The most common question that I get asked by potential clients is, will my baby have to cry it out? Some sleep consultants hate this question but I love it. This question shows me where the parent falls on the spectrum of their comfort level regarding the crying, but it also gives me the opportunity to really articulate the difference between sleep training on your own versus hiring a coach. My answer to this question is that no, you do not need to leave your baby to cry themselves asleep alone, assuming that that is what they mean by cry it out. However, there is almost always some crying during the process. See, babies cry to communicate their wants and needs. My role as a sleep coach is to help my clients understand their baby’s communication so that they can properly evaluate what it is that their baby needs and meet that need.
If a baby is accustomed to being rocked or fed to sleep, then it is likely that they will cry if you put them down in their crib awake. Their cries are not because they feel abandoned, as the parent is standing right there. The baby often starts crying as you are lowering them into the crib. This is not hysteria, but rather communication. Your baby is saying, I don’t want to be put into the crib awake! And my role as a coach is to help you to hear and understand that cry so that you can continue to meet your baby’s needs through out the sleep training process. The baby wants to be rocked or fed to sleep, because that is what they are used to. That being said, babies (and toddlers) are totally capable of learning to fall asleep independently when given the opportunity to try and practice. I always say that when sleep training is done properly, the crying is limited and temporary.
The secret to sleep training successfully is selecting a method that feels comfortable for you as the parent. Most babies and toddlers will respond just fine to any approach, but unless the parent is consistent, you will not see results. If a parent decides to sleep train on their own using the Cry It Out method, or extinction, but two nights in they decide they can’t stand to hear any more crying, they will give up and go back to assisting their child to sleep. This sends the wrong message to the child and only encourages lots and lots of crying so that the parents abort any future attempt at sleep training. Alternatively, if a family decides to implement the Ferber Method, and they do so with consistency because it’s a plan that they deem a good fit for themselves and their child, they are likely to have success.
In addition to selecting the right method, it’s equally important that you have some level of support. This does not need to be a professional sleep consultant, it can be a family member or close friend. It’s important to have a support system because this is often a process that feels really hard while you’re in it. Parents ultimately know that teaching their children to fall asleep independently is such an important life skill. They also know that sleep training is something you do for your child rather than to your child. Even when parents know all of this, it can still feel stressful while in the thick of it, and having someone to lean on for support is always a good thing!
If a parent decides that professional support is in order, the most crucial piece of the puzzle is finding a certified sleep consultant that will support the family through an approach that feels comfortable for them. If your sleep coach recommends and coaches you through a method that doesn’t feel like the right fit, the parents will likely not follow through and they most certainly won’t see progress.