Being a parent has become almost synonymous with being tired. Think about it: You’re entertaining, feeding, clothing, and trying to provide stimulation for a tiny human all day long, then you’re likely enjoying an interrupted night’s sleep every. single. night.
So when your baby reaches a certain age, or if you’re simply running on empty due to lack of sleep, you might be ready to sleep train your baby. Though sleep training can feel daunting to some mamas, there are many different sleep training methods to consider, different ways to teach your baby to self-soothe, plus some tips and tricks to help both mom and baby sleep a little easier.
What is Sleep Training?
Sleep training is the process by which you teach your baby to fall asleep without being soothed by you. That means, no rocking, singing, or feeding to sleep. But it doesn’t mean that you don’t do a solid bedtime routine with your sleep training baby. (More on that below.)
Sleep training is also teaching your baby to soothe him or herself back to sleep when they wake throughout the night. Hence, why babies that learn to self-soothe “sleep through the night,” meaning they likely wake up, but don’t cry—or cry only briefly—before being able to soothe themselves back to sleep.
Sleep Training Methods
There are many different sleep training methods, from the well-known cry it out (CIO) method to the Ferber check and console routine to even one that involves moving a chair across your baby’s room. Yes, really. Here’s a breakdown of three common different sleep training methods:
- Ferber method. Also known as check-and-console, this method involves parents returning to comfort the baby at gradual intervals. This method is meant to teach the baby that he/she is not alone right from the start, so it works like this: you lay the baby down for bedtime, then wait 1 minute and go in and check on them. Then you leave the room and wait 3 minutes and go back in, then 5 minutes, and so on. The key to this method is that parents not pick the baby up out of the crib; they only console the baby with some gentle shushing or patting, for example. You will also do the gradual checks if your baby wakes up at night too. It’s recommended that you space out the checks gradually until you are waiting about 15 minutes between each one. This method could take about a week to work.
- Cry it Out. The cry it out method, also called the extinction method, is just what it sounds like. Even if the sleep training baby wakes during the night and cries, parents do not go in to comfort the baby. The idea is that if the parents stop responding to the baby’s cries, he or she will eventually stop the behavior. In other words, the behavior will become extinct. This method is very controversial and some experts warn that this method should not be used before 5 or 6 months old. It’s also worth noting that there are no hard-and-fast rules with this method; you can set a time limit, for instance, or decide that you will allow one feed or cuddle at night. It’s all about figuring out what works for every family and every individual baby.
- Chair method. When using this sleep training method, parents sit in a chair (or on the floor) near the crib until the baby falls asleep. Each night, they move the chair further and further away from the crib until it’s out of the room and theoretically, the baby can fall asleep on his or her own.
When Should I Start Sleep Training My Baby?
It depends. Generally speaking, you could begin sleep training your baby between 4 and 6 months. That’s because older babies can go longer between feedings, but still be young enough to learn different methods of self-soothing before habits set in.
If you plan to use the cry it out method, you may want to wait until your baby is 5 or 6 months old, as some experts warn against using their method before then. Still nervous about sleep training? A study on sleep training from the American Association of Pediatrics found that not only are there multiple benefits to having well-rested kids and parents, but that there are no major social or psychological differences between 6-year-olds whose parents used the CIO method and those who didn’t.
Do You Have to Sleep Train?
Nope. You don’t have to sleep train your baby. If your baby is naturally a good sleeper and is able to self-soothe, there’s no need to sleep train your baby. In that case, it would be more about finding your baby’s natural wake windows and sleep patterns and using those to your advantage.
Doesn’t sound like your baby? You’re not alone. A 2018 study found that only 57% of babies slept or 8 hours straight at night. While sleep training may not be right for every baby, the overwhelming research shows that sleep training and teaching your baby to self-soothe can be ultimately beneficial. It’s also important to remember that every family and every baby is different, so what works for someone else may not work for you and vice a versa. The bottom line is, though, if you’re suffering from a lack of sleep, you do have options for better sleep in your future.
How Do I Get my Baby to Self Soothe?
Many mamas shy away from sleep training because they worry about missing out on those sweet bedtime snuggles. But that’s not what sleep training is at all. A large part of helping your baby to self-soothe is creating and maintaining the same bedtime routine every night, even when you’re traveling or not in our own home.
At our house, bedtime lasts about 40 minutes and is the same every night, even down to the song we sing. We do bath time, baby lotion, a special song, pajamas, white noise machine, feeding, then put the baby in his bed drowsy, but not asleep.
Another way to help your baby self-soothe is to create the ideal sleeping space: a cool, dark room with a noise machine. The goal is to create a routine and sleep cues so your baby will know when it’s time for bed.
What if We Share a Room?
But what if you share a room and want to sleep train your baby? There are a few ways to tackle this. First, you could do the entire bedtime routine with your baby, put him or her down in their bassinet or crib, then leave the room and return later to go to sleep once your baby is sleeping more soundly, which usually takes about 20 minutes.
You might also consider putting the baby’s bed or bassinet behind a room divider. That way, your baby won’t be able to see you, which can complicate the sleep training process. And if you’re sharing a room, don’t forget the white noise machine. It can help cancel out any sounds mom and dad accidentally make and keep everyone sleeping soundly, and hopefully, through the night.
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Reviewed by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN…