Advice on baby sleep training techniques including controlled crying, crying down and the core night method.
This method can be particularly helpful when initial feeding problems have been resolved and a baby only has mild sleep association problems or has difficulty falling asleep because he is overtired or over-stimulated.
The technique involves leaving your baby to cry, and although it's very difficult to listen to a young baby cry himself to sleep, it will prevent serious sleep problems in the future.
Crying down with a baby under six weeks usually lasts between five and 10 minutes, although with some babies who have become over-tired and fight sleep, it can last up to 20 minutes. If you find the crying hard to ignore try and wait for five to 10 minutes before going in to your baby.
You can then enter your baby's room and reassure him with a soothing touch or quiet voice. This should be kept to between one to two minutes before leaving him. You should then wait about 5-10 minutes before returning. Try to repeat this procedure until the baby learns to sleep by himself.
The core night
The core night method can be used for a baby over six weeks, who weighs more than 4.6kg (l0lb), has fallen into a good daytime routine and is settling well in the evening, and provided he's putting on enough weight each week. You'll know it's the right time to start thinking about this method when your baby's still waking in the night looking for a feed but not feeding well at 7am.
The core night works on the principle that once a baby sleeps for one longer spell in the night over several nights, he shouldn't be fed again during the hours slept in the course of the core night. Once you've seen that your baby can last a certain length of time without a feed, you can use this opportunity to help him to sleep longer. If he wakes during these hours, he should be left for a few minutes to settle himself back to sleep.
If he doesn't settle, try patting him, offering him a dummy or a sip of water, giving him the minimum of attention. Babies over six weeks who are putting on a good amount of weight each week but who are still waking at 3am should be offered a dummy or a bottle of cool, boiled water. If your baby still won't settle, give him the smallest feed that gets him through until 7am.
If all other methods have failed, controlled crying is the most effective way to sleep-train babies over 6 months.
It is an intense technique and takes a lot of commitment and perseverance but can be very successful in getting your baby to sleep through. If your baby is still feeding in the night, however, it's a good idea to try the core night method to ensure he isn't crying from genuine hunger.
Start controlled crying in the evening on the first day. The same procedure should be carried out no matter how many times your baby or toddler wakes up in the night.
- Step 1 Decide on a regular time to start the bedtime routine and stick to it. Allow at least one hour for the bath, milk feed and settling.
- Step2 Settle your child in his bed before he gets too sleepy. Kiss him goodnight and leave the room.
- Step 3 Allow a minimum of five to 10 minutes of crying before returning to reassure him. Reassurance should be kept to the minimum. You can stroke him or say 'ssh-ssh' softly, but resist the urge to pick him up. Leave the room after two minutes even if he continues to cry.
- Step 4 After the first half hour of crying, the times between visits should be increased by five to 10 minutes each time, to 15-20 minutes between visits.
- Step 5 Continue with the checking plan every 15-20 mins until your baby or toddler falls asleep. Reassurance should still be kept to a minimum of no more than two minutes and he shouldn't be lifted out of the cot.
- Step 6 If your baby wakes in the night, continue to follow the same plan for the evening, gradually increasing the time between visits, until you are going in every 15-20 minutes.
For daytime naps, it is important you start where you left off in the night.
- Step 1 Wait at least 20 minutes before checking your baby and continue to keep visits to him to a maximum of two minutes, with the minimum of reassurance.
- Step 2 If your baby or toddler falls asleep closer to the time he's meant to be getting up, allow 15 minutes in the morning nap and 45 minutes at the lunchtime nap so he won't end up sleeping after 3pm in the afternoon. If your baby's very tired he may need a short nap of 15-20 minutes late afternoon, so he doesn't become over-tired.
- Step 3 Follow the same settling procedure as the first night in the evening, this time waiting 20-25 minutes before returning. During visits on the second night, reassure your baby by saying "ssh-ssh", but don't stroke or touch him.
- Step 4 If your baby is still crying after the first hour, the time between visits should be increased to 35-40 minutes.
- Step 5 If he wakes in the night, you should wait 45 minutes before checking him, and you shouldn't speak to him or stroke him. Reduce visits to one minute.
By the third day, the majority of babies and toddlers will be settling themselves at all sleep-times within 20 minutes and there's no need to check on them.
- Step 1 If your baby backtracks at one of the steep-times and you have to go back to checking him, start off with looking in on him every 15-20 minutes and increase the interval until you are back to 4-5-50 minutes.
- Step 2 Once your child has done a few days of settling within 20 minutes, you should be able to use the crying-down method for getting him off to sleep. Within a couple of weeks, the majority of babies and toddlers will be going to sleep without any fuss at all.