So there has been an article by The Wall Street Journal that has been going around with the title “Can You Sleep Train Your Baby At 2 Months?”
The article reported that prominent paediatrics practice in New York and Los Angeles are saying that babies as young as 2 months old can be taught to sleep through the night by being left to cry.
Needless to say, I felt quite sick reading it. This is not a post to judge parents who used this technique on their 8 weeks old baby. I know there are also researches that back up this crying it out technique and that there are no long term damages to the child. I’ve also read plenty of researches that support non cry it out ways that can also help newborns sleep better.
So there are definitely two sides to this, we all have our own different and unique parenting style, so there’s no judgement whatsoever for those who tried cry it out at 2 months old, and saw that it worked for them.
I’d like to offer my own thoughts on this newborn sleep topic and some practical ways that can help you with some kind of expectations (if you’re currently pregnant) or if you just had a baby a couple of weeks ago. And there’s no leaving baby to cry involved.
The number one principle to understand newborns is that everything about a newborn is connected.
How well your baby sleeps depends on how well he feeds, how much sensory activation he’s getting and how responsive you are to his basic needs.
If you’re breastfeeding, it’s very important to get a good fit or latch for effective transfer of milk to happen. Because we are all different in shapes and sizes, (so are our breasts) it’s best to experiment a few positions where both you and your baby are most comfortable or if you’re struggling, get a lactation consultant to help you determine if baby is latching well. One other thing that’s important to note is the cream or hindmilk is the one that’s responsible to satisfy the baby’s hunger. If you see your baby comfortably feeding and he pulls off at the end of the feed with a “milk drunk” look, then it’s safe to say that he had a good meal! So sleep will be much easier when he’s full.
If you’re bottle feeding, it’s a little easier because you can see the milk being emptied from the bottle and you are more certain that your baby is fully fed. One essential tip is to pace the feeds. Meaning, your baby is actively sucking the milk out from the bottle instead of being “poured” down into his throat with gravity. This way, you are following the baby’s lead to feed.
Here’s what to do*:
- Hold your baby in an almost upright position.
- Gently lay the bottle teat over his upper lip and nose.
- Wait for his gape reflex.
- Gently place the teat against his hard palate (the roof of his mouth) when he opens his mouth.
- Make sure his chin is not touching down on his chest. His head and neck to be extended back into drinking position.
- Offer lots of eye contact and communication.
- Watch for baby’s cue to take a break (perhaps fifteen to twenty swallows) then leave the teat in his mouth but tilt the bottle downwards.
- Lift the bottle back up to horizontal when he starts to suck again.
- Finish the feed when he no longer starts sucking again after taking a break.
*with reference to the The Discontented Little Baby book by Pamela Douglas.
2. Sensory activation
In the first sensitive 16 weeks of life, the baby’s nervous system is developing very quickly. In order for the neuron cells to transmit signals to different parts of the body, all the sensory points has to be stimulated for the brain to learn different sensations.
Young babies need to be held constantly because they are hungry for the sensation of visual, touch, pressure and movement, on top of feeling secured in your arms.
It’s quite unhealthy when young babies are left alone in a dark room or not carried for long periods of time. The same goes for harsh, repetitive background noises like the TV constantly on, watching screens that has rapid motions or having too many guests trying to communicate with the young baby for prolonged period of time.
Some suggestions for age appropriate stimulation are rocking or being carried or worn in slings, warm baths, music and going outdoors.
As much as they’re able to process a healthy sensory diet like the above and be in the action with your lifestyle meeting friends or doing the groceries, the more satisfied they will be and hence, make it easier for sleep to happen.
Maybe we’ve been told too many times not to overstimulate a baby, so we try our best to tone it down by not taking our baby out and keep them in a dark room for all naps. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why they wake frequently in the night to seek and satisfy their sensory stimulation.
3. Don’t fight what is natural to your baby
At this delicate age, being rocked, swing, nursed, carried and soothed to sleep is absolutely normal. If you find that you have to put your baby to sleep at all naps and night sleep, don’t worry about it. They don’t need to be “taught” to sleep at all.
Sleep is normal physiological process and you can’t make a baby sleep. They will sleep when they need to if you trust the circadian rhythm and the sleep/wake homeostasis (the two key ingredients that help us to be awake and sleepy) to do their jobs.
I know it might feel very inconvenient for you to be doing it for your small baby all day long, but believe me they are not being manipulative, difficult or spoilt.
Here’s what’s helpful to know:
- It’s normal for late bedtime 9-10pm for this age
- They usually can withstand being awake for about 90 mins to 2 hours before feeling tired and needing to nap again
- 30-45 minutes nap is developmentally normal
- They spend more time in REM sleep, where growth usually takes place
- If they’re napping for more than 2 hours per nap, it’s time to wake them up to not disrupt the sleep/wake homeostasis or pressure
- Wake them up at about the same time every day (give or take 30 minutes) to set the circadian rhythm
There is really nothing that you can do “wrong” in the first 16 weeks of life. I truly believe that if you’re attuned to your baby’s needs and responsive to them in the first 4 months, chances are there will be less crying and fussing overall.
To me, there is nothing that can’t be “fixed” later on. It’s never too late to help your baby sleep better even when he’s already a toddler.
So enjoy your little one, be curious about him, get to know each other, learn all his cues and respond well to them.