The Reality of Sleep Training a Baby with These 5 Methods

I’m a mother of two. My son is 15 months old and it’s time to sleep train my baby, again. I’ve tried all the sleep training methods recommended by professionals with my first child (who is now 4 years old), and I’m sorry to tell you, almost none has worked for us.

In this post, I’m going to shed some light on what’s it’s really like sleep training a baby from a mother’s perspective. I’ll share the reality of sleep training a baby, which methods we’ve tried, what works, what doesn’t and finally, how these 5 sleep training methods can work for you.

Bear in mind I’m not a sleep consultant or a paediatrician, I’m a sleep-deprived parent, just like you. If you want to read more on the 5 methods of sleep training a baby referred to in this post, check out whattoexpect.com.

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The 5 Methods of Sleep Training a Baby

sleep training a baby exhausted mum parent

1. Cry it out (CIO)
2. Ferber method
3. Chair method
4. Bedtime fading method
5. Pick up, put down method

Factors to consider before sleep training a baby

Although the 5 methods didn’t work for us in the long run, I do believe they are effective sleep training methods, if you have the right set-up, help and lifestyle. Ask yourself these questions first:

  • Do you run a business?
  • Do you have to work tomorrow?
  • Do you have parents or live-in au pair to help?
  • Is your partner willing to help?
  • What’s your health condition (postnatal recovery)?
  • Do you have other children sleeping in the same house?
  • Have you been breastfeeding your baby to sleep?
  • What’s your living arrangement? (how sound proof is your home, how many bedrooms, does your baby sleep in a cot/bedside bassinet/own bed/your bed? etc)
sleep training a newborn baby
Sleep training a baby early on is a little easier.

© Photos by Kida

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5 Newborn Essentials You Do NOT Need

1. Cry It Out

How: Let your baby cry until they fall asleep without any comfort from you.

Letting your baby cry it out is probably the sleep training method you’ll hear the most about. It’s also one of the cruellest methods for any parents.

What’s it like to let my baby cry it out?

I tried the cry it out method on both of my babies. Both of them were crying and screaming for over an hour before they finally dozed off. They were so loud that I used to sit on the toilet bowl with my hands over my ears, crying out of guilt, sleep deprivation and probably a bit of postnatal depression too.

Honestly, after going through labour and all that jazz, I could handle all of that just fine. But the problem was my babies would wake up every hour or so, and we had to do it all over again.

sleep training a baby methods crying
The Cry It Out Method

© Photos by Kida

Why crying it out didn’t work for us:

  • Do you also feel like your baby’s cry is the loudest among all babies? Both my babies cried so loud for so long that we were actually worried our neighbours were going to call the police on us.
  • I was already sleep-deprived and sore from top to bottom, and a hospital visit wouldn’t be far if I had to sleep-train as well.
  • We had no parents to rotate shifts, and our home wasn’t big enough to hire an au pair.
  • I have a 4yo that needs her beauty sleep.
  • My partner runs a business, and he needs to sleep.
  • The CIO method worked for my first baby after a week of hell. However, it only lasted for a few weeks before we were back to square one. (sickness, growth spurt, sleep regression etc., change a baby’s sleep cycles.)
  • We attempted to fly my in-law over from Australia to help. After an hour of CIO, she was worried about her blood pressure and thought I was abusive. She fled to sleep in the car and flew out a week later.

How the cry it out method can work for you:

  • If your entire family is onboard with the crying it out method.
  • If your partner and parents can rotate night shifts with you on an ongoing basis.
  • If no one needs to go to work the next day.
  • If you have no other children to worry about.
  • If you can be persistent.
  • If your home is soundproof.
  • If you don’t have nosy neighbours.

2. Ferber Method

How: Let your baby cry for a period of time before comforting your baby. Gradually increase the timed intervals of crying.

Out of the 5 baby sleep training methods, the Ferber method was our favourite one and the one that worked well for us, for a short period of time.

What’s it like using the Ferber method?

At the beginning, letting our baby cry for more than 2 minutes was new to everyone in the family. But at one point, I was just too exhausted to get up and just downright over the fussing to be honest, that I let my baby cry and told everybody to give him a chance to self-sooth.

We let him cry for a little longer each time, and comforted him whenever we couldn’t handle the crying anymore. It was only effective until we got to the ‘crying for 40-minutes’ mark that he slept long enough for us to rest.

The Ferber method did reduce the number of times that my baby woke up during the night, and increased the length of his sleep. However, we still had to wake up a number of times throughout the night because I was breastfeeding and his first instinct was always looking for my breast.

sleep training a baby ferber method
The Ferber Method worked the best for us.

© Photos by Kida

Why the Ferber method didn’t work for us:

  • I fell asleep comforting my baby, and he magically latched on my breast and broke the pattern.
  • We couldn’t be consistent due to our business commitments the next day.
  • When my baby had a blocked nose or fever, we couldn’t use any sleep training methods on him, so we had to do it all over again.
  • I found the only way to be consistent with the Ferber method was to wean him off my breast, and I wasn’t willing to do that yet.

How the Ferber method can work for you:

  • Having someone to rotate shifts with you.
  • If you can be consistent and have a flexible working arrangement so you can stick to the Ferber method every time after a growth spurt, sickness or sleep regression.
  • It’s easier if you’re not breastfeeding anymore.

3. Chair Method

How: Sit beside your baby, move your chair further and further away until your baby falls asleep.

When professionals recommended this method to me, the first thing that came to my mind was, ‘I’m so gonna fall asleep in that chair’. As good as the Chair method sounded, don’t forget I was sleep-deprived in the first place. Sitting in a chair singing lullaby in a soothing, dark room would put me to sleep faster than my baby.

What’s it like using the chair method?

I was willing to give the Chair method a go, and my baby accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to sleep with him. So after a bit of crying it out, he held my hand until he fell asleep. However, the moment I slip my hand out of his hand, he jerked awake and we had to do it all over again.

On average, the Chair method took an hour, if not more. And by then, my already sore back was stiff and was even sorer after my shift. I was dozing off a couple of times, and my partner fell asleep and off of the chair every time he was on shift. What was worse, my baby would wake up in the middle of the night looking for us, and one of us had to get up and do it again.

how to sleep train a baby cutest
Sleeping angels

© Photos by Kida

Why the chair method didn’t work for us:

  • Our baby had to hold our hand or arm to settle.
  • It took a long time sitting there sleep-deprived and exhausted waiting for our baby to go into the deep sleep cycle.
  • If he wasn’t in the deep sleep cycle, he would wake up if we took our hand away.
  • Our baby would wake up in the night looking for us (or our hand) until we do it again.
  • It was tough on our back and shoulder as we had to sit in a certain position with our hand out for a long period of time.

How the chair method can work for you:

  • If your baby is happy for you to sit on the side without clinging onto any part of you.
  • If you’re well enough to sit in a chair for a period of time. Perhaps time your baby’s sleep so that he’s tired enough to sleep straight away but hasn’t gone purple hour yet (which is a whole new topic).
  • If your baby can sleep through the night after he’s asleep.
  • If you have someone to rotate shifts with you.
  • If you’re okay with a bit of crying it out at the beginning.

4. Bedtime Fading Method

How: Read the baby’s sleep cues, try again after a certain time if your baby doesn’t sleep, then gradually move the bedtime earlier to your desired bedtime.

First of all, reading the baby’s sleep cues is a whole new course for the parents. Every baby is different and gives different cues. Our first baby didn’t give any cues and went straight to purple hour. For the bedtime fading method to work, you need a team.

What’s it like using the bedtime fading method?

With my first baby, I didn’t know anything about the baby’s sleep cues. I didn’t even know what time babies should go to bed until I researched why my baby always cried non-stop during dinner time. Then, I tried the bedtime fading method. It didn’t work right from the start.

Sleep training a baby methods exhausted sleep deprived parents
Sleep training requires a LOT of patience.

Why the bedtime fading method didn’t work for us:

  • It was really hard for me to read the sleep cues to begin with. My baby would yawn but resisted so much when I tried to take him into the bedroom to sleep.
  • If I didn’t time his bedtime perfectly, my baby would either go ballistic from exhaustion or not wanting to sleep.
  • No matter what time we put our baby to sleep, if he knew we were not going to stay, he’ll cry the moment we put him down.
  • When our baby was crying on top of his lungs after we put him down, we would be frantically trying to rock him, pat him, breastfeed him to settle him. No one was there to keep track of time.
  • It ended up no matter we were trying to put our baby down or bring him up, he was crying because of all that was going on.
  • All these up down up down really killed our backs.
  • We ended up sleeping way past our own bedtimes, let alone the baby’s bedtime.

How the bedtime fading method can work for you:

  • If you’re not breastfeeding, it may be easier to put your baby down in the first place.
  • If you don’t suffer from back pains because putting your baby down and bringing him up repeatedly from a cot is brutal.
  • If you have help from family members and your baby is equally attached to them.
  • If you have someone to keep track of the time while you’re worrying about 50 other things.
  • Which method are you going to use when your baby wakes up in the middle of the night again?

5. Pick Up, Put Down Method

How: Put your baby down while he’s awake but drowsy, pick your baby up if 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 period works for your baby, then your baby’s sleep probably isn’t bad enough for you to sleep train.

What’s 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 lean forward, she knew she was going to bed without me, and she would start crying. After I calmed my baby down and repeated the process, she would cry again when I leaned forward towards her cot. So the pick up, put down method really became either the crying it out method or the Ferber method.

baby sleep training methods
Find a sleeping training method that you can stick to.

Why the pick up, put down method didn’t work for us:

  • 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 the baby sleep cues.
  • It took us a long time to calm her down, and even longer (in the hours) to be able to put her down without her crawling back up.
  • It was back-breaking repeating the pick up, put down method.
  • There was no way we could’ve done all that again when she woke up in the middle of the night.
  • Our baby was persistent!

How the pick up, put down method can work for you:

  • If your baby hasn’t started turning and crawling yet.
  • If you have a baby bed that is the right height, design and is placed in the right angle for your back.
  • Again, if you have someone, a team to help you.
  • If you have the patience of a saint.

Let’s talk solution

I hope I didn’t sound too negative there, but this, sadly, has been the reality for our family using these sleep training methods.

I’ve gathered a few factors that I believe will help on successfully sleep training a baby:

5 Tips on how to successfully sleep train a baby

  1. Stating the obvious: Make sure your baby is well-fed, warm, wrapped up and has a clean nappy.
  2. The most important factor of successfully sleep training a baby is having a team. Having extra help is so important when it comes to sleep training a baby. And not just from your partner (because someone’s gotta work?), but from parents too, who supports your sleep training methods and are willing to have sleepless nights. You need a ‘village’ that can provide consistent support when your baby goes through phases and needs to be sleep trained again.
  3. It’s easier to sleep train your baby if your baby is bottle-fed. Breastfeeding forms a very strong bond between you and your baby, which is a good thing, by the way. But it’s a double-edged sword, your baby becomes really clingy to you and will have a tougher time learning to sleep on his own. If you give in, even once, then the whole sleep training effort goes back to square one.
  4. You need to either be really rich and don’t work at all or have a very flexible job/business where you can afford to sleep in whenever you plan to sleep train your baby.
  5. You need lots of patience and support, consistently.
how-to-sleep-train-a-baby-tips
My happiest moment.

© Photos by Kida

What did we end up doing to sleep through the night?

You might be disappointed to hear… we haven’t found the perfect solution yet.

However, with my first baby, she stopped breastfeeding naturally by the age of 2 and started sleeping through the night after my dozen failed sleep training attempts. She still goes through phases, but she’s old enough now to put herself back to sleep most of the time. We kind of just accepted the fact that someone had to sleep with her until she was ready to sleep on her own.

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It wasn’t easy, but we let ‘time’ sleep train our first baby.

© Photos by Kida

Now, with my son, the Ferber method seems to be working well. But unfortunately, his good sleeps keep getting interrupted by sickness picked up from childcare, teething, growth spurt and attachment to my breasts. So I’m not sure how long this will go on, but from experience, I’m expecting him to grow out of it and be able to put himself to sleep by the age of 2.

I’m hanging in there, and I wish from the bottom of my heart that you and your family can find a sleep training method that works for you. ♡

reality-of-sleep-training-a-baby-methods
Quick, when he sleeps, we need to sleep.

© Photos by Kida

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Have you tried sleep training a baby and which methods worked or did not work for you?

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