“Awww, how cute. Is she sleeping through the night?” Seems like I got this question 1 out of every 3 strangers we met. For me, I didn’t mind it too much. That’s because when she was little, she wasn’t expected to (not yet) and when she was older, she slept for about 5 hours at a time so I wasn’t complaining. However, it doesn’t help me from feeling like I’m jinxing ourselves for that night. If you’re a new parent, I’m sure you have gotten this question a fair number of times.
This post is mostly for new parents who have heard about “sleep training,” but don’t know the details, parents who are having restless nights, those sleeping in few-hour increments, those who have babies who cry a lot when put to bed, and those who are anticipating the need to sleep train to get those delicious-sounding 12-hour stretches with baby sleeping soundly.
So what’s “Sleep Training”?
The term “sleep training” is generally used to refer to a method to teach a baby how to self soothe in order to learn how to sleep through the night (STTN). This is often referred to as the Cry It Out (CIO) or Ferber Method, named after Dr. Richard Ferber, who developed the style/method. There are other ways that parents use to help babies sleep, like sharing the bed to help parents learn the baby’s natural sleep rhythm, or attachment methods which means that parents tend to the baby right away and at any time they wake up through the night. This may or may not mean the baby will learn to STTN. Some parents are blessed with babies who are “good sleepers,” who didn’t require formal “cry it out” methods. They just learned to sleep longer stretches on their own.
Sleep Training isn’t a new thing. The more structured guidelines are rather new, but I asked my mom what she did with my brother and me, and she said she didn’t “train us” to sleep. However, she had me in my nursery room, they didn’t have a monitor, and she closed my door and closed their bedroom door. She said “Yeah you probably cried, but you were fine.” ha!
Some parents choose not to formally sleep train and to let their baby grow into their own natural rhythms of sleeping and needing comfort through parental intervention. That’s completely fine and each and every family goes about the topic of sleeping at their own approach. After hearing some horror stories of non-sleep trained babies, we decided before Jia was born that we would read up, take notes, and train Jia. This was regardless if she seemed to be a “good sleeper” with 5-hour stretches at a couple months old. I didn’t want to chance it.
We waited to sleep train Jia until she was 5 months old, mainly because we were in the process of moving from our condo (where she slept in a crib next to our bed) to a house where she would have her own room. No sense in teaching her how to sleep only to disrupt her progress with a big move. I got a lot of input from friends about sleep training, and we didn’t follow the rules perfectly. But, Jia now sleeps 11.5-12 hours straight once put her to bed at 7:30 PM.
To teach Jia to STTN, we followed the principles in the book, The Sleepeasy Solution: The Exhausted Parent’s Guide to Getting Your Child to Sleep from Birth to Age 5. My friend Samantha swore by it, and her kid sleeps rock solid for 12 hours straight and started when he was 5 months old. She says she literally has to go and wake him up in the mornings. He is now over 2 years old. Mom friend Armita also sleep trained their son, and nowadays she usually has to bang around dresser drawers and pots and pans in the morning to stir up any sort of wakening response from him.
Anyhow, friends of Sam’s have also used The Sleepeasy Solution and have had great success. Also, friends of hers who opted not to sleep train are still dealing with sleepless nights with their toddlers (now 3 and 4 years old!). Not something we wanted to go through, so I ordered this book months before Jia was born so we could prep. My coworker Chris and his wife followed a different book, “Twelve Hours’ Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old” for their twins, saying they didn’t want to mess around with TWO babies keeping them up all night forever. Similar methods but slight variations.
Is it Recommended?
The authors of The Sleepeasy Solution, Jennifer Waldburger, MSW and Jill Spivack, LCSW are sleep consultants and social workers who have been featured all over mainstream media (like Good Morning America, The Today Show, The New York Times, etc.) and are very popular with assisting in sleep training for Hollywood’s babies (Ben Stiller and wife Christine Taylor, Greg Kinnear, etc). They have a section in the book dedicated to explaining why learning to “cry it out” does not harm babies and does not lead to psychological damage. “Crying it out” doesn’t mean you’re abandoning your baby or letting them cry all night long without any sort of calming intervention.
Though I didn’t need much convincing about sleep training, what really convinced me was the packet of information we were given by our pediatrician when Jia was a few months old. It was about sleeping. They actually recommended some form of sleep training through learning to self-soothe and cry for a bit, to “learn” how to settle themselves back to sleep. They did recognize attachment styles for sleep training, but encouraged parents to allow their babies the chance to self-soothe by crying some. Now, they didn’t recommend a specific book or method, but they did acknowledge that self-soothing was an important part of a baby’s development in learning to sleep.
The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study in October 2012 to determine harms or benefits of sleep training with five-year follow ups of sleep-trained and non-sleep trained groups of babies. All participants of the study reported before the study that they were experiencing sleep problems at 7 months. The intervention group was one in which parents allowed their babies to self-settle through “controlled comforting” at specified time intervals (methods similar to Sleepeasy and described in Part 2 of this post) and non-intervention groups did not employ sleep training methods. At a five-year follow up, there was no significant difference (positive or negative) in the effects (stress regulation, psychosocial functioning, child mental health, sleep, the child-parent relationship, or maternal mental health) of controlled comforting. Given that there were not significant changes in either group, the short-term benefits of infant sleep and improved rates of maternal depression would justify self-settle methods. You can read the entire research article here. In the article are TONS of references that support that no harm comes from using self-soothe techniques.
Whichever way you decide to approach your baby’s sleep is your decision, and every baby is different. Research indicates that there is no “best” approach to sleep training; some babies require super strict methods or no method at all.
But this post is more about what we did to get Jia to STTN. Continue reading