Sleep Training 101

As a "natural" and "organic" mom, it may being surprising to hear that I sleep trained Sloane and plan to do so with any future children we may have. The truth is that I am not just pro-sleep training, but pro-mommy instinct when it comes to sleep. If you want to nurse or rock your baby to sleep every night for a year? Be my guest. If you want to sleep train at three months? Go for it. If you want to spend hundreds of dollars on a sleep consultant to design a program that you're comfortable with? That's your choice! The truth is that whatever you feel is right for helping your baby sleep is the right choice, and I am pro-THAT. As long as you aren't utilizing unsafe sleeping practices, I would never shame or criticize another mother for what she decides. So why do moms that sleep train often get berated for doing so by other moms?

Before I go into the different sleep training methods and how to implement them, I want to briefly explain the controversy behind sleep training and why I defend it. If you are already convinced and don't need my soap-box tangent, keep scrolling to the methods below!

The number one criticism I see from other mothers towards those that sleep train is that they are teaching their baby that "no one will come when they cry" and that's why the baby stops crying at night and goes to sleep. The most simple de-bunking of that myth is the fact that even after sleep training, babies still cry! If they were truly learning that crying = no one helping them, they would never cry. Instead, my sleep trained baby cries when something is wrong, not because she doesn't know how to fall back asleep on her own. If she goes down to bed and is crying for more than a minute or two (which is still rare), I know that she is either teething, sick, or uncomfortable in some other way. Sleep training has helped me identify when my baby is in discomfort and help her better than I otherwise would. 

Another piece of 'evidence' that is used against sleep training is a study conducted in the 1980s concerning the psychological effects of babies left to "cry it out". The study claims that these babies had long-term consequences of continued crying and being left alone. I am here to say that this is true...but the parameters of the study are misleading and incorrectly cited. The babies involved were actually orphans in a Romanian orphanage who were left to cry for hours upon days upon weeks on end. Obviously, being deprived of comfort, affection, and other social needs for a significant portion of development would have profound effects in the long run, which is what the study concluded. As I said, I agree that this is true - but this is far from the situation that is involved in sleep training. When I decided to sleep train, what kept me going and confident in my strategy was knowing that my baby was warm, fed, dry, and showered with affection all day long. Crying for a little at night over the course of a few days while she learned this skill did not negate the love, cuddles, and comfort I have always given her. Even during those first tough few days (and still now, months and months later) my daughter wakes up with the biggest smile on her face when she sees her mama. Ultimately, there are significant and numerous pieces of evidence for the importance of sleep on your baby's development, but there are no substantial or viable studies to show that sleep training has a negative effect. This process will not harm your baby or the bond between you.

I hope this helps to ease your mind about your decision, or at the very least, stop you the next time you plan to negatively comment on another mother's sleep-training choice!

*If you skipped my rant, you can start here*

Before you choose a sleep training method, make sure you are following age-appropriate wake windows (although it can vary baby-to-baby). An overtired or undertired baby can't be expected to learn to put themselves to sleep correctly. Also, you will want to confirm that you and your partner are 100% on the same page AND committed to your plan. If you are inconsistent, your baby will be confused and that isn't fair to them! I told myself that if I gave up, her crying would have been for nothing. But if I kept going, she would learn a valuable skill and be better off in the long run, which she is! She is a happier and more rested baby since sleep training. If you are looking to do the same, here are some methods for you to choose from, going from least to most parental involvement.

1. Extinction

This is ultimately the method that I ended up doing with Sloane although I had planned to start with Ferber (option #2). This technique is usually (and misleadingly) called "cry it out". Most sleep training advocates will avoid this term because 1. all sleep training (and baby sleep in general) involves some crying 2. it indicates that the parent or caregiver is leaving the baby to cry without any care, which is false. In using this method, it is important to note that all of a baby's needs are met before the parent leaves the room. You child is fed, their diaper is changed, and they are warm and comfortable. If at any time a need requires addressing, the parent may do so (hunger, diaper change, safety concern etc). Otherwise, in using extinction you would:

  • Complete your nap/bedtime routine (we do diaper, pajamas, sleep sack, story, sound machine, lights, and then song).
  • Lay down baby awake in their crib 10-15 minutes before the wake window ends.
  • Do not enter the room again unless a need should be addressed (scheduled feeding, diaper change, etc). Utilize this for any additional night wakings as well.
*I personally took the monitor down to the basement and turned off the sound. I could see that she was okay but didn't have to listen to her crying.

**Like Sloane, some babies are more stimulated and upset with check-ins from the parent (as with the Ferber method below) so this actually worked more quickly and better with her personality. This also tends to be the best method for older babies, although you are certainly welcome to try whatever method you are most comfortable with.

2. Ferber (Graduated Extinction)

This method is often cited as being a "gentler" approach to sleep training than extinction, although as I mentioned before, I found this to actually be more upsetting to Sloane. However, many parents have had success with this version and were comforted by the idea that they could still do check-ins on their child periodically. It is similar to extinction in the sense that you are not picking up or rocking your child and you are leaving the room to let them attempt to go to sleep on their own, but you do return after certain timed intervals. Here is how it works:
  • Complete your nap/bedtime routine (we do diaper, pajamas, sleep sack, story, sound machine, lights, and then song).
  • Lay down baby awake in their crib 10-15 minutes before the wake window ends.
  • Only enter the room to reassure the child at certain scheduled intervals, gradually increasing in time between each interval. Keep these check-ins quick and as minimally stimulating as possible. You may use quiet verbal reassurance, shushing, or a light touch or rub, but do not pick up your baby.
    • An example schedule may be: Check in after 3 minutes, then after 5 minutes, then after 10 minutes, then 20, then 45. Only enter if baby is crying and continue until they are asleep. The next night, do the same but increase intervals: Check in after 5 minutes, then 15, then 30, then 60, etc.
  • The child may be picked up to address a need (scheduled feeding, diaper change, etc) but then should be placed by in the crib awake to continue the process. Utilize the same schedule for night wakings as well.
  • Continue extending check-ins each individual night until baby is asleep and gradually increase check-ins over several days as well until baby falls asleep independently without check-ins. 
*If check-ins seem to upset your child more, consider moving to extinction or another method. However, be consistent with this technique for a few nights before changing anything. 

**You may alternate who does the check-ins, but if seeing one parent tends to upset the baby more, consider sticking with one person.

3. The Chair Method (Sleep Lady Shuffle)

I personally don't know anyone that has used this method, but many women in my sleep training groups have done so with success. Again, this would not be recommended for a baby who would be very stimulated by your presence, but could be a great option for a parent who is looking for the option to be in the room more during the process. It will take longer to work, but may better suit your personality or preferences. To do this, you would:
  • Complete your nap/bedtime routine (we do diaper, pajamas, sleep sack, story, sound machine, lights, and then song).
  • Lay down baby awake in their crib 10-15 minutes before the wake window ends.
  • For nights 1-3, have a chair set up next to the crib while your baby attempts to fall asleep. You may use quiet, occasional reassurances and touches (again, try to limit and be as least stimulating as possible) until the child falls asleep. Leave the chair there so you can utilize the same process for any night wakings. 
  • For nights 4-6, move the chair further from the crib and repeat the process. Do not move the chair closer or increase the frequency of reassurances. Repeat this every three days until the chair (and you) are completely out of the room (you can do your last three nights essentially at the door). 
*Do not stay in the same spot for more than three nights or you will create another habit that you will need to break! Make sure you are progressing several feet with each move. Your presence is still there, but you are getting your baby adjusted to being more independent in regards to sleep.

4. Pick-Up, Put-Down

This method is high in parental involvement, which can actually be difficult for some parents and babies and make it harder to be consistent. It also tends to take a lot longer to work. However, if having your physical presence known to your baby during this process is important to you, then this could be a worthwhile technique. It is geared toward younger babies, but can work for some older ones as well. To do so, you would:
  • Complete your nap/bedtime routine (we do diaper, pajamas, sleep sack, story, sound machine, lights, and then song).
  • Lay down baby awake in their crib 10-15 minutes before the wake window ends and leave the room.
  • Let the child attempt to fall asleep on their own. Let them whine or lightly cry if you are able. When they reach a point of crying that you are no longer okay with, you would pause, wait a few seconds, and listen to see if the crying lessens.
  • If crying continues, enter the room and pick up the child briefly to settle them down. Then lay them back down awake.
  • Repeat until the child falls asleep. Utilize the same process for night wakings.
*As I mentioned beforehand, this method can take the longest to work and definitely be more upsetting for both parent and child. It can involve hours of repeating the process at first, so either plan to be consistent for a week + or be ready to switch to a new technique if needed and stick with it!


This is technically a sleep-training technique in the sense that it sets the foundation for teaching babies to fall asleep independently. However, it is geared toward newborns and young babies up to eight weeks, as it involves being swaddled. It is heavy on parental involvement and soothing. I'll explain it here, but it really would not be something to use for an older baby.
  • Complete your nap/bedtime routine (example: this may still include a bottle at the beginning of the routine, then diaper, pajamas, swaddle, story, sound machine, lights, and then song).
  • Place baby on their side with a very slight tilt forwards.
  • Pat your baby in the center of their back with a steady, soothing rhythm. If you don't have a sound machine, you would "shush" or make a similar sound to soothe as well. 
  • Keep up the rhythm to the intensity of baby's crying (lessen as they calm down, etc). You may pick up and soothe if needed and try again.
  • Once baby is asleep, roll gently onto their back.
  • As time goes on, you may try to reduce the amount of patting you do, the volume of your shushes, or the length of time that you follow the technique. This puts more independence on the baby and less reliance on you. However, you may find that baby simply needs you less on his or her own as they learn independent sleep.

Whatever method you choose, be consistent and committed to your plan! I promise that your baby will be better off in the end - and so will you. Don't hesitate to ask any questions below or let us know what worked for you.

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