Sleep expert Dr. Harvey Karp shares how to create good sleep habits from Day 1.
*In celebration of World Sleep Day, we've partnered with SNOO to help you get a little more sleep.
I was determined to be the model parent when my daughter was born. I was going to do everything right, and that meant no sleeping in Mommy’s bed. I bought everything I could get my hands on—when she was born I had a bassinet, a travel bassinet, a cosleeper, a crib and a pack n’ play. From day one, though, she slept in my bed. I couldn’t figure out any other way to get some rest. She stayed there (somewhat against my will) until 18 months old, when she fell out of bed. We started sleep training that day, and it made a huge difference. My husband and I asked each other, “Could we have done this sooner?”
I loved cosleeping with my daughter, but I love having my bed back now. My husband and I were curious to know whether or not we could start creating good sleep habits with baby number two (somewhere in the future) even sooner. So we reached out to Dr. Harvey Karp and the team at Happiest Baby to learn more about the science behind the SNOO, and how families can create good sleep habits starting from day one.
What age is best for families to begin sleep training and why?
I recommend training your baby to sleep from Day 1—but I’m not talking about cry it out, which is what comes to mind when most parents think of sleep training. Can you make a baby cry so much she gives up any hope that you will answer her cries? Yes. But that never feels right for a parent…and certainly not to a child. It is much better to train an infant to be a better sleeper using the natural cues that worked so well to keep her soothed before she was born.
I recommend you provide her with these womb sensations: snug holding, rumbly sound and gentle motion. To do that you want to swaddle your baby well, use a white noise CD or app and rock your baby in your arms, or a fully flat swing (the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies not sleep upright, like in a swing, car seat or other little baby device).
In fact, to keep babies safe – and help boost their sleep – I worked with some of the best engineers and designers in the world to create SNOO, a smart sleeper that improves sleep by giving babies the soothing rhythms of the womb all night long. It also responds automatically to a baby’s crying with louder shushing and tiny bouncy jiggles – just like an experienced grandma or night nurse – to turn on a baby’s calming reflex and lull the baby back to sleep. These familiar sensations soothe babies, and as the nights go on, they get practice falling asleep on their own, also known as self-soothing. (Happily, most SNOO babies sleep well automatically and don’t need traditional “sleep training.”)
Do you ever recommend the “cry it out” method?
I have used cry it out with some desperate families of older infants who urgently need sleep. I consider it a last resort. The timing is usually around 3 or 4 months when many babies have a sleep regression—that often also lines up with the end maternity/parental leave, when moms and dads can’t function at work if they don’t get more rest. If you decide to sleep train, there are a few things to make it go a bit easier. First, give your baby plenty of outdoor time. Fresh air and sunlight exposure will help your little one recognize the difference between day and night. Try a dream feed around 11 pm or midnight, to help your baby sleep in longer stretches. Darken the house and turn on white noise an hour before bedtime. I give step by step instructions on sleep training in The Happiest Baby Guide to Sleep: Birth to 5 years.
What are some of the bad sleep habits parents start early that they just can't recover from?
Babies are learning all the time, so they can definitely learn “bad habits,” but the good news is that they can unlearn them, too. By bad habits, I mean learning that they always get rocked to sleep or nursed to sleep. In truth, rocking your sleeping baby in your arms or nursing your baby to sleep is one of the most beautiful things you ever do as a mom or dad. But if you do it every night, and then ease your sleeping baby into the bassinet, they become dependent on you to put them to sleep.
You can let your baby fall asleep in your arms and help her learn to be an independent sleeper with the wake and sleep method. It is simple and gentle and effective. After you rock your newborn to sleep, all you have to do is jostle her when you lay her down, so she wakes ever so slightly…and then falls asleep on her own. In those few seconds of wakefulness, your baby learns to self-soothe. The earlier you start—and the more consistent you are—the better it works.
There’s no way I can do “cry it out.” Anything gentler?
Ignoring your baby’s nighttime cries goes against every parental instinct we have. That’s why I recommend establishing healthy sleep habits early on…it’s easier on the baby, it’s easier on you. But if you’re hearing about these gentler methods too late and you feel you need to sleep train, I can tell you about 2 gentler options than going “Cold Turkey” – the most extreme sleep training you put your infant in bed, say “good-night,” and then leave, ignoring all cries until the morning.
You might consider a variation called longer-and-longer, or Ferberization, named for Dr. Richard Ferber who popularized the method in the ‘80s. The goal of this method is to teach your baby that you love her and care about her feelings, but that you’ve made a clear decision not to relent to her demands at bedtime. To do it, put your baby in bed, turn on the white noise, say “Night-night” and leave the room. Then if she persists in crying, you check on her, in increasing intervals (after 3 minutes, then 5, 10, 15, etc.) Each time say something sweet and loving, like “Night-night, night-night. I’ll kiss you in the morning light,” then leave.
For parents who want to avoid any bedtime crying, I recommend the Pick Up/Put Down method, also called the No-Tears Solution: It takes longer (30 to 90 minutes per night) and more days (4 to 14), but it can be very effective and less traumatic.
To do it, place your little one in the crib…but if she cries, pick her up and comfort her. Acknowledge her feelings in quiet tones: “I know, I know, honey. You say, ‘Mommy, pick me up now!’ It’s hard falling asleep, huh, sweet pea?” Once she calms, put her down again. If she cries, pick her up…and repeat this cycle over and over. Do as little rocking, patting, talking, or feeding as you can, to reduce her dependence on these more demanding cues.
*This post was sponsored by SNOO. Thinking about buying a SNOO? Sign up here and receive $125 off your purchase!