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Ultimate Guide to Sleep Training: What It Is and Common Myths

March 1, 2024

Cynthia Unuigbe, MD

MD, Certified Pediatric Consultant

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Sleep Training
Sleep training is a topic that often sparks debate among parents. With so much conflicting information and various methods being touted as the "right" way to help your baby sleep, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to do. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the concept of sleep training, debunk common myths surrounding it, and provide insights into finding the right approach for your family.

Understanding Sleep Training

Sleep training is a term that encompasses different strategies aimed at helping babies and young children establish healthy sleep habits. It involves teaching infants to fall asleep independently and self-soothe when they wake up during the night. Baby Sleep Training methods can vary widely, from gradual approaches that involve parental presence and support to more direct methods that encourage self-soothing without parental intervention.

Myth #1: Sleeping Through the Night

One common misconception about sleep training is the idea that it means a baby will sleep through the night without any interruptions. However, the reality is that both babies and adults naturally wake up multiple times during the night. The goal of sleep training is to teach babies how to self-soothe and put themselves back to sleep without relying on external assistance. When a baby is an independent sleeper, it means they can settle themselves back to sleep during these normal nocturnal arousals. This ability is crucial for uninterrupted sleep and helps babies develop healthy sleep patterns. By teaching babies to fall asleep independently at bedtime and nap times, parents can enable them to self-soothe during the night and minimize night waking.

Myth #2: Eliminating Nighttime Feedings

Another common myth  is the belief that it requires eliminating all nighttime feedings. While it's true that sleep training can help babies gradually reduce their reliance on nighttime feedings, it doesn't mean that all feedings should be eliminated at once. Strategies like dream feeding promote sleep and feeding can be employed by parents for infants that still require nighttime feeds. Parents need to consult with their pediatrician to determine if their baby still requires nighttime feedings. For some babies over four months of age, one to two nighttime feedings are typically sufficient. Parents know their babies best and should assess from their feeding log whether their nighttime waking is due to hunger or other factors. It's crucial to strike a balance between meeting a baby's nutritional needs and encouraging them to develop self-soothing skills.

Myth #3: The Stranger-in-the-House Approach

One misconception about sleep training is the belief that hiring a sleep consultant means having a stranger stay overnight in your home. However, this is not the case for the majority of sleep consultants. Most sleep consultants work remotely, providing consultations via video conferences or in-person depending on the preference of the parents. The initial consultation typically involves gathering information about your family's sleep situation, discussing your goals, and addressing any concerns. Based on this information, the sleep consultant develops a personalized sleep plan for your baby. Follow-up support is provided through email, text, or additional consultations depending on the program. It's important to find a sleep consultant whose approach aligns with your values and comfort level.

Crying It Out All Night

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of sleep training is the idea of "crying it out" or the "CIO" method. Many parents are apprehensive about letting their baby cry without offering immediate comfort. However, it's essential to understand that crying during sleep training is often a sign of frustration rather than distress. In most cases, babies cry during training because they are seeking assistance to fall asleep. This is why most Baby Sleep Training methods involve some form of checking in and comforting the baby during the process. The goal is to gradually teach babies to fall asleep independently, allowing them to develop the skills necessary for self-soothing. It's important to remember that the crying typically diminishes over time as babies learn to soothe themselves to sleep.

Myth #5: Sleep Training Newborns

One myth that needs debunking is the idea that sleep training should be applied to newborns. Sleep conditioning is recommended in newborns as parents can start to implement these healthy sleep strategies from inceptions and their newborns associate comfort and sleep with the right behavior. Parents are essentially proactive which is what we advocate at Sleep & Cradle® Solutions. It's important to prioritize establishing a strong parent-baby bond and meeting the newborn's needs for feeding, comfort, and closeness. During the first few months, it's normal for newborns to feed frequently during the night. However, as babies grow and their sleep patterns mature, the frequency of their night feeds reduces, with the right strategies a healthy sleep habit can be implemented from the onset.

Myth #6: Rigid Rules and Approaches

One of the most significant misconceptions about sleep training is the belief that it requires adhering to rigid rules or a one-size-fits-all approach. In reality, it should be tailored to fit your family's unique circumstances and values. A good sleep consultant will work with you to develop a plan that aligns with your parenting style and comfort level. Finding a approach that feels right for your family involves considering various factors. These include your child's age, temperament, health, and your family's dynamics. It's crucial to take into account your child's individual needs and consult with healthcare professionals as needed. Remember, it should never compromise your bond with your child or cause undue stress for either of you.

The Right Approach to Sleep Training

Now that we've debunked some common myths surrounding sleep training, let's explore the key factors to consider when choosing the right approach for your family.

1.     Assessing Sleep Environment

Creating an optimal sleep environment is crucial for successful sleep training. Evaluate the conditions in your baby's sleep environment, ensuring it is conducive to restful sleep. Remove any potential disturbances or distractions and create a calm and soothing atmosphere. Consider factors such as room temperature, lighting, noise levels, and the comfort of your baby's crib or bed.

2.    Establishing a Consistent Routine

A consistent daily routine is essential for promoting healthy sleep habits. Establish regular nap times, bedtime routines, and wake-up times to help regulate your baby's internal clock. Consistency helps signal to your baby's brain that it's time to sleep, making it easier for them to settle down and fall asleep independently.

3.     Making Bedtime Sleep Changes

If you're introducing changes to your baby's sleep routine, bedtime is the ideal time to implement them. At bedtime, our bodies naturally experience higher sleep pressure, making it easier to fall asleep. Take advantage of this natural sleepiness and introduce any new sleep training techniques or adjustments to your baby's sleep routine during bedtime, it also important to stay consistent with your modifications.

4.    Assessing Your Baby's Sleep Associations

Understanding how your baby currently falls asleep is crucial for effective sleep training. Identify any sleep associations or dependencies your baby may have. Sleep associations can include rocking, nursing, or being held to fall asleep. Gradually weaning your baby off these negative sleep associations can help them learn to fall asleep independently and self-soothe during the night.

5.    Choosing Your Presence during Sleep Training

Decide whether you will be present in the room throughout the sleep training process or if you will step out for periods of time. Some parents prefer to provide continuous support and reassurance, while others find that intermittent check-ins work best for their baby. Choose an approach that aligns with your parenting style and your baby's needs.

6.    Considering Age-Appropriate Sleep Training

While sleep training can be implemented at any age, it's important to consider your child's developmental stage. Techniques and approaches may vary depending on your baby's age and sleep needs. For example, methods suitable for toddlers may not be appropriate for infants. Consult with your pediatric sleep consultant to determine the best approach for your baby's age.

7.     Seeking Professional Guidance

If you're feeling overwhelmed or unsure about how to approach sleep training, seeking professional guidance can be beneficial. A pediatric sleep consultant or baby sleep consultant can provide personalized advice and support tailored to your family's needs. They can help you navigate the process, answer your questions, and offer guidance to promote healthy sleep habits for your baby.

8.    Trusting Your Instincts

As a parent, it's important to trust your instincts and make decisions based on what feels right for you and your baby. While there are many opinions and approaches to sleep training, ultimately, you know your baby best. Consider your family's values, your baby's unique needs, and your comfort level when choosing a sleep training approach. Trusting your instincts will help ensure that you make choices that align with your family's well-being.

Baby Sleep Training FAQ

Q: Will sleep training affect the bond with my baby?

A: When done with sensitivity and responsiveness to your baby’s needs, sleep training does not harm the parent-child bond. It's about gradually teaching your baby the skill of falling asleep independently, which can improve sleep for the whole family.

Q: How long does baby sleep training typically take?

A: The duration of sleep training varies depending on the method used and the individual baby. Some babies may adjust within a few days, while others might take a few weeks to fully adapt to new sleep habits.

Q: Is it normal for my baby to cry during sleep training?

A: Some amount of protest or crying can be normal as your baby learns to fall asleep on their own. It’s important to distinguish between normal fussing and distress and to have a plan for how to respond to your baby's cries.

Q: Can I still feed my baby at night if we are sleep training?

A: Yes, you can. Sleep training isn't about eliminating all nighttime feedings abruptly, especially if your baby is still at an age where they need them. The key is to gradually teach your baby to fall asleep without feeding as a sleep association.

Q: What should I do if sleep training isn't working?

A: If you're finding that you do not see the anticipated result sleep training yourself, it might be helpful to reassess your approach, and consider working with a pediatric  sleep consultant.

 Q: When should I consider sleep training? 

 A: Considering a chat with a baby sleep consultant as soon as your baby is born could be a wise move to gently steer those newborn sleep patterns toward long-term blissful bedtimes. No matter the age of your little one, if you're finding yourself in need of some guidance, reach out to a trusted pediatric sleep consultant. They're your ally in demystifying the sleep puzzle and can offer a supportive hand when you need it most.

Conclusion

Sleep training,with  Sleep & Cradle®, can be a valuable tool in helping you get the rest your deserve postpartum and your baby develops healthy sleep habits. By understanding what sleep training truly entails and debunking common myths, you can approach it with confidence and find an approach that works for your family. Remember, sleep training is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and it's essential to consider your baby's individual needs and your family's dynamics. With the right approach, patience, and consistency, you can help your baby develop the skills to sleep soundly and wake up refreshed.    

Cynthia Unuigbe, MD

MD, Certified Pediatric Consultant

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