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4 Mistakes to Avoid During Sleep Training

Updated: Apr 7



So, you’ve decided to sleep train. I’m sure that with all the information out there (and opinions) you want to make sure you do it right! So, now what?


There’s a lot of fearmongering on the internet around sleep training. As parents in the digital age, we’re accosted with seemingly ENDLESS streams of information and opinions about every choice we make, and sleep training is no different. This can feel overwhelming! Don’t worry, I’m here to help!


It’s important to keep in mind that there’s no one-size-fits-all magic formula for sleep training your child. Trust me, if there were, I would have shared it with you already! But the beauty here is that there are MANY perfectly good ways to do it. Each family is going to approach sleep training a little differently. So, the goal is not to get it perfect, it’s to find a sleep training method that’s going to work for you and stick with it!


With all that said, I do have a little bit of experience to lean on in this department, and I want to help you avoid some of the common mistakes that I see parents getting tripped up by.

 

Mistake #1: Winging it


Here’s the thing, it can be really tempting to make a spur-of-the-moment decision to sleep train when you’re an hour into trying to put an overtired baby to sleep after yet another sleepless night! And, sure, it sounds simple enough to just let your baby cry a bit and then naturally fall asleep on their own – until you actually try it and things don’t turn out as planned.


Set your family up for success by coming to some common agreements before you begin sleep training! There are a number of variables at play here, but at the very least you’ll want to consider:


  • Approach: Do you want to stay in the room the whole time or do you want to offer a leave and check-in method? What will be the frequency and duration of check-ins?

  • Comforting: When you check in with your baby, how will you offer them comfort? By picking them up? Crib-side soothing? Door-side soothing?  

  • Feeding: How often will you offer feedings in the middle of the night, based on your baby’s age, nutritional needs, and breastfeeding goals (if applicable)?

If you’re looking at these questions and aren’t sure where to start, check out my blog explaining the different sleep training methods available to you!




 

Mistake #2: Overstimulating your baby


Let’s face it, crying is the hardest part of sleep training! Our bodies are biologically wired to respond when we hear a baby crying. The temptation is to swoop in and comfort at the first indication that your baby is upset! This is normal! As a result, many parents will provide frequent, or even constant, interaction to try to help their baby fall asleep.


This can backfire in two ways. First, if you’re constantly comforting your baby to sleep – even if it looks different than the support they were getting before, like back rubs instead of rocking – this is not actually helping them establish independent sleep skills. And second, sometimes we overdo it by checking in or comforting too frequently. In fact, this can overstimulate your baby and keep them awake, leading to a quick downward spiral that results in an overtired baby who is crying even more than before!


To avoid this pitfall, I suggest a minor mindset shift during sleep training: Our goal is not necessarily to make your baby stop crying with a check-in. Our goal is to reassure your baby that you are still there and that they are safe!


Check-In Recommendations

  • Space your interactions out to at least every 2-3 minutes, longer if you’re working with an older baby or toddler.

  • Keep your interactions brief (think 5-10 seconds at a time)

  • Comfort in the SAME way every single time so that it becomes predictable and boring. Make sure you and your partner are on the same page here!

 

Finally, and this one is KEY, if your baby is simply fussing (not full-on crying), do not interact at all! Sometimes babies let out one final fuss when they’re right on the edge of falling asleep. Providing stimulation at this point can work against you and wake them back up!

 

Mistake #3: Starting with a Nap


Learning to fall asleep independently is a new skill for your baby and a new routine for your family. It can feel daunting! Oftentimes, parents want to “trial run” independent sleep before really diving into sleep training and a nap feels less intimidating than starting with bedtime. Don’t fall into this trap! 


We want to stack the odds in your baby’s favor while they’re learning this new skill, and that includes considering when their little bodies have the most sleep pressure – the natural inclination to fall asleep. Our body’s circadian rhythm prepares us for our deepest sleep when it’s dark outside and cooler. We want our first attempt at sleep training to align with this BIG nighttime sleep to help your baby fall asleep faster!


Another reason to begin our first sleep training session at night instead of at nap time is the fact that a skipped nap is good for no one. If you begin sleep training with a nap, there is a good chance that your baby may either skip their nap or take a much shorter nap than normal. This can result in your baby getting into an overtired cycle and making their overnight sleep even WORSE that night. If you ask me, this is the perfect recipe for burnout. 

 

Mistake #4: Setting Unrealistic Goals


Finally, we have to consider your child’s age when making a sleep plan. We want our goals to be realistic and developmentally appropriate to make sure we’re not setting ourselves up to feel like we’ve failed. First off, we’re going to wait to implement any kind of sleep training until your baby is at least 4 months old (or 4 months adjusted for babies born prematurely). If looking to night wean, we also want to make sure you have the go-ahead from your pediatrician.


I’m sure you’ve read online or heard anecdotal stories from that one mom friend who likes to low-key brag about how her baby sleeps from 7-7 with no night wakings at 4 months old. I want to be real with you: This is RARE. If you’re sleep training at 4 months, we would still expect to see 1-2 night wakings for feedings. The difference is, as sleep training progresses and your baby grows in their ability to fall asleep independently, these night feedings can start to feel easier because they require less hands-on energy from you to help baby go back to sleep!


As a general guideline, we don’t want to fully night wean until at least 6 months. If you’ve talked with your doctor and are ready to start night weaning, I have the perfect blog for you!




 

Final Thoughts


While sleep training is NOT easy, hang in there! It’s temporary! Having a structured plan that you can be consistent with is the BEST way to set yourself up for success. It can help ease some of the second-guessing and parent guilt, as well as avoid potential friction between you and your partner by making sure you’re on the same page before you start!

One of my most frequently asked questions is “How long will it take for my baby to fall asleep?” Typically, it’s better than what you may expect! While there is variability in this data and multiple factors at play, the average baby or toddler takes 45 minutes to fall asleep on the first night of sleep training, with each night showing steady improvement for the first three days. If your kiddo has a stubborn streak, it may take closer to 60-90 minutes to fall asleep initially. But if it’s taking more than 90 minutes, we want to change up our approach: Try spacing out your check-ins or adjusting your last wake window.


And OF COURSE, if you ever feel overwhelmed or want a little more guidance with this process, I would love to help your family create a sleep plan!




 




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