Sleep training doesn’t always mean letting baby cry it out by themselves. Here are several misconceptions and truths I learned from sleep training my baby.
Talking about sleep training with other parents can turn into a heated discussion. Not only are there many methods of sleep training but there are also a lot of parents who are passionately for or against using sleep training methods.
I’ve written about some of our sleep challenges in other posts and the sleep training methods that we are using. We are learning a lot along the way while sleep training our daughter. I thought it would be helpful to share our experience with Bibi along with science-based research to combat some of the common misconceptions surrounding sleep training.
Misconception #1: Sleep Training = Cry It Out
Over the years, sleep training has become synonymous with the cry-it-out method. Many people hear sleep training and imagine parents neglecting baby’s cries and letting them cry themselves to sleep.This method, also known as the Ferber Method or “graduated extinction,” is only one of many sleep training methods. There are alternative, more gentle methods of sleep training besides cry-it-out.
With Bibi we used a method of letting her cry for a short period of time (several minutes) and no longer. After the pre-determined time was up, we enter the room, give her cuddles and reassure her we are there to meet her needs. During this time Bibi gradually learned that we would always come back. This helped increase her confidence in being in her crib alone and as she tolerated being alone long enough she started to self-soothe and actually fall asleep by herself.
The overall goal of sleep training methods is to teach babies to self-soothe. While it is normal for adults and kids alike to wake up in the middle of the night, it is an important skill to be able to fall asleep again. Through their different methodologies, sleep training gives parents the tools to help their babies gain this skill. Cry-it-out is NOT the only way to sleep train.
Misconception #2: Sleep Training is Harmful for Baby
One of the most common misconceptions about sleep training is that it can cause long-term emotional and behavioral problems. The most well-known study that disproves this belief followed up with the parents of 326 six-year-olds who were involved with a sleep training study as babies. In the original study, half of the participants were taught behavioral sleep techniques (sleep training) while the other half didn’t sleep train.
Of the 225 families who participated in the follow-up, there was “no evidence of differences” between the control group and the experimental group. The conclusion of this follow-up study states: “Behavioral sleep techniques have no marked long-lasting effects (positive or negative). Parents and health professionals can confidently use these techniques to reduce the short- to medium-term burden of infant sleep problems and maternal depression.”
Many parents worry that not responding to their child’s cries will cause separation anxiety or attachment problems. This study shows that sleep training does not cause long-term harm.
Misconception #3: Sleep Training is For the Parents’ Benefit
Dr. Sujay Kansagra, the director of the Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program at Duke University, lays out a number of baby sleep training myths in Sleep training your child: myths and facts every parent should know.
One of these myths is that sleep training is for the benefit of the caregiver only. Kansagra points out that helping a child learn to self-soothe gives them better quality sleep. “Imagine waking up multiple times each night and having to cry in order to get put back to sleep.”
Sleep training your baby will help them gain important self-soothing skills that will help them sleep better.
Personally, I feel that Bibi really thrives on having a routine, especially one which involves a long stretch of uninterrupted sleep. I wrote about a period of time when she was consistently waking up at 5 a.m., but was cranky, clingy and didn’t play well independently. We knew she needed more sleep.
Once we helped Bibi get back to her regular routine, she returned back to her happy self. Seeing the difference in my own baby made me believe even more in the importance of helping babies learn the skills to fall and stay asleep by themselves.
Misconception #4: Sleep Training starts when babies are too young
Most sleep training programs recommend beginning when baby is at least 3 months of age. According to Standford Children’s Health, babies this age need 9-10 hours of sleep a night and start sleeping less during the day.
Closer to the end of two months, I found Bibi finally developed a long stretch of night time sleep which was about 3-4 hours at a time. It happened naturally and took me for a surprise. Prior to that Bibi only slept for 1-2 hours and often only in my arms.
Watching her sleep needs and abilities change around three months old helped me understand why sleep training programs recommend training baby no earlier than this age. Around 3 months old is when babies make a big developmental leap. They sleep less during the day and are then able to sleep more at night.
Experts discourage the use of more drastic sleep training methods like The Ferber Method until babies are at least six months old. But gentler sleep training methods, like how we sleep trained Bibi, can begin around three months old. Prior to this, babies are unable to sleep for longer periods of time than 2-3 hours.
Misconception #5: Babies are deprived of food
Training a baby to sleep through the night does not mean that you deprive baby of a feeding when she requests it. Hunger might be the cause of night wakings for babies older than 3 months, but night nursing at this age can be more of a sleep crutch. Baby can become conditioned to use feedings to be soothed back to sleep when you immediately offer breast or bottle at a night waking,
Methods like the S.I.T.B.A.C.K method help parents eliminate other possible reasons for night wakings. You move through suggestions and use the least obtrusive to way to help baby back to sleep. Feeding is the last alternative in this method.
If you are planning to sleep train, you can also try to prevent wakings from hunger. We used a method we to phase Bibi out of night feedings. In the Taking Cara Babies Sleep Training Program, they call it “topping off the tank.”
We provide regular feedings throughout the day according to the baby’s hunger cues. Then, we offer one last dream feed at a time in the night when the baby has the strongest urge to get back to sleep.
When Bibi was close to 4 months old, her caloric intake during the day increased. With no concern for her weight gain we decided to stop waking her up for that last feed. She slept through the night without requesting for it again. Baby was not denied a feed when needed in a gradual baby-led process.
Each baby is an individual. Unfortunately, we can’t pinpoint an exact time when they will sleep continuously throughout the night without needing a feeding. This brings me to a couple of final truths about sleep training.
Truth: Every Baby is Different
Although it’s great to see Bibi respond so well to sleep training, I recognize that every child is different. Not every baby will sleep through the night. This doesn’t make them “bad sleepers,” nor does it make their parents bad sleep trainers. After all, babies have spent 9 months physically being a part of us. It is very natural and beautiful that they would want to continue to be close to us at all times.
I have friends who say that they had mixed results in sleep training their multiple children. Even though they have the same parents, each child responded differently. I also had several friends who tried sleep training at the same time with the same resources as me. They didn’t have the same success with sleep training. Some of them went on to hire professional sleep trainers. In some cases it helped and in some, it didn’t.
These parents moved on. They accepted that their child would wake up multiple times a night and need to be comforted in order to go back to sleep. I really admired their patience and great attitude. Not every child will sleep the way we hope for them.
It’s perfectly normal for different people, whether they be adults or babies, to have different sleep urges. Compared to my daughter, I am a terrible sleeper. No matter how hard I try, I can sleep no more than 6 hours a night.
We realize we are lucky to have a baby who loves to sleep. For us, sleep training helped her learn (or maybe just help reinforce her natural urge) to sleep through the night. But I know that not all babies respond the same way. I have learned from my friends that patience and acceptance is key to making it through this stage of parenthood.
Truth: Expect Judgement
Lastly, I learned that just like any decision you make for your baby, there will always be pushback from others.
Luckily, we now live at a time in which we have easy access to science-based research. We can make informed decisions in collaboration with our medical support team. For our family, we find what’s most important is to always pay attention to Bibi’s behavior. We use her as a guide for all of the different information we are sifting through and trying out.
Doing research and feeling confident in your choice for sleep training will help you as you encounter judgment. Try to remember that people are generally coming from a place of love when they comment on our parenting choices. When others respond negatively to our parenting choices I can feel confident in my own choices because of the research I have done.
As always, I hope sharing our experiences with Bibi will help you. You can read all about our sleep training in this sleep series.