First-time parents are well-aware of the struggles of taking care of a newborn. Young infants wake up to feed (and cry) in the wee hours. After the feeding session, trying to get the baby back to sleep as quickly as possible comes next. Moms and dads usually use the time-tested method of rocking and swaying their baby to sleep (often coupled with humming and soft singing). When the baby is asleep, she’s put back in her crib, and the parent tiptoes back to the bed.
Your goal, however, is to teach your baby how to sleep on his own, and the above routine won't help you achieve this goal. So sleep experts provide a crucial tip: put your baby down in her crib when she’s sleepy but not already asleep.
In a post on her website, Alex Dubief, the author of Precious Little Sleep: The Complete Baby Sleep Guide for Modern Parents, explains, “By the time your baby is 6 months old (give or take 2 months) you need to have figured out how to put your baby down awake and have them fall asleep without your assistance.”
Dr. Agnes Tirona-Remulla, head of the Sleep Lab at Asian Hospital and Medical Center in Muntinlupa, explains, “What happens is when you make the child sleep in your arms, and then you put them down, it wakes them up. When they wake up, the last thing they remember is they were very relaxed in your arms. So, they will keep looking for that situation to be able to fall asleep. And then it becomes a vicious cycle until the mom gives up and makes the baby sleep on her [arms] throughout the night.”
Rocking and swaying until your infant falls asleep is okay. But, as they reach 6 months, they now get the concept of object permanence — things continue to exist even if you can't see it. That's why babies who get used to the rocking will remember, and look for it as part of their bedtime routine.
“Now they are literally older and wiser. They remember you were there and now you aren’t. Every time they cycle through light sleep five to eight times a night, they’re crying out saying, ‘Hey, where’d you go? Come back!’” Dubief told Offspring, a subsection of Life Hacker.
The ideal scenario is when your baby wakes up in the middle of the night, he can soothe himself back to dreamland all on his own without your arms' help.
Of course, putting an awake baby down to sleep is easier said than done. But, “failure to teach them to fall asleep on their own leads to many sleepless nights and days filled with short crappy naps,” said Dubief.
In an article for SmartParenting.com.ph, sleep coach Gabrielle Weil writes that one of the mistakes new parents make is patting the baby's bottom to sleep especially for newborns. "Doing it during your baby's first three months creates a dependency. It can also interfere with your baby's ability to drift off to sleep on his own when his body is ready to do so."
The secret: build a regular sleep routine for babies starting around 4 months old. Dr. Tirona-Remulla says, “As your baby begins to understand the difference between night and day, it’s the perfect time to help improve his sleep routine.”
Start the sleep routine with the most energetic activity progressing to the most calming, she adds. The routine can start with a warm bath that increases baby's body temperature helping prep sleep. Then move on to a massage, and end with quiet time where you sing her a lullaby or read to her.