How to Sleep Train Your Baby Without Using Cry-it-Out
Nothing is as universal in new parenthood as the exhaustion that a baby brings. Whether it’s your first or your third, the early months of a baby’s life are simply tiring. Beyond the work of caring for a new, totally helpless person, you’re also up numerous times in the night attending their needs (and neglecting yours) as you work to feed, change, and settle them. A big moment that most parents look forward to is the night that their baby finally sleeps all the way through. So, what happens when that moment doesn’t come when parents expect it to? Often, that’s when parents begin to sleep train their little ones. The goal of sleep training is to help a baby learn to fall asleep on their own and to settle themselves if they wake in the night – both things that most parents want. How to sleep train, though, can be a controversial topic.
The two broad categories of sleep training are the cry-it-out method and gentle method.
Using the cry-it-out method (which covers lots of more specific sleep-training plans) parents essentially make sure that their baby’s physical needs are met and then step away to let them figure out how to soothe themselves. Those who use the cry-it-out method often believe that self-soothing is a vital skill and that both they and their baby benefit from the full nights of sleep that result when it works. They also often say that it can be hard to hear their baby crying without responding. Parents who choose not to use the cry-it-out method often feel that it damages the parent-child bond and that babies need to know that their parent will respond to their needs in order to feel safe and happy.
Just as there are numerous variations of the cry-it-out method, there are several different ways that parents teach their babies to sleep using a gentle method. Some parents wait until their little one naturally falls into a pattern of unassisted sleep, some choose to co-sleep, and some take their time (it often takes longer than the cry-it-out method) to set up a routine that works for both themselves and baby. These parents say that their kids benefit from a trusting bond but that it can be a long process to get it right. If you’re interested in sleep training your baby, but don’t want to use the cry-it-out method, check out the tips below to get started with gentle sleep training.
1. Make sure your expectations are realistic
Newborn babies don’t sleep through the night. They just don’t. While it’s often hunger that wakes new babies (their tummies are so small they need to be filled every few hours) they may also wake frequently because they’re just not used to being in the world. Changes in light or sound, sensations of cold or a dirty diaper, or discomforts associated with gas or reflux can also cause your baby to wake up crying. Before you start trying to sleep train your baby, check in with your pediatrician about when it’s realistic to expect them to sleep for longer stretches and then add a month because, really, every baby is different.
2. Create a routine
Once you know that your baby is old enough to potentially be sleeping more independently, you should start your sleep training journey by establishing a calming evening routine. Your baby’s bedtime routine doesn’t just involve the 15 minutes before you lay them down but should encompass the hour or two before you plan to lay them down as well. After supper, you should start winding down: save the wild games for earlier in the afternoon. Many parents find that some combination of a warm bath, a snuggle, a story, and a final bottle or nursing session is what prepares their little one for bedtime. The key to any routine is consistency, so once you decide how to help your little one wind down, stick to it.
3. Gently and slowly help them become more independent
For some parents, this means rocking them for increasingly shorter increments before laying them down to sleep. For others it might mean sitting with your hand on baby's tummy for a few days, then just sitting next to the crib for a few, then standing in the doorway and then, finally, simply leaving after you lay your baby down. Whatever your baby's usual get-to-sleep routine is, simply dial it back slowly over a few weeks. The same goes for how you respond to night wakings.
No matter how you choose to soothe your baby in the night, do so with love, compassion, and an understanding that this too shall pass!
Did you decide to sleep train your baby?