Sleep training refers to techniques used by parents to help a baby learn to fall asleep, and to go back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night. There are thousands of books on sleep training, and, as a Google search can attest, seemingly endless information available online. While too much information may be better than no information, it’s all a bit overwhelming, especially for sleep-deprived new parents. Not surprisingly, a frequent question posed to pediatricians and child sleep consultants is, what’s the best method of sleep training for my baby?
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Sleep
Before attempting to answer that, Molly Mills, a pediatric nurse, child sleep consultant, and the founder of The Mama’hood, a support group for new parents, says to take a step back. “First, we need to recognize how much pressure our culture, our society, puts on how well our babies sleep,” Mills says. She points out that the most typical question people ask new parents about their baby is ‘How’s he sleeping?’ The message here is that having a baby who is a good sleeper equates to having a good baby. Mills coaches new parents to start sleep training by removing these unrealistic — and ultimately stressful — expectations about how well their baby should sleep. “Just like walking, which happens between a wide range of ages, your baby will sleep through the night when your baby is developmentally ready to sleep through the night,” Mills says.
In the meantime, there are things parents can do to help coax babies four months and older into better sleep patterns, and to begin to teach healthy sleep habits. One thing nearly all sleep training methods have in common is the recommendation to establish soothing bedtime rituals. They can be as simple as a bath and a lullaby or story. (Having designated downtime before bed works great for adults too).
But going back to the original question of which sleep training is best for my baby, Mills says the answer really depends on mom and dad. For some parents, “cry it out,” makes sense, for others, it feels like torture. At the other end of the spectrum, “no tears,” methods seem brilliant to some parents, and a huge waste of time to others. Mills advises that sleep training is one area where it’s okay to go with your gut and choose a method that feels right for your family. So, long as you’re not afraid to try something else if it’s not working.
A few more best practices for Mills, to help guide your decision on what type of sleep training is best for you and your baby:
Which Type of Sleep Training is Best For Baby?
- In general, we don’t give ourselves enough time to find what works for us. Plan to stick to a technique for two weeks before calling it quits.
- Developmental growth happens so quickly in the first year, and every major milestone, from cutting a tooth to learning to walk, is disruptive to baby’s sleep. Don’t panic; this happens regardless of what sleep training method you’re using.
- Consistency is one of the toughest things about sleep training. Especially when it’s the middle of the night and you’re exhausted and desperate. Give yourself a break if you don’t always stick to the plan. With that said, if you can’t stick to the sleep training plan most the time, it may not be the right plan for you and your family.
- There is no one sleep training method that works perfectly all the time. Be prepared to pull out what works for you, and discard what does not.
- No matter how well the sleep training is going, babies have bad nights. Learn to recognize them as such.
- Cue into your baby’s sleep cycles during the day, and learn her signs for demonstrating that she’s tired. They’re not always intuitive. For example, some babies become vocal, cooing and gurgling when they’re sleepy. This can help you address nighttime issues with an expert.