How To Train Baby To Fall Asleep

President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, and others, attend the funeral Mass for Jean Biden, mother of Vice President Joe Biden, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010, at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh,
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Parents of infants know all too well how frustrating it can be when their babies can't drift off to sleep without wailing. Multiply the impact by the number of times infants naturally wake up during the night, and you wind up with parents whose nerves need a break.

But you can actually train your newborn to go to sleep, and Parents magazine Senior Editor Diane Debrovner offered tips on how.

She explained to The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith that some babies are just "good sleepers" and can fall back to sleep without waking mom and dad. However, most parents aren't so lucky. Their infant will cry and cry until he is rocked, fed or sung to sleep.

Some parents actually turn to "sleep consultants" for help. These professionals will come into your home and help you train your child to fall asleep quietly. "It's understandable," Debrovner says. "Parents feel out of control, frustrated, guilty and exhausted. But you don't really need a sleep consultant, You can do it by yourself."

What's the most important thing for parents to keep in mind when preparing for "sleep training?"

"You have to prepare yourself for the fact that it's going to be hard," Debrovner says. "Listening to your baby cry is painful, but it can help to think of it as a health issue.

"Sometimes babies cry when you put them in a car seat or you take their temperature, but you know that these things are good for your child. Teaching your child to sleep is also important. Nobody likes an overtired, crabby baby, and physically, lots of significant things happen when your infant is asleep.

"You hear stories of parents who still have to rub their seven-year-old's back to help him fall asleep," Debrovner says. "You don't want to get into this habit. …Don't be terrified that you're going to traumatize your baby."

The earlier you start "sleep training" the better, Debrovner says. All babies are physically able to sleep through the night by the age of six months, so this is a logical time to begin training.

It may take breast-fed babies a little longer to sleep through the night because breast milk is digested more quickly than formula; these infants are more likely to be awakened by hunger pains. However, you can certainly begin preparing your baby to be a good sleeper much earlier than the six-month mark.

Between six weeks and three months, establish a set bedtime routine and bedtime. You want to try putting your baby in her crib when she is groggy, but still awake. Because most young babies fall asleep while feeding, they are not accustomed to being in their cribs when they are awake.

Try feeding earlier in the bedtime routine, before putting on pajamas or reading a story, for example. If you feed your baby at the end of his routine, he will associate eating and sleeping.

During this time, if your baby cries once you put him down awake, go back into his room after a few minutes, and do whatever you need to do to get him to sleep. If you're lucky, this may be all you need to do to get your baby to sleep through the night without crying.

However, most parents will need to begin official sleep training at between three and six months, depending on the individual child.

Some specific steps:

  1. Start on a Friday: The first two nights are the hardest, so it's good to choose a time when you don't have to be at work the next morning. "Typically, a baby will cry for a total of 45 minutes before falling asleep on the first night, an hour the second night, and 20 minutes the third night," Debrovner says.
  2. Don't Respond to Cries Immediately: Follow the routine that you've established. But when your child begins to cry, wait a little longer than usual to go back into his bedroom.
  3. Don't Pick Up Baby: When you go into the room, pat your baby on the back and reassure him that everything is going to be OK. He may not stop crying, but after you reassure him, you need to gently tell him it's time for bed and leave the room.
  4. Lengthen Your Response Time: There is no hard and fast rule about how long you should wait before re-entering your child's room. The important thing is that you don't spend the minutes in between staring at the clock. When your baby is shrieking, three minutes can easily feel like an hour. Try keeping a log for yourself; write down how long your baby cries and how intensely. This gives you evidence that your child is improving from night to night, and will help distract you.

As hard as it may be to listen to your child screaming, you need to follow this basic procedure until she learns to fall asleep on her own. It should not take more than a week for your baby to begin spending quiet nights in her room, Debrovner notes.

Parents may worry that it's bad to "ignore" a crying baby. Debrovner assured Smith that this isn't true.

"Research has shown that as long as babies get plenty of attention during the day, they will be happier and better rested once they have learned to fall asleep on their own," she says.

As a matter of fact, "Children who still have persistent sleep problems at age 2 or 3 are more likely to have other behavior problems."

The worst thing that can happen, Debrovner continued, is that your baby may throw up due to violent crying spells. But this can happen just as easily during the day. If your baby does get sick, don't panic. Simply clean up the mess, kiss your child and continue your sleep training.

Clearly, sleep training can be brutal on parents. After a couple of nights, parents may become discouraged and begin trying other ways to make the process go more smoothly.

So, Debrovner offers a list of don'ts:

  1. Don't give in after 30 minutes: Picking up your child after 30 or 40 minutes will only teach him to continue crying.
  2. Don't begin feeding solid food: There is no evidence that starting your child on solid foods early helps him sleep through the night.
  3. Don't make bedtime later: Your baby will only be overtired and have a more difficult time falling asleep.
  4. Don't eliminate naps: Again, this only makes your baby more tired and thus makes it harder for him to fall asleep.