Have you ever thought about what the definition of sleep training really is?
Unfortunately, there are several false stereotypes about sleep training — from closing the door of a newborn eight-week-old baby for 12 hours, to doing away with all nighttime feedings, to handing over your family values to a sleep coach who stays at your home for several weeks — us have heard everything.
With all the different parenting philosophies and advice, it’s easy to get lost in a whirlwind of information. No matter what sleep preferences you believe in for your baby, read on to learn what sleep training is Yes, really is and what does not have to be.
Here’s what I learned about what sleep training really means and what actually works for most families.
1. “Sleep the night away” is a misnomer
“Sleep through the night” is the biggest misnomer in the field of sleep training. In reality, no one goes to sleep and sleeps through the night. Babies and adults typically wake up between 3-6 times a night!
If a person (baby or adult) is an independent sleeper, it means they are able to fall asleep from these normal nocturnal arousals. However, a child will only know how to fall back asleep throughout the night if they are 100% able to fall asleep on their own in all naps and bedtime.
2. Babies may still need to be fed at night
Sleep training doesn’t necessarily mean the baby will sleep through the night without nighttime feedings — and sleep training certainly doesn’t mean eliminating nighttime feedings when the baby is hungry.
Regardless of the information gleaned from countless baby sleep books, co-parents, and strangers at the grocery store, the fact remains: a child’s parents and pediatrician are best equipped to decide whether or not the child still needs to be breastfed at night.
And parents know their baby best. If a baby wakes up from hunger in the middle of the night, they should be fed. For the vast majority of babies over 4 months, more than 1-2 nightly feedings are not necessary. If your child is a healthy weight and their pediatrician has approved fewer or no late-night meals, parents can rest assured that most or all of the baby’s nighttime awakenings are not directly a result of waking from hunger.
Finally, if a child does wake up from hunger, then they should feed and go back to sleep immediately and fall asleep relatively easily for the rest of the night.
If a child is still waking up repeatedly during the night, it is likely that few or no meals are due to hunger and are instead due to the baby’s reliance on food to get them back to sleep.
3. Sleep advisors don’t usually invade your home all night
Another common sleep training myth is that hiring a sleep counselor means the counselor stays at your house overnight and gets paid every hour throughout the night to work their so-called magic and teach your baby to sleep through the night. It definitely doesn’t have to be.
The vast majority of sleep consultants conduct an in-person or video conference consultation, usually in daylight, followed by a return to a personalized plan and availability for follow-up support. A good counselor can gather all the information they need about your family from the initial questionnaire you have them fill out along with the hour-long consultation.
The best consultants are available for intensive follow-up, particularly via SMS and email, so they can answer questions, identify issues and tweak the plan if needed.
4. Sleep training doesn’t mean screaming all night
The biggest elephant in the room when we talk about sleep training is the scream or “CIO” method.
No parent wants to hear their baby cry, especially with all the conflicting and often misleading messages about the potential harm it can cause to the baby.
In my many years of experience working with babies, protesting during sleep training is usually because the baby is frustrated that they are not getting help to fall asleep. In most cases of sleep training for infants and toddlers, some form of checking in and soothing the baby during the sleep process is possible.
During sleep training, parents usually make a commitment not to physically help their child fall asleep, but visits and comfort are almost always fine.
Remember that if a baby is given the space he needs to learn what it feels like to take control of his body and allow himself to fall asleep, he will eventually (and usually quickly) learn how it falls asleep by itself.
5. Newborns cannot follow rigid sleep requirements
In most cases, it is not advisable to consider sleep training for a baby under 16 weeks old.
Sleep training a baby between 4 and 6 months usually produces the quickest results with the least amount of crying overall, but it really is never too late and there is no age past 16 weeks when it is inappropriate to train a baby.
The reason we avoid sleep training newborns is because newborns are not always cognitively able to fall asleep unaided. Even in cases where a very young child can fall asleep unaided, they are usually cognitively unable to maintain a regular sleep schedule with regular naps. That is, even if a 2-month-old can fall asleep unaided, they are typically unable to maintain the awake times or nap lengths required for successful sleep training.
6. Good sleep routines aren’t about strict rules
The primary role of a sleep counselor is to help parents help their child fall asleep unaided.
If techniques or advice recommended by a sleep consultant are making mom or dad uncomfortable, the sleep consultant should be willing to make adjustments based on what works best for the family.
In fact, a good sleep consultant should tell you exactly what their sleep schedule looks like before allowing you to set it. Even when clients reach out to hire me on-site, I always call and talk to them first, outlining my methods and what to expect so they go into the process with their eyes wide open.
If a parent is not happy with a particular counselor’s style, they should keep searching until they find someone with whose techniques they feel comfortable and with whom they feel they can build a good relationship.
No matter how you slice it, sleep training boils down to one thing: helping your child learn to fall asleep completely unassisted.
That means falling to the ground with your eyes wide open and falling asleep completely without the help of a parent, caregiver, or other supplies like a swaddle, pacifier, or moving car.
Sleep training can take dedication and persistence, but the benefits of having a baby who knows how to fall asleep on their own at bedtime and nap times and fall back asleep when they wake up is the secret ingredient and the right definition of sleep training.
With the right sleep training methods, the phrase “sleep like a baby” takes on a whole new meaning! zzz is…
Baby sleep tips, scream it out, baby sleep, sleep, baby