What to do if sleep training isn't working

It’s 3am. Your baby’s screaming loud enough to wake the dead and you’re hovering outside the nursery door desperately trying to remember if you’re meant to be rushing in to pick her up and put her back down, counting to 72 then singing a lullaby or perching silently on a stool in the corner until your baby kindly gives you permission to leave. Congratulations! You’ve arrived at Sleep Training Central. Strap yourself in, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

What even is sleep training?

The term sleep training covers a whole heap of ways you can try to help your baby learn to sleep better. So, it’s basically the holy grail of parenting. Before your little darling arrives, it’s easy to assume that babies come into the world just knowing how to eat, poop and sleep. But that’s only true of SOME babies. And if it happens to be the case for most of the other babies you know but not yours, that can really suck.

The fact is, most babies will need a little help with falling asleep – and crucially staying asleep – and that’s where sleep training can come in. You may also see it referred to as sleep strategies because ‘training’ can suggest you’re making your tiny child drop and give you 20 in the middle of the night. Which would probably be easier, let’s be honest. Whatever you call it, sleep training holds the promise of helping everyone in the house get more sleep.

Wish you’d never started sleep training?

If you find yourself on your knees in the early hours praying to anything and everything you can think of for your precious little child to just shut their precious little eyes for one precious little minute, you need to know that you are not alone. Sleep training is something exhausted parents the world over pin their hopes on. But whether you’ve decided on self-soothing, controlled crying, ‘no-cry’ or some other approach, it’s rarely a quick fix and when it’s not working it can be truly demoralising. The potential of how game-changing sleep training can be only makes it all the harder to deal with when it doesn’t seem to be working.

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Here are a few things you can do if you feel like your sleep training journey is going off track:

Breathe

Remember all those lovely breathing techniques you learned for labor? Use them now. Like, if you’re actually in the middle of wrestling a small person who will not for the love of all things go to sleep and you’ve Googled this because you’re at the end of your tether, just take a second and breathe. If you’re in the thick of sleep training and it’s not going well, it’s so common to feel the panic rise and start thinking that if you don’t crack this thing right now this minute, it’ll never get cracked. But it’s going to be ok.

Give yourself a break

First off, congratulate yourself for giving a damn. Sleep training might not be working out quite how you’d hoped yet, but it doesn’t mean you’re a terrible parent. Take a moment to reassure yourself that you’re doing this because you’re a good parent. You care. And that’s a great start. If you need to, pass those congratulations on to anyone else involved in caring for your child too. Get it straight that you’re all on the same team and you’re doing a great job. If you decide to take five and try sleep training again in a few days’ or a few weeks’ time, that’s all good.

Get logical

This one’s not something to try in the dark of the night when you’re about to seriously lose it. When you can grab a calm moment (pretty rare when you’re parenting, we know) take some time to ask yourself – are you using the best type of sleep training for you and your baby? You might have started out on a certain route because Veronica at baby yoga swears by it and she looks so much less tired than you. Or maybe you spent 20 bucks on the latest sleep training book and you’re determined to get your money’s worth. Be realistic about your family routine, your child’s character and your own energy levels and reassess if another approach could be a better fit.

Check in with age and stage

Sleep training isn’t usually recommended in the very early days or when you’re dealing with a tricky transition like teething. Have you started with a sleep strategy that isn’t feasible for your baby’s age? Or have you been trying to nail sleep training so long that your little one has actually skipped ahead to the next development stage, so a different set of tactics might be more appropriate? Maybe they’re going through a leap and all they want for a week or two is comfort and familiarity. Check that your expectations align with what’s achievable right now.

It’s not you. (It could be you).

As a parent, it’s all too easy to blame yourself when things don’t quite go according to plan. In reality, there are usually about 7,000 things that can help to explain why your little darling isn’t playing ball, most of which are nothing to do with you. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

BUT, if you’ve considered all of the above and sleep training is still turning you into a slobbering mess on the floor, it might be good to check if you’re doing something that’s adding to the problem. Despite your best intentions, perhaps you’re not actually being very consistent making it tricky for bubs to know what’s going on. If you keep wobbling, your baby will pick up on this and wobble right back. Most of the guides say to stick with a new strategy for at least two weeks. In the world of sleep training this can feel like a vast black-hole-filled eternity. You will need grit, determination and a constant supply of really good cake to get through it. Be firm, be consistent and stick to the plan – whatever you’ve decided that is.

You’ve got this

Whichever sleep strategy you’re using to try and get more shut-eye, whatever the sticking point that’s driving you round the bend, remember to look after yourself as well as your tiny bundle of joy. Trust your gut instincts, talk to reliable (not-too-perfect) friends who might be going through the same, don’t listen to well-meaning people who think they know your baby better than you, and don’t be afraid to speak to a doctor or seek other expert help if that’s what you feel is needed. All babies are different and every family finds their own way to the dreamy land of sleeping through the night.

If you’re considering whether or not sleep training is for you, find out more about it on our blog: When Should I Start Sleep Training My Baby?

Alternatively you can also check these Five Handy Tips for Getting Your Toddler to Sleep.

Find out more about how Lifecake’s baby milestone app can help you share one-of-a-kind moments securely with your family.

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