How to Overcome the Fear of Sleep Training

It’s silly for me to write that title because sleep training has changed my life and the lives of multiple families that I’ve worked with, but 1 year ago, had you brought up the idea of sleep training my precious 2-month-old daughter, you would have received my deepest post-partum rage.

In fact, my husband can attest to that, because shortly after we brought Livi home from the hospital, he made the comment during one of her fussy days, “Let’s just let her cry it out.”

Pump the breaks.

Hold the phone.

I KNOW you did not just suggest that I let my daughter CRY IT OUT in her time of need. You have GOT to be kidding me. Are you even a fit father?! (Oh, trust me, he is the most loving, adventurous, FUN dad).

But in that moment, I was sure I was the only one who cared about her in that household.

But wait a minute.

“Crying it out” is NOT sleep training.

Letting your baby cry it out without intervening is a technique that is used for many reasons — maybe your little one has been crying for hours and you have tried it all, and if you don’t set your baby down in their crib and take a step outside for a minute, you might actually lose your ever-loving mind.

I’m not talking about leaving your baby unattended while they cry for hours. I’m talking about stepping aside for your own sanity since you have tried to provide comfort, food, contact, and nothing is calming your little one.

But as a sleep training technique? Crying it out is not the end all, be all. And that’s where I had misconceptions about it.

If you’re like new-mom Katie and the thought of sleep training brings anxiety and nausea, then let me help you ease that fear by providing what I didn’t have: an accurate understanding of what sleep training is and how it can help your family.

So, what is sleep training?

Sleep training is helping your child initiate independent sleep and sleeping long stretches. Here’s a few examples of what that might look like:

  • You put your infant in their own crib, walk out of the room, and she starts crying, like usual after she realizes you aren’t holding her. You provide her comfort and support (and this will vary depending on what works for you and for her) in a predictable way that gradually gives her the responsibility of falling to sleep.
  • Your 1-year-old wakes up during the middle of the night to eat, but your doctor has confirmed she doesn’t need any more calories at night. Now, it’s just become a habit. Not only is it impacting your sleep, but it’s impacting hers, as she can’t go back to sleep on her own without drinking milk first. Sleep training will help her realize her body actually doesn’t need that milk, and she will be able to go to sleep (if she wakes during the night) without it.
  • You take your 4-year-old to his room, tuck him in, and say goodnight. Instead of sleeping on the floor of his room until he falls asleep like you normally did, you walk out and assure him you’re nearby if he truly needs you.
  • Your pre-school daughter goes to bed for the evening and stays in her room all night, even if she wakes up. Instead of walking out to mom’s room in the middle of the night (which can cause serious safety concerns — what might she get into while the house is asleep?) she grabs her favorite stuffed animal and goes back to bed.

Do any of these situations sound cruel or uncaring?

The opposite, actually. All of these situations come from real-life families that I have worked with. All of these children sleep better than they did before, and we know how important sleep is for development. AND all of the parents sleep better than they did before, and we know how important sleep is for our sanity.

Now that you have an idea of what sleep training can look like, let’s get into the fears that commonly surround it, and what we can do about them.

I’m Worried Sleep Training Will Damage My Child

One common fear many parents have is that sleep training will damage their child in some way. Maybe it will damage their brain development if they end up crying a lot. Or maybe it will damage the attachment they have with a parent if no one responds to them.

Here’s the thing: as I showed you above, sleep training is responsive. You aren’t locking your child in a room for 12 hours and hoping they’ll fall asleep. That’s just not a thing we’ll do. Ever.

So rest easy there.

Secondly, even if your child does cry during this process (which they probably will as you’re changing a routine or habit they’ve grown accustomed to) it will not damage your child. How do I know? Because science, that’s how.

There have been studies done that prove that sleep training does not damage a child emotionally, physically, psychologically, nor does it damage their attachment to a parent. At the end of this post, you’ll find the resource section where I include said articles.

I know the sleep training process can be difficult, but trust me, it’s going to be more difficult on you than your child. And I will never make you do anything that goes against your mom-gut — ever.

I’m Worried Sleep Training Will Take Too Long

Another common fear that holds parents back from starting the sleep training process is the worry that it will take a long time to accomplish. And as exhausted parents running on little sleep, the idea of embarking on a journey that will take time is a no-go.

While every situation and child is unique, here’s what I have typically seen during the sleep training process:

  • 1-2 weeks to solve common sleep challenges, like: children needing to be held or rocked to go to sleep; toddlers leaving their room to go to mom’s; children taking hours to fall asleep; children taking short or no naps.
  • 3-4 weeks to solve other sleep challenges, like: children waking up early (like 5:30 am) ready to start the day; children taking short naps consistently

If you stay consistent in the process, most issues can be solved in a month’s time. Is that a long time? Kinda. But you have to understand that the work you have to put in only lasts for about a week. What do I mean?

The first 3-5 days is all about laying the foundation. We will introduce your child to a new routine and then we stick with it. That’s it. Usually children catch on quickly, but every now and then, there are a few situations that take a little longer to work out. And when that happens, you don’t have to do anything special. You just keep doing the same thing to give your child consistency, and their natural body clocks will adjust.

The other thing to consider is this: Your child’s sleep challenges probably won’t just go away. They won’t age out of it. And if they do, it’ll probably be in 1-2 years, if not longer. If you’re willing to stick it out a few years, then that’s okay. But if the thought of continuing on for another few years makes you lose your mind, then 1 month really isn’t that long.

I’m Worried My Child Will Cry

Your child probably will cry.

So no need to worry about it. It will happen.

Why? Because crying is your child’s way of communicating. And when you change their habits, they are going to protest. It’s natural and expected.

We know it will happen. The real issue here is how you respond to that crying.

Because chances are, you’re not worried about the crying. You’re worried about not being able to respond to your child’s crying.

But here’s the thing: you can. You can respond to your child’s crying. You just need to do so in the right way. And I’ll help you figure that out.

Sleep training can be life changing. Literally.

Don’t let fear hold you back. Instead, ask the questions you’re worried about. I host regular Q&As on my Instagram page — you can ask them there, or you can send me a message!


Five-Year Follow-up of Harms and Benefits of Behavioral Infant Sleep Intervention: Randomized Trial

Anna M.H. Price, Melissa Wake, Obioha C. Ukoumunne, Harriet HiscockPediatrics Oct 2012, 130 (4) 643-651; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-3467

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I’m Katie

certified pediatric sleep consultant

Fueled by equal parts caffeine and passion, I spend my days helping exhausted mamas get their babies the sleep they need. 

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