To Sleep Train or Not To Sleep Train - Part 2
In part 1 of my “to sleep train or not to sleep train” series I gave you an idea of what sleep training really is and what it’s not or doesn’t do. I also gave you a little backside story, discussed the terms “sleep training” and “self-soothing” and last but not least I discussed 9 myths about sleep training. If you missed part 1, no worries you can still find it under the “blog” tab. Today I will discuss some facts about sleep training, pros and cons (from personal experience), different methods of sleep training and then simple things you can do to establish good sleeping habits from the start, because ultimately we want to get it right from the very start :).
I’m going to get right into it with 7 facts about sleep training:
- Your baby will cry a lot
Off course! Babies cry because they are hungry or wet, but they also cry when they don’t like something, when they are tired (or even worse overtired) and they sometimes even cry for no reason at all. The crying is simply your baby’s reaction to the change in your baby’s sleeping habits. Your baby is not crying because he/she is angry with you, or because you are being cruel, but because he/she is temporarily confused. Your baby is used to being rocked or breastfed to sleep every night and now something is different and you’re not doing it anymore. Just because your baby is crying, doesn’t mean that you are traumatizing him/her, because honestly then my boy must be the most traumatized child on earth since he still screams blue murder when put into his car seat – 2 years later! Also, then every mom who takes away their babies’ dummy or favorite bottle or even weans their child from their breasts are traumatizing their child. Your child crying doesn’t break their bond with you, but what could break a bond between parent and child is an exhausted parent who develops a post-partum mood disorder. The great news is – the confusion only last for a couple of days and before you know it your child will fall into their new routine and will happily and calmly put him/herself to sleep and you will all get a better night’s rest.
- Sleep Training is a short-term solution
This is true on the one hand but also false on the other. It’s true because sleep training doesn’t always work in every situation – when your child is sick, teething, going through a sleep regression or a leap their sleep will be affected and sleep training will not help (in natural fact one of the rules of sleep training is that if your child is sick or unwell you tend to them immediately). Also, a child’s needs changes as they grow older so in order for sleep training to work, bedtimes and naptimes would need to be adjusted on a regular basis and could become quite a bit of a challenge. On the other hand, sleep training also provides you with the necessary tools and knowledge to fix these problems and challenges to help turn it into a long-term solution.
- Sleep training is awful to do
Yes – no parent could find any joy in hearing their child cry for help and feeling helpless. When we sleep trained Aryan, I spent the nights crying just as much as he did – but I knew it was for his (and my own) best will. I knew that he needed this to become the best version of himself – a happy, busy, well-rested little boy and I needed this to become a better parent for him. Just like having to administer medicine to a screaming, kicking child is no fun, but sometimes necessary, this is a no-fun but necessary process and just like having a healthy happy child is the reward for taking the medicine, a happy, thriving child is the reward of a successful sleep training process.
- Sleep training can be tough, especially if you have a busy, inconsistent, on-the-go lifestyle
Sleep training asks for a lot of sacrifices since consistency is key. See children thrive in routine, and inconsistency will be your downfall. There is no “taking a break” when it comes to sleep training since your “break” will have you right back where you started from and will make the process much harder as your confused child tries make sense of the message you are sending. Once you have chosen your method you need to follow through with it – even if it means staying at home over the weekend or heading back home earlier than you would have liked. Consistency is EVERYTHING!
- Dads are a key factor to a successful sleep training process
Especially when a mother is breastfeeding, and her breasts are the “prop” or “crutch”. It’s quite obvious – dads don’t have boobs. Babies often associate mom with nourishment and comfort, so when the mother is in the room but not holding the baby, it’s very likely that the baby will stay awake and fuss. However, when dad is in the room, baby will quickly realize there is no point to staying awake and will then turn to self-soothing, which is the foundation of successful sleep training.
- To have a successful sleep training process you need the perfect sleep environment.
This means a warm (not too warm, but not cold either), dark room with a hint of white noise such as a fan. You most likely won’t be all that successful if your baby’s nursery is filled with light coming from a television screen, baby monitor or even from outside. You will therefore have to ensure that your baby’s nursery have the correct curtains, is as quiet as possible, and has no sources of blue light.
- Expect some shame and judgement regardless of your chosen sleep training method.
It really doesn’t matter whether you are using a CIO (cry it out) or a no-cry method, someone out there will be ready to inform you of how it’s going to mess up your kid for the rest of their natural life. At least now you know what is true and what is not because you will find critics everywhere in your motherhood journey whether you breastfeed or formula feed, whether you co-sleep or not, whether you started solids at 6 months old or earlier and even later, whether you do traditional weaning or baby led weaning and and and and. Focus on what’s best for your child and let the haters hate I guess.
Now that you have a better idea of what sleep training REALLY is and what it’s not we can dive a little deeper. As mentioned previously – sleep training is not some magical cure to a better night’s rest, but if you push through and remain consistent sleep training will ensure a better night’s rest for both you and your partner and baby. Just like anything else in life there are some pro’s AND con’s to sleep training, and I will be discussing this next. Lets start with the negative and leave the best for last 🙂
Cons To Sleep Training:
- Sleep training Is HARD for both baby/toddler and mommy. You cry just as much as your baby/toddler. You are trying to break a bad habit, and that is never easy.
- Sleep training can be expensive – If you do choose to go with a sleep training consultant, sleep training can become expensive. It’s not a one-time fix all problems kind of thing. You would also have to make some changes to your baby/toddler’s room to ensure the environment allows for better sleep habits, all of which cost money.
- You will have to make some sacrifices – With sleep training, routine and being consistent is uber important. Your baby will work on a strict wake-sleep cycle and you need to stick with that. Your life will be planned around you child’s sleep-wake cycles and this can become a tad bit difficult. Especially if you are used to a busy, on-the-go lifestyle.
- There will be regressions – and you will feel like everything was for nothing. Luckily, if you are being consistent, these regressions never last too long, but it can be exhausting and leave you feeling tired and hopeless.
- Babies and children grow and develop all the time and so do their sleep needs, which means their bedtimes, naptimes and wake times change all the time and needs to be adapted accordingly, hence why I said that it’s not a one-time, fix-all problems kind of thing.
- You will be judged – it’s a simple fact.
Pros to Sleep Training:
- Once you have finished the sleep training process you WILL get a better night’s rest. Not all night’s are perfect but it will guaranteed be a lot better than before.
- You do not always have to use a sleep consultant – you can do sleep training by yourself which will make it relatively inexpensive.
- Sleep Training not only helps you teach your baby how to sleep, it also educates you on your baby’s sleep – how it works, sleep-wake cycles, why its important, etc. I have learned so much about sleep throughout our journey that has helped me tremendously with Aryan to understand why he has had a difficult night, or why he is not sleeping well after a hard day. Because of this knowledge I understand and know how to fix problems that flare up all the time.
- You will have a happier, friendlier and thriving child. Sleep is incredibly important for children and once they get a better night’s rest, they will be less grumpy and more willing to engage, play and explore.
- You and your partner will be happier, better rested and less stressed which will help you be a better mother/father as well as colleague/boss/human being.
- You would have taught your baby/toddler a very important skill.
Now that you know the positives and negatives of sleep training, let’s look at the different methods of sleep training. Remember you choose the method that best suits your parenting style as well as your baby’s personality.
Methods of Sleep Training:
- The Ferber Method
I believe this is also the most popular method being used. This method is also known as the check-and-console method. This method entails the parent to start with the bedtime routine and once done place the baby/toddler into his/her crib and then leave the room for a set amount of time, for example one minute. Once the minute is over, the parent will go back into the room and reassure the baby using either words like “mama loves you, it will be okay” or a rub or patt without picking baby up. The parent will continue to leave and come back to check up on them by slowly increasing the time in between checking up (for example once you left you will now wait 2 minutes before going back in, then 3 minutes, etc. but never longer than 10 minutes) until the baby/toddler falls asleep. If they wake up throughout the night you will start the process again. This method can take up to a week to work and taking a sleep log will help track your progress. We followed this method with Aryan as well and we got him sleeping throughout the night using this method. Remember you only check in if your baby is crying.
- Extinction or Cry It Out Method (CIO)
This is the method that sleep training is best known (and judged) for. The idea behind this method is that you want to extinguish the behavior (crying) by not responding to it. With this method you will go through your bedtime routine and then place your baby/child in his/her crib awake and then leave the room. Even experts are not sure what to do after this step, some say you should only enter again the next morning, others say you can check back in after 2 or 3 wakings and others say you can check back in after midnight to console. This is said to be the method that works the fastest. I, myself, am not in favor of this method at all and do not encourage it, but it is entirely each and every parent’s own individual choice.
- Chair Method
This is a very gradual sleep training method and you will need at least 2 weeks for implementation. We initially followed this before going the Ferber method route and it was way more difficult for me personally. This requires you to go through the bedtime routine and then place your baby/toddler in the crib awake, BUT instead of leaving the room, you need to go sit on a chair or your bed next to the crib. Once your baby is asleep you can leave the room, but if he/she wakes you will go back into the room and sit on the chair until your baby falls asleep again. You will slowly move the chair further and further away from the crib until you are finally out of the room. The pro here is that mom and dad is always there BUT this could be harder for your child since you being in the room, but not picking them up can be confusing to them. This method was much harder and way more upsetting for Aryan and here you watch your child cry all the time instead of just hearing him/her.
- Pick up, pat down, and shush-pat
This method is recommended for babies younger than 7 months old. We also tried this with Aryan, but he was 13 months old at the time and this upset him a lot as well. With this approach you stay in the room and calm them without helping them fall asleep. The problem with this method is that when they are older than 7 months this method is likely to upset them more and the picking up and shushing can be over stimulating to them which makes it harder for them to fall asleep.
- Bedtime Routine Fading
This is a wonderful method if you want to minimize the amount of crying, but it can take some time and can be difficult to sustain. With this method you will continue doing whatever you do to put your child to bed – singing, rocking, sushing, but you will gradually decrease the time you spend doing it, until you no longer have to do it.
- Bedtime Hour Fading
This method entails you to put your baby/toddler in the crib at the time he/she usually dozes of (after doing your bedtime routine off course) and then gradually moving bedtime 15 minutes earlier until you reach the desired bedtime. For example if you always put your baby/toddler down at 07:30 but he/she tends to cry or fuss and then eventually pass out at 08:00 then this means 08:00 is their “natural bedtime”. Therefore you will now lay your baby/toddler down at 08:00 and after about 2 nights move his/her bedtime routine 15 minutes earlier so that you lay him/her down at 07:45 and a few nights later move it back another 15 minutes and continue to do this until you reach your desired bedtime.
As you can see, there are a couple of ways to sleep train your baby and you might have to try a few before finding the perfect fit for you and your child. Remember to keep your eyes on the goal and focus on why you chose to do this. Consistency is key – without it you will not succeed. You can also use a combination of these methods for example using the Ferber method combined with the chair method.
Is a sleep training consultant a necessity?
Yes and No. For me a sleep training consultant was an absolute necessity for 2 main reasons: 1. I had absolutely no knowledge of sleep training and didn’t even have a clue as to where to start and 2. I knew that I would never be able to do this on my own. My sleep training consultant carried me through the process – she listened as I cried, she motivated me and made sure that I see the light at the end of the tunnel, she helped me find the correct method for us and provided me with the knowledge and guidance I needed to push through. Sleep training consultants do more than just providing you with a solution – they walk with you and carry you through. They make sure you understand the problem, help you find a solution, teach you how to implement the solution, encourage you throughout the implementation, help you see the results or adjust the solution if it’s not working and provide you with crucial knowledge to solve problems that might pop up later on. So personally, I would say if you can afford a sleep training consultant to definitely use one, but if you cannot that’s okay too – the internet can provide you with all of the information you need. Just make sure that you do not walk this journey alone – find someone you can talk to that will encourage you and even help out some nights, whether it’s your husband, mother or even just a friend.
How can I encourage better sleeping habits from the start?
You can completely avoid sleep training if you get your baby into good sleeping habits from the very start. Remember sleep training is needed when a baby or toddler struggles to fall asleep by him/herself and has developed bad sleeping habits or depend on props/crutches to fall asleep. You can encourage healthy sleeping habits from the start by doing the following:
- Have a pre-naptime, night time routine and regular sleep schedule
Always remember that babies and even kids thrive on routine, structure and predictability. A pre-naptime routine can be as simple as a nappy change, taking baby to his/her room, closing the curtains and singing a song before laying baby down. Your night time routine can be something simple like feeding, bath, bedtime story, bedtime or you can include things like a baby massage after your babies bath, and singing to your baby before bedtime, but its important to be consistent. Follow the same routine every night before bedtime.
- Place your baby in his/her crib sleepy but awake.
Make sure your baby is sleepy but awake before putting him/her down for naptime or bedtime as this will encourage your baby to fall asleep on his/her own, and try to avoid rocking, pushing baby in a pram or taking a drive in the car in order to get baby to sleep as all of these could potentially become “crutches”.
- Do not place your baby into his/her crib with a bottle or sippy cup
Sleeping with milk or juice in the mouth is a choking hazard and can lead to tooth decays and cavities.
- Try to let baby sleep in his or her own bed or crib from the get-go
It is okay to roomshare but bedsharing could create bad habits that will be difficult to break later on.
- Encourage naps
Naps are very important for a baby and you will find that the better rested your baby is the better he will sleep at night. Overstimulated or overtired babies find it more difficult to fall asleep and may be much more restless throughout the night. Try to limit naps to 3 hours max and don’t let your baby nap after 4 in the afternoon or he might not be tired enough for bedtime.
- Swaddle your baby
Babies possess a startle effect that gives the sensation of falling and will cause jerking movements which will then wake your baby. Swaddling prevents babies from startling themselves awake.
- Follow the eat, wake, sleep cycle
This means that your baby will eat immediately after waking from his/her nap or sleep, then play a bit and then go back to sleep and not feed before going down for a nap. Since babies have most energy after a nap they will be more inclined to take a full feeding straight after, but this cycle also prevents baby from associating food with sleep or using food as a sleep prop. A feeding before bedtime is okay but this will then be the only feeding before sleep.
- Make sure your babies room encourages better sleeping habits
“Sleepy Words” tell your baby that it is now naptime or bedtime. Use words or phrases like “mommy loves you, have a good nap”, “night, night mommy loves you”, “It’s dudu time, see you in the morning” when putting baby in his/her crib or bed.
- Don’t run into the room with every sound
Rushing into the room when a baby cries or rustles during the night can encourage bad sleeping habits. Give your baby some time to see if he/she will resettle themselves, often babies wake up, babble a bit and go back to sleep. Try to avoid running in and disturbing the process if you want to help your newborn sleep better. Having a video monitor can be of great help, comfort and relief with regards to this.
All in all sleep training is a choice that a mother needs to make based on their own individual circumstances. I, personally, had no other choice and up until this day do not regret making the decision. I learned a lot throughout our journey and Aryan is definitely a better sleeper than before. Sure, he still wakes super early, sure he doesn’t always “sleep through” the night – he is a busy, curious little boy and I have made peace with the fact that I have a wild child who hates sleep, but he is a BETTER sleeper. I, however, still believe that sleep training should only be done if necessary and never before the age of 6 months (although experts believe it can be done from the age of 4 months). I also do believe that if we encourage better sleeping habits from the start, sleep training would not be necessary, and I myself will be doing things a little differently should I be blessed with another baby one day. I am not saying don’t love or cuddle your newborn or don’t enjoy those first few months, my goodness I want to cherish every single second myself, but in making a few small changes we can help our babies with the most important thing in their lives – good sleeping habits and a better night’s rest! Once again I did not write this series as a way to encourage each and every parent to sleep train their child but rather as a means to educate moms on the topic – not all babies need to be sleep trained! I hope that this series can help at least one confused mom understand what sleep training is and isn’t, I hope that this series can encourage at least one mom not to jump to judgements without knowing the insights, and I hope that this series could show at least one tired, exhausted, hopeless mom that it’s okay and she is not alone.
Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together – Thomas Dekker