Independent Sleep Practices for Sleep Training Infants

Sleep training is a hot topic in the mummysphere. If you go on any Facebook or Instagram post regarding this topic, you are bound to be buried in fierce posts in both directions. 

I believe in safe and fair sleep training practices at the right age and for the right children. I believe that good independent sleep habits form early. I also believe that fair and safe sleep training practiced, in my house, led to better and more sleep for everyone – especially baby. Good sleep for my children meant a lot for improved happiness, behavior, development, eating habits, and the overall health of the child (and everyone else). Frankly, it was less crying, not more (from, er,  ”cry-it-out”). 

Here we will start with “Independent Sleep Practices” which can be practiced over the first few months of baby’s life before going down any sleep training path. Practicing Independent Sleep Practices is part of sleep training and can lead to a well-rested child that you do not then have to method sleep train. Read more here about method sleep training. 

Let’s dive in to Independent Sleep Practices you can start today… 

Laying Your Baby Down Flat and Alone to Sleep

Although everyone loves snuggling a sleeping infant, and I would also encourage this (it is so special and sweet!) – I do believe that this practice has to be balanced out with regular independent sleep as well. That means more often than not, your new baby should sleep flat in their crib or bassinet, alone. Not rocked to sleep, not carried around for sleep, not nursed to sleep. 

Allowing Your Baby to Learn to Soothe

Whether you use a pacifier or not, your child should learn to be soothed in other ways other than being held and carried to sleep. Pacifiers, swaddles, sound machines – I am all for aids but not for aiding. I realize these are not pure independent methods but they are independent of you, which is key over time. Don’t become a sucker for suckers however – if the pacifier falls out – let is stay out. Otherwise, you’ll be put it back in all night long. (Read more here on swaddles or other products for great sleep)

Staying Away from the Rock

Try to avoid rocking your baby to sleep. Sure, sometimes we have to do it. But more often than not, your baby should fall asleep laying still and by themselves. Allowing them to learn this will take time (and effort on your part) since they are so used to swaying around in utero. Have patience. 

Put Your Baby Down Awake

End of advice. Your baby can’t learn to go to sleep on their own if you put them down already sleeping every time. Rocking, singing, holding, nursing and wearing your baby to help them fall asleep are all “sleep crutches.” 

Nursing to Sleep is a No-No 

Ah, this is one is super hard, especially for the first few weeks it really is unavoidable for a sleepy newborn. But as the weeks go on, actively participate in your baby’s growing abilities to self-sooth – this means not allowing your wee one to fall asleep on the breast or bottle. If they do fall asleep nursing, gentle stir them awake before putting them down so they know they are not nursing to fall asleep. Allow them the opportunity to begin understanding that nursing or feeding to sleep won’t be required for their future of babyhood – or you’ll spend a lot of sleepless nights aiding that sweet nodding-off feature.  

Don’t Wear Your Baby All the Time

The attachment method isn’t a fan of this one, I am sure. But wearing your baby all the time will make it difficult for them to gain skills to cope with being on their own in a crib or bassinet. Who wouldn’t love being held and worn all the time? But baby’s learn to fall asleep with that comfort and it can be a hard thing to get away from. 

Steer Clear of Bed-Sharing

This is hot. I know there are millions and millions of people who will fiercely and adamantly proclaim bed sharing with an infant is the way to go and their children are healthier and happier because of it.

I, myself, believe in the regulations of safe sleep practices –  an infant child on a flat, breathable surface without loose items like blankets and pillows, by themselves and on their backs.

Bedsharing, as sweet as it sounds, gives me nightmares for both the anxiety it induces, the risks involved and the disruption of sleep for everyone. Staying close to your child at night can include a sidecar bassinet or a bassinet or crib nearby – it does not have to be physically in the same bed. Bedsharing can also lead to attachment habits that are hard to get away from as you do grow to want your own space. 

Make Sure They Have the Right Diapers

12-hour diapers and/or diaper boosters go along with for baby’s trying to make long-stretches of sleep. If your baby isn’t going #2 during the night and isn’t bothered by the wetness, try skipping changes at night that stir them from deep sleep. Stay away from any and all disruptions you can.

Use Your Tools

Independent sleep practices are manners and methods for your child to learn to sleep well (fall asleep, stay asleep or go back to sleep) apart from the help of their caregiver. That doesn’t mean you can’t use the tools at your disposable like pacifiers, swaddles, sleepsacks, sound machines, and dark environment to help aid their newly forming abilities. 

Give Them A Moment

Hold yourself back from rushing to pick-up baby as the slightly peep you hear. Baby’s make a lot of noise. Let them make noise.

They sometimes even need a few seconds, a handful of moments, to just let out some whimpers or light cries before falling (back) to sleep. Maybe they are just mad for a second or two they lost their pacifier, or that they woke-up without meaning to. Allow your child a few moments before scooping them up to see if they find comfort without you. 

Remember That Holding is Not Always the Golden Ticket

Before hurrying to swoop in and lift baby off their bassinet or crib mattress try gently patting them or touching them while they lay down. My little baby C always liked if I slightly rolled him to one side and patted his behind for a moment or two before allowing his body back to its original position (flat on his back). Maybe it was gas?! 

Try lightly rocking the edge of the bassinet or making “shhh” sounds with your voice, letting them know you are there. Gentle interventions go along way! Independent sleep isn’t a cruel technique that leaves baby to fend for themselves early on! Instead think of it as small steps towards big changes in their abilities and skills. Try to use as gentle, small and subtle methods to help them find comfort to sleep. 

Paying Attention to Diet 

If you are pumping or nursing, consider your diet. Are you consuming caffeine (a lot or a little) and dairy products? Some experts will argue that this will affect your baby’s sleep and digestion (gas is tough on babies as their insides develop in the outside world!). Consider cutting out caffeine and dairy products or reducing them significantly. This may or may not affect your baby’s sleep in a positive way – people argue in both directions – but cutting it out definitely won’t hurt it! 

Filling ‘Em Up

Allow your child to eat (nurse or bottle feed) as much as they want for those last few feedings before bedtime. Try to save the last feeding to be the biggest meal and fill their tummy up for the night. 

Creating Routine 

Offer your child a sense of pattern and routine. Sleep cues are real. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same every night but there should be a handful of things they can count on as cues it is bedtime. Perhaps it is bathtime, lotioning, infant massages, night lights (instead of bright overhead lighting), a sound machine, a story or a song, pajamas and cuddles. Whatever order and items you plan to include or exclude in your routine – try to offer things that are easy enough for your to repeat generally most nights. Being too specific or militant will make it hard for others (like your spouse, grandparents or caregivers) to copy the same pattern and could also make it tough on you every night to be able to accomplish the exact same, long, drawn out routine. Just do your best. 

Make it a Safe, Secure and Comfortable Safe

Your baby needs the right environment for sleep, like we all do. If you can, keep baby’s room cool and comfortable—between 65 and 70 degrees. If your baby’s room cannot easily be darkener with shutters or shades already in place, explore your options for making the space darker. 

Remember It’s Not Going to Work 100% of the Time

.Your baby is going to go through phases – growth spurts, sleep regressions, developmental milestones. Changes, like mom going back to work during the day or a new environment, might disrupt some of their habits and patterns. There are times we all have to do whatever we  have to do to sleep – I have slept in my toddlers cribs more than a handful of times due to sheer desperation. But try to get back on the wagon as quickly as possible. You aren’t doing your child any favors by taking away opportunities for good, deep sleep they can reach on their own. Give them the tools they need so everyone can reach a good night’s rest on a normal basis. 

There is a chance that a lot of the work the do here leads to a good sleeper without having to go down a “method sleep training path”. Your baby, by nature might also not need a devoted sleep training regiment and you totally lucked out. That’s great! It is a total myth to think that sleep training has to be a harsh, cruel, crying, screaming fiasco.

Whether a few small techniques you pick up here or elsewhere work – or your baby naturally falls asleep easily on their own – you may have found a simple path to a restful baby! If you need to read a bit more about your opinions, visit my post here. 

For more on sleep with little ones:

How to Sleep Train Your Baby

Sleep Sacks and Swaddles for a Good Night Sleep

10 Things You Need for Best Baby Sleep

Sleep: How to Get Your Infant on a Nap Schedule

Sleep Training: The Weissbluth Sleep Training Method

Cry It Out Sleep Training (CIO)

How to Get Sleep with a Newborn: Managing Sleep & New Baby

How to Get Your Young Kids to Share a Room

How to Get Some Sleep: Night Shifts with a Newborn

Keeping Sleep On Track Throughout the Holidays

How to Pick the Best Bassinet