If toddler sleep training is difficult for stay-at-home moms, then it’s much more challenging for full time working moms. Experts say you should nap when the baby naps, but when you have to work the whole day, napping is not really on the list.
Waking up several times a night to take care of the baby and then be up by 6 a.m. to go to work is bound to take a toll on your body. Before you know it, you are a walking zombie who can’t differentiate one day from the other.
If this sounds like you, this toddler sleep training manual is for you.
Despite what you may have heard, sleep training is very much possible. In fact, most of our clients have been able to do it in a week tops. The secret is in making a plan and sticking to it long enough to see results. That said, every child is different, and so is every family, so what works for one may not work for the other.
The good news though; the steps outlined here are all-encompassing and can be tweaked a little to fit your family. So, let’s get started.
What is toddler sleep training?
When people hear the term sleep training, their minds often imagine a scenario where you leave your baby alone in their crib to cry until they fall asleep. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
In essence, sleep training is basically training your baby to fall asleep without your help, whether that is breastfeeding, rocking, or whatever else you did to make them fall asleep. The biggie here however, is training them to fall back asleep on their own when they wake up at night.
When should you start toddler sleep training?
The ideal age is usually six months when the baby is old enough to understand the training. However, some parents start at four months due to circumstances, which is about the time your maternity leave ends. Before the age of 4 months, sleep training is not recommended as babies at that age haven’t developed the neurological maturation to handle any form of training. Kids also tend to sleep reasonably well the first few months of life unless they have colic or any other condition disrupting their sleep.
5 Things to do before you start sleep training
As we said, the secret to successful sleep training lies in planning well and going through with the plan. It is therefore crucial to plan beforehand instead of just winging it. So, what do you need to do before you start sleep training?
1. See a pediatrician
As a matter of priority, you must rule out any underlying conditions that could affect the child’s ability to sleep throughout the night. For example, teething, acid reflux, sleep apnea, or food allergies could make a child uncomfortable and unable to sleep. Your doctor will recommend a few ways you can solve this problem so the child can sleep well.
2. Clear your calendar
Sleep training is doing the same thing repeatedly until it becomes second nature to the child. You, therefore, need to stay consistent and avoid any disruption to that routine until it has become a habit. Research shows that a habit is formed after three weeks of doing the same thing.
Consistency is key at this point because you don’t want to keep pressing reset every time.
Clearing your calendar for a week or so is the only way you will be able to pull it off in one piece. If you are working full time, we recommend you start sleep training on a Friday, so you have the whole weekend to adjust. If possible, take a few days off.
Ideally, your home life should be as normal and as boring as possible for a week or two. Don’t plan sleep training right before a new baby comes, a move, or a vacation because that will disrupt the routine you have created.4.
3. Come up with a plan
Planning is the key word throughout this article because failure to plan is planning to fail. There are several sleep-training methods; choose the one that seems more compatible with your situation and set out to implement it. In your plan, you must include bedtime and nap routines that you should start before sleep training so the child can get familiar with them.
You must also take it a step further by outlining exactly what your days will look like, so it’s easier for the entire family to follow it. Endeavor to follow this plan consistently for at least seven days before you try something else.
4. Get everyone on board
As a working parent, you need all the help you can get, especially during this critical time. It’s important to have a meeting with all parties involved to discuss the plan. Ideally, you have come up with a great plan/ routine which you will share with them and let everyone know their role. For example, the nanny needs to stick to the right nap time when you are at work to avoid messing up the night routine. If there are other kids, the dad can take over their bedtime routine for some time to allow you to focus on the baby.
5. Buy sleep training essentials
Sleep training is a battle, and you need a few essentials to get you through it. One of the most important things will be a white noise machine to mask any outside noise from disrupting the child’s sleep. A white noise machine also soothes the baby back to sleep when they wake up at night.
Secondly, you need to ensure the room is dark enough because light will keep the baby awake. Ideally, dark shades for the windows will keep outside light from the room. You should buy a dim light to help you see what you are doing during the night instead of switching on the lights.
Last but certainly not least, noise-blocking earphones for yourself. The one thing you can be sure will happen when sleep training is crying. You will struggle to keep your hands from your crying baby, so headphones come in handy.
Okay, now we are ready to start sleep training.
10 Toddler Sleep Training Techniques for Working Moms
Simple Bedtime Routines
Making and following routines is the one thing you can’t ignore when sleep training. If you have read other people’s sleep training routines, you may be left feeling a little overwhelmed at all the things they do before bed. As a working mom, you must keep your routines as simple and as few as possible because of time.
For example, you can do two or three things tops for the 20minutes you have before bed. Mostly, we recommend taking 10 of those minutes for bath time, with oiling and dressing included. Next, you can sing them a lullaby or read them a story. Rubbing their back gently while you sing softly also works wonders.
The idea of a bedtime routine is to soothe the baby to sleep. This is not the time to tickle, play, or dance as that will stimulate them, which is the opposite of what you want.
So, here is the plan;
- give the baby a bath and dress them for sleep
- Put them to bed with lights dimmed
- Sing them a soft song while rubbing their back/ read them a storybook
- Kiss them goodnight when they start looking drowsy and leave the room.
Do this routine every single day for at least a week
For some parents, this is not necessary. However, we have found that music can play a significant role in soothing the baby back to sleep at night. Every human being, babies included have several sleep cycles and wake up at the end of every cycle. Unlike adults who fall back asleep after each cycle, babies tend to wake up looking for comfort through breastfeeding, a bottle, or a cuddle, and this is the hardest part about sleep training.
When you used to run to them at the slightest squeak, you now have to take a few minutes and allow the baby to fall back asleep on their own. This will not happen on the first or second day, but trust that eventually it will happen.
So, what’s the plan?
- When the baby wakes up at night, wait for 5 minutes before you go to them.
- Ideally, you have put some music in their room, which should soothe them back to dreamland.
- However, if that doesn’t work after 5 minutes, go to the room and gently rub their back. Your presence will make them feel comfortable enough to sleep again, provided they are not hungry or wet.
Unless you are feeding the baby or changing their diaper, you should not pick them up from the bed. The last thing you want is to stimulate them or go back to depending on you for sleep.
Crying It Out
And here comes the dreaded part- the crying. If you thought you could sleep train without going through this part, you are wrong. That said, the crying doesn’t have to be gut-wrenching for you or your baby.
The first thing you must know about sleep training crying is that it’s a defiance move from the child because you have taken something they were used to. Secondly, it is completely harmless because it’s not associated with pain or illness. Thirdly, if you stick to the plan, the baby will only cry a day or three and then get in line with the routine.
So, what do you do about the crying?
- Make sure the child is well-fed, and the diaper is dry when you put them to bed
- Do the usual routine of singing, rubbing their back, or reading a story and leave the room right before they sleep
- When they cry, and they will, wait 5 minutes before going back in, gently rub their back again, say your goodnights, and leave again.
- Repeat his process as long as it takes, waiting 5 minutes before you go back each time and don’t pick them up or turn on the lights
- Wear your earphones when you are out of the room to keep yourself from running back inside to pick up the baby
From experience, the baby will cry about 4 to 5 times the first day before they succumb to sleep. This will reduce the third day, and by the end of week one, they don’t cry for you anymore.
One of the greatest misconceptions of sleep training is that the baby can sleep throughout the night. Usually, they will get hungry in the middle of the night, which they will feel at the end of one sleep cycle. It’s therefore okay to give them some milk or breastfeed once a night. If it’s possible, do it while the baby is still in bed, but you can also pick them up and feed them without turning on the lights or causing any commotion. Let them think they are dreaming about food.
Toddler sleep training is all about CONSISTENCY. You have to follow the routine from morning to evening. This means waking up at the same time (even if you have to wake them up yourself), taking naps at the same time every day, and going to bed at the same time. If they miss a nap during the day for one reason or another, you can just move their bedtime backward by an hour if they will be too tired.