Which sleep teaching method is right for you and your family?
Getting your baby to sleep through the night is a goal all of us new parents have; especially when you are still feeding your baby once or even twice a night, and just can’t imagine sleeping through the night ever again. There is a light at the end of the tunnel – trust me as a mom of three and a sleep consultant. It may not come as quickly as you like BUT if you set your child up for success many babies sleep through the night by 6 months of age. If your little one is over 6 months, and your pediatrician has told you that you can wean night feeds then this blog post is for you…..
So where do you start?
First you, you will want to put together a plan of action or come to me and I’ll put together that plan for you which includes more than just a sleep teaching method.
Then after you have your plan put together you will finalize on what sleep teaching method you would like to implement – picking the right sleep teaching method to encourage your little one how to fall asleep independently is a personal decision. You need to do what's best for you and your family. The goal is for your baby to fall asleep on their own at night, and then put themselves back to sleep when they wake. I state “when they wake” because all human beings wake between 2 – 6 times a night, as adults we just know how to go back to sleep whether you change your sleep position, grab a blanket or hold a pillow (my favorite)…plus a little white noise helps too.
So let’s go over the top 5 methods that many parents are using …there are many more out there, but these seem to be the most popular.
Pick up / Put Down
The pick up / put down method is a gentle technique that is good for a baby that is over 6 – 8 weeks old. This is my preferred method with young babies, and I used this method with all of my children if they woke up at night and it was not time for a feeding.
It works exactly the way it sounds: when it’s time to sleep and IF your baby is fussing you go to him and pick him up, pat bottom, and hold close to you in a dark room until he is calm and drowsy. Then once he is drowsy, but still awake, you put him back in the crib to sleep (on his back). If your baby wakes up, then you will repeat this cycle until your little one is finally sleeping. It takes patience, but I only had to use it the first few months when one of my children were fussing in the middle of the night. It didn’t happen every night, but of course I had some rough nights like any parent does.
This method doesn’t work for every baby, especially if baby is older because it can cause some overstimulation and frustration. If after several attempts, you find that it is not comforting your baby than this method is not the right one for you.
The Chair Method
Although this method is considered gentle, it will still produce tears. Let’s be honest – almost any method will produce tears since you are changing up the routine or taking away a negative sleep association of some sort. This method is great for those that want to be in the room with their baby. It is also great to use with babies that are 3 months to 18 months of age.
You will start by doing your normal bedtime routine, put your baby in their crib (on their back), and then either put a chair near the crib or sit on the ground, on the chair as your baby falls asleep. The goal is not to help your child fall asleep, nor to help her calm down necessarily, but to give them the reassurance you didn’t leave them alone. Every few nights you will move the chair farther and farther away from the crib until you are right outside the door until eventually, you no longer need the chair at all.
As you might suspect, this method can be very difficult, depending on temperament, and can take many days or weeks. Watching your baby cry is very difficult. However, with time and consistency, this can be a good option for parents who do not want to leave their child alone to cry but who haven’t had success with other methods, either.
There are variations to this method (such as The Sleep Lady Shuffle) where you do tend to the baby periodically, verbally and/or physically, and then go back to your chair. As with many things, finding what works best for you and your child is key.
Fading Out Sleep Associations
This technique is as gentle as it gets. It is considered a no-tears / no cry method (or very little cry); however it involves the most patience. It tends to work best with babies on the younger side (under 6 months) however you can try it with older babies and toddlers and if after at least a week of giving it all of your effort and it is not working then you can commit to another method. This method requires you to fade out the the sleep association your little one may have whether it is rocking to sleep, yoga ball bouncing or nursing/feeding to sleep. Over time you will minimize the amount of time that you normally do something so that your baby learns to fall asleep on their own.
For instance, if you normally nurse your baby to sleep, you will shorten the amount of time you nurse them each night until you are no longer nursing them to sleep and able to put down drowsy, but awake. As mentioned earlier this method requires a lot of patience on the parent’s part, but it’s great for families who want to minimize crying as much as possible.
Quick Comfort Checks (AKA modified Ferber)
Similar to the Ferber method, the quick checks method involves crying, but it is very effective for older babies and toddlers if you are able to listen to crying. This technique entails allowing your baby to cry while checking on him at “timed” intervals. The goal here is to reassure him every so often that you are nearby and to ensure he is ok (no poopy diaper, not ill, not hurt in any way, etc).
When you do a quick check you just simply go in, keep it short, and rest your hand on his chest. Talk to your baby in a firm, but loving voice. Tell him it’s ok. Pat his bottom or rub the bridge of his nose. Do not pick him up. You then leave the room, reset your timer and respond the same exact way each time you check. I recommend waiting to do this method until your little one is at least 5.5 – 6 months of age. Sometimes parents try a gentle method for a few weeks and if they aren’t getting the result they want then they turn to this method as last resort.
OK, to be honest I don’t even like writing about this method, but it is effective and involves a lot of crying – but honestly overall it usually produces less tears because your little one “could” respond quickly. I put “could” in quotations because it doesn’t work for all. I also do not recommend this method unless your baby is 9 months or older.
You’ll have to ask yourself if you can handle a few days of horrible crying? I know I cannot, but some parents are stronger than me. We are all different so if you choose this, no judgements being made – more power to you especially if it works fast.
The Full Extinction method was introduced by Dr. Weissbluth in the book “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” It is basically cry it out (CIO). The way it works is simple – you do your bedtime routine, put your baby to bed awake on his back, say goodnight, give kisses, and then leave the room without returning for checks. If your baby cries, you are not supposed to go in to check on him; instead, you let him ‘cry it out’ on his own. The thinking here is that if you allow your baby to cry for a period of time, but then go in and ‘rescue’ him, you have all but guaranteed that he will cry for that amount of time the next night because he will expect you to come and “rescue” him again.
Please know, in order for your little one to sleep through the night there is more to it then choosing a sleep training method. This is why hiring a sleep consultant like myself can help. There are other pieces of the puzzle like ensuring your little one does not have a negative sleep association, your baby's daily nap rhythm is age appropriate, his bedroom is sleep inducing and much more.
If you need more help please do not hesitate to reach out and book your FREE 15 minute consult with me to discuss how we can work together to meet your family’s sleep goals. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up your consult today.