Disclaimer: This post is written by a mother and is intended for healthy babies without medical conditions. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Are you a sleep-deprived parent considering sleep training your baby but worried about the psychological effects? Are you suffering from “mum guilt” about sleep training but feeling like you’re turning into a zombie? Most importantly, does sleep training even work?
Sleep training is a highly debated topic among parents. You’ll find experienced mums who swear by it and others who will tell you it’s the worst thing you could ever do to your child.
So who do you listen to?
As a mum of two, I’ve tried numerous Sleep Training methods with my 2 kids over the years. I can tell you with confidence that sleep training is daunting and hard no matter which sleep training method you use, the key is to be consistent and firm. At the end of it all, you may even find that sleep training isn’t right for your family after all and that’s totally ok.
In this post, I’ll share our story on sleep training our 2 kids from a parent’s perspective. I’ll review the five sleep training methods, discuss their pros and cons, how effective they’ve been for us, and how you can use them too.
What are the sleep training methods?
1. Cry it out method (CIO)
2. Ferber method
3. Chair method
4. Bedtime fading method
5. Pick up, put down method
We’ll explain more in detail below.
When to start sleep training your baby?
It’s generally recommended to start sleep training when your baby is about 4 to 6 months old. This is around the time that babies develop the physical ability to sleep through the night and have a more predictable sleep schedule. Our best advice is to train your baby before they can roll.
The effectiveness of sleep training depends on a few factors
After trying every sleep training method, I’ve come to the realization that your lifestyle plays a huge role in sleep-training your baby if you choose to sleep-train your baby at all. If you’re a stay-at-home mum who has the luxury of napping during the day with external help, you may not want to put yourself or your baby through the hard yards at all.
Things to consider before sleep training your baby:
- Do you need to return to work or have a business to run?
- Do you have parents or live-in au pair to help?
- Is your partner in a position to help or does he need his sleep?
- What’s your health condition and are you mentally strong enough to sleep train?
- Do you have other children or elderly sleeping in the same house?
- Have you been breastfeeding your baby to sleep? (sleeping habits to break?)
- What’s your living arrangement? (how soundproof is your home, how many bedrooms, does your baby sleep in a cot, bedside bassinet or sharing a bed with you? etc)
1. The Cry It Out Method
How: Let your baby cry until they fall asleep without any comfort from you.
Letting your baby cry it out is probably the most controversial sleep training method you’ve heard the most about. In my opinion, it’s also one of the hardest methods for any sleep-deprived parent. I can’t comment on whether this method is psychologically damaging to your baby, but I can say from experience that it is psychologically damaging to the parent.
What was it like using the Cry It Out Method?
I attempted the Cry It Out Method with both of my babies. Both screamed and cried for over an hour before falling asleep from exhaustion. The cries were so loud that I found myself sitting on the toilet with my hands over my ears, also “crying it out” from feelings of mum-guilt, sleep deprivation, and possibly some postnatal depression.
To be honest, I thought I could handle all of that after going through hell and back from labour. However, my babies continued to wake up every hour or so at night, requiring us to repeat the process over and over again. After a few days of this, we were just grateful that no one in our family committed any crimes.
Why the Cry It Out Method didn’t work for us
- My partner was running a business and he had to sleep.
- We had no parents to rotate shifts and we weren’t in a position to hire external help. We flew our in-law over to help and she fled shortly after.
- I had a 4yo in the other room.
- We were conscious of the disturbance to our neighbours.
- The Cry It Out Method worked temporarily for my first baby. However, the good sleep didn’t last due to sickness, growth spurts, sleep regression, etc. and we had to repeat the process periodically.
Cry It Out Method can be effective if:
- Your entire family is on board with the Crying It Out Method.
- Your partner and parents can rotate night shifts with you consistently on an ongoing basis.
- No one in your household needs to go to work early the next day.
- You have no other children to worry about.
- Your home is soundproof and you don’t have nosy neighbours who might share their concerns.
- You’re not faint-hearted.
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The Ferber Method
How: Let your baby cry for a period of time before comforting them. Gradually increase the intervals of crying, allowing your baby to learn to self-soothe.
Out of all the sleep training methods, the Ferber method was our favourite as it worked well for us but for a short period of time only. I do agree with the saying that letting your baby cry for a short time helps them learn how to self-soothe.
The difference between the Ferber Method and Crying It Out is that with the Ferber Method, the crying is done in a controlled environment. And because it’s a flexible and gradual approach, it allows parents to provide comfort and reassurance at regular intervals without putting emotional stress on both the baby and the parent.
What was it like using the Ferber Method?
When we were first-time parents in the early days, allowing our baby to cry for longer than two minutes was stressful for the entire family. However, as we continued to practice the Ferber Method, we developed some tolerance for the cries without feeling like we were neglecting our baby.
The key shift in mentality was that “allowing a little bit of crying can help them learn how to self-soothe.”
We gradually increased the amount of time we let our baby cry before providing comfort. Though it was heartbreaking to hear our little one cry, we pushed through until the 40-minute mark, at which point he was able to sleep long enough for us to catch some rest too.
While the Ferber Method did help to extend the duration of our baby’s sleep, I still found myself waking up multiple times at night for breastfeeding.
Why we stopped using the Ferber Method:
- I found that the only way to be consistent with the Ferber Method was to wean my baby off breastfeeding first, and that was another challenge that we’ll save for another post.
- I often fell asleep comforting my baby and found him instinctively latched on to my breast without me knowing. We broke the pattern pretty quickly.
- Along with all the reasons mentioned above in CIO, such as no help to alternate night shifts and repeatedly going back to square one due to sickness and growth spurt.
The Ferber Method can be effective if you:
- Have someone rotating night shifts with you.
- If you can be consistent and have flexible work arrangements. It’s important to stick to the Ferber Method every time when your baby is going through a growth spurt, sickness or sleep regression.
- It’s much easier if you are bottle-feeding your baby. While personal preferences may vary, I’m all for breastfeeding so that wasn’t something I was willing to compromise on.
3. The Chair Method
How: Sit beside your baby, move your chair further and further away until your baby falls asleep.
The first thing that came to my mind when I heard about the Chair Method was ‘I’ll fall asleep in that chair quicker than my baby will.
Although the Chair Method seems promising, be reminded that sitting in a (rocking) chair, and singing lullabies in a dark room as a sleep-deprived parent would require very strong doses of caffeine. Speaking of which…
If this post has helped you in any way, a cup of coffee is all it takes to make my day!
Thank you beaucoup! <3
– safe & secure –
What was it like using the Chair Method?
I gave the Chair Method a go and my baby seemed to accept the fact that I wasn’t going to sleep with him. But the problem was he had to hold my hand to sleep and he would wake up the moment I slipped my hand out. Without touching any part of my body, the Chair Method wasn’t any different to the Cry It Out & Ferber Method.
Perhaps I needed to wait longer for him to enter the deep sleep cycle, but on average, the Chair Method took around an hour or more. By then, my already sore back had become even stiffer.
I found myself dozing off a couple of times and my partner simply fell asleep in the chair on every of his shift. On top of that, my baby would wake up in the middle of the night looking for us, requiring one of us to get out of bed and repeat the sitting session again.
Why the Chair Method didn’t last for us:
- Our baby adopted a new habit of holding our hand to sleep and waking up looking for our hands, which defeated the purpose of ‘independent sleeping’.
- It took a long time sitting in a back-breaking and arm-breaking position, waiting for our baby to enter the deep sleep cycle.
The Chair Method can be effective if:
- Your baby is happy for you to sit on the side without clinging onto any part of you.
- Your baby has a consistent bedtime routine and falls asleep fast.
- You’re physically strong enough to sit in a chair for an extended period of time.
- You have someone to rotate shifts with you.
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4. The Bedtime Fading Method
How: Read the baby’s sleep cues, try again after a certain time if your baby doesn’t sleep, and then gradually move the bedtime earlier to your desired bedtime.
First of all, recognizing a baby’s sleep cues is a skill for new parents to learn. Every baby is different and gives different cues (why didn’t school teach us that, right?). With our first baby, we weren’t equipped to read any of her cues before she went straight into “purple hour.”
For the Bedtime Fading Method to be effective, it’s important to have a team working together.
What was it like using the Bedtime Fading Method?
Although my midwife had briefed me on bedtime routines and reading sleep cues, they sounded more predictable in books than in reality. It wasn’t until I was on the brink of breakdown with her purple hour during dinnertime that I found out infants finish their day around our dinnertime.
Then, I tried the Bedtime Fading Method, and although it didn’t work for me right away, there were improvements with a lot of patience.
Why the Bedtime Fading Method wasn’t realistic for us:
- It was really hard to read my baby’s sleep cues as a new mum.
- If I didn’t time her bedtime perfectly, my baby would either go ballistic or not want to sleep at all.
- No matter what time we put our baby to sleep, she would cry the moment we even gestured at putting her down.
- No one was there to keep track of the time when we were frantically trying to calm our baby down.
- We often ended up stimulating her more by trying to meet the time goals.
- Lifting our baby up and down in the cot repeatedly is back-breaking.
- We ended up sleeping way past our own bedtimes, let alone our baby’s bedtime. No one was happy.
The Bedtime Fading Method can be effective if:
- You’re not breastfeeding. To be honest, you may not even have to sleep train this hard if you’re not breastfeeding but again, I’m an advocate of breastfeeding babies so I do not recommend compromising breastfeeding for sleep.
- You have an ergonomic bedding arrangement at home.
- You have help from family members and your baby is equally attached to them.
- You have someone to keep track of time while you’re juggling a dozen other baby tasks.
- When your baby wakes up in the middle of the night, do you have the time and patience for this method?
5. The Pick Up, Put Down Method
How: Put your baby down while he’s awake but drowsy, and pick your baby up when he cries. Repeat until he falls asleep.
The Pick up, Put down Method is the quickest way to break your back, period. To be honest, if the Pick up, Put down Method works for your baby, then your baby’s sleep patterns are probably not bad enough to go through sleep training in the first place.
Neither my back nor my core strength was strong enough for this type of sleep training method, and I would not recommend it to any mothers still recovering from postpartum.
What was it like using the Pick up, Put down Method?
I tried this method with my first baby when she was sleeping in her cot. The moment I leaned forward, she knew she was going to bed without me and would start crying right away. I’d pick her up, comforted her and repeated the process until it was too painful for me to put her down again.
It was like there was an invisible trigger line right along the rim of the cot that we just couldn’t get past.
The Pick up, Put down Method gradually turned into the Crying It Out Method because we were too tired.
Why the Pick Up, Put Down Method didn’t work out:
- Our baby didn’t let us put her down without a fight in the first place. And yes, this was the case even after we learned to read baby sleep cues.
- It took us a long time to calm her down, and even longer to be able to put her down again. We’re talking in hours.
- It was back-breaking.
- There was no way we could’ve done the pick up and put down again when she woke up in the middle of the night.
- Our baby was very persistent!
The Pick up, Put down Method can be effective if:
- Your baby hasn’t started rolling and crawling yet. Hence why it’s best to sleep train them around 4 months old.
- You have a cot or bedside bassinet that is the right height and has an ergonomic design for your back.
- You have a team to rotate with you.
- You have the patience of a saint.
- You enjoy weight training at night.
5 Tips on how to sleep train a baby
1. Make sure your baby is well-fed, warm, wrapped up, and has a clean diaper.
2. Having a supporting team is the most important factor in sleep training a baby successfully. Not just from your partner (because someone needs to work?) but from other family members or a live-in nanny who’s on board with your sleep train method.
3. Sleep training requires consistency, so find a method that fits into your lifestyle.
4. Having financial stability and flexibility in your schedule will make sleep training more achievable.
5. You’ll need a lot of patience and support on an ongoing basis.
So what did we end up doing?
Sorry to disappoint you but we didn’t find the perfect sleep training method that worked for us. I chose to co-sleep and breastfed my babies until they were two and a half. Despite the risks associated with co-sleeping with a baby, breastfeeding my baby to sleep is the most heartwarming moment of the day.
Since becoming a mother, I no longer sleep as deeply as I used to. Perhaps that’s a new instinct all mums pick up so that we can stay somewhat alert to our baby’s needs even during our sleep.
Our daughter gradually transitioned to sleeping in her own bed after the arrival of our son. She was around 3 years old. By that point, she was able to understand and communicate with us using words. Although she still puts up a fight every now and then, the process was much smoother than sleep training.
Isn’t it easier if we just sleep train ourselves? So when our baby sleeps, we hit the switch and sleep too. Now that’s wishful thinking.
Hang in there my friend! I wish from the bottom of my heart that you and your family find a sleep training method that works for you. ♡
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