Sleep training can have a bad reputation among the parenting community.
This secret shame in sleep training comes from it’s association with the cry it out method. The name alone suggests something very traumatic for both moms and babies alike. But it’s important to note that the cry it out method is not nearly the only form of sleep training. In fact, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different ways that parents sleep train their babies.
So I’d like to make it loud and clear for all moms everywhere that there is absolutely no shame in sleep training your baby!
Defining Sleep Training
There is no shame in sleep training because all parents do it, whether they realize it or not. To “sleep train” is to help a baby establish healthy sleep habits. But there are so many different ways that can be done, it all depends on the baby and the parent. Some parents choose to do this using more rigid guidelines, while others prefer to let their babies take the lead. Either way, it’s still considered sleep training.
Baby-Led Sleep Training
Babies are born with the natural instinct to sleep, eat and eliminate. Their wakeful periods gradually increase with age and as they grow, their little personalities begin to show. These personalities will give you a hint as to what kind of sleep they prefer.
- My introverted first child was a great sleeper and still is, 10 years later. He likes quiet, darkness and solitude. He never slept well in a shared bedroom and was easily distracted by lights, sounds and toys in his room.
- My anxious second child has always suffered from sleep disruptions and needs quite a bit of intervention in order to fall sleep, including the use of night lights and white noise.
- My easy-going third child can sleep anywhere without problem, as long as she has her special bunny.
Baby led sleep training methods mean following your baby’s sleep cues and letting them show you how and when they prefer to sleep. This can require a lot of patience and may mean more night-time waking, but many parents are up for that challenge. You can also expect a baby-led routine to change several times as they grow and develop different needs.
Parent-Led Sleep Training
Sleep training methods that have more structure and routine are considered parent-led methods. Many are based on adjusting baby’s instinctual sleep habits in order to make it work for a parent’s lifestyle. And these are the ones that moms often feel shamed for, or feel the need to shame others.
Sleep training is not selfish.
Most parents choose to do it because that’s what works for their family. Mothers suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety in particular may need that added structure. Sleep deprivation can be a big trigger for mental health issues and therefore, a routinely sleeping baby is a necessity. Sleep training a new baby can also help avoid sleep disruption for other children in the home.
Sleep training isn’t cruel, either.
(At least, it shouldn’t be if done correctly.) While I am not a sleep training expert, I do firmly believe that leaving a baby to cry alone by themselves does not teach them how to sleep or self-soothe. Crying is a baby’s way of communicating and we should never take that for granted. But sometimes, a baby cries because they feel overstimulated or overtired and need some space, so holding or rocking them is not always the solution.
Parent-led sleep training methods can require a lot of consistency and a certain level of self-discipline. Creating a strict bedtime routine for a baby means committing to doing it for years to come, but some parents are willing to make that sacrifice in exchange for a better night’s sleep.
Stick with One or The Other
A mistake most parents make is beginning with a baby led sleep approach and then trying to switch to parent led sleep training when the child is older. Of course there will be tears and baby will put up a fight, because change can be difficult for everyone. So if you plan on letting baby take the lead right from the start, then expect to follow through on that. Or you can start incorporating a more structured bedtime routine as a gradual process.
If you do plan on sleep training your baby, then try to start from the moment you bring your baby home. Obviously, your newborn isn’t going to start sleeping straight through the night, but remember, that’s not what sleep training is about. There are several things you can do to ensure they develop a good routine and sleeping habits. This way, you don’t need to worry about making drastic changes to their routine as they grow.
There is No Shame in Needing Help
If your baby isn’t sleeping no matter what you’ve tried, that doesn’t make you a failure. When it comes to sleep training, there is a lot of advice out there but there is no manual or one tried and true method.
Thankfully, there are professional baby sleep training consultants available. I have personally used and would recommend the Baby Sleep Site (read about my personal experience with them here). Trained professionals take into account your family life, other children’s schedules and your own health and well being to create a routine that works for you. They’ve dealt with the various sleep habits of thousands of different babies and have the experience to help you. Sleep training can be stressful, so it’s good to have some support and guidance along the way.
Quit the Shaming!
Motherhood is not black and white and when it comes to sleep training, there is a lot of grey area. Ultimately, what works for one family, or one baby, will not work for everyone. So let’s quit with the mom shaming about sleep training. Moms who sleep train are not being cruel or selfish. And moms who follow their baby’s lead are not spoiling them. All moms are doing what they feel is best for their baby, themselves and their families and that’s the only thing that truly matters.