Sleeping like a baby is a term that makes no sense if you have a baby that does not sleep well.
If that’s the case, you’ve likely turned to Google to see how to make your baby sleep like a baby and came across sleep training.
Then... likely, you came across reasons you shouldn’t sleep train.
Then... your already exhausted mind struggled to compute the contradictions and you and your baby continued to just struggle to survive, hoping for sleep to just come.
Whatever brought you here, I hope to “demystify” sleep training for you and break down your options.
Because you do have options with sleep training. It does not always equal Cry-It-Out.
What is sleep training?
Sleep training is just the process of helping babies learn to sleep independently.
When babies don’t sleep independently it means they’re dependent on someone else to help them get to sleep.
The dependence can be on a pacifier, bottle, nursing, rocking, bouncing, swaying, the car… Anything that they need to get to sleep that they cannot do on their own. When these interfere with independent sleep, they’re called unhelpful sleep props. (Yes, this does mean that if you have an older baby that can reinsert their paci on their own, it may not be a deterrent of independent sleep, per se. But, if they’re fully waking to find the paci throughout the night and/or naps, it is an unhelpful sleep prop.)
Do all babies/children need to be sleep trained?
No! Not necessarily in the formal sense. The thing is, to some degree EVERYONE is sleep training their babies - even the “anti-sleep-trainers” out there - because how we approach sleep (or anything for that matter) with our babies, we’re teaching them what to expect.
But, that’s only a part of the equation! Genetics, personality, and temperament do play a role in how easily babies fall asleep and stay asleep independently. (So, no guilt! We do the best we can with what we know and how we go about teaching sleep is still only one factor in the equation.)
PLUS, what babies need when they’re a newborn is very different from what they need as they grow older! It’s necessary to have far more parental involvement with a young baby!
When do I know if sleep training is a good option for us?
Formal sleep training methods should not be implemented any sooner than 16 weeks from their due date and weigh at least 12 pounds (i.e. Newborns should not be sleep trained!)
You can absolutely start a solid sleep foundation from day one with an optimal sleep environment, healthy sleep habits, and routines, but there shouldn’t be any sleep training method with minimal parental intervention used during sleep times - they’re just not developmentally ready for that independence yet!
Typically, you’ll notice it’s time or about time around the 4-month mark (16 weeks) with the 4-month sleep regression. But, sometimes sleep struggles don’t show up, or you’re not ready to address them, until later on.
But, it’s never ever too late to sleep train! Even adults need sleep training sometimes!
There are so many methods… how do I choose the right one??
Really, all methods boil down to just 4: “no cry”, fading (sit in the room), leave and check (Ferber), and extinction (CIO)
I’ll briefly overview each method, but it’s good to note that all of these methods, when done “by the book”, include following healthy sleep habits and having an optimal sleep environment.
It’s not just the individual method that makes sleep happen, it’s the right method in conjunction with healthy sleep hygiene and optimal sleep space. It should be a holistic approach.
These are the 4 methods explained:
This has the most parental involvement with a major focus on letting the child lead. There’s very minimal pressure from the parent for a change. That minimal pressure comes in when working to get rid of the unhelpful sleep props. The unhelpful props are still offered, but ever so gradually they’re removed as the child’s falling asleep. The idea is to start when they’re asleep, then over time start removing the unhelpful props when the child’s more and more awake until eventually, they don’t need them at all to fall asleep.
This approach, when successful and done correctly can take as little as 6 weeks to a few months, depending on how gradual the implementation and responsiveness of the child.
This is often referred to as the “Sit in the room” approach. This method involves less parental involvement than the previous, but the parent is present during the implementation of the sleep training method and they’re gradually working their way out of the room.
This approach, when successful and done correctly can take as little as 1-4 weeks, depending on how gradual the implementation is.
Leave and Check:
The most well-known form of this method is the Ferber Method, but any method that has the parent leave the child’s room once they’re put to bed and check in on them when stated (whether it’s in timed intervals or based on the child’s reaction) is considered a leave and check approach.
This approach, when successful and done correctly can take as little as 1 week.
Extinction or Cry-It-Out:
I think this is the most well-known method, the one most commonly associated with sleep training, and definitely the most controversial. In this method, once the child is put to bed, there is no further intervention from the parent until either after naptime or when it’s time to get up in the morning.
This approach, when successful and done correctly can take as little as 2 nights to 1 week.
When it comes to choosing the right method
Here are a few things to consider:
What’s your child’s personality and temperament like? Easy-going, adaptable children are, you guessed it, the easiest to sleep train because any method can work for them. So, choose the method that you’re most comfortable with and stay consistent with it. For children that are more on the stubborn side, a method with less parental involvement is often better suited for them.
What does your child need? It can be so hard as moms especially to go from being everything our baby needs 24/7 to them needing us less. But, it’s a good thing! Our babies are meant to grow and be independent of us (even if it seems to happen faster than our hearts can seemingly handle.) So, be sensitive to what your child genuinely needs (look beyond the tears, even) and meet them there. They still need us 24/7, it just looks different now.
What are YOU comfortable with? If you cannot handle any tears, start with the method you’re most comfortable with. This doesn’t necessarily mean that this method will definitely work for your child (because their personality and temperament play a role in their sleep habits), but starting in a place with more parental involvement and moving towards less parental involvement is far more effective and less confusing for you child than having no involvement than moving to more.
I hear you, but… If my child’s struggling to sleep and they’re old enough, do I have to sleep train to get sleep?? Is there another way?
There are a few things to unpack here:
You do not have to sleep train if you do not want to! Your child’s sleep might improve on its own over time, but it’s hard to say without a plan.
Address what’s holding you back from sleep training. Are there preconceptions you have about sleep training that intimidates you? Are you not ready to commit to change? Do you think the only way to sleep train is through CIO?
Remember, you can make a plan that works for you and your family! Sleep training methods are on a continuum, not black and white. Your child’s personality and temperament play a major role in what will work well for them.
For some children, just the change in environment, routines, and forming healthy sleep hygiene is enough to bring about great sleep without using a particular method. Start there.
There’s no rush! Sleep training takes commitment and consistency to a plan. The vast majority of times that sleep training “doesn’t work” is because of a lack of commitment and consistency. It’s ok if you’re not ready, but when you are, give it all you have!
You don’t have to be the only one implementing the plan! If you can get help at home from people that will stay committed to your plan - do it! Sleep training doesn’t have to be done by only one person all the time. There's a benefit in your child learning to fall asleep no matter who’s putting them to bed.
You don’t have to be the one to create a plan! I know this can feel overwhelming, especially with a sleep-deprived mind! That’s why I do what I do! When we work together, I create a personalized plan based on the details you provide me, we’ll walk through the plan together, AND I’ll be with you to support you through the execution of your plan. I’ll be there to encourage and support you and help you tweak any areas that may need adjusting! I take the guesswork out of it while also teaching you to think like a sleep consultant so that as your child’s sleep needs change, you can adapt with them. (But, I’m never far if you need me during those changes, too!) You can schedule a free discovery call here to see if we'd be a good fit to work together!
I hope this demystified sleep training a bit for you! There is no magic pill, no secret to sleep training, or even using a sleep consultant, really. Nor, when done correctly, is there any neglect. It comes down to providing all of your child’s needs in a way that allows for great sleep with healthy boundaries.
Because sleep is not a privilege, it’s a need! We all deserve it because we all need it. I’d be happy to help you get it, too.