5 Things to Avoid When Sleep Training Your Baby

Even though the saying “sleep like a baby” is common, getting a real baby to sleep through the night can be hard. Many parents make common mistakes when trying to get their kids to sleep, even when they mean well. Things to Avoid When Sleep Training Your Baby

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Things to Avoid When Sleep Training Your Baby

For example, some parents make the all-too-common mistake of picking up their baby whenever it makes a sound. Heather Wittenberg, Psy.D., a child psychologist on Maui, says, “Parents may feel bad about letting their baby cry.” “Many people say, “I’m not going to be like my mother and put my baby in the crib, shut the door, and ignore her cries.” But some people go too far and think it’s terrible for babies to cry at all. Then we have trouble going to sleep.”

The truth is that sleeping is a skill, so babies (and parents!) can learn how to do it. Here are five common mistakes parents make when trying to teach their babies to sleep, along with experts’ tips on fixing them.

How to Put Your Baby to Sleep: Feeding or Rocking

It’s easy to fall into this pattern because, at first, all you do is feed and rock your baby (besides changing diapers, of course). Since newborns need to eat every two to three hours and their sleep-wake cycles are so messed up, they often fall asleep at the end of a meal.

While your baby is getting used to life outside the womb, it’s okay if he or she falls asleep after eating. After the first three to four months, you might want to change how your baby sleeps. Ari Brown, M.D., author of Baby 411, tells Parents that babies don’t know how to calm themselves in the first few months and don’t get into bad habits. “But by the time they are four months old, their brains have grown up and they start to develop sleep schedules.”

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If feeding or rocking is the only way to get your child to sleep at this point, it could be a problem. “Babies wake up two to six times a night on their own,” says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., author of Sleeping Through the Night. This means that whatever you do to get them to sleep at bedtime, you’ll need to do the same thing when he wakes up.


Set up a routine for bedtime to help your baby connect new things with sleep. Dr. Mindell says that if the same thing happens every night, your baby will learn that it’s almost time to sleep. Some things you could try while making your new routine are:

Bathe them in warm water.
Put on soft pajamas
Read a story to them in a calm voice.
Lessen the light
You should put your baby in their crib before they fall asleep so they learn that going to sleep means being in their crib and not in your arms.

When your baby cries, you pick them up

When your baby cries, you want to calm them down right away. And for the first six months or so, you should go to them when they cry at night, so they know you’ll be there and you can meet their needs. But after a while, it can be helpful to give them a few minutes to see if they can calm down.

As babies age, they start to see connections between what they do and what happens to them. Dr. Wittenberg says that a 9-month-old will remember that she cried last night, and Mommy let her play until she fell asleep.


Check off each item on your list: Have they eaten? Thirsty? Wet? Sick? If your baby is over six months old and only cries when you leave, Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., a Lake Forest, Illinois psychologist, suggests the following method. (It’s based on the Ferber Method, a way to teach a child to sleep pediatrician Richard Ferber created that, M.D.):

Set a five-minute timer before you leave the room.
If your baby is still crying after five minutes, reassure him or her that everything is fine.

Start the timer over.

Check on your child every five minutes until they’re asleep.
Set the timer for 10-minute intervals the next night. …et cetera. By the second or third night, your baby should find it easier to fall asleep. Dr. Lombardo says that crying is part of how babies learn to calm themselves, and it doesn’t mean you’re not paying attention to them.

Extending Night Feedings

Your baby gets used to the midnight buffet, just like a passenger on a cruise ship, even though they no longer need the extra calories. Dr. Brown says that he also gets used to waking up at the end of a sleep cycle and thinking that he needs to suck and eat to go back to sleep.

You probably find it easier to get out of bed and feed them than to listen to their cry. But once your baby is six months old, they don’t need to eat in the middle of the night, even if they still want to. This is as long as they’re growing normally and your pediatrician says it’s okay. And they probably won’t give up. Loudly. “When you give in, it just makes the sleepless nights last longer,” Dr. Brown says.

Not only will late-night snacks keep you from sleeping, but they can also make it hard for your baby to eat during the day. “It turns into a vicious cycle,” says Dr. Mindell. “Your baby gets so many calories at night that he doesn’t eat much during the day, so he’s hungry again at night.” If you keep feeding your baby after hours, it could start to get in the way of giving them solid foods.


After dinner, close the “kitchen” to encourage your baby to eat more during the day. To get there, you can gradually cut back on how many ounces you give them or how long you nurse them at night. Or just stop. If you’re breastfeeding or chestfeeding, let the parent who isn’t feeding the baby put the baby back to sleep for a few nights.

4: Taking naps on the go

Having your baby sleep in the stroller or car seat can make it easier for you to run errands, but Dr. Mindell tells Parents that babies who are used to sleeping while moving may find it hard to fall asleep in their crib. That can make it harder to teach your baby to sleep at home. Also, catching sleep on the go means that naptime won’t be the same every day. “Parents tend to think they can just let the baby sleep when she wants to, but it’s important for them to understand, ‘This is my sleep time and this is my wake time,'” Dr. Lombardo says.


Learn how much sleep your baby needs and when and how long they need to nap. Then, plan your day so they can nap as often as possible in their crib. Dr. Mindell says that you should do it slowly if they don’t want to change. “Try to get your baby to fall asleep in the crib for one nap a day, and then try to do it for all naps.”

Keeping your child up late

You might think that letting your little one stay up until their eyelids are drooping would help them sleep longer and better, but putting them to bed too late can have the opposite effect. “Babies get too tired if they stay up too late,” Dr. Mindell says. “Then it takes them longer to fall asleep and they wake up more often.” Even though your newborn may go to bed later than usual because their sleep patterns are off, by the time they are 3 or 4 months old, they are ready to go to bed at 7 or 8 p.m.


If your baby sleeps early in the evening, you can turn that into bedtime: “Bathe your baby, put them in their pajamas, and call it a night,” says Dr. Mindell. You can also move this new bedtime forward by 15 minutes every few days until it’s about 7 p.m. night! Things to Avoid When Sleep Training Your Baby

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