Sleep Training: What it is and What it isn’t

“Sleep Training” has gotten a bad rap over the last few years as more mamas decide to share their sleep training journeys. And honestly? I don’t blame people for not wanting to sleep train without doing a bit of research on what sleep training is. So let’s dive in. What is sleep training? Why are people against it? And can it actually harm your child?

What is sleep training?

In essence, sleep training is teaching your child how to fall asleep independently — without you rocking or nursing your child to sleep, for instance.

That sounds great! So what’s the downside of it?

There are different approaches to sleep training, from gentle techniques that allow you to stay in the room, to more extreme techniques of letting your child “cry it out” (CIO) by themselves. Obviously, each family is unique and can decide for themselves what will work. But many people are against CIO techniques as that can seem harsh for a new baby.

But that’s where the misconception is — sleep training is not just CIO techniques.

As newborns, babies rely on their parents to provide everything they need, which includes sleep. We hold our babies while they sleep, nurse them to sleep, put them in a swing, etc. As babies get older, they become dependent on those habits to fall asleep.

To be clear, when your child is a newborn, you can put them to sleep however you want. There is no such thing as spoiling a newborn. But once your child’s sleep habits begin interfering with your life else negatively (they take hours to fall asleep, you need to lay in their bed, etc.), then it’s time to change those habits.

How does sleep training work?

The biggest piece of sleep training is understanding your child’s needs. Every child has specific sleep needs, and that’s the first thing to consider. When you work with a certified sleep consultant, you will receive a sleep plan that outlines exactly how much sleep your child needs, what routines should be in place, and the steps you need to take to begin getting a better sleep for everyone in your household.

Sleep training is a gradual process — we will never shut your baby in a room and walk away without tuning in to what your child needs. We encourage you to listen to your mom gut, follow your instincts, and provide feedback so that we can tweak your sleep plan.

Our main goal during the sleep training process is to get your child to fall asleep in their bed, on their own. Just like with anything else that we teach our children, we are patient and loving during this process, and we always act in the best interest of the child.

Will there be crying?

As your child learns this new skill, there will likely be some protests. Children aren’t fond of change, so any change will take some time to get used to. This goes for anything — if your child is used to watching TV right when they wake up, and you want to change that to playing outside, you will likely receive some push back at first.

It’s the same with sleep training. For the first few nights, your baby will protest the changes. That’s expected and completely normal. By night 3, most parents report that their child protests less and catches on to the new routine.

I can’t promise that your child won’t cry, but I can promise that we will never push you to do anything you’re not comfortable with. If you don’t want to leave your baby to cry for 20 minutes, we won’t include that in your plan. If you want to be able to stay in the room during the process, we will see if that’s what’s best for your child, and if so, we will work with you on that.

Crying is how your child communicates, and it’s not a “bad” thing. As long as your child is safe and loved, any crying during this process simply communicates a dislike for the change they are experiencing.

Do I need to sleep train my baby?

If you are happy with how you’re putting your child to sleep for naps and bedtime, you may not have an immediate need to sleep train your baby. If your baby can fall asleep independently and stay asleep for long stretches, you’re good!

But if the thought of bedtime brings on dread, then sleep training is for you.

When can I start sleep training?

You can begin sleep training when you’re ready and once you have your pediatrician’s approval. Some babies still need to wake overnight to eat, so talking to your pediatrician will help you determine whether your child can be weaned from night feedings or whether they still need to eat overnight.

We work with families starting at 3 months, since this is about the age when babies are developmentally ready to sleep longer and learn independent sleep habits.

While you can sleep train at any age, we recommend starting before 6 months if possible. We have worked with babies as young as 3 months and as old as 4 years. What’s important is that you do what’s best for your family when it’s time.

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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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