Greyson, the infant son of Laura Welk, slept like a newborn for the first few months of his existence. He took regular naps during the day, and a relaxing bottle at night was all that was needed to put him to sleep. Only once a night would he be awakened for a meal, which would last him until the next morning.
Until about three and a half months old, when he stopped following the regimen. After he’d been fed, Welk recalls, “he wouldn’t be asleep at the end of it.” As soon as he fell asleep, I would put him down and repeat the process for another 30 minutes. To get some rest, Welk took Greyson into bed with her, but she ended up staying there all night long with her arms around him and a pacifier inserted into his mouth. Welk confesses, “I didn’t know anything about sleep.” When I heard you couldn’t just set them down and rock them to sleep, I was shocked.
A sleep specialist helped the first-time parents identify a few variables that were preventing Greyson from obtaining a good night’s sleep at four months old: All of the rocking and pacifying had become sleep associations for him, like crutches he required to get to sleep and stay asleep. He could no longer function without them. They made the decision to put him on a sleep schedule.
Alanna McGinn, a trained sleep consultant and the founder of Good Night Sleep Site, argues that “cry it out” and “letting your kid self-soothe” aren’t the complete picture when it comes to sleep training. As a mother, “It’s more about being able to teach your infant that they are capable of going asleep independently,” she says. No matter how well you prepare for bedtime, your baby is going to wake up at some point in the night asking for the same things that helped him or her fall asleep in the first place. Yes, this can be a bit of a slap in the face. On either side of the debate, you’ll find specialists. This article’s sleep experts vary on how much wailing and distress should be tolerated by newborns of all ages, while breastfeeding supporters say it’s perfectly natural for babies to wake up many times to feed.
According to a recent study, sleep training with controlled crying and bedtime fading (both of which are discussed below) enhanced babies’ sleep without increasing cortisol levels in babies older than six months. In other words, if it helps your kid sleep better, a little crying isn’t going to do any harm.
The president of the Canadian Paediatric Society, Dr. Michael Dickinson, recommends parents to follow their gut feelings. In his opinion, there is no proof that letting your infant cry is bad for your mental health, but he believes parents should exercise some restraint. “Letting your kid cry is five to ten minutes for most of us.”
There’s no need to implement a strict cry-it-out plan if what you’re currently doing is working for you and your loved ones. It’s always a good idea to have decent sleep habits and the ability to fall asleep on one’s own. It’s possible to reduce the amount of weeping your baby (and, let’s face it, you) will do if you sleep-train at a time when your kid is developmentally competent and with the basic ingredients of healthy sleep in place.
What’s the right age for sleep training?
It’s generally recommended that you begin sleep training between the ages of four and six months, when your baby hasn’t had a lot of time to grow used to being breastfed or rocked to sleep, and when your baby hasn’t had a lot of time to get accustomed to it. Occupational therapist Jennifer Garden, who operates Sleepdreams in Vancouver, says that most babies at this age are ready to learn how to go asleep on their own. When a baby is four months old, it’s not uncommon for them to go through a sleep regression when their sleep cycles shift to include extended periods of lighter sleep. According to McGinn, now is a fantastic time to concentrate on your child’s ability to sleep independently. Around this period, other babies’ sleep is disrupted as they work on developing new abilities such as moving around and rolling. McGinn believes you don’t have to wait for things to calm down before starting a sleep training program.
Don’t panic if your infant is older than six months. There’s no such thing as too late to learn how to sleep well, says McGinn. Dickinson believes that getting newborns to sleep through the night by the time they are nine months old is a particularly good time for parents. It’s a terrific time for them to learn about routines, and they don’t need to be fed at night, he says.
However, the type of sleep-training approach you choose may be influenced by your baby’s age. A five-month-old could benefit from a mild shush-pat technique, but a one-year-old may have to be left in the crib as they protest (cry or scream) over the new nighttime arrangement. Formal sleep training should not be attempted before the fourth month of a baby’s life, when the circadian rhythm and ability to go longer periods between feedings have begun to develop. (Despite common belief, sleep training is not associated with night weaning for many babies this age.) Although many four-month-old babies are naturally capable of going through the night without a meal, Dickinson adds that you should still respond if other techniques of calming them aren’t working and feed the baby. Before you decide to stop your baby’s nighttime feedings, we recommend consulting with your doctor.
Before getting started
The first step in helping your child develop self-soothing skills is to establish a regular bedtime routine and adhere to it religiously (hint: early is usually better, typically around 7 or 8 p.m.). It’s a good idea to attempt to put them down tired but awake whenever possible, even if they fuss a little, in order to get them (and you) used to it. Establish a soothing and regular bedtime routine, such as a feed, bath, or massage, followed by pajamas and stories or songs, and make sure they’ve been awake for the appropriate amount of time before going to bed (an over or undertired baby will have problems falling asleep). When it comes to feeding your kid, some experts recommend starting the habit by feeding him or her. It’s ideal that your baby doesn’t fall asleep during your nighttime routine. Pediatric sleep expert Pamela Mitelman says, “You really want to make sure that your baby is ready for sleep,” she tells the Montreal Gazette. Garden advises her patients to be mindful of their daytime awake moments and to fill them with enough exercise and stimulation. It’s not enough for kids to just sit in a bouncy chair when they’re awake, she explains.
Here are six typical ways to help your infant learn how to fall asleep on their own once you’ve got all the components in place.
1. Check and console (also known as the Ferber method, graduated extinction, progressive waiting or the interval method)
The check-and-console approach has several modifications, but the basic ideas remain the same: To ensure that your baby is falling asleep on his or her own, you should check on him or her at regular intervals but never feed or rock him or her to sleep.
As soon as you’ve completed your nighttime routine with your child, place them in their crib and leave the room for a certain period of time (say, a minute). Enter and comfort your baby with words like “Mommy loves you” or any form of touch like a rubbed or pat. In McGinn’s opinion, it’s best not to pick up the baby. When it comes to Garden, this strategy is reserved for children seven months and older. The presence of a parent is necessary for younger newborns, especially those who have worked themselves up into a frenzy, to feel that they have not been abandoned.
Check in on them every few minutes until you’ve reached around 10 or 15 minutes, and then keep going until they fall asleep. The check-and-console intervals are restarted each time they wake up.
It may take a week for this method to take effect, but after a few nights of using it, you should begin to see results. Keeping a diary of your sleep training progress will help you feel more confident. Going into the room may upset the kid further, thus some parents may opt for a more drastic solution, such as complete extinction.
2. Extinction, or cry it out (CIO)
The goal of extinction (or full extinction, to distinguish it from gradual extinction) is to eliminate the behavior (weeping) by ignoring it. Go through your routine of putting your child to bed, making sure they are awake, saying goodnight, and then walking away, just as you would when using the check-and-console approach. Even specialists vary on the next step in this sleep-training strategy, which is based on the developmental stage of your baby and what works for you as a parent.
McGinn, for example, recommends waiting until the morning to feed your baby unless you know in advance that they will require one. McGinn admits that the first night can be difficult. It’s possible that they’d be up all night wailing.
As for Mitelman, he says parents should wait until their child wakes up for at least one or two times before returning to the room. It’s fine to go back in and cuddle your baby for a few minutes, then leave again if your baby wakes up after midnight. When it comes to nighttime feedings, she supports the idea of scheduling them in if your kid still need them.
A lot of parents are afraid of the amount of crying that may ensue. Parents are typically astonished by how quickly this works, even if McGinn admits it might be challenging at first. According to her, “yes, there is a lot of sobbing,” but it will pass quickly. A lot of sobbing may occur for two to three nights, but it will gradually decrease with time. After night three or four, you should observe a substantial difference, but it’s vital to give it a week before deciding it’s not working.
3. Chair method
McGinn provides her customers with a two-week strategy for implementing this method, which demands a lot of parental discipline. Instead of leaving the room, you sit in a chair next to the crib as you prepare your kid for bed. Leave the room when they’re asleep, but return to the chair every time they wake up until they’re back to sleep. Move the chair farther and farther away from you each night until you’re no longer in the room.
It has the advantage that mom or dad can be present, according to McGinn. There is, however, a downside: Your kid will now be witnessing you cry while they are still screaming. This strategy can be quite difficult to stick to.”
Having a parent in the room but not responding to the infant can be confusing and may also be too much stimulus for the baby, depending on the child’s age and developmental stage. “They can become so enraged that they can’t control their emotions,” she explains.
4. Pick up, put down and shush-pat
Garden supports a method for babies younger than seven months in which you remain in the room but do not give them too much assistance in falling asleep. To soothe and reassure them, you could, for example, stand over their crib and whisper to them, touch their abdomen, or apply pressure.
Another alternative is to let them scream for a while, then pick them up to calm them down, but don’t let them fall asleep until they’ve calmed down. It’s our responsibility to assist calm the youngster down, and their job is getting to sleep, Garden explains.
Aside from the fact that they can be very effective for infants as young as six or seven months old, these tactics are not recommended for older babies because they may cause your kid to become more agitated.
5. Bedtime-routine fading
Fading is a technique in which you gradually decrease the amount of time you spend practicing the approach you were using to help your baby fall asleep (such as rocking or nursing). This is an excellent method for reducing crying in babies, but many parents find it difficult to keep up with. Mitelman says, “There needs to be an end in sight.” Within a five-to-seven-day period, we’ll take a step back and see how things go. Nevertheless, Mitelman recommends giving it a go if you can stay to the strategy and bring your infant to the end goal of going to sleep without your assistance. If the youngster can get to sleep on their own, that’s the most important part of getting a good night’s sleep.
6. Bedtime-hour fading
If you’re not referring to the above-mentioned strategy of gradually shifting your baby’s bedtime from the time they usually fall asleep in their crib to a later one, then the bedtime-hour fading method is what you’re looking for. Suppose you put your kid to bed at 7:30 p.m. every night, but he or she cries and fusses for 20 minutes or more before finally falling asleep at 8 p.m. Even though you’d prefer it to be earlier, their “natural bedtime” is actually 7:50 to 8 p.m. Keep a log for a few evenings to see how long it takes your infant to go to sleep on their own. Video monitors can assist in this endeavor (if necessary). After a few evenings, start the process 15 minutes earlier than usual. In order to get your infant to sleep at the appropriate hour instead of later, try bringing bedtime forward 15 minutes each night, if necessary.
With any workout regimen, the key is to be very persistent and to commit to moving your bedtime early, adds McGinn. By being inconsistent or giving up, “the youngster has a pretty late bedtime,” adds McGinn.
Sleep Training Truths: What Science Can (And Can’t) Tell Us About Crying It Out
Since the dawn of time, most children have been reared in big, multigenerational households that include several grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The addition of a second child didn’t have a significant impact.
Increasingly, parents are doing it all on their own. A new baby can be exhausting to take care of. Rocking, sleeping, and watching The Great British Bake Off all take up too much time throughout the day. Many parents require a few hours of uninterrupted sleep for their infants at some time.
In order to protect ourselves, many of us resort to sleep training, which is a widespread but controversial method for getting a baby to sleep on her own. It’s a popular choice among parents, according to some. For them and their children, it was the only way to get any rest. Others parents believe that letting a baby cry is detrimental.
What is the evidence? Parents who are concerned about their children’s safety may find some comfort here, as we try to differentiate fact from myth. Get the basics down first.
Myth: The “cry-it-out” approach to sleep training is associated with sleep training.
Fact: Researchers are currently looking on a wide range of softer methods for improving sleep quality.
According to Jodi Mindell, a pediatric psychologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who has worked with hundreds of parents and newborns over the past two decades, “cry it out” is often used interchangeably with “sleep training” on mother blogs and parenting manuals. While this is often true, it is far from the case most of the time.
The term “cry it out” has been associated with sleep training, which Mindell believes has given it a terrible name.
Many parents find the cry-it-out method to be cruel. Once your infant is put to bed, “you close the door and don’t come back till the next day,” Mindell explains. “But that’s not what we recommend or what most parents do.”
And scientists haven’t been focusing on this for the previous 20 years, either. Mindell, the author of one of the most often quoted research on sleep training (and the popular book Sleeping Through the Night), believes that crying it out is outdated.
“Sleep training” is an umbrella phrase that encompasses a wide range of methods for teaching babies to fall asleep on their own. Cry-it-out and the so-called Ferber method are omitted in favor of a softer approach. Educating parents about the need of good sleep habits for infants can be as simple as having the parent sleep in close proximity to the baby’s crib (a practice known as “camping out”).
“In the scientific literature, all of these treatments are grouped together as’sleep training,'” adds Mindell.
There have been various studies in which mild approaches to sleep training have been taught to parents. After putting the baby down in the crib, they’re instructed to soothe him by stroking or massaging his back. Then, the parent exits the space. After a certain period of time has passed, the parent is supposed to check up on the baby. In one study, the percentage of parents who reported sleep issues five months later was reduced by around 30% as a result of these moderate interventions.
Myth: When you’re attempting to sleep train your kid, there’s a “proper” amount of time to let him cry.
Truth: No one-size-fits-all parenting strategy works for all parents (or baby).
Mindell believes there is no magic amount of minutes for checking on a baby after putting her down. It all comes down to what parents are comfortable with, and what their children are okay with.
“It doesn’t matter if you check on the infant every 30 seconds or every five minutes,” she explains. Every 20 seconds, you’ll be going in for your first child. Ten minutes of tears may not seem like much after the third time around.
Every three minutes or every 10 minutes is not scientifically proven to be faster or more effective than checking more frequently. Many high-quality studies have been done on sleep training. Each study tries out a slightly different strategy. And there is no way to compare the various ways. A variety of techniques are often employed in research. A solid nighttime routine and sleep training can be taught in the same class. According to Mindell, it’s impossible to declare that one method is superior to another because every infant is different.
In place of an exact formula, parents should search for what Mindell refers to as “the magic moment,” which is when the child is able to go asleep on their own without parental supervision. Some babies may benefit from more soothing or more check-ins, while others may benefit from less soothing or fewer check-ins.
I ultimately realized that one form of weeping signified that my baby was in need of some attention, while the other indicated that she wanted to be left alone.
There are several ways in which a proper sleep routine can improve your life. Mindell believes that education is essential. One study I just reviewed found that newborns are more likely to sleep well at 3 and 6 months when their parents learn about how babies sleep.
What works best for you and your family and your baby’s temperament will have to be a matter of trial and error, she says.
Myth: If you don’t hear a lot of sobbing, you’re not doing it right.
A kinder approach to work is also possible. Occasionally, nothing works at all.
Mindell argues that if you don’t want to hear a lot of sobbing, you don’t have to.
At least for the first few months of a baby’s life, the scientific literature supports milder approaches like camping and parental education. There were 52 papers on sleep training strategies examined by Mindell in 2006. In 49 research, parents reported fewer night wakings and less resistance to sleep at bedtime thanks to sleep training.
Babies can be taught to sleep independently faster if they “cry it out,” according to a widely held idea. Mindell, on the other hand, asserts that there is no evidence to support this claim.
“Parents want to know like what’s the most successful technique,” Mindell explains. “However, the parents and the infant will determine what that is. It’s a one-of-a-kind recipe. You can’t argue with the facts here.”
Avoid pushing too hard if nothing seems to be working. According to Mindell, roughly 20% of babies don’t respond well to sleep training.
“For whatever reason,” she explains, “your child may not be ready for sleep training.” “Maybe they’re too young, maybe they’re going through separation anxiety, or there may be an underlying medical condition, such as reflux.” ”
There is a common misconception that if a baby is successfully sleep-trained, he or she will always sleep through the night.
Most sleep training methods assist some parents for a while, but they don’t always persist.
When it comes to long-term results, don’t anticipate miracles from any sleep training approach
If parents want to know how much better a baby sleeps or the frequency with which they wake up after using a strategy, there are no studies large enough or quantitative enough to do so.
According to Mindell, “I think that idea is a made-up fantasy. Despite the fact that we can’t guarantee how much progress your child will make, “any improvement is a wonderful thing.”
A few months of retraining may be necessary even if breakthrough sobbing occurs during the night, according to historical studies on the cry-it-out method.
Sleep training studies often don’t take into account how long a baby sleeps or how often he or she wakes up. Measurement of sleep improvement is based on parent accounts, which can be skewed. It has been shown that a mild sleep training strategy lowered the likelihood of parents reporting sleep problems in their 1-year-old by roughly 30 percent. After two years, however, the influence on those children was gone.
Another study found that for a short period of time, two types of sleep training helped newborns sleep better. One method involved allowing the infant to wail for longer lengths of time, while the other involved shifting the baby’s bedtime to a later time (the time at which he naturally falls asleep) and progressively increasing the time until the ideal bedtime was reached. Both methods were examined. Baby’s time to sleep and number of times they wake up at night were both lowered by both ways, it appears.
However, the sample size was only 43 newborns. In addition, the consequences on the babies differed substantially in terms of their size. As a result, it’s difficult to predict how much progress may be expected. Three months after using either strategy, babies were still waking up one to two times a night on average.
Be realistic about your expectations, especially over the long run. It’s possible that even if the training has worked for your infant, the benefit will wear off, and you may find yourself back at square one.
Sleep training or not sleep training my children may hurt them in the long run, according to a myth.
Regardless of what you choose, there is no evidence that it will harm your child in the long run.
Parental concerns about the long-term effects of sleep training have arisen. Not doing so may cause complications for their children in the future.
Dr. Harriet Hiscock, an Australian pediatrician at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital who has written numerous studies on the subject, maintains that none of these fears has any basis in fact.
One of the rare long-term research was led by Hiscock. More than 200 families participated in the randomized controlled experiment, which is the gold standard in medical research. The study is frequently cited as “evidence” that the cry-it-out strategy isn’t harmful to children in parenting blogs and books. A closer inspection reveals that the study does not actually measure crying it out. Instead, it puts to the test two more moderate approaches, one of which is a camping trip.
As Hiscock puts it, “it’s not as simple as closing the door and walking away.”
Both mild sleep training methods and routine pediatric care were offered to families in the study. To investigate if the sleep training had any negative impacts on their children’s emotional health or their relationship with their parents, Hiscock and his colleagues re-interviewed the families five years after the training. The researchers also assessed the children’s levels of stress and monitored their sleep patterns during their study.
In the end, Hiscock and her colleagues found no long-term differences between the children who had been sleep trained as babies and those who had not. Hiscock and her colleagues There were no negative effects on children’s behavior, sleep, or the parent-child bond,” Hiscock explains.
In other words, by the time children reached the age of six, the light sleep training had made no change — good or bad — in their sleep habits. Therefore, Hiscock believes that parents should not be under any pressure to sleep train or not sleep train a baby.
Parents shouldn’t be made to feel bad about their decision to use sleep training, adds Hiscock. It’s up to us to present them with the facts and allow them to draw their own conclusions.
Sleep training tips
It takes time and effort to successfully sleep train your child, regardless of the approach you pick. These pointers can assist you and your infant in adjusting to the new routine. Here are some things to bear in mind:
- It’s okay if a method doesn’t work for you. A strategy that works for you, your spouse, and your kid may take some trial and error. If a method is proving to be a complete nightmare, don’t be scared to abandon it. Also, remember to mix methods if necessary. It doesn’t matter if you use one strategy or another; it’s all about finding what works best for you. Be consistent for at least one week once you’ve found a way you’re happy with so your kid can master this new ability.
- Ultimately, it is up to the parent or caregiver to make sleep training succeed. According to Dr. Schwartz, sleep training is more about the parent than the child. Starting sleep training with an ignorant caregiver is a recipe for disaster. It’s also a good idea for them to follow a regular sleep training program. It’s not going to work if one of the partners always breaks from the routine. Nonetheless, you should always rely on your instincts because you know your child best.
- Establish a regular bedtime regimen. It’s just as vital to get your kid ready for bed as it is to teach him or her to sleep. When you establish a nighttime routine for your child, he or she will begin to understand the notion of time and begin to anticipate what will happen. Then read while you’re getting cleaned up and fed. The sleep-onset association might be lessened by feeding your infant in a separate room or location. Learning to relax and wind down for the night will become associated with this pattern. Many newborns and toddlers learn to self-soothe as a result of a regular bedtime ritual.
- Make sure you have the correct amount of lead time. A baby who is yawning or rubbing their eyes might be getting ready for bed. In order to get your baby to sleep, you should start when he or she is just about to go asleep but not quite there.
- Don’t get sucked in by every whimper or scream. There’s no need to freak out if your infant is safe and sound in his or her crib. There will very certainly be some crying or fussing involved, regardless of the sleep training approach you select. To ensure that your infant has the opportunity to master this critical new ability, you must allow him or her the time and space necessary. You’ll be glad you persevered through sleep training once you’ve crossed the finish line!
- Take pride in who you are! Your infant is sensitive to your moods and feelings. If you feel confident throughout this process your baby will feel that way too.
If you have any questions or concerns about sleep training or anything else, don’t be afraid to ask your pediatrician.