When parents and their child's pediatrician decide it's appropriate for baby to sleep through the night without waking to feed, there are often questions about how exactly to transition to these long stretches of sleep. Here are our 3 most common questions and answers regarding helping baby to sleep through the night:
1. Why does my baby wake through the night when I know s/he is not hungry?
All humans wake through the night and babies are no different! While there are many reasons to awaken, wake-ups usually fall into 1 of 2 categories: physical and habitual.
- Physical: Illness, teething, heavy diaper or tummy pain: When physical things happen outside of baby's control parents need to step in to help. For example, if baby has congestion or ear infection; laying horizontally makes fluid in the inner ear or chest settle and makes getting comfortable very difficult for baby. Responding to baby quickly, and for as long as baby needs is recommended for any wake ups due to pain or discomfort. Physical wake-ups are part of parenting and any kind of sleep training needs to wait until baby is in healthy place.
- Habit – for healthy babies who have never slept through the night (and we are not saying whether they should or shouldn’t) wakefulness overnight usually means they are simply repeating their 3-4 hour daytime schedule of being awake for a few hours and then going to sleep for a few hours. For parents wishing to increase baby's sleep time in this case, a gentle weaning of overnight feeds and increase in daytime feeds can help. Here's what we mean by that.
2. How do I know when to get rid of the swaddle?
When baby is rolling onto her stomach, the swaddle becomes a hazard. When baby is consistently busting out in the late 3rd month or month 4, he's telling you he does not need the swaddle anymore. To eliminate the swaddle parents can simply go cold turkey or take a gradual step-down approach where we allow one arm out for several nights, then both arms and then eventually no swaddle at all.
3. How do I eliminate overnight feeds/the pacifier?
Anytime we are helping baby -and well, anyone really- learn a new way to do things we have two choices: cold turkey or gradual removal. Cold turkey certainly cuts to the chase, but the gradual approach can be much more gentle and less jarring for baby.
With feeding, this means that we can eliminate milk/formula altogether between certain hours or we can gradually wean the amount taken in during these hours. For nursing moms, gradual weaning is essential…it’s more gentle for baby and also gives mom’s body time to adjust to needing to produce less milk overnight.
When it comes to the pacifier we can “cold turkey” it or gradually remove the pacifier after less and less time per pacifier “session”. For sleep training, it’s typically recommended to remove pacifier when baby stops sucking for a few moments, repeating this removal over and over until the pacifier is eventually not needed.
Whether baby room shares, sleeps in a crib, uses a pacifier or does any number of sleep behaviors, there are a LOT of right answers to what works to make a happy and peaceful family. Let us know what works for your family on Facebook or Twitter.