Sleep training is a mysterious, often anxiety-ridden, highly debated series of events. Between not knowing which technique to try, and feeling as if every attempt is a failure, all the preparation in the world may not make any difference in how well, or how routinely, a little one sleeps. With so many factors to consider, how does a parent effectively train their baby to sleep through the night? Turns out, understanding the things sleep experts wish people knew about sleep training might help parents train their baby (or toddler) to sleep on their own and through the night faster and with better, longer-lasting results.
It's not uncommon for the somewhat controversial methods, like "cry it out" and "controlled crying," to leave parents wondering what risks are involved. Richard Ferber, M.D., and author of Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems: New, Revised and Expanded Edition led a revolution of tired parents into dreamland with his structured (and now revised) sleep training method called "Ferberizing," which alternates letting baby "cry it out" with comforting them or tending to their needs.
On the other hand, and according to Dr. Dr. Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D, Psychology Professor at the University of Notre Dame, night wakings in babies 6 months and younger is completely normal and "training" of any kind may not be beneficial. Therefore, in choosing to let babies cry it out, there's conflicting opinions on whether it helps, or hurts, babies in their journey to better sleep.
The point is, when it comes to sleep training, parents aren't lacking for options. So, honestly, how is a parent suppose to know what's right or wrong, what's most beneficial or not worth the time and effort, and what will help everyone get a good night's rest? Here's what the experts want you to know:
Babies Don't Just "Outgrow" Bad Sleep Habits
Nicole Johnson, infant and toddler sleep coach and founder of the Baby Sleep Site, says while kids may "eventually" learn how to sleep through the night on their own, although it could take years before they figure out how. She also adds that when sleep regressions hit, it's important babies have their parents' fallback routine to soothe them into some kind of normalcy.
It Won't Happen Overnight
One big misconception is that sleep training happens over a night or two when, in reality, it takes weeks of consistency and patience to see the results. Psychologist Isabela Granic, Ph.D., coauthor of Bed Timing: The 'When-To' Guide to Helping Your Child to Sleep says there are times sleep training is less likely to work due to factors like growth spurts, so it's important to choose when to train wisely. Babies could potentially be a little needier during those times, so patience really is key. Waiting out those rough nights will be worth it soon enough.
The Whole Family May Need To Be Trained
Sometimes it isn't just baby who needs solid sleep routines to follow. As parents, we want to soothe our children when they cry, but often times, as the Baby Sleep Site says, we've accidentally trained ourselves to repeat the same patterns (like rocking or grabbing a bottle) that don't help baby or ourselves. In changing the way you do things for the baby, the baby will start to respond differently.
It May Get Worse (For Awhile)
It's true that most good things come to those who wait. Training for anything isn't always easy, but when it comes to sleep there may be a slight resistance or regression before all your hard work pays off. Of course, it's not like this for all babies. According to the Baby Sleep Site, some babies are "adaptable" and take to the training pretty quickly, essentially progressing each night. Others, however, will need more time an da little practice. In the end and always, it's important to remember that no two babies are exactly the same.
You Need To Know Your Baby
Every child is unique, and it's no different with sleep preferences and tolerances. It's always a good idea to pay attention to your baby's responses and adjust accordingly. The Mayo Clinic points to the fact that some babies are early risers, while others are night owls. This may not necessarily change with sleep training, as your baby is naturally ingrained with their instinctual sleep patterns.
Consistency Is Key
No matter what method is chosen, consistency is absolute key. Even if there are a few rough nights, it's important to stick to the plan to see results. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends continued reenforcement, making nightly rituals priority in order to avoid bad habits becoming a permanent part of your baby's sleep schedule.
There Will Be "Off" Days
No matter what you do for your baby, there's inevitably going to be a night here and there things don't go as planned. Even when all feels lost, parents should keep at it. Dr. Craig Canapari, pediatrician at Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital, agrees, adding that "exhausted parents have trouble being consistent." This only adds to the fluke of a bad night's sleep that could be easily remedied by sticking to the original plan.
You Should Never Sleep Train When Your Baby Is Sick
According to The Baby Sleep Site, there are some cry it out dos and don'ts every sleep training parent should follow. On the top of the "absolutely do not" list is, of course, sleep training your baby when they're sick. In fact, The Baby Sleep Site said parents should avoid crying it out when their baby is hungry, wet, very sick, or in pain."
You Shouldn't Sleep Train A Newborn
The Baby Sleep Site advises parents to "always use gentle methods to help their baby learn to sleep well during the newborn stage." In fact, the site goes on to say that even at 4 months - 6 months, parents will likely want to go for gentler approaches. In other words, parents shouldn't sleep train their newborns.
You Shouldn't Night-Wean & Sleep Train At The Same Time
If you're a breastfeeding parent looking to catch some much-needed extra hours of sleep at night, sleep experts will advise you not to night-wean and sleep train at the same time. The Baby Sleep Site says "doubt about whether or not your baby is crying it out of hunger, or crying because he wants help falling asleep, will eat away at even the best of plans." It's best to tackle one change at a time.