As a parent who has sleep trained not one, but two children, I understand that it's not for everyone. It was quite effective for both of my boys, but that definitely doesn't mean it was necessarily easy. Sleep training takes a lot of trial and error, and there are things you learn about your baby when you sleep train that are helpful not only in the "sleep" department, but in other aspects of their lives, too.
We practiced the "cry it out" method of sleep training. Though a lot of people want to point fingers and call this method torturous, I'm here to tell you that "crying it out" really doesn't involve that much besides, well, crying. Actually, this kind of sleep training is more about leaving your baby alone (safely) in their bed for very short intervals of time while they learn to fall asleep on their own, than it is just letting your kid cry for hours on end (a common misconception). Our kids were never crying for more than probably seven or eight minutes at a time, and we didn't practice this method at all while they were sick or during other transitions in their lives.
To say that people equating sleep training to torture bothers me would be a vast understatement. I love my boys and want what's best for them, like any parent does, and I would never intentionally harm them. We paid very close attention to them while we were sleep training them. In fact, although we weren't in the room with them, we were paying such close attention that we actually learned a few things about them that have proved extremely beneficial, including the following:
Whether Or Not They're Actually Ready To Sleep Train
Most experts and physicians agree that a baby can begin some form of sleep training between the ages of four and six months. My partner and I didn't try to sleep train either of our boys until after they were six months old, and though our first son was ready at that age, we quickly learned that our second son wasn't.
Our second son wasn't having any part of being left alone in his own room at the same point his older brother did, and he definitely let us know. Putting him in his crib was like trying to put a cat in a tub of water. He would grab the rails and refuse to be left alone, so just a couple of nights after we attempted to start sleep training, we put those plans on hold because we knew that he wasn't ready.
How Long They Can Go Without Eating At Night
Something that also effects a baby's sleep at night is how much and how often they're eating. A nursing baby typically needs to be fed more often than a formula fed baby, and since you can measure how much a formula fed baby is eating at a time, you can give them a bigger night time bottle that will help keep their tummy full for longer, thus helping them sleep longer also.
So, if you're nursing your baby you might still find that they won't sleep a solid twelve hours a night without waking up for a feeding. Sleep training helped me to figure out a feeding schedule for my both of my sons. Based on how long they were napping during the day, I was able to get them on a good schedule that benefited their sleep at night.
Their Must Haves At Bed Time
I never realized how essential a bed time routine was for a baby until we started sleep training our second son. Since we had a little trouble and put his sleep training on hold, we went about it the second time around with a more solid routine. We would give him a warm and quiet bath, a bed time bottle, and his comfort items when it was time for him to go to sleep. I found out that he loves a silky blanket to hold against his face, and that he hated socks on his feet when he was trying to sleep. Both of these things ended up being incredibly helpful the second time around with him. Now, he still goes to bed with that same blanket, and if we mistakenly forget to take his socks off, he does it himself. Seriously, it looks like a sock bomb went off in his room because he makes his sock frustrations known by throwing them across the room once he gets them off of his feet. It't actually kind of adorable.
What Cry Means What
I couldn't imagine ever willingly fighting sleep, but my second son does it all the time. I guess he doesn't want to miss out on all the fun we're having while he's asleep (insert eye roll here). During sleep training, my partner and I were able to learn exactly what each of our son's cries indicated, and which one merited a visit to his room for his retrieval. If he cried low and slow (more like a whine than a cry), he was just tired, so we would give him more time and he'd typically fall asleep within a few minutes. If there weren't any breaks in between his crying or if they became higher pitched than usual, that's usually because something else was going on. It could just be that he's hungry or wet, or that he isn't tired enough for sleep but, regardless, we know when we need to go get him based on how he sounds.
This has helped with his health, too. It can be difficult to tell when a baby is sick and exactly what's causing them discomfort, so knowing the difference between a tired cry and a more serious cry helps us be more aware of when he might not be feeling so great. We've even discovered the difference between a teething cry and a tummy cry. Just call us the baby whisperers.
How Stubborn Your Baby Is
Sometimes babies just don't want to go to sleep on their own. They might be afraid or uncomfortable, or they might not have any issue at all. They might just like how it feels in their mom's arms more than they like how it feels in their bed, and if they're persistent enough, they'll eventually end up in momma's arms again. At least our son does.
His sleeping habits are hardly the only place where we've noticed his strong will, but that's when we first discovered that we had a rebel on our hands. It helps in understanding the difference in behaviors between him and our older son (one is definitely more stubborn than the other) so that we can better cater to each of their individual needs.
How Much You Miss Them When They're Alone In Their Own Bed
For the first time since our youngest son was a little baby, he slept in our bed with us for a few hours the other night. It melted my heart. I didn't care that I was losing the feeling in my hand from his heavy head on my arm, or that his little body was taking up my entire side of the bed; I was just so happy to get to see him sleep. They don't stay little for long, and though I'm thankful that both of my babies are good sleepers, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't miss them while they're sleeping in their own rooms. Their sleep schedules have benefited our entire family, and they're both in better moods throughout the day because of it but, well, sometimes I miss my babies.
Whether Or Not Sleep Training Is Right For Them
As with any aspect or style of parenting, one way doesn't work for all families. After our first attempt at sleep training our youngest son failed, we considered alternative methods because we understood how very different our boys were from one another.
Sleep training ended up working for both of our kids, but it's definitely not right for every family. Whether it is or isn't right for a family can be determined by trial and error. If you've tried sleep training, but didn't have success, that's OK! Parents are the best judge of what is and is not working for their family. It just happened to be right for our family, and we actually learned a lot about our baby in the process.