistent and predictable around the time they're 6 months old.
Just because babies are technically able to go through the night without a feeding, however, doesn't mean they will. Night wakings can happen for many other reasons, including separation anxiety, an inability to self-soothe back to sleep, sleep regressions, teething, and bed-sharing.
If your baby doesn't start sleeping through the night without a feeding between 4 to 6 months of age, you can try night weaning. There are lots of different sleep training methods, from the cry-it-out method to the fading method. Learn about your options (BabyCenter's virtual course, Baby Sleep 101, can help) and choose one that feels right for you and your baby.
How long should a newborn sleep at night without eating?
Newborns generally sleep for two to three hours before waking to eat, day and night. As they get older, babies are usually able to sleep for increasingly longer stretches of time at night without waking to eat.
Between the age of 2 to 3 months old, healthy babies are often able to sleep for six hours without feeding. Research suggests that about half of babies are able to sleep at least six hours without a nighttime feed by 3 months of age. That rate rises to 62 percent by 6 months of age and 72 percent by 12 months of age, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
So how can you prepare your baby to sleep longer periods at night without eating? Start healthy sleep habits early. Help your newborn learn to fall asleep on their own by following a bedtime routine, putting them to bed when they're sleepy but still awake, and waiting for a few minutes to respond to their fussing when they do wake at night. Although your baby may still need to be fed during the night for some time, these tactics help them learn to nod back off without the help of your breast, arms, or a bottle.
If your baby was premature or has other health considerations such as digestive problems or failure to gain weight, be sure to discuss their feeding schedule with their doctor before making changes.
Should you wake a sleeping baby to feed?
For the first one to two weeks of life – or until your newborn regains the weight they lost after birth – it's important that they wake up to eat about every two to three hours. Newborns usually do this on their own, but occasionally will sleep for longer. If your baby does sleep for a stretch of more than four hours during this period, wake them to eat.
After the first couple of weeks, when babies surpass their birth weight, most healthy babies don't need to be woken to eat as long as they're growing and feeding well. That means they're gaining weight as expected and producing at least four wet diapers and three poopy diapers per day. Talk to your doctor if you're concerned about your baby's growth or feeding habits.
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What if my baby won't wake up to eat?
If your baby is healthy, has passed their birth weight, and is feeding and growing steadily, you usually don't need to wake them to feed. Unless their doctor tells you otherwise, let your baby sleep – they'll let you know when they need to eat!
If, however, your baby hasn't yet surpassed their birth weight, or if they were premature or aren't growing as expected, you do need to rouse them to eat anytime they sleep for more than four hours straight.
Know that newborns sometimes have a hard time waking up to eat for the first few days, especially if:
- they're small
- they have jaundice
- you had a difficult labor
- you had an epidural or other pain reliever during birth
If your baby is lethargic and uninterested in eating, these tips can help a groggy baby wake to feed:
- Look for signs that they're in a light sleep cycle, which include flutters under closed eyelids, arm and leg movements, and sucking movements.
- Be sure the room is cool (around 18 C or 65 F) and your baby isn't overdressed, since being too warm makes babies sleepier.
- Try skin-to-skin contact and/or a laid-back breastfeeding position, which can encourage feeding.
Premature babies have unique nutritional needs and may not show hunger signs like crying.
If your baby is premature, or if you're concerned about your baby's weight gain or feeding patterns, talk to their doctor about how to ensure your baby is getting enough to eat.
Colleen de Bellefonds
Colleen de Bellefonds is a freelance health and lifestyle journalist. She's raising her toddler daughter and newborn son with her French husband in Paris.
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I remember my eldest's first full night in the hospital like it was yesterday. And that's because it was a breeze. Yes, I still fed her every 3 hours, but she went back to sleep immediately each time. I wondered what all the fuss was about with the lack of sleep. And then the next night came and it was nothing like the first...I swear she was attached to my boob for almost the entire night. Then home, and more of the same. From then on I understood. And though I was the happiest I'd ever been in my life I found myself wondering how long it would take before she could sleep through the night without a feeding.
It was draining me. I found myself wanting to stop time to soak in all that baby sweetness paralleled by a feeling of wanting to speed it up so we could all finally get some sleep. Eventually, she did sleep through the night.
As much as I would love to tell you the exact moment when a baby will be able to eat enough by day that they can make it all night, it's far from that simple. So we've partnered with Kelley Thompson, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, from Serenity Sleepers to give you a logical timeline of what you can expect when it comes to your baby's sleep and how long they can stretch it without waking for a feeding.
The Reason Why Babies are Hungry at Night
Though this isn't rocket science, it can be perplexing at first why your baby can't fill up on enough calories throughout the day that enables them to sleep through the night like you can.
But there are 2 big differences between you and your baby.
- Your baby's tummy is tiny! And it can only hold so much milk. Within the first couple days of your baby's life we're talking just a couple of teaspoons of milk capacity, and still even only 3-4 ounces around 1 month of age.
- Babies grow at a rapid rate. Initally, they lose weight in the first couple of days, but then they should be back to their birth weight within 2 weeks. So you could see why they'd be so hungry! After that, they'll double their birthweight by about 4 months old. And triple it by age 1! Your 7-pound newborn will weigh around 21 pounds after one year. With such fast-paced growth (compared to your weight which should roughly stay the same) you can see why eating so much is important.
Because of these 2 factors, it's just not realistic to expect your baby to be able to sleep through the night initially when they're needing to beef up. Because they're able to digest milk pretty quickly (breastfed babies especially), it's likely that they're going to wake up in the middle of the night ready for a meal - perhaps multiple times.
The Definition of Sleeping Through the Night
When your friend tells you that they're baby is sleeping through the night, and you find out that it was actually only a 6-hour stretch, it might make you say, "Hmmm..." After all, you wouldn't be rested with only 6 hours of sleep. What gives?
Sleeping through the night can be defined in one of three ways:
- When the experts say, "Sleeping Through the Night" - generally this means 6 - 8 hours because that's the full stretch that a baby can usually handle at least in the later infant stages (around age 3 months+)
- What you think "Sleeping Through the Night" means for yourself - At least for me, this means 8 hours - and in general, that's about the amount that most adults need to function well during the day. Even though you know your baby has different needs, you might think, I can't wait til my baby sleeps through the night so that I can, too (and get your full 8 hours).
- What a full night of "Sleeping Through the Night" would be for your baby - Babies generally need a nighttime portion of sleep about 10 - 12 hours in length. Eventually, they WILL sleep this full stretch without waking up in between. But when?
There is a gradual progression in terms of how long your baby can stay asleep before they wake up needing to eat. Though there are other factors that keep babies up at night (which we'll get to), the number one reason they wake up frequently is that they are hungry.
Since you might have three separate expectations, we'll go over when you might expect each of these levels of "sleeping through the night" to occur. With that said, EVERY baby is different, and it may not align perfectly. Formula-fed babies usually "sleep through the night" more quickly than breastfed babies, but not always.
Building a Foundation for Sleeping Through the Night
Yes, your baby being hungry is the main reason they are going to wake up. But they should be able to go longer and longer stretches as they grow without needing those feeds any longer.
When we asked Kelley of Serenity Sleepers her top recommendation for getting a baby to sleep through the night she had this to say:
"First a baby needs to have the proper sleep education and sleep foundations in place before they will be able to sleep through the night.
Once a baby is able to put themselves to sleep on their own, able to link sleep cycles, has age-appropriate routines, and proper day sleep in place they will be able to have longer stretches of overnight sleep.
Sleeping through the night for 11-12 hours at a time, is developmental, and will look different for each baby, but when a baby has proper sleep foundations as stated above, they will do it when their body is ready."
Stage 1 Sleeping Through the Night Without Feeding (6 - 8 hours):
Around 4 months of age is when most parents will start to see signs from their babies that they're able to sleep in longer stretches. Getting up to 5 and 6 hours by this point is very likely. This is especially true once your baby makes it through the 4-month sleep regression. Be sure to read our article, "Getting Through Your Baby's 4-Month Sleep Regression," to find out what you can expect during this time.
According to pediatrician Susan E.C. Sorenson over at BabyCenter, 6-month-olds "can sleep comfortably for at least six hours without waking up to eat." And some babies will do it even sooner than that.
By this age, babies usually have structured naps during the day and have plenty of wake time where they fill up on breastmilk and formula and also are stimulated enough to make them sleepy at night. Additionally, they're able to take in more calories at a time and are able to consolidate most of their night feedings down to just 1 or 2 per night.
We want to reiterate that it's different for every single baby, but expecting a 6-8 hour stretch of sleep from your 6-month-old is not unreasonable.
Stage 2 Sleeping Through the Night Without Feeding (8-9 hours):
Around the 7 - 9 month timeframe, you'll see your baby gradually sleeping for longer and longer stretches. It's important to remember however, that baby sleep is not linear. It might look like 1 step forward, 2 steps back for awhile. In other words, a few great nights of sleep might be followed by a few not so great ones. The important thing here, however, is to notice the progression from your little one as you start to see the length of sleep they are capable of.
Even though you yourself are not likely getting a straight 8-9 hours yet (because your baby will go down before you hit the hay), this is a big turning point for parents! And Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant Kelley Thompson shared with us that this is a typical age where she sees a lot of babies even sleeping all the way through the night!
As long as you have worked hard sleep training your baby, and used self-soothing methods such as putting them in a Dreamland Baby weighted sack, your baby should easily go back down after you feed them. One 3 or 4 am feeding is really not so bad if you keep the lights low and keep your baby drowsy while you feed them. Simply put them back down and they should go right back to sleep until it's time to wake for the day.
By this point, it's so nice to look back on how far you've come. And that full night's sleep is so close you can taste it...
Stage 3 Sleeping Through the Night Without Feeding (the full night - up to 12 hours)
Sleep expert Dr. Sarah Mitchell, who did a guest post for us recently, said that she sees many formula-fed 5 month-olds who can go 11-hour stretches at night. Though this is not the norm...we're just saying that it IS possible, and just goes to show how wide the spectrum can spread.
What's more likely is a 9 to 12-month-old who sleeps their full night of sleep without waking to eat. What this means is that you put your baby down for bedtime, perhaps at 7:30, and the next time you see their well-rested happy face isn't until 6:30 or so the next morning!! This is just as glorious as it sounds.
Not only is your baby getting healthy stretches of sleep so they can grow and thrive, but so are you. And as a busy parent, you know how much you need that uninterrupted sleep (not to mention those quiet hours to yourself before you go to bed!)
Other Factors that Keep Your Baby Up at Night
It's important to know what your baby is capable of in terms of sleeping through the night without the need of being fed. Though it's perfectly normal that your baby might still be waking in the middle of the night beyond the averages, if they are, you might want to start considering if it's something else that's waking them up at night.
Baby sleep can be all over the place in the first year, and it's not always because they're hungry (though that IS the top reason). If you are sure that your baby isn't waking out of hunger, here are some other possible reasons they might be waking up:
- they still have their days and nights mixed up
- sleep regressions
- growth spurts
- lack of self-soothing skills
- baby wants to see you!
Some of these are completely unavoidable. We recommend taking it in stride and keeping reasonable expectations of what your baby can do in their first year of life. Beyond that, you can be sure that you're using our best sleep tips to help your baby maximize their length of sleep without waking. Here's what we suggest:
- Set up a bedtime routine early on. You don't need to stress about this in the first few weeks home with your new baby, but once your baby is starting to have more noticeable sleep/wake cycles, getting into the habit of a good sleep routine is important. We discuss those steps in this article, and one item we recommend using is a Dreamland Baby weighted sack. The gentle weight feels like a hug to your baby and naturally induces sleep. Countless reviews state how well it helps little ones sleep through the night including this one from mom, Alex S.:
"This product truly saved us. It gave us back our nights, and helped our little guy sleep 6-7 hours every night. I can't thank Dreamland Baby enough for making such an incredible product. I would suggest for any new moms out there.”
- Start sleep training around 4 months of age. Sometimes sleep training can get a bad rap, but it really shouldn't! It does not have to involve lots of crying and is one of the best ways to set up your baby for sleeping success! Kelley of Serenity Sleepers shares that, "most babies struggle to initially put themselves to sleep, and rely on someone or something to put them to sleep and then back to sleep when they wake during the night." Getting your baby to learn to sleep independently is really important.
- If your baby seems hungry, feed them! Even if your baby has been consistently sleeping through the night, they may go through a growth spurt where they need to eat again. Always assume this is what your baby needs unless your instincts tell you otherwise. We guarantee they'll be back on track after a couple of days.
The truth is that all babies learn to sleep through the night. In time (likely before they turn one), their bodies will allow them to take in enough calories by day that they won't need to wake up to eat. Teaching them to self soothe and be an independent sleeper will also help speed along the process.
Do babies naturally drop night feeds?
As your baby grows and develops, it’s possible that she will no longer wake up for a feeding by the time she is between 4 and 6 months old. That’s because her tummy can now hold more food which may be helping her sleep for that much anticipated longer stretch of time. If you prefer to consider her weight, it’s usually at 12 pounds when babies no longer need a nighttime snack.
Keep in mind that every baby is different and you can decide when it’s time to cut back on the night time feeding when it’s comfortable for you. Of course, this is definitely something to discuss with your pediatrician if you have any concerns.
Which feeds drop first at night?
Some experts suggest to drop the first night time feeding from the routine. So if your baby feeds at 10pm and 2am, start by dropping the 10pm meal. Others suggest to cut down on every feeding by at least 3 minutes every few nights until you decrease it by enough that that feeding can be eliminated altogether. Remember that the older she gets, the less she’ll need the nighttime feed and dropping a feeding may occur naturally, ie: baby will sleep through it or show little interest in taking the breast or bottle.
How long should nighttime feedings take?
While every baby is different, depending on her age, nighttime feedings can take anywhere from 20-30 minutes for newborns, every few hours, to a quick 5-10 minute snack at 6 months, a couple of times a night. There’s no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to baby, so trust your instinct and always talk to your pediatrician if you think your baby isn’t eating enough… or too much.
How long after feeding can I put my baby down?
It’s always a good idea to burp your baby before putting her down after a feeding to avoid any kind of reflux.
Should I feed my baby every time he wakes up at night?
It may be an impulse to rush into baby’s room at every sound or cry, but remember, as a baby develops her sleep patterns, it’s okay for her to miss a feeding here and there, especially once she’s at the 6-month mark. By then, she might be sleeping for 6-8 hour stretches without waking to eat… and by the time she’s 9 months, she may even be sleeping for an entire 11-12 hour stretch!
It’s in those early newborn months that it’s important to feed baby every time she wakes, which could be as much as every two hours during a 24-hour cycle. Be sure to check with your healthcare practitioner or pediatrician if you have any concerns about your infant’s sleep and/or feeding schedule.
Will my milk dry up if baby sleeps through the night?
Some parents feel that their milk isn’t coming in during evening hours as much as it did during the day, so babies may take longer to nurse. Don’t let this worry you! It’s normal for babies to eat less at night as they begin to sleep for longer stretches. This also means that your little one is probably eating more during the day. As new feeding schedules occur, your breasts will adjust. You can also continue to pump at night to keep your milk supply flowing.
How do I increase milk supply when baby sleeps through night?
The more you nurse, the more your milk supply will increase. So as long as you continue to pump once or twice during the night while baby sleeps, your milk supply shouldn’t dwindle. It’s also advised to perhaps add an additional one or two pumping sessions whenever you believe that you have a fuller supply to pull from.
A Certified Sleep Consultant Answers All Your Baby Sleep Questions
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When will my child start sleeping at night without waking up?
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When the baby starts sleeping at night without waking up is a very individual matter. By responding to the needs of the child, parents can help promote healthy sleep for the child.
Starting at about 6 months old, children no longer need nighttime feedings, as at this age the rhythm of hunger and satiety in a healthy child stops at daytime. Brief awakenings at night are quite normal. Ideally, babies fall asleep quickly and on their own again.
Awakenings can have many causes
Note that waking up or crying at night can have many causes. Along with hunger, thirst, and a wet diaper, there are occasional periods (teething, infections, or an eventful day) when the baby changes his habits: wakes up, babbles, or again asks for a breast or a bottle. Some babies cry when they need attention and care, or when they need to relieve some stress. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees for an uninterrupted night's sleep for your baby. It also happens that the baby, who until now slept well and did not wake up at night, suddenly starts waking up again at night. Basically, it's just a temporary thing.
A regular daily routine is very important
A regular daily routine is important with regular meals, sleep duration and other activities such as walking. Repetitive rituals such as bathing, feeding, evening fairy tale, lullaby, as well as a calm atomosphere always have a calming effect.
Don't lose patience if your child doesn't find his sleep rhythm right away. Miracles do not happen! You cannot control your child's sleep. However, you can help your child develop a regular rhythm by ensuring healthy sleep. Do not be discouraged if other children have allegedly been sleeping at night for a long time without waking up. This concept is relative, because, as for infants, we can talk about continuous night sleep even if they sleep from midnight to 5-6 in the morning. Parents of young children, as a rule, should tune in to the fact that in the first 3-4 years of a baby's life, their nights will be restless.
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When a child starts sleeping through the night
Do your children sleep very badly at night, wake up 3 to 10 times, go to bed for a long time and protest against daytime sleep? You are not alone! Studies of children's sleep and surveys of parents around the world show that about 60% of parents of children from birth to three years old experience the problem of children's sleep in one form or another. Most often, these disorders are manifested in children in long and difficult falling asleep and frequent awakenings at night.
“When will the baby start sleeping through the night without waking up? How to make sure that the baby sleeps all night, falls asleep quickly and without the active help of parents, and daytime sleep is long and of high quality? How to teach a baby to sleep at night without waking up? Almost all parents of badly sleeping children have such questions.
In response to these questions, the topic of teaching children to fall asleep on their own often comes up. Indeed, the inability to fall asleep on your own is one of the reasons for frequent awakenings at night. And children who have mastered the skill of falling asleep on their own sleep at night without waking up.
But how do you teach your child to fall asleep on their own? And will sleep training really solve all of your child's poor sleep problems day and night? In this article, we will analyze the topic of self-falling asleep in detail and you will understand what you need to do to teach your child to sleep through the night.
- What is self-falling asleep?
- Why should children be taught to fall asleep on their own?
- When can I start learning how to fall asleep on my own?
- How to prepare your baby for learning to fall asleep on his own?
- What are the methods of teaching self-sleeping?
What is spontaneous falling asleep?
Sleeping on their own is when a child falls asleep with little or no parental help. Putting down a baby who can fall asleep on his own looks like this:
- Parents perform a ritual of preparing for sleep
- Putting a sleepless baby in the crib
- Kiss him
- They say "Sleep baby"
- Turn off the lights and leave
- Baby falls asleep in his own crib in 10-15 minutes
- At night, the baby wakes up for feeding and immediately falls asleep
- When waking up at night between sleep cycles, the baby moves on to the next cycle on its own
This kind of bedtime may seem like a miracle to most moms and dads who put their babies to sleep for several hours with motion sickness, feedings and rise to them 10 times a night. But we can say with confidence that this is not a miracle, but a reality! Because every healthy baby can learn to fall asleep on their own, and the task of parents is to help the baby master this.
Falling asleep on your own is a skill that can be taught to any healthy baby from the age of 6 months.
Just like you help your baby learn how to drink from a cup or eat with a spoon, crawl, talk, walk, you need to help your child learn how to fall asleep on his own. All toddlers can learn these skills on their own sooner or later, but with your help they will learn them faster and more effectively. Teaching your baby to fall asleep on their own is the task of parents!
Why is it important to teach your child to fall asleep on his own?
Why is it important to teach your child how to fall asleep on his own? Because the inability to fall asleep on your own is one of the reasons for frequent awakenings at night and short daytime sleeps. It's all about short-term awakenings between sleep cycles. All adults and children during a night's sleep wake up between sleep cycles (see "falling asleep - waking up" in the illustration). Only adults straighten the pillow and blanket, roll over to the other side and fall asleep again. Because adults know how to fall asleep on their own, without outside help.
And infants with brief awakenings need help getting back to sleep. When awakening at night, children need to recreate the conditions under which they fell asleep, such as motion sickness or breastfeeding. And if these conditions can only be recreated with the help of parents, then parents will have to get up and help the child fall asleep.
Children who are taught to fall asleep on their own easily cope with short-term awakenings without the help of parents and wake up only for feeding.
It is important to understand that the inability to fall asleep on your own is NOT the ONLY reason for frequent nighttime awakenings. Therefore, before starting training, it is important to understand the reasons and prepare the baby.
When can I start learning to fall asleep on my own?
Don't rush to start learning. One UK study shows that learning to fall asleep on your own before 6 months of age:
- causes stress for both mum and baby
- May cause feeding problems (whether breastfed or bottle-fed)
- The effect of any early learning does not guarantee the absence of sleep problems after 6 months
We do not recommend self-sleep training for babies under 6 months of age!
But you can instill the right sleep habits almost from birth. The first and surest step to falling asleep easily on your own is to use the different ways to soothe the baby , do not accustom to one method of soothing. Let the child sometimes fall asleep with other family members, not only with his mother. Let your baby at least try to find his own way to calm down and fall asleep, so put your baby to bed sleepy, but awake!
How to Teach Falling Asleep on Your Own?
Which method of learning to fall asleep on your own should I choose?
In order to teach your baby to fall asleep on their own, many methods have been created. The essence of all methods is to give parents a clear algorithm of actions and help to clearly and consistently instill in the baby new associations for sleep. It is especially important to follow the algorithm for tired parents who stay up all night and often make “bad decisions” out of fatigue.
All the many existing methods of self-falling asleep can be divided into two main groups: hard methods (or Let Cry methods) and soft methods (or No Cry methods).
Hard or Let Cry methods involve rapid changes in associations to falling asleep, minimal or no parental assistance, and allow the child to cry during learning.
- In the group of Let Cry methods there are 2 main methods:
- Cry-it-out (CIO), "Cry before falling asleep", "Scream": method Mark Weissbluth
- Time checks, Periodic Check Method, Controlled Crying Method: Method Richard Ferber / Edouard Esteville
Despite numerous studies confirming the effectiveness and safety of rigorous sleep training methods, they are heavily criticized by professionals and parents. And the argument is the danger of prolonged weeping. Crying is the baby's only way to communicate with the outside world, and ignoring crying can harm the baby's psyche and cause attachment disorders.
Mild or No Cry Methods advocates the slow and gradual replacement of one sleep association with another with maximum parental help and parental comfort. Among the soft methods, 3 main ones stand out:
- The Shuffle, Slow Distancing Method: Kim West method, which the Sleep, Kid team represents in Russia
- Put Up - Put Down, The Hug-Put Down Method: Tracy method Hogg
- Fading: Elizabeth Paintley method
We urge you to be very careful in choosing the method of teaching your baby to fall asleep on his own. Remember that prolonged crying before bed can develop into a negative association with sleep and negatively affect the child and his emotional state.
The first task of the Sleep Baby project is the physical and psychological safety of the baby. Therefore, we adapt all the proposed methods, taking into account the views of modern psychology on the development of babies, they have been examined by child psychologists and breastfeeding specialists!
We have adapted the Kim West method to the Russian mentality and characteristics of parenthood. We made sure that the Slow Retract method is effective and has passed the test of time, it has been successfully used all over the world for more than 20 years!
Why do we think the Kim West Method is the best method possible? Because:
- Parents do not intervene where the child can cope on his own, and help where he cannot yet!
- Mom or dad stays with the baby in the room until he falls asleep.
- Adults gradually reduce the degree of their assistance until the child masters the skill. The pace of change is individual!
- You can teach your baby to fall asleep on his own both in a separate bed and when sleeping together.
- The method is complex and requires an obligatory stage of preparation!
Be sure to pay attention to our video tutorial "How to teach your baby to fall asleep on his own?" >>
What is important to do before starting the course?
The most common mistake of all parents is to start learning to fall asleep on their own without preparation. Learning to fall asleep on your own without adjusting sleep conditions, sleep patterns and habits will be ineffective! Both the baby and the mother must be ready for change.
What is important to do before starting?
- Get a "green light from a pediatrician" to make sure there are no medical reasons affecting your baby's sleep
- Adjust the sleep conditions in which the baby sleeps
- Choose a sleep and wake schedule that is comfortable for your baby
- Help the baby to get away from negative associations for falling asleep
Choose a time to start training, at least 2 weeks without moving and significant changes in your usual way of life.