When Is the Best Time to Sleep Train My Baby?

Have you ever wondered if there is an ideal time to sleep train your baby or toddler?  I see many posts on chat boards about continuing to wait out bad sleep habits until this “sleep regression passes.”  “Bring your baby into bed with you,” they say, “you’ll both get more sleep!” 

The truth is that most kids do not outgrow bad sleep habits, and bringing your babies to bed with you does not promote safe sleep practices promoted by the American Academy of Pediatrics. I understand that desperate times call for desperate measures but you always want to be safe about it. 

The minimum age to do sleep training involving crying is 4 months.  At 4 months of age, you want to assess a few variables to determine if you and your child are ready. 

This includes factors such as your baby’s hand control, mom’s milk supply,  weight gain, and the 4 month sleep regression.  Beyond 4 months there is no limit to when you can sleep train, but some periods may be easier than others.

The most important factor about the best time to sleep train after 4 months is more related to the parents. 

Most sleep training involves some type of crying.  No one wants to hear their child cry, but without crying, your child will never change the way that she falls asleep.  If you are rocking, nursing or holding your baby to sleep, she’s going to be mad that she’s not getting that anymore and demonstrate her emotions to you with tears. 

It is your job to be able to hear those tears and know that you have met all her other needs of being loved, fed, kept warm and dry and have a plan on how you are going to respond to those tears.  The key to sleep training is being able to stay with your plan.  If you’re on the fence about sleep training and decide just to test it out… let your baby cry for a bit… to see how it goes… you’re not setting yourself or your child up for success.

Parent readiness and ability to be consistent with a sleep training plan dictates when the best time to sleep train will be.

When your child is greater than 4 months, and you are still waking up multiple times per night, such as every 3 hours, or being held captive by a child who will only sleep on you, your quality of life is suffering. 

The balance in the parent-child relationship is out of equilibrium. 

When you are feeling like you can’t carry on the way you are because of extreme fatigue, anxiety or frustration, then you need to do some sleep training. 

Or conversely, if your child is waking up 2 hours or more at night, she’s experiencing fractured nighttime sleep and very likely isn’t getting the sleep the recommended amount of daily sleep that she needs for optimum health. Then you also need to do some sleep training.  You can download my sleep summary by age chart to find out how much sleep your child needs by month. It’s at the end of the article. 

Are certain months easier than others?  Not really.  Very often the benefits of sleep training, such as sleeping 11 hours or waking only once to feed, outweigh the challenge that certain variables might bring.  

I sleep trained my son at 4 months because we were waking up every 2.5 hours.  I just could not wait a day longer. 

However, there is something to be said about “The Magic of 5 Months.”

5 Months is a great time to sleep train because your child has likely been showing signs of the  4 month sleep regression for at least a few weeks. 

With the 4-month sleep regression comes the idea that Mom and Dad exist even when I can’t see them.  Those frequent night wakings and short naps – all because she wants to see if you’re still re-appear even if she can’t see you. 

After a few weeks of this, she’s had time to come to terms with this new phenomenon and it’s time to get sleep back on track.

The other reason I like 5 months is that there are fewer variables at play when you are sleep training.

Factors such as motor development, teething and language bursts will all cause some blips in sleep, usually manifesting in some more frequent night waking or having trouble settling.  When your baby is trying to settle into sleep, she is distracted either by the thought of that new motor skills, such as hovering on all fours or those pending teeth can distract her from settling into sleep. 

This does not mean that you can’t sleep train when you’ve got these factors going on, it only highlights how sleep training can be easier at 5 months when those variables are not at play. 

At 5 months you can have months of great sleep under your belt by the time you Canadians go back to work.   American Moms will already be at work and will want to have some good sleep ASAP!

Really there is always something at play with kids less than 2 years.  They are developing and changing so quickly.

At 8 months there can be many teeth start to come through at once, which can cause early wake ups and night waking.

At 9 months, your child can develop some separation anxiety and want to be closer to you.

At 1 year, molars can start to bud causing trouble settling at night.

And that’s why we go back to looking at sleep training when the timing is right for Parent and Child Unit.  Both parties have a say in the well being of the unit.

Here’s a link to download my sleep summary by age which helps you learn how much sleep and when your child needs it, by month.

Do you like what I have to say?  Come join my Free Facebook Ask the Sleep Expert – Dr. Sarah Mitchell for general questions about baby and toddler sleep. 

Helping Babies Sleep.