What is sleep training? Sleep training is an evolution of roles; the parent is passing off the job of falling asleep to their child. Parents communicate new expectations to their child regarding their sleep habits, the child is emotionally supported through the change, and the child has the opportunity to learn new skills.
Is it gentle? Absolutely! Setting up boundaries to give your child the gift of restorative, connected sleep is one of the many ways you can care for them. Being present and connected with them as they share their big emotions with you is a gentle way to guide them through the process. Additionally, being honest with your child about your own needs is also a wonderful way to respect them as fellow humans.
How long does it take? If you follow the sleep plan with commitment and consistency, you should see dramatic improvement in less than a week. Most families reach their sleep goals by the end of the 2-week support period, though some may take a bit longer. Typically, toddlers/preschoolers who are not in a crib may need an additional week.
Will my child cry? Does your child have preferences? Does your child have feelings? Then, yes; there will probably be some crying. Through the process of sleep learning, your child is welcome to communicate how they feel about their preferences. Learning new skills can be frustrating! As a parent, you are their safe place, the person who will lovingly be present with them while they share their feelings.
Will sleep training harm my child? No. There is no research that shows that crying for a limited period of time in the sleep-learning process harms children. You are a loving caregiver, meeting your child’s needs; that includes their need for quality sleep (and a rested parent!).
But does it work while breastfeeding? Absolutely. You can breastfeed and allow your child to learn independent sleep skills.
Do I have to night wean? No. Establishing independent sleep skills and night weaning are two separate processes. If you are dealing with frequent wakings, some will probably go away once your child has learned other ways of falling back to sleep. Depending on your specific situation and the advice of your pediatrician, you can decide if it makes sense to gently encourage your baby to have fewer feeds during the night.
If I’m breastfeeding, can I just have my partner do the sleep training for me, so baby doesn’t have to think about nursing? This works for some families, but it is not my typical recommendation. If nursing has consistently been a part of your child’s sleep routine, then the nursing parent should to be the one to communicate the new boundaries.
* There are unique circumstances where it may make sense to approach this differently. If you have concerns, let’s talk.
I don’t do well with strict schedules. Will this work for me? Yes! The truth is, babies don’t respect strict schedules either. My philosophy around infant sleep is more of a middle ground. We keep some consistent rhythms throughout the day, pay attention to ideal wake times and total sleep for baby, and consider the needs of the whole family. I usually recommend families work toward a consistent morning wake up and bedtime by around 3 months, while understanding that there can be a lot of variability in the daytime schedule, depending on the child’s age. The big exception would be when you have a young toddler (12-24 mos) taking 1 nap. At this age, they really can’t afford to skip the nap and the best sleep is going to happen at home in their crib at a pretty consistent time.
Can we continue with bed-sharing? You certainly can, but I’m not going to be the right sleep consultant for you. I support families who wish to teach their children to fall asleep independently in a separate, safe sleep space, according to AAP guidelines. For infants 0-12 months, this would be a bassinet, crib, or pack-n-play. This can be done while room-sharing or in a separate room. If your goal is to see improvement in your child’s sleep while continuing to bed-share, I’m happy to refer you to colleagues who may be better suited to your goals.
Does my child have to sleep in their crib for every nap and bedtime? Not exactly. While I do ask clients to choose a consistent sleep space for the duration of the night, there is more flexibility for naps. Children tend to get the best quality naps when they are home in their own beds, but that doesn’t mean you are stuck at home until they stop napping. Occasionally, naps can also happen in the stroller, in a carrier, in the car, etc. Like all things parenting, you get to find the right balance of meeting your child’s needs as well as your own!
When should I transition my toddler to a bed? My recommendation is to wait as long as possible. A crib provides safety and security for babies and toddlers. Some children really struggle with having the option to get out of bed with full access to their rooms at night; that kind of freedom can often be stressful for them. I find that the transition from crib to bed goes best when you have clear boundaries and maturity on your side.
Should I wait until my child is not teething? The hard truth is, babies and toddlers seem to be always teething; if you wait until all those teeth have come in, you’ll be driving the desperate-for-sleep-train for quite a while longer.
What if my child is sick? If your child is sick, I’d recommend waiting to start a new sleep plan until they are well. If you’ve already been through the sleep learning process and you have an independent sleeper on your hands, don’t throw out all your progress at the first sign of sniffles. Usually, a mild respiratory illness isn’t enough to cause you to change anything. If baby seems to be having a hard time with sickness, I recommend changing as little as possible. Give them the space to sleep in their usual way, but don’t be afraid to also give them extra support if they show you they need it. With any illness, I will always defer to your child’s pediatrician if they have specific recommendations for your child.