When it comes to infant sleep, there's an overwhelming amount of information, and the pressure to sleep train can be immense. Many parents wonder if they must "train" their babies to sleep independently to ensure they sleep well. In this blog post, we'll dive into the concept of sleep training, debunk myths, explore the reasons behind it, and provide gentle methods for those considering it.
Why do we sleep train in the first place?
Around the age of 4 months, babies undergo a developmental sleep milestone known as 'The Four Month Regression.' During this time, their sleep cycles become more similar to those of adults, leading to sudden night awakenings and changes in sleep patterns. Traditionally, sleep training gained popularity in the 70s when a study suggested that babies who fall asleep independently at bedtime need less assistance if they wake up at night compared to babies who are fed to sleep initially.
While this study's findings are still debated, many parents find that if their baby relies on being rocked or fed to sleep before being placed in the crib, they often need more help during night wakes.
What does sleep training involve?
The term "sleep training" is often associated with controversial methods like controlled crying or crying it out. However, it's crucial to recognise that sleep training encompasses various approaches. Two gentle methods are pick up/put down and the chair method, which you can also find detailed info on elsewhere on my blog.
For those seeking an even more responsive approach, my online course covers two super gentle methods to help your baby fall asleep independently without leaving them to cry.
Do you NEED to sleep train?
If you believe sleep training is crying it out, then of course that's not the only method there are a plethora of other methods that you can choose - just a couple have been mentioned above.
But if by sleep training you just mean the concept of getting your child to fall asleep independently at the start of the night, then this is also something that you don't NEED to do. If you don't sleep train, you won't have a 40 year old child who still needs to be rocked to sleep.
My biggest tips would be to move away from assisting your child to sleep in a separate space from where you want them to sleep all night. Think about it this way, if you went to sleep in your nice cosy bed next to your partner at the start of the night, and when you woke up you were actually sleeping on your sofa on your own, you'd wake more fully thinking "Huh? Where am I? What just happened? How did I get here?" This is likely to be the same for your baby. So if you can find a way to get your baby to fall asleep exactly where you want them to stay asleep, then that is less likely to cause alarm to your baby when they wake in the night.
So what are some ways you can do that? Well, one way is to comfort your baby to sleep in their own cot by stroking or patting them. Or if you're someone who cosleeps safely (find out more info here about how to safely co-sleep) then you could breastfeed in a side lying position in bed and allow your baby to stay asleep that way. Or you could do the same if you chose to use a floor bed instead of a cot or toddler bed.
These processes are much easier if you're sharing a room with your baby, but not impossible if they are in their own room.
Fundamentally, this comes down to your baby's temperament and your values as a family. Many families value having their own bedroom and sleep space, so teaching the skills for a baby to comfortably fall asleep independently is a priority. However, there are some families who recognise that these child rearing years are short, and they are ok with offering whatever comfort is needed in order for their baby to get the most sleep.
In the end, it's what works for you as a family.
So, in conclusion, NO you do not need to sleep train, but if bedtime feels like a battle and the way your child is sleeping isn't sustainable for you, there are ways to change that in a more responsive way.
If you want to take a slower and more tailored approach, I also have an online course where I detail two super responsive methods to move your child from feeding or rocking to sleep to falling asleep independently. It's very affordable, and you can find out more information here.