Have you ever stopped to think about what the definition of “sleep training” really is? Unfortunately, several incorrect sleep training stereotypes exist, suggesting that the practice requires parents to do everything from shutting the door on an 8-week-old baby for 12 hours, to eliminating nighttime feedings, to surrendering your family values to a sleep trainer who stays overnight at your home for several weeks. As a sleep consultant, I’ve heard it all.
No matter what sleep preferences you believe in for your baby, read on to learn what sleep training really is, and what it doesn’t have to be.
1) Sleeping Through the Night
“Sleeping through the night” is the single biggest misnomer in the realm of sleep training. No human goes to sleep and stays asleep all night. Babies and adults usually wake up three to six times each night! An independent sleeper is able to put himself or herself to sleep from these normal nocturnal arousals. However, a child will only know how to put themselves back to sleep if they are able to fall asleep on their own for naps and at bedtime.
2) Zero Nighttime Feedings
Sleep training certainly does not mean elimination of night time feedings if Baby is hungry. A child’s parent and pediatrician are best equipped to decide whether or not that child needs nighttime feedings. If a baby is waking in the middle of the night due to hunger, a feeding should be given. However, if your child is a healthy weight and their pediatrician has okayed elimination of nighttime feedings, parents can rest assured that most or all of Baby’s nighttime wake ups are not due to hunger. It is likely that Baby is instead relying on the feeding to put himself back to sleep.
3) A Stranger Staying The Night At Your Home
Another common sleep training myth is that hiring a sleep consultant means the consultant stays overnight in your home and gets paid every hour through the night. This definitely does not have to be the case. Most sleep consultants have one in-person or video consultation, usually in the light of day. They then offer the parents a personalized plan and make themselves available for follow-up support, especially via text and email, so that they can answer questions, spot issues and tweak the plan if needed.
4) Crying It Out Alone
The biggest elephant in the room when we talk about sleep training is “crying it out.” No parent wants to hear their baby cry. In my extensive experience working with babies, protesting during sleep training is because Baby is frustrated they aren’t getting help to fall asleep. In almost every case of sleep training for infants and toddlers, some form of checking in and comforting during the falling asleep process is possible. Parents need to commit to not physically facilitating their child to fall asleep, but visits and comfort are almost always OK. Remember that when a baby is given the necessary space to learn what it feels like to take control over his body and allow himself to fall asleep, he will eventually (and usually quickly) learn to fall asleep on his own.
5) Rigid Sleep Habits For A Newborn
In most cases, it is not advisable to consider sleep training a baby younger than 16 weeks of age. Newborns are not always cognitively capable of falling asleep without assistance, and they are usually not able to sustain a regular sleep schedule with regular naps. Sleep training a baby at 4 to 6 months old usually yields the fastest results with the least amount of crying, but it really is never too late.
6) Adhering to Harsh Rules
A sleep consultant’s main role is to guide parents in how to help their child learn to fall asleep without assistance. A good sleep consultant should tell you in significant detail exactly what their sleep program is like before they allow you to hire them. If techniques or advice recommended by a sleep consultant make Mom or Dad uncomfortable, the sleep consultant should be prepared to make adjustments according to what works best for the family. If a parent is not comfortable with a certain consultant’s style, they should keep searching until they find someone whose techniques they feel comfortable with and with whom they feel they can develop a good rapport.
No matter how you slice it, sleep training comes down to one thing: helping your child learn to fall asleep wholly unassisted. That means going down with their eyes wide open and falling completely asleep without the help of a parent or prop such as a swaddle, pacifier or moving car. Sleep training may take a few days of dedication and persistence, but with the proper methods, the phrase “sleep like a baby” takes on a whole new meaning.
Natalie Willes has been working as an infant and toddler sleep consultant since 2008. Natalie has worked with more than 700 families to help their babies sleep through the night and nap consistently. Natalie works with infants starting as early as 14-weeks-old through toddlers 3 years of age. Learn more at www.babysleeptrainer.com.