The following is a scenario I see all the time: The parents have a baby or toddler who doesn’t sleep well. They want to make changes to their baby’s sleep habits. But they think their only option is to let the baby cry-it-out and remove all night feeds cold turkey. The thought of leaving their baby to cry indefinitely makes them too uncomfortable. In the end, the parents don’t change anything and continue to struggle and suffer from sleep deprivation.
Allow me to dispel two very prominent myths about sleep training:
Myth #1- Cry-it-out is the only way to get your baby to sleep through the night.
The good news is that sleep training doesn’t need to involve leaving your baby to cry-it-out for extended periods of time as long as you have a proper sleep plan in place. There are many approaches you can use that are supportive, gradual and gentle.
See, sleep training is an umbrella term that describes teaching a baby how to fall asleep unassisted. If you have a baby who is being fed or rocked to sleep, sleep training might be appropriate so that he can learn how to fall asleep without these props.
The way in which your baby falls asleep initially at bedtime sets the tone for the rest of the night. So lets say that you have a baby who is being nursed to sleep at bedtime. When she wakes up at night, there’s a good chance she won’t be able to consistently put herself back to sleep without the help of nursing. Sleep training is fantastic if your goal is to eliminate your baby’s nightwakings that are not caused by hunger.
Now, with any type of sleep training approach, there is likely going to be crying. Your baby is bound to protest change. Remember- NOBODY likes change, even if it’s good change. It’s also going to be frustrating for your baby at first because she never learned how to fall asleep without assistance. Falling asleep independently is a SKILL, just like riding a bike. However, there are many sleep training approaches you can use that allow you to be present while your baby goes through this learning process.
Myth #2- All your baby’s night feeds must be removed during sleep training
Sleep training and night weaning are two completely different processes. Sleep training involves teaching your baby how to fall asleep unassisted. Night weaning, on the other hand, involves shifting calories from the nighttime to the daytime. Many babies are ready to be sleep trained but not yet ready to be completely night weaned! If that’s the case, it is absolutely permissible to sleep train your baby while respecting any nighttime nutritional needs your baby might have.
Even if you have an older baby who doesn’t need to be eating at night and is ready to be night weaned, you don’t need to remove those feeds cold turkey! You can remove them *gradually* so that this process is less painful for everybody.
While sleep training is not usually enjoyable, it doesn’t need to be torturous and involve hours of crying. Sleep training can be done gradually and in a supportive manner.