If you’re like most parents, you’re searching for ways to get your baby to sleep more. You’re probably sleuthing for books, scrolling blogs, and getting lost in the wormhole of sleep training debates. We know, because we’ve been there just like you have, supported families as they’ve gone through it, and now offer support to help you weed through all the information (and misinformation) that’s out there about sleep training.
Is sleep training for me?
Such a good question. Only you know if sleep training your baby is right for you and your family. There is no right or wrong answer here. As doulas we support families no matter their choices- sleep included! We work with families who choose to co-sleep for months and even years, as well as families that want to start working on sleep conditioning from day one. We will not tell you what’s right for you! In fact, we take a strong stance against shaming parents for their sleep choices! If you’re on the fence about whether or not sleep training is the right choice for your family here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Is the current sleep situation serving everyone in the household?
- Am I able to be the parent I want to be right now with the amount of sleep I’m getting?
- If I didn’t feel guilt from wanting more sleep, would I be more likely to do something intentional to help my baby (and me) get more sleep?
- Is anyone’s mental health being impacted due to lack of sleep?
- Is this what I want?
If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, doing some shaping of your baby’s sleep may be helpful!
Most families come to sleep training when their original plan just is not working for them and/or their baby anymore. Or, they know they have specific needs that must be met for their own lifestyle. Often, they’ve tried several different ways to get their baby to sleep longer stretches, to take longer naps, or to sleep through the night, but they ended up confused by the numerous books and blogs. They are ready for that next step – support from a sleep consultant or coach. Specifically, families that want to work with us want the in-person guidance and support. They are tired of trying to go it alone.
What Method Should I Use to Sleep Train My Baby?
One of the most confusing aspects of starting sleep training with your baby is knowing which method to use. You’ve probably heard of broad ideas like “gentle sleep coaching” and “Cry it Out,” specific methods like, “pick up/put down”, “shush and pat”, and “Ferber” or some other branded method. But, questions such as, what are these specific methods, and more importantly, which one is right for your baby, can be confusing as you work through all the information available.
We’ll briefly break down these ideas and methods for you.
“Gentle Sleep vs Cry it Out”
The world of mommy-wars and social media engagement put these two terms on opposite ends of the spectrum. And most parents gravitate to wanting to use a “gentle” method to avoid crying during the process.
The truth though, is that there is no method that can guarantee your baby won’t cry. In fact, most babies will cry to some extent anytime you make changes in their routine. The difference between “gentle” sleep training and cry it out has more to do with how involved the parent is in the process, and the perception the parent has on the process, rather than how “gentle” it is for the baby.
While some of the plans change one sleep association at a time, most “gentle” approaches involve the parent participating in the soothing process. This usually takes more time (sometimes weeks). This makes it a good choice for parents that still have enough willpower in them to stay consistent over a long period of time. How long? We can’t tell you. Occasionally babies respond in the first few days, other babies not at all, and many over several weeks
Parents often report that their babies get more worked up if the method is something like the Ferber method that has parents return to the room at timed intervals. Even with this higher level of involvement, babies often cry during the process. Some parents like the more gradual aspect of this method and those parents are the ones that may perceive this as gentle. Others, however, see this as less gentle because it draws the process of sleep training out for what can usually be achieved in a shorter period of time.
Shorter, and sometimes more intense methods, sometimes called “full extinction” or Cry it Out often achieve sleep goals in just a few days. However, the term “cry it out” is a name used quite loosely. Those opposed to sleep training often use it to infer that parents who are at their wit’s end will put their baby in a room, put in earplugs, crack a bottle of wine, and leave the baby until the morning no matter what.
While there are parents that do utilize the Cry it Out method successfully, it is not the same method utilized when working with a sleep coach. Instead, a more hands-off approach is used to allow the baby time and space to figure out what they need to help themselves to sleep.
This hands-off method is repeatedly proven to be safe, does not cause harm to the baby, and it does not cause harm to the attachment/bonding of baby and parents. In fact, parents often report feeling more connected to their baby after the sleep training process, as well as enjoying all the other benefits of getting more sleep.
Should I Work With a Sleep Consultant/ Sleep Coach?
Once you’ve decided that you want to try to sleep train your baby, you’ll need to decide if you’re going to do it on your own, work with a remote sleep consultant, or work with sleep coaches like us that come to your home and personally guide you and your baby through the process.
Again, this is a very personal matter. We always advocate for being able to figure things out on your own as parents, but that’s not always the reality for everyone.
Here are some questions to consider as you make this deeply personal choice:
Are you someone that has already tried different sleep methods without the results you want?
Are you so tired you don’t know where you want to start?
Would you like help sleuthing through the different options to make sure you do what’s right for your baby rather than the “textbook baby”?
Are you on a time limit because you’re going back to work or just don’t have it in you anymore?
Do you appreciate having the guidance of an expert on your side to help you navigate changing your baby’s sleep?
Answering yes to any of the above means you would probably benefit from working with someone, especially if you’re wanting individualized, rather than cookie-cutter, plans for your baby.
What’s the difference between a “remote sleep consultant and a Mommywise Sleep Coach”?
The majority of sleep consultants work with you via email, video, or phone calls, and will often include printed “plans” for your baby. These consultants usually schedule a brief call with you, or maybe include a 90-minute in-home meeting before they create a plan for your baby. Then you implement the plan yourselves, using your purchased support time to check in via email or phone calls where you try to hash out what works and what doesn’t.
Our certified sleep coaches offer the highest level of support by coming to your home and staying with you and your family for 2-3 full days, working alongside you to help make adjustments in your baby’s sleep. We are able to make all the of the most important and major changes while we stay with you. The whole time we’ll offer in the moment suggestions based on what we see your baby doing, as well as answering questions and concerns as you have them. We spend hours observing your baby falling asleep, taking notes on their patterns, and explaining the intricacies of your baby, so you know what we’re looking for.
Being in your home is one of the reasons we can guarantee we will get your baby sleeping through the night in such a short period of time!
We continue supporting you for the following month via scheduled phone calls and unlimited email support. Many of our happy parents count this as one of the biggest benefits (after all the restful sleep they’re getting). There are bound to be questions after the fact, and we’re always happy to help. When you work with us, you’re getting a full sleep package with no questions left unanswered, or issues left unsolved.
Of course, every family must take into account their budget. Comparatively speaking, remote sleep consultant services are a cheaper option, whereas you’ll be making an investment when working with us. Of course, the old saying, “you get what you pay for” stands true here as well. An in-person sleep coach will be able to help you in real time and with the expert knowledge that their training brings to your home. Often our sleep coaches will pick up on subtle cues put out by your baby that are easy for a new parent to miss, and are often only noticed by someone who has sleep trained dozens of babies before.
What age is appropriate to sleep train my baby?
When we use the term sleep training, we’re discussing methods that are safe to use with babies that are 4 months or older, and for families that have a goal to move their baby toward sleeping through the night on their own. The methods described above are never meant for newborns.
However, if you have a newborn in the home, you can start to set good sleep habits for your baby from the very beginning by following a few steps:
- Practice putting your baby down close to sleep but awake. Notice we did not say drowsy (read more about that here). Instead, put baby down before their eyes get fluttery- no matter how cute they are smiling at you in that post milk bliss.
- Oh, and as baby ages, feel free to start moving feeding away from the put down time- even if it’s just a few minutes. We’re not saying avoid nursing your newborn to sleep- because, frankly, that’s just not realistic and it’s what they need in those early weeks and months.
- But, you can start stretching those overnight feeds a bit by trying to soothe baby as they get restless and stir to wake for that first feed overnight. Try a few other ways to soothe. Gradually, baby will stretch their waking a few minutes later, and then later. After several days they will most likely sleep an extra sleep cycle. (Of course, if your baby has any health issues or weight gain concerns, speak with a pediatrician prior to doing this)
- Lots of tummy time, fresh air, and daylight to help your baby be stimulated during the day and move closer to adult circadian rhythm (something that happens around 4 months for most babies)
- Ensuring your baby’s sleep environment includes darkness, safe sleep surface, and white noise.
- Daytime sleep is important too! Most babies between 1-3 months will take 4-5 naps per day, those 4-7 months will take 3 naps per day, those 8-14 months will need 2 naps per day, and most babies over 14 months do well with just 1 nap per day.
Need to know appropriate nap schedules for your baby’s age? Check them out here.
What Happens During Sleep Training and Other Things You Should Know
Once you’ve moved into sleep training, there are some core principles to always keep in mind. While Mommywise has its own “pillars” of sleep training, they essentially sum up the elements that any baby sleep book or sleep consultant would tell you. Here they are in summary:
These pillars are what we’re really working on when we support you through the sleep training process. And, if you’re trying this at home, you’ll want to remember them.
We focus mostly on Communication. Why? Because teaching your baby to sleep independently and allowing them the space to learn to soothe themselves to sleep is all based in clear communication between baby and caregiver.
When you decide to sleep train, you’re committing to a process with your baby. You’re putting in place loving and firm guidelines around sleep and the routine, and communicating them consistently with your baby so neither you nor they are confused. This is very much what you’ll be doing for the rest of your parenting life- placing loving boundaries that allow your baby to reach their potential, while also making sure they are safe. I call this the Chocolate Ice Cream Philosophy, which you can read more about. But, it’ basically says, “this is how we do things, and we don’t waiver (much) from it.”
What sleep training doesn’t do is put you in strict, rigid schedules that offer zero flexibility. When done right, sleep training is a fluid process that sets boundaries and changes the boundaries as your baby needs change.
Of course, nothing you do will work unless you stay committed and keep consistency for you and your baby to learn the new routines around sleep. You must commit to the new communication and boundaries for them to stick, even if the first day or two is challenging, even if sometimes it would just be “easier” to go back to “the old way” of doing things (which also means back to sleep deprivation, which doesn’t really sound that great if you think about it).
Staying consistent (bedtime routine, bedtime and wake times, nap times) means that your child learns what to expect. Most babies love to know what comes next- they thrive off this. It means that they understand what you’re communicating to them. Think back to the chocolate ice cream theory (go ahead, read it quickly!).
If you start sleep training, but sometimes bring them into bed when they aren’t sick or needing anything, they are going to be confused. And, they’ll probably like what they got. So next time they’ll try to get it again- this time trying harder. Unpredictable rewards for their efforts is addicting- similar to gambling. Think about it this way – you are like a slot machine, and your baby is putting a quarter in you every time they cry to come back to your bed. Each time you “payout”, they get a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Then they want to play again. If you’re inconsistent and sometimes “payout” frequently enough, they’ll keep “Playing the slots” because of that chance of winning. But if you’re consistent and rarely or never pay out, baby is going to walk away.
Sleep Training INCREASES Bond and Attachment Between Parent and Baby
So many families are concerned that their baby will resent them after sleep training, or that the mother/baby attachment will be diluted. Nothing could be further from the truth when sleep training is offered in an intentional and loving manner. Remember what we shared above about sleep training being all about communication? That’s exactly how it can help increase a bond between parent and child. There’s even research to support this. Here’s a great article breaking it all down.
All of the families we have worked with have expressed that they feel they understand their baby’s needs better and know how to respond in a way that works for the family and the baby. They feel more confident as parents. And since they aren’t exhausted, they get to parent more how they want and enjoy parenting.
Sleep Training Does NOT teach your baby to avoid signaling if they have needs
Anti-sleep training people love to throw this out there- pulling on exhausted parents’ heartstrings. It simply isn’t true.
Babies that learn to sleep through the night- on their own or with the help of sleep training- simply learn that they can put themselves back to sleep without the help of parents. AND parents learn that most babies will make noise during sleep cycle transitions. Their babies don’t need a parent’s help at that point- just a few minutes to resettle (usually not even that long).
Babies that sleep through the night and put themselves to sleep will still call out to their parents for things like poopy diapers, pain from teething, illness etc. In other words, when they really do need some support, they will still cry for their parents. And their parents will know to respond.
If you’re still unsure about this principle, think about this – those that use this argument only use it for baby’s that are being sleep trained, but not for those babies that start sleeping through the night on their own. Both babies are learning the same thing- but for some reason, anti-sleep training people think only sleep trained babies are the ones not getting needs met?? Doesn’t make much sense.
Again, sleep training your baby increases clear communication and the bond between parent and baby.
Sleep Training is Safe
There’s a lot of misinformation about sleep training floating around. The biggest lie/ fear based opinion is that sleep training is not safe for your baby. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Sure, there are some opinion pieces out there that site some really bad “studies”. But when we look thoroughly through all the well-done studies, experts find time and again that sleep training is safe.
Of course, we are describing age-appropriate training and not discussing formal sleep training prior to 4 months of age.
So, now that you have the facts about sleep training and the various options available to you, it’s time to decide whether you will sleep train your baby. As mentioned above, you can learn the methods and try it on your own, you can work with a remote sleep consultant who will connect with you by email or phone, or you can work with an in-home sleep coach who can help you through the entire process. An in-home sleep coach can give you all the tools you need (including a restful night’s sleep) so that you can have a successful sleep training experience.
If you’re considering an in-home sleep coach we’d like to offer you a complimentary sleep assessment so you can find out what your family needs, and how we might be able to help. There is no obligation to move forward after the assessment, and we’ll be sure to give you info you can put to use right away. Are you ready to experience a night of restful sleep again? Get in touch to schedule your assessment.