As a Sleep Consultant this is one of the questions I see the most. Parents want to be proactive but respect their child’s development (my favorite type of clients!). My answer is always the same: it depends on you. Whenever you want to start, go for it. But don’t start until you are ready for it: know your comfort level, know your child, and pick a method that works for your whole family.
Having said that, I always suggest you start as early as you can, but always with the age appropriate method. Gentle Sleep Training methods, for example, are pretty useless for newborns in most cases. I would go as far as to call them a waste of time and tears. Newborns don’t have the same learning capabilities as older infantsm they go through many growth spurts, and it is sometimes difficult to really differentiate between their hungry, tired, and comfort cues when they are that small.
You can, however, start building good sleep habits from the first weeks. These sleep habits will be worth their weight in hours of sleep (basically gold) in the future.
Newborn Sleep Habits:
1-Work towards setting baby down ‘drowsy but awake.' This does not mean baby is already asleep and or blinking slowly, it means baby is showing signs of being very tired, baby is fed, changed, and comfortable, and it is an appropriate bedtime.
2- Make a bedtime routine. Routines are babies’ best friends. Having a positive routine before bedtime helps them wind down and get ready when it is time for sleep.
3-Do not make nursing/bottle the last step of the routine. By separating feeding from sleep you avoid creating a feed-to-sleep association. A huge percentage of sleep problems in infancy and toddlerhood are because of this association!
4-Have a sleep environment that can recreate the environment they knew in the womb: dark, quiet but with a little muffled noise (for example whitenoise), tight and confining space(ie swaddling), and a place they feel is their own: somewhere they feel loved (a lot of cuddles before bedtime!)
Now here is the catch with newborns: even if you do all of these things, sometimes newborns will cry and not want to sleep. If you’ve done these things and your baby is crying then pick baby up, rock him, bounce him, soothe him, etc… until they are comfortable sleeping. Just try these little things every naptime and bedtime so that they become part of your habits as well as theirs. With time it’ll be a routine that you both enjoy and that is very successful. Don’t stress out if your baby needs a lot of soothing to fall asleep: it is normal and common. As long as you try to teach them individual sleep at least once a day, you’re working towards the right goal.
When your baby hits 3.5 or 4 months, I typically suggest starting real Sleep Training. There are many successful methods, some gentler than others, all with the possibility of success. If you feel like you’ve tried everything and nothing is working, please contact me so we can set up a consult and I can see how I can help you!