Bringing a new baby into your life is a whirlwind of emotions, from the overwhelming love to the inevitable sleepless nights. As a parent, you’re likely no stranger to the topic of sleep training. We all yearn for those peaceful nights of uninterrupted sleep, but with a newborn in the house, it often feels like a distant dream. You may be eager to find a way to establish a sleep routine early on, and that’s completely understandable. In this blog, we’ll dive into the science behind sleep training, especially for those little ones under six months old, and explore why it’s essential to consider their unique developmental needs during this crucial stage of their life
Neurological Development: In the first few months of life, an infant’s brain is still maturing, and the neural circuits responsible for regulating various bodily functions, including sleep, are in the early stages of development.
Soothing Capabilities in Infants: To comprehend why it’s recommended to wait until six months for sleep training, we need to recognize that under six months, soothing capabilities in infants are often more primitive, such as reflexive actions like sucking.
Gut Microbiota: The infant’s gut is also undergoing significant changes as it gets colonized by beneficial microorganisms. The composition of the gut microbiota can influence various aspects of health, including sleep patterns1.
Nutritional Needs: Infants have unique nutritional needs, and their feeding patterns evolve during the first six months2. Breast milk or formula provides essential nutrients and helps establish a healthy gut microbiota.
Sleep Patterns: Infants naturally have irregular sleep patterns during the early months of life. These patterns are influenced by their developmental stage3 and nutritional requirements.
Why Wait Until 6 Months for Sleep Training: Now, let’s examine why it’s generally advised to wait until your baby reaches around six months of age before embarking on sleep training:
Brain and Body Readiness: By six months, your baby’s neurological system is more developed, allowing them to better regulate their sleep-wake cycles and adapt to a more structured sleep routine.4
Shifting Self-Soothing Capabilities: During the early months of life, a baby’s ability to self-soothe evolves, transitioning from reflexive actions like the sucking reflex to more intentional behaviors like shifting attention.
Nutritional Stability: Waiting until six months ensures that your baby is developmentally ready for longer stretches of sleep at night without needing frequent feedings. This readiness is important for both breastfed and formula-fed babies.
Less Sleep Regression: Starting sleep training around six months provides increased stability in sleep regulation as a benefit in the process. When sleep times are more predictable there tends to be less upset and frustration around initiating sleep both for the parents and infants.
Emotional Readiness: Around six months, many babies show signs of increased emotional regulation, making them more receptive to gentle sleep training methods that prioritize their emotional well-being.5
Although it is encouraged to wait until around six months of age to start formal sleep training, you can still take steps toward sleep shaping. Sleep shaping involves helping your baby feel comfortable and safe in achieving certain sleep goals over time, often with little to no tears involved. We’ll delve into the concept of sleep shaping in more detail in a later blog.
While the urge to establish a sleep routine for your baby is entirely understandable, it’s essential to consider the developmental aspects of sleep training. Waiting until around six months of age, when your baby’s brain-gut connection is more mature and they are better equipped to handle sleep training, can lead to a smoother and more successful transition to a regular sleep pattern. Prioritizing your baby’s well-being and developmental readiness is key to creating a healthy sleep routine for your little one.
Remember that every baby is unique, and it’s always advisable to consult with a pediatrician or sleep expert before starting any sleep training regimen to ensure it aligns with your child’s individual needs and development. Prioritizing your baby’s well-being and developmental readiness is key to creating a healthy sleep routine for your little one.
1. Yang I, Corwin EJ, Brennan PA, Jordan S, Murphy JR, Dunlop A. The Infant Microbiome: Implications for Infant Health and Neurocognitive Development. Nurs Res. 2016 Jan-Feb;65(1):76-88. doi: 10.1097/NNR.0000000000000133. PMID: 26657483; PMCID: PMC4681407.
2. Borowitz SM. First Bites-Why, When, and What Solid Foods to Feed Infants. Front Pediatr. 2021 Mar 26;9:654171. doi: 10.3389/fped.2021.654171. PMID: 33842413; PMCID: PMC8032951.
3. Lokhandwala S, Spencer RMC. Relations between sleep patterns early in life and brain development: A review. Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2022 Aug;56:101130. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2022.101130. Epub 2022 Jun 26. PMID: 35779333; PMCID: PMC9254005.
4. Ednick M, Cohen AP, McPhail GL, Beebe D, Simakajornboon N, Amin RS. A review of the effects of sleep during the first year of life on cognitive, psychomotor, and temperament development. Sleep. 2009 Nov;32(11):1449-58. doi: 10.1093/sleep/32.11.1449. PMID: 19928384; PMCID: PMC2768951.
5. Ekas NV, Lickenbrock DM, Braungart-Rieker JM. Developmental Trajectories of Emotion Regulation Across Infancy: Do Age and the Social Partner Influence Temporal Patterns? Infancy. 2013 Sep 1;18(5):10.1111/infa.12003. doi: 10.1111/infa.12003. PMID: 24244107; PMCID: PMC3828040.