The term “sleep training” is one that I really don’t love, but it’s so widely used that it’s hard to avoid. When some think of sleep training, their minds immediately race to the idea of a baby being left alone for hours only to cry themselves to sleep. This couldn’t be further from reality. Sleep training isn’t really “training” but rather more like “shaping” or teaching”. I love to say that sleep training is really just teaching a baby or child to fall asleep and back to sleep independently. That sounds nicer right?!
Teaching a baby to fall asleep and back to sleep independently can happen while parents remain emotionally attached and responsive to their children’s needs. Night weaning would be tackled separately, only after the child has mastered falling asleep independently and is ready to sleep all night without a feed. This is something that should always be discussed with your pediatrician.
We can all agree that sleep is incredibly important for a growing brain and body. Babies that are well rested are happier, more playful, less distractible and better positioned to learn and develop. Sleep is scientifically proven to be a necessity for our health and mental well-being. In addition, infant sleep struggles often lead to postpartum depression and anxiety for many new parents. Studies show that when infant sleep improves, so does the mental health of the mother.
So if all of this is true, why is sleep training often frowned upon? As a certified sleep consultant, this is a conversation that comes up often in my line of work. I think it all boils down to a lack of education. Sleep is a learned skill. Our bodies need sleep in order to thrive, and if our children are struggling to sleep, it’s our job as parents to teach them! Many believe that sleep training is leaving a baby to cry themselves to sleep, and that is simply just not true. Yes, babies do cry during the sleep training process, as any change to their norm and their routine typically results in some frustration on their part. I would argue that when parents make the decision to sleep train, they are more tuned in than ever to their child’s needs and communication.
During the sleep training process parents often learn to understand the difference between the sound that their child makes while frustrated, versus being a bit confused or just plain old exhausted! This results in parents feeling more in tune and connected with their child. Of course no parent wants to hear their child upset. My role as a sleep consultant is to support parents through what can feel like an overwhelming and stressful process. If you’re considering hiring a sleep consultant, check out these top 3 reasons to do so!
What I can say for sure is that every single family I have ever worked with would say that their child cries less and is overall happier and more well adjusted after learning to sleep. The crying that parents experience during the process is always less than what they expect, and once the child learns to fall asleep, all the crying stops!
Ultimately it is so important that when parents decide to teach their baby to sleep more independently, they do so using a method that aligns with their parenting style. There are so many ways to work on this, and it can happen slowly and gradually. When parents land on a sleep training technique that feels comfortable for them, they are more likely to be consistent and see it through. The end result is a baby that falls asleep without struggle and sleeps through the night!