Sleep training has become synonymous with “Cry It Out”, and as a sleep consultant this really bothers me. When we say that we are sleep training, what we really mean is that we are teaching that baby or child to fall asleep in a different way than what they are used to. Sure, this likely will result in some tears, but that doesn’t mean that you need to leave your baby to cry alone to fall asleep. I like to tell families that instead of letting your child cry, you are really giving your child the opportunity to try. Babies and toddlers that don’t know how to fall asleep will likely be a bit frustrated while practicing this new skill. However once they learn, all the crying stops!
Sleep training and night weaning are not the same thing
Another important point worth mentioning is that sleep training and night weaning are not the same thing. Sleep training is teaching a baby to fall asleep and back to sleep independently. If the baby is hungry, of course we should feed the baby. The funny thing about sleep training is that for most babies 5+ months that are still eating in the middle of the night, once they learn to fall asleep independently for naps, bedtime and after a night feed, they often self night wean very soon after! Sleep consultants should never advise parents to night wean without permission from the child’s pediatrician.
In my extensive experience working with families, it is most often the case that the baby is crying because they are not being assisted to sleep the way that they want. Even when a gradual or gentle sleep training technique is implemented, the child is likely to protest as things are being done in a way that feels different than what they are used to. This is very different than letting your baby “cry it out”. During sleep training parents decide on how they are most comfortable comforting and supporting their child through the process of learning to fall asleep. There is a difference between comforting your child and assisting them to sleep. When the child is given the space and the opportunity to try, they will eventually fall asleep on their own, and it usually happens much faster than parents expect!
A schedule and routines go a long way
In addition to teaching your baby how to fall asleep, a major component of sleep training is implemented a schedule and some routines. If your child’s day looks more or less the same every day, with naps and feedings at regular intervals it allows your child to learn what’s coming next. This is also incredibly helpful for parents. The schedule allows parents to plan their day, and it helps them to understand their baby’s communication. As a certified pediatric sleep consultant, I always recommend that parents work on establishing “eat, play, sleep” routines. By feeding the baby upon wake up from a nap, that separates the feeding from the sleeping allowing a baby’s communication to be more clear. If your baby is crying, chances are they are hungry or tired. If you separate those two it makes it way easier to understand why your baby is upset!
Sleep training almost always seems like an insurmountable task, but it never actually turns out to be quite as difficult as many parents imagine. When sleep training is implemented properly, the crying is almost always both limited and temporary. If it feels too hard to go at it alone, seek out support from a certified sleep consultant!