Sleep Training Methods Explained
One question I often get asked on my weekly Instagram Q&A's is "What are the different types of sleep training methods". The full description of the different types of methods is WAY too much to fit in a Instagram story, so I thought we might make it one step easier and write a blog post about it!
When reading through these methods it's important to know that sleep training exists on a spectrum, with Extinction methods being on one end, and gentle methods being on the other.
Many families assume gentle methods mean less crying - and I want to be transparent about this is not typically being the case.
There is no such thing as a no cry method. If there was, then I would use it all the time! Crying is hard on my mama heart too. Typically when we sleep train we are making lots of big changes to your child's routine. Nobody likes change, especially babies - and with change comes resistance (aka crying).
The difference between gentle methods and extinction methods is that with gentle methods you are there more frequently (or maybe even constantly in the beginning) to offer support to your child as they learn to adjust to these changes.
There is no right, wrong, or perfect method to go by. It's important to choose a method that YOU can be consistent with. If you are inconsistent then this likely will lead to prolonged tears and bedtime battles from your little one! Some babies may also become too worked up and frustrated if you choose a method that has frequent interventions. Some frustration is normal, but if it is taking your child over two hours to fall asleep the first night - then we may need to take a step back and offer them more space during the sleep training process.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with sleep training then I would love to do the planning for you, and support you through your journey! Click HERE to book a time to chat about our services!
Fading is a type of sleep training method I will often recommend to use with children 6 months and younger. With Fading we will take the techniques you are currently using to put your child to sleep (rocking, shushing, patting, feeding etc), and we will gradually fade them out.
Different sleep consultants will have different versions of "Fading". I typically recommend you do this by using your current techniques to the point of where your child is drowsy (but still awake!) and you lay them down in their crib drowsy. If they fuss then you offer other support to help them fall asleep without picking them back up. Overtime we will gradually reduce the amount of time you are spending supporting your child to sleep, until we get to the end goal where those sleep associations are simply a brief part of their bedtime routine and you lay your child down down to bed for sleep, kiss them goodnight, and walk out the door!
Pick up Put Down
This is an extremely gentle method that I will sometimes recommend as a settling technique for newborns (Children under 4 months old). I personally find that the older babies get the more frustrated they will get with this method - but some easy going babies may still find it effective at older ages! With this method you will put your child down in their crib awake. If they start to cry then you will pause and observe them for a moment, then pick them up and comfort them until their cries start to settle. Then you will repeat the process, over and over until they eventually fall asleep in their crib. This method takes a parent with a lot of patience! It might take a while the first night for them to fall asleep, and as I mentioned above - for some babies this method can cause too much frustration.
The Chair Method
Easily one of my most favorite gentle sleep training methods! This is another fading technique in which you will start your sleep training journey in a chair right next to your child, supporting them until they fall asleep. Every three nights you will move further and further away until you are out of the room. I have seen success with this method for parents of babies, toddlers and preschoolers alike! It can be hard when you first start moving your chair further away, but with time and consistency your child will adapt, and you will feel like you can support your child every step of the way!
There is a variation of this method that I used with my own boys, and it's one of the top recommended methods! Most parents know controlled crying as "Graduated Extinction" or the "Ferber Method". These methods are considered Controlled Crying Methods - but they are not the same method that I used with my boys.
My favorite version of controlled crying involves check-ins after brief periods of time of your child being truly upset.
The traditional version of controlled crying/gradual extinction involves checking in after increased intervals of time (5,10, 15 minutes for example).
Extinction (Cry It Out)
We have all heard about this one! In fact, 20 years ago this was pretty much the only sleep training method we knew about! Many parents fear Cry It Out due to fear mongering misinformation spread across the internet. Not only is there no current evidence that supports the idea that crying it out for a few nights will harm your child, but further more evidence suggests that babies who are sleep trained are just as likely to form a strong attachment to their caregivers.
There is nothing wrong with Cry It Out EXCEPT that many parents will not be able to be consistent with Cry It Out. As I stated before, your consistency is KEY. If you cannot bear to hear your child cry in a room without you then you should not do this method.
Another common misconception of cry it out is that you have to leave your baby alone for 12 hours at night without going in the room. While some parents may take that tactic, other parents may choose to check in every 20 minutes, or maintain night feedings as they see fit.
What if these methods didn't work for you?
Having a good sleep training method is important, but it's only one piece of the puzzle! Creating good sleep habits is more than just choosing the right sleep training method. When I write plans for families we also focus on optimizing nutrition, wake windows, naps, routines, and filling emotional needs. Without these other pieces in place sleep simply might not go to plan - they are all equally important. If you are feeling stumped and frustrated about your child's sleep then I would love to craft a custom plan for you and your child. Let's book a call to talk about it!