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New Year’s Resolution: Change Baby’s Bad Sleep Habits!

I love the first week of January. New year and LOTS of possibilities!

And yes, it’s bitterly cold. As I write this it’s -23°F with the wind chill here in Chicago.

But I get to talk with parents who are excited and READY for sleep!

They knew they wanted to fix their child’s sleep problems before the holidays, but there was too much going on to give it their full focus. Travel, relatives visiting, holiday parties and work obligations requiring perhaps more nights of babysitters than normal meant an environment that wasn’t ideal for sleep!

But now it’s priority #1 because those later bedtimes, skipped naps and jet lag are all catching up. And it’s just gotten to be too much.

Once families make the decision to fix the sleep problems, the question I get asked most often is how long until he starts sleeping through the night?

I don’t blame them – once you make a decision to do something, you want it done yesterday!

In my experience, changing sleep habits takes anywhere between 3-14 days, and depends on baby’s temperament, what breaking bad sleep habits, changing baby sleep habitslingering associations he has from prior sleep training attempts and how closely you follow your plan.

So if your New Year’s Resolution is to change your baby’s sleep habits, where do you start?

1. Figure out what the bad habits are that you’re working with
Is your baby reliant on you popping the pacifier in every 40 minutes? Does your baby need to breastfeed or have a bottle to get drowsy (or in a food coma!) before you can lie her down? Is your baby addicted to motion – stroller, car, bouncing on a pilates ball? Do you need to run a white noise AND a loud fan to lull him to sleep?

Whatever those things are that you know need to happen to get your baby to sleep are the sleep props, aka bad habits. These are the things that you need to stop doing so your baby can start developing her own strategies for falling asleep.

2. What’s standing in the way of getting rid of the habit?
Are you worried about waking an older child? Are you concerned about being too tired for work the next day? Does changing your baby’s sleep habits bring about arguments (with your spouse, mother-in-law, nanny)? Is daycare adamant that it’s their way or the highway and you don’t think your baby is ready for their schedule? Do you just not know how to break the habits?

These are very real concerns, but once you think about the consequences of NOT addressing these habits, then most of these can be worked around by being a little creative. Maybe your older child can visit grandma for a few nights or you can work from home. If you feel like you’re on your own, this post gives 4 tips to help them understand where you’re coming from. If you just don’t know where to start, go here.

3. Rip off the band-aid
Now it’s time to do it. In my experience with the hundreds of families I’ve worked with, those that cut out the sleep props cold turkey have the easiest experience. Sure you can do it more gradually, but it will either extend the process (sometimes significantly) OR baby will get more confused (why did I get a bottle when I woke up that time but not the other times?)

That said, you don’t want to go in blind, without a plan. See #4 and #5.

4. Ease your baby into bedtime
This doesn’t mean getting your baby almost asleep and carefully lying him down in the crib. No, you want to put him in the crib awake!

It does mean that a bedtime routine is super important. We can’t expect a baby who’s been entertained and stimulated by a parent, sibling or toy to get into a relaxed state at the snap of your fingers! It’s so easy to say this isn’t an important step, but it is! Make sure the routine is relaxing and enjoyable for both you and your child and remember that he shouldn’t be going to sleep before you put him in his crib!

5. Avoid overtiredness
Sometimes I hear from parents who tried the “wear them out” technique – keeping a child up longer to get him extra tired so he’ll sleep longer.

I will tell you, that will backfire 99.9% of the time (the .1% is typically older kids who already have great sleep habits and the late night was a one time thing).

Overtiredness does three things – make it harder to fall asleep, increase night wakings, cause early wakeups. None of these are desirable! So make sure you’re watching for tired signs and putting your baby down before your baby gets overtired!

And the unwritten tip #6: be patient. As I mentioned, the first night is hard because you’re changing how your baby is falling asleep, and perhaps she’s never had the opportunity to self soothe before. This is all new, but within a few nights you should be seeing progress and then it’s a matter of practicing her newfound skills!


Do you know someone that would find these tips helpful? Please SHARE!


Image courtesy of Vlado |

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