If you want to find a polarizing parenting topic, look no farther! Baby sleep training is something many people strongly oppose and advocate against. On the other hand, many people just as strongly advocate for sleep training.
So, who is right?
Common Baby Sleep Training Myths
Personally, I think sleep training has gotten a bad rap. Many times, when a parent hears the words “sleep training” the first thing that comes to mind is cry it out and the mental picture of a baby crying all alone in the dark.
In reality, sleep training is a catch-call term for any form of helping a baby learn to fall asleep independently. There are many ways to do this; including many ways that have the parent present as an active participant the entire time the baby is falling asleep.
Let’s take a look at 3 common baby sleep training myths.
I’ll Be Forced To Put My Baby In His Own Room
Myth One: Sleep training imposes unnatural separation on babies. They need to sleep with/next to/close to their mothers.
Reality One: While it is certainly enjoyable to snuggle your baby while you both sleep, it is not safe. The risks of accidental suffocation do not outweigh the benefits. This is why I promote safe sleep! However, baby sleep training does not mean that your baby must sleep in his/her own room.
Many families successfully sleep train and keep baby in their room for several months or even a year or more! For other families, both the parents and baby sleep better when baby has his/her own room. This decision is entirely personal. It has everything to do with the quality of sleep your family is getting and absolutely nothing to do with whether or not you decide to sleep train.
What If My Baby Gets Hungry During The Night?
Myth Two: Sleep training goes against a baby’s basic needs. Babies need to eat throughout the night and multiple night wakings are developmentally normal. These night wakings are not something that is broken and needs fixing
Reality Two: True and false.
Yes, night wakings to feed are developmentally normal (to a point). Yes, not all babies are ready to sleep through the night without a feeding at 4, 6, or even 9 months of age.
On the flip side, while some night wakings certainly are normal, there is such a thing as too many. When a baby who is over 4 months of age is waking every 2-3 hours to eat for the better part of the night, this is usually habitual. Habitual hunger wakings are the result of the body becoming accustomed to a meal at a certain time rather than the body having an actual biological need to eat at that time. After 12 months of age, I am comfortable saying there is no need for night feeds unless directed otherwise by your child’s pediatrician.
Sleep training does not mean forcing your baby to night wean before he/she is ready. Rather baby sleep training includes listening to your child and feeding when there is a need. It also includes helping him/her learn to sleep through wakings that are due to habit and not hunger.
My Baby’s Personality Will Change
Myth Three: Sleep training is harmful to baby. This is the myth that bothers me the most.
Reality Three: There is a study out of Australia, published in Pediatrics that evaluated the effects of baby sleep training on infant sleep and infant/parent stress. In addition, it later looked a child behavioral/emotional problems and parent-child attachment.
The researchers took a group of 43 infants and randomly assigned them to one of three groups. The groups were graduated extinction (modified CIO), fading (considered a gentle method), and sleep education only (the control group).
When evaluating sleep, they looked at how long it took the babies to fall asleep, how many times they woke during the night, and how soon the first wake was after they initially fell asleep. Both testing groups showed great improvement in how quickly they babies fell asleep. The graduated extinction group showed the most improvement in night time wakings. Salivary cortisol testing (to evaluate infant stress; cortisol is a stress hormone) did not show increased stress in either testing group compared to the control group. Also, follow-up evaluations done a year later showed no difference between the testing groups and the control group in regards to behavioral/emotional problems or strength of parent-child attachment.
The researchers conclude that both methods of sleep training provided benefits that were not seen in the control group. At the same time, they concluded that neither method of baby sleep training tested showed any harmful effects in comparison to the control group.
To me, the very real risk of maternal/paternal anxiety and depression that can result from the prolonged parental sleep deprivation outweighs a theoretical risk of emotional disruption to baby. In addition, there are very real physical dangers to a parent living in a constant state of exhaustion. The National Sleep Foundation says drowsy driving is similar to drunk driving.
To my knowledge, there have been no well-conducted (well-conducted being key) studies that have conclusively proven any sort of long-term harm from sleep training.
What is more, there are very gentle ways to sleep train and it is not just leaving a child to cry for hours until they fall asleep. It is so important for the entire family, including mom and dad, to get the rest their bodies and minds need!
Baby Sleep Training Looks Different For Each Family
All of the sleep training methods have the same goal: helping your child to learn to fall sleep on his own. They very in how they do this and in the thought behind them.
Baby sleep training is not one-size-fits all. The best method for your family depends on your child’s personality and your parenting style.
In upcoming posts, we’ll walk through the most popular methods.
Remember, that only using a sleep training method and not taking a good look at your child’s sleep schedule, sleep routines, and sleep environment is like swimming up stream. You must have those 3 building blocks in place before you start to use a sleep training method. The building blocks will not cure all sleep struggles by themselves, but they make the process much easier!
If you have any questions about choosing the right method for your child, or would like support and encouragement throughout the process, I encourage you to take a look at the options available to you.
*As always, I do not provide medical advice. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. If you have questions regarding your child’s health, please speak with your child’s pediatrician.*