Before I became a sleep consultant, I thought sleep training was some kind of secret club for moms. I could not understand why you would need to “train” your baby to get a full night of rest. Training was something I did before running a race or starting a job. Sleeping was something I did when I was just tired. Ah, pre-mom naivety.
Once I became a mother and started to read up on sleep, I became fascinated (but also confused) with all of the information out there on how to get your baby to sleep better.
Before my training, here’s what I thought sleep training meant:
If you don’t train your baby to sleep, he will never learn on his own.
Training your baby to sleep means teaching self-soothing, but self-soothing can't happen until a certain age.
Then, once he is ready, you have to un-train him on the habits he learned before he was ready to sleep train.
Sleep training basically means letting your baby cry, but that also does damage.
If you sleep train you are pretty much homebound for two weeks.
On top of all that, there were secret acronyms like CIO (cry-it-out) and LO (little one) that everyone used in baby forums.
But, the more I read, the more I became interested in the science of sleep and understanding why sleep deprivation is such a problem. As soon as I found out sleep consultants were a thing, I was convinced it was my calling.
Today, I have worked with hundreds of families in my seven years as a sleep coach (the term I prefer) and sleep training is no longer a foreign concept that makes my head spin. Unfortunately, though, it is for most mamas.
There is no shortage of information out there on sleep training. That is part of the problem. If you aren’t sure what to think, I wish I could give you a hug (or baby sleep dust). But I do have something else that will hopefully make this a little easier...
The ONE thing I want you to know about sleep "teaching" is that it isn’t one-size-fits-all.
I know this might not be earth-shattering news, but it does make all the difference to adopt this principle.
You see, in my profession I rarely have moms reaching out to me who just want to chat about sleep. They are usually desperate, have tried “everything” and I am their last hope.
And each time I hear a relatively similar story: They read somewhere to follow a specific method, which didn't end up working. Or they were told by their friend's sister's neighbor to let their baby cry it out. And now they are totally confused and still very tired.
Sleep training is designed to really be the stage of teaching opportunities. Sleeping is as natural to us as is eating or breathing—babies included. Our bodies know that it needs to happen and without it we wouldn't survive.
So, why does it seem so unnatural for babies to get the rest their bodies need?
Because every baby is unique, which means each child has her own set of unique sleeping patterns. Some babies will quickly adapt to sleeping alone or following a specific sleep schedule and some won't. Some will cry all night long if they are left alone in their crib and some will not. Some will feel soothed when given a paci or when offered a feed. Some will refuse all of the above.
“Sleep training” is an opportunity to work with your child in identifying her natural sleep cycle and to help her to develop healthy habits around that cycle. There are many ways you can do this, starting with one of the many sleep methods out there (Ferber, Sleep Lady Shuffle, No Cry Sleep Solution, etc.)
It is very common to try one method and realize it is not going to be effective for your child. While you do want to give it some time to stick, you may realize that your child responds very differently than anticipated or predicted by a book. Give yourself some credit and follow your instincts because you know your baby best—not your friend who is commenting on your social media on what to do with YOUR baby.
Sleep teaching is a process. It takes time. It takes patience. And it takes the (rightful) belief you will get there. You may even come to find that there is very little training that actually needs to happen.