Why You Should Sleep Train Your Baby and How to Do It

In the last two weeks I’ve had a couple of conversations with new moms about sleep training. It seems to be a hot topic so before I begin let me say that everyone is free to choose how they raise their kids and I don’t condemn or judge anyone who differs with the ideas in this post.

So, here’s a question from a mom of a baby boy of almost 3 months:

I have read a few articles on ‘sleep training’ but in practise it’s a lot harder to actually implement. How did you get your children to sleep when they were a lot smaller? Did you let them ‘cry it out’? My son was born just at the time when the weather was starting to get cold so out of fear of him catching a cold so young we made him sleep on my husband’s chest most nights. As a result of this he tends to want to sleep in my arms during the day. So now the struggle is getting him to sleep longer on his own in his cot. Seeing as we created this ‘monster’ ourselves, would the best way to change this be to lie him down in his cot to sleep and not pick him up even if he cries till he gets it that he can and should sleep on his own, or is there another way we can train him to like or be able to sleep on his own?

Don’t we all want our babies to just sleep without us having to rock/bounce/shush/sing/breastfeed for an hour (sometimes hours!)?

I never knew anything about sleep training back when my kids were born, but as I read about it on the internet (See here and here and here)  I realised I actually did sleep train! (And by the way, I had one easy baby, one very colicky baby and another fussy baby, so it’s not like I had dream kids J)

Before we talk about why you should sleep train or how you should do it, let’s look at an important principle in parenting.

Expectations.

What do you expect or want from your child? Do you expect him/her to sleep on their own? Do you expect them to keep waking you for the next three years? If you expect your baby to learn to go to sleep on their own then what are you doing now to work towards that?

You get what you tolerate.

Like I said, I knew nothing of sleep training when I had my kids, but I soon realised that I wasn’t into spending hours rocking my babies to sleep, and I wasn’t planning to have to lie with my kids each night until they fell asleep.

When our daughter was born we lived with Richard’s parents and did not have a room for the baby.  In my ignorance I rocked her to sleep every night because I didn’t want her crying to disturb my in-laws (I also didn’t think I could just put her down to sleep.)  After 6 months we moved into our own house and I decided that I was done with the rocking.  So the first night I put her in her cot in her own room after kissing and cuddling and saying good night and then walked out the room.  Well, she yelled for an hour and I felt terrible but I did not go into the room. The next night I did the same but she cried for less time and the third night she cried even less.  Within a week she was going to sleep on her own.

Then came baby no 2.  He was so colicky that he spent a lot of time at night sleeping on my chest those first couple of months. (He seemed to do fine during the day). But as he outgrew the colic I began putting him down to sleep while he was still awake.

Baby no 3 was fussy but I made sure I didn’t make the mistake of rocking him to sleep either. As the kids grew older I never had to lie with them to get them to sleep. I put them to bed and they stayed there.

There are some marvellous benefits to sleep training:

  • It gives you time for yourself. As more children come along time is going to be a precious commodity. You want to be able to put your kids to bed and know they will stay there.
  • You get to sleep more! When you sleep more life doesn’t seem so overwhelming. You can cope better with the crying, laundry, teething and all the other joys of parenting!
  • It gives you time as a couple. Kids place a fair amount of strain on a marriage and having time as a couple is vital.  Take care of this relationship, it is the primary one in a family.
  • It teaches a child to comfort themselves – an important life skill.
  • It teaches healthy independence from a young age.

Before you actually sleep train there are a few things you should get down:

  • Be sure your baby is old enough (at least 3 months) but don’t wait that long to start. Make independent sleeping your goal and take baby steps (‘scuse the pun) toward that.
  • Don’t start any habits you won’t be prepared to continue later on – like having white noise (a fan), music, rocking, or breastfeeding. Constantly aim for independent sleeping.
  • Establish a daily routine. When your baby naps regularly, eats at regular intervals, and has regular awake time she/he will be more restful and secure.
  • Establish a bedtime routine. Supper, bath, brushing teeth (if they have any), story time, prayers, bed-time. Do the same thing every single night.  Babies learn by repetition and they soon learn to know what to expect next.

Now that you have that down, it’s time to put your baby to bed. Awake. (Gulp!) For little babies you focus on drowsy but awake.  After 6 months make sure your baby is ready to sleep but still awake.  This allows your baby to do all the work of getting from sleepy to sleeping all by himself.

There are a number of methods to try. (They all involve crying, so get used to that idea!)

The Bible reminds us that crying isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“Chasten (discipline) thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.”  Proverbs 19:15

This is easier said than done, but if you can act on principle here it’s going to be a great benefit to both you and your baby.

Here are four sleep training options for you to consider:

Pick Up/Put Down Pretty self-explanatory.  You put your baby down and walk out the room.  Wait a few minutes (you decide how long) and then go in and pick your baby up, comfort her and calm her and then put her back down. Do this at regular intervals, extending the time between each pick up.

Chair Method or Fading

You sit in the room with your baby while he is in his crib.  No pick ups.  Your presence is a reassurance that you are there. (Sounds like torture for the parent…)

Controlled Comforting or Ferber method

This method involves going into your baby’s room and comforting your baby.  You don’t pick her up but you can shush, pat, say comforting things, but only for 1 minute then you leave the room again.  Don’t wait for your baby to calm down, just reassure her (and yourself 😉 )

Extinction or Cry-it-out

This is like the cold-turkey method.  You don’t respond at all to your child’s crying and wait for them to fall asleep on their own. This is the method I unknowingly used and while it seems harsh it may work the quickest! It’s something like giving up chocolate – better to give it up completely than to keep having one less each day and gradually cutting it out.  In my mind this method is the shortest route to the goal!

You may be wondering if sleep training is going to damage your child psychologically.  Search the net and you will find opinions on both sides.  I’m not going to get into that debate here, but from what I’ve read, those opposed to sleep training seem to be of the mind that babies know what is best for themselves and that because sleep training doesn’t feel good to a parent that means it’s wrong.

Well, hello!  Who ever said that parenting was about feeling good?  What parent enjoys disciplining their children? Sometimes we have to do what is right because it is right and not consult our feelings! You as the parent are in charge here, not your baby.  You decide what goes down.

Some people argue that sleep training is selfish (benefits the parent only), that you are depriving your child of comfort and love. Nope.  Don’t you hug and kiss and cuddle and comfort all day long? Your baby should be getting enough love and cuddles all day long to satisfy those needs.

What’s selfish about having time to do all those “selfish” things like laundry, wiping up food and puke spills, washing dishes, and maybe brushing your teeth?

When you look at the long-term then sleep training is a good thing. You are investing in the future and it will make having more kids much easier!  

What are your thoughts about sleep training?  Has it worked for you? Did you try it and give up because it was too hard?

About The Author

Jennifer Lovemore

Jennifer has diplomas in relationship counselling and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), is a certified SYMBIS facilitator, and is certified in TPM (Transformation Prayer Minsitry). She lives in South Africa, has three grown children, and is married to her best friend – Richard.

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