My number one tip for sleep training your newborn is definitely not to swaddle your baby and rock her to sleep in your arms like I’m pictured doing above. In fact, dropping sleep props like swaddles and helping your newborn learn to fall asleep on her own are both critically important in the process of sleep training a newborn. In fact, I believe many factors played a part in our family being able to successfully (and safely) sleep training our baby early. But I’m not a doctor, nor am I a baby sleep expert, so I won’t try to tell you every single tip for sleep training your baby.
How To Start Sleep Training Your Baby
Instead, I want to share with you my number one tip for starting the sleep training process. Based on our successful sleep training experience I believe the best thing to start first (as in, why not today?) is to set a specific “bed time” and specific “wake time” and stick to them.
We started “sleep training” our daughter at 8 weeks old. I use quotes because at 8 weeks our daughter was not ready for any type of extreme sleep training, nor were we. But we did begin implementing certain basic sleep training tactics that helped us lay the foundation for later.
We started with setting a strict “bed time” and “wake time”.
How To Set a Bedtime for your Baby
Ask a group of new moms, and most will say their newborn baby doesn’t seem to know the difference between days and nights. It takes time for a newborn’s circadian rhythm to develop, but even after just a few weeks, you can begin putting your baby to “bed” at the same time, every single night. Will your baby know this is bedtime, and not just another nap? Not for awhile, but start the routine, stick with certain behaviors, and begin the habit now.
Here’s what we did to ‘set a bedtime’:
- We picked 7PM for Gemma’s bedtime.
- If Gemma woke up (which she did) between bedtime and our desired wake time, we behaved as if it were the middle of the night.
- That meant: we didn’t leave the nursery. We didn’t turn on lights. We didn’t talk with her. We didn’t play. We fed her, changed her, and then encouraged her to get back to sleep. Some nights this would take minutes, some nights it would take hours.
The point was that we behaved like this was the middle of the night, because it was. Did we expect Gemma to all of a sudden sleep 12 hours just because we “picked a bedtime” for her? No, absolutely not. But we were beginning to lay the foundations for successful sleep training by creating a healthy and predictable bedtime / nighttime for her.
How To Set a Desired Wake Time for your Baby
In addition to setting a specific bedtime and sticking it to nightly, we also set a “desired wake time” as Babywise calls it. Desired wake time (DWT) is simply another way of saying: at what hour will I get my baby up for the day? Gemma was 8 weeks old and close to being able to sleep 12 hours a night, so we picked 7AM. That meant we considered Gemma’s night as 7P-7A, whether she slept through the night or woke up 4 times. Between 7P-7A, she was in her nursery, lights were out, we were quiet, and she was sleeping, feeding, being changed, or trying to fall back asleep.
Here’s what we did with our desired wake time, that worked wonders.
- If Gemma woke up before 7AM (because she did), we’d feed her and change her and get her back to sleep as described above.
- Regardless of when she last fell asleep, we woke Gemma up at 7AM every day, even if she was still sleeping. We turned on lights, opened the blinds, changed her, and put on clothes. It was time to start the day!
- We fed Gemma almost immediately after waking her up at 7AM, every day, even if she had just fed a couple hours before. We usually followed a cycle of feeding ever 2, 2.5, or 3 hours… but come 7AM, our desired wake time, Gemma was fed every day.
I forget which book encouraged trying this, but the idea is that if you’re baby is wake earlier than your desired wake time and being fed, and then also being fed shortly after at 7AM (or your wake time), eventually their bodies will learn, ‘hey I don’t need this early AM feeding because I’m going to bed fed soon.’
Take a look at what happened when we tried this:
Purple indicates being asleep. Yellow icons are bottles. Blue diapers are, well, wet diapers. The red dotted line is 7AM, our desired wake time for Gemma. Four nights in a row, she woke up just shy of 7AM. The first three nights, we assumed she was waking hungry, so we fed and changed her, and then fed her again shortly after at 7A. You can see 4 days in a row that her early AM wake time was creeping closer and closer to 7AM. The 4th night it was just about an hour before her desired wake time, so I shushed and patted her back to sleep until 7A.
I highly encourage this strategy of sticking to your desired wake time regardless of previous wake/feeding, and seeing if it successfully changes your baby’s early morning wake times!
How Bed Time and Desired Wake Time Evolves
For the first couple of weeks I tried to be very strict about putting Gemma to bed at the same time every night, and waking her up at exactly 7AM every morning (or damn close to it). Obviously, this is no way to live forever. My choice was to be super strict about this plan for a couple of weeks, and then become more flexible as needed once she started to show signs of her own routine.
After just a week or two, I began letting Gemma sleep slightly past 7AM. It was remarkable really, that after just a week or two of ‘setting her wake time’ she began waking naturally at this time. Once she started waking up around 7AM on her own, it didn’t matter to me as much if her wake time was 6:50, or 7:25. The point was 7AM (ish) had become her morning wake time.
We also became more comfortable adjusting bedtime by 15-30 minutes in either direction, and we still do that today. Now bedtime is still ‘around 7’ but ranges from 6:30-7:15 based on her day, how she napped, and how long she’s been awake before bedtime.
I love how well setting a bedtime and setting a desired wake time for Gemma worked for us in the beginning. It felt like an easy, safe, and healthy first step towards sleep training, despite how young Gemma was at the time! We did take additional measures like dropping her swaddle and letting her fall asleep on her own, but neither had as big of an impact on her sleep schedule as simply setting and sticking to a bedtime and desired wake time.