The fog of new parenthood is a dense one. A muggy soup of sleep deprivation, hormones and baby sick. There’s no surprise then that you’re keen to find a way through the mist by getting a bit more sleep. But how soon should you start sleep training your baby? And what exactly is sleep training in the first place? Lifecake’s here to shed some light on those midnight hours.
Many baby sleep specialists agree that you should only start sleep training after your baby reaches four to six months. This is because when they’re very little, babies have much simpler and shorter sleep cycles. This will result in you seeing hours of the night you haven’t encountered for a while.
Secondly, in the first few months, they’ll still need to wake regularly for nightly feeds; packing on the baby fat to develop their brains and bodies properly. After this time you may find that your baby’s sleeping habits become way more regular. You may even get a full night’s sleep. Dreamy!
If after the six-month point you’re still struggling to get your baby to sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time, you might want to consider sleep training.
What is sleep training?
The term sleep training covers a wealth of methods and practices aimed at helping your baby self soothe, sleep and stay slumbering for longer. Once you start researching the subject, you’ll discover that there’s a real spectrum of sleep training options out there.
One side is geared towards gentler methods that require more input and time from the parents. These often taking longer to establish. While in the other camp you have the ‘controlled crying’ methods. These advocate allowing your baby to cry so that they don’t get used to being comforted at night. These can be a lot faster and effective.
We talk to a selection of parents who’ve taken four different approaches to sleep training:
The Weissbluth sleep training method:
This cry-it-out or ‘extinction’ technique sits at the more extreme end of the sleep training spectrum. The Weissbluth method suggests setting up a bedtime routine that ends in putting your babe in their cot and not re-entering their room until the morning. The idea is that your baby learns to self soothe and settle themselves without your help.
“My partner refers to me as the Victorian Dad, as I felt that there was a strong case for the cry-it-out method. I’d read a lot of studies that showed it wasn’t actually harmful to babies’ development. There were three nights that our baby cried for around 30 minutes each night until he fell asleep, and I was adamant that neither of us go and pick him up. It was pretty awful at the time, but now he’s the best sleeper and is a happy, confident little chap. We think he’s developed so well because of all the sleep both he and we get.” Daniel Lifecake user and Dad to Matty.
The Ferber Method sleep training method:
The Ferber method encourages parents to try a more controlled crying technique, which sees you putting your baby down, and reentering the room at gradually increasing intervals of time, from 5 to 10 to 15 minutes. This is so that your baby doesn’t think you’ve abandoned them. When you return to their room, the Ferber Method suggests that you shouldn’t pick your baby up, even if they’re crying, but rather pat or rub their backs so that they don’t rely on being rocked back to sleep.
“I was at the end of my tether by eight months when our daughter still wouldn’t go to sleep before 11 pm. I needed to try something a little more structured, but couldn’t handle leaving her to cry for long. We tried the Ferber technique (although I kept the timing intervals shorter as I felt mean). It took a little while, about nine days, to work which was hard work. But it was worth it. She’s a better sleeper than a lot of her baby friends now.” Clara, Mum to Isabelle.
The DIY sleep training method:
Many parents sleep train without really knowing they’re doing it. If you’ve put a bedtime routine in place then you’re halfway there. Often you’ll find yourself developing regular patterns that work for both you and your baby – after all, there’s no one that knows them as well as you do. Whether this is sitting by their side until they fall asleep or rocking them until they’re drowsy and then putting them down; the trick is to do the same things regularly, so your baby gets used to these pre-sleep cues and feels safe and comfortable.
“I guess we started DIY sleep training our baby when we put her in her own room at seven months. We wanted to do things gently so we started by establishing a strong bedtime routine. This was, bath, play, pajamas, story, cuddle, and ending with one of us sitting in with her until she fell asleep. There were still tears, but we knew it was more out of frustration that feeling abandoned. I could never let my baby cry it out. Plus, that quiet time meant I got loads of reading done!” Nicola, Lifecake user, and Mum to Lorna.
The no sleep training parents:
Some psychologists suggest that babies should never be denied the comforting touch of a parent to soothe them, whatever the time of night. The thinking behind this is that any unnecessary distress for a baby can potentially lead to cognitive and emotional issues later in life.
Many parents following this advice, or simply avoiding sleep training have mixed outcomes; either your baby can be a dream child and learn to settle and sleep on their own accord – which many do – or some find themselves working with an erratically sleeping toddler. It’s a gamble. But if you accept that your little ones are only small for a relatively short period of time, then it puts those sleepless nights into perspective.
“Quite honestly, we didn’t use any sleep training methods with our baby. Now that she’s a toddler I do regret that. Bedtime often creeps up to 10pm. This means we don’t have an evening together as a couple. There are still regular wakings throughout the night (she’s now 2 and a half). I haven’t slept in the same bed as my partner for over two years. It’s great bonding for me and my little one. But if we were to do it again I think we’d have been a bit stricter from the start.” Laura, Lifecake user and Mum to Delilah.