Sleep Training, Right or Wrong?

IMG_20150109_132916A question so many parents and experts wonder is, is sleep training right or wrong? The simplest answer, it is neither. Sleep training is such a broad term and can mean so many things. When it comes to the term sleep training, closing the door at 8 pm on your five week old and not opening it until 8 am is often lumped together with gently night weaning your eleven month old. One is not recommending by most experts as a five week old usually needs night feeds and care in order to thrive while the other is unlikely to impact their growth and well being.

Often in parenting there is not a simple right or wrong, but rather a right and wrong based on you and your baby’s needs. As parents we want to be sure we are doing right for our children but so often we hear contradictory advice from different sources making it difficult to know whether we are making the right choices. When it comes to sleep, just like other areas of parenting, your intuition is an invaluable tool. When considering sleep training, night weaning, co-sleeping, etc ask yourself, “Is this something I’m considering because I feel we need a change or is this something I’m considering because Aunt Susie and cousin Sally say it is important?” If your only reason for considering changes in nighttime parenting is the result of unsolicited advice or advice that does not sit well with you, move on, it is not the right advice for you. If you are considering nighttime parenting changes because you feel what you are currently doing is not working, look into different options and seek advice from trusted sources.

Some parents and experts feel it is not necessary to sleep train and find good nighttime habits allow babies to naturally fall into healthy sleep patterns. These parents might co-sleep or bed share, stay in the nursery with baby, or use  a combination of these things. The wait it out approach works for many families as they navigate the infant and toddler phases. Many find the security their children get from their close and responsive nighttime parenting leads to the children eventually sleeping quite well independently. Some families might use this approach until their children naturally grow out of the need for nighttime parenting, while others might use until they decide to sleep train at a certain age or stage. If the wait it out approach is currently working, there is not concrete evidence to suggest one must sleep train in order to establish future independent sleep. There also is not concrete evidence to suggest there is a certain age a child must be sleeping through the night independently to be considered healthy/normal. As with many areas of development, children grow and change at their own pace.

For a variety of reasons many families decide some type of sleep training is necessary and best for their family. There are many different approaches to nighttime parenting and sleep training. From full on cry it out, as in not responding to cries at all, to gently teaching independent sleep and everything in between. Perhaps you feel you need a lot more rest than you are currently getting but you are concerned about sleep training because Jane from high school posted an article about the dangers of crying it out. Just like sleep training, crying it out is a very broad term and this is where your intuition comes into play. If you know your child is fed, hydrated, comfortable, healthy and safe allowing them to fuss while offering reassurance is very different than leaving a young infant alone for twelve hours while they cry inconsolably. Some sleep training, such as the Ferber method, encourages gradually building up the intervals before responding to your baby. Weaning from nighttime feeds in an older infant, middle of the night rocking, etc often means offering alternative sources of comfort such as a pacifier, patting the back or just verbal reassurance as baby gets used to settling to sleep in a different way. A newborn crying hysterically is far different than an older infant crying and fussing because it is not being soothed in the manner it prefers. Again, follow your intuition. You will know if you and baby are ready for a nighttime parenting change.

There truly is not a simple answer when it comes to nighttime parenting, or any parenting for that matter! If you are not comfortable sleep training even if Dr. Parent Expert and mommy of fifteen blogging expert say sleep training is necessary, it is not right for you. If you feel you need a change in your nighttime parenting routine, remember to follow your intuition and research your options despite what Jane from high school posts on her wall. There are many options for creating healthy sleep habits in your home, find the one that resonates best with you. If you find you are struggling, consider in-home or in-person support and help. There are online support groups, in person classes and in-home professional support to help you establish a working nighttime routine.

If you are in the greater Philadelphia area and struggling with adequate rest during early infancy learn about our nighttime postpartum support.