Baby sleep training should only take a few weeks at most. But even though it’s a relative blip in the parenting timeline, teaching a baby to sleep through the night still occupies an oversized place in the emotional arc of the parenting experience. That makes sense considering there is a bewildering range of sleep training methods to choose from, each fraught with pitfalls and setbacks if done incorrectly. There’s also a robust industry of products and experts, each with promises and sometimes conflicting information about helping a kid sleep independently.
But the fact is, regardless of which sleep training method a parent chooses or which expert they listen to, there is a core of issues every parent will need to navigate. And without acknowledging the harsh truth about sleep training, success and sanity will remain dubious.
Harsh Truth #1: Parents Get Shamed Regardless of Sleep Training Method
Are you using a no-cry fading method? Some will say you’re coddling your kid. Are you using a cry it out method? Others will call you a monster. It literally does not matter which sleep training method a parent chooses — someone will be more than happy to present information about how it’s going to mess up the kid for the rest of their natural life.
Here’s what most important: Parents need to choose a sleep training method that they believe will be right for their kid and right for themselves. They need to think about it, talk to their partner about it, and then commit. Because consistency is the only way any sleep training method works.
Harsh Truth #2: Even With Great Sleep Training, Regression is Inevitable
So after having cried it out with their kid, or snuck quietly away in the night for a few days, the kid will finally be sleeping soundly through the night. Until suddenly they stop sleeping soundly through the night. Welcome to the hell of regression. Don’t panic.
Sleep regressions are absolutely normal and affect almost every child. They are also timed with major developmental milestones. Anything from cutting the first tooth to learning to crawl can bring on a sleep regression. Regardless of what’s causing the regression, parents need to keep calm and return to their sleep training regimen. Things will get back to normal eventually.
Harsh Truth #3: When Sleep Training Starts, It Should Not Stop
The key to conquering sleep training is consistency. Yes, it can be grueling. And yes, sometimes it can get emotional. But if these conditions cause parents to pause or change their sleep training routine, the process will just take that much longer.
Importantly, parents might reach a point where they might feel the process isn’t working. More than likely, if they hang in there, the results will come. However, parents know their children best and there’s always a slight chance that the sleep training method is misaligned to the child or parents’ temperament. If that is the case, then it will be important to pause and choose another method.
That said, parents need to think very hard before switching methods. Often what needed is just a couple more nights of consistent training for things to click.
Harsh Truth #4: Sleep Training Can’t Start in the First Four Months
If a baby still requires feedings in the middle of the night, there’s no way sleep training will be successful. So while sleepless parents might have a desperate urge to start sleep training their baby, it’s important to wait until the kid can go all night without a feeding. This usually happens around 3 or 4-months old.
There are other helpful milestones around 3 and 4-months old that can help sleep training be successful. For instance, many kids can ditch the swaddle. That’s great because sleep training is helped when a kid can move their hands and arms in order to self-soothe. They are also most likely out of a bassinet and in their own crib. This helps keep the kid safe and contained during the process.
Harsh Truth #5: Dads Are the Key to Sleep Training
Many fathers might feel like they have an out for sleep training, but the fact is that dads can make sleep training more successful. There’s a very good reason for this: Dudes lack breasts.
Babies often associate mom with soothing and nourishment. If she is in the room and not holding the baby it’s more likely that the baby will continue to stay awake and fuss. However, dad lacks the necessary equipment and babies quickly realize there’s no point in staying up if dad is the parent in the room. This will help orient the kid towards self-soothing, which is the bedrock of successful sleep training.
Harsh Truth #6: Sleep Training Success Requires an Ideal Sleep Environment
Sleep training is best completed in a warm, dark environment with perhaps a hint of white noise. A nursery or bedroom with a television screen, lights from monitors or ambient light from outside is not conducive to teaching a baby to sleep through the night.
One of the best ways to conquer sleep training is to make sure that the nursery is an appropriate training ground for sleep. Think curtains, a fan and as much quiet as possible for the local environment. Remove any and all sources of blue light. The better the environment is for sleep, the better it will be for sleep training