Successful Sleep Training For Your Baby – The 5 Key Principles You Need To Know
Expert sleep consultant Emma Purdue shares invaluable advice to help make sleep training your baby a success for you both
6 min read
I know that sleep training your baby can be challenging, particularly when both of you are tired! Let me guide you through 5 key principles which I use in my work as a sleep consultant.
You need to have respect for your baby’s physiological need for sleep. Allowing your baby to get overtired constantly will make this process more difficult. There needs to be respect between the parents, and both parents need to be on board with the gentle sleep training and be supportive of this decision to sleep train.
There also needs to be respect for your baby’s need for space. They might be rolling and crawling around the cot, this is fine. Give them the opportunity to figure out this whole sleep thing.
Think about what you are communicating to your child.“I know you are tired and upset, I love you and respect your need for sleep, I am here for you and I will be patient and calm while you learn to go to sleep.”
How will you communicate this message? Verbally with shushing or quiet singing, and non-verbally with consistent behaviour and responses, and by remaining calm, consistent and patient?
What is your baby communicating to you? “I am tired, mum and I am confused as to why you won’t nurse or hold me to sleep any more?” They don’t hate you and are not panicked or distressed, you are right there, and are using lots of touch and voice and nursing to settle and soothe them.
This is the most important part of sleep training. Without consistency, we confuse our children and extend the time it takes to sleep train from 2-3 weeks to 5-6 weeks. Inconsistent reinforcement such as trying to settle for 40 minutes and then feeding to sleep is the kind of behaviour which makes children cry longer and harder the next time you attempt a nap.
So remember you can cancel a nap or take a break, but don’t inconsistently reinforce the pattern we are trying to change. The most consistent approach is actually the gentlest of all.
Gentle sleep training or no cry sleep training really is a good 2 week+ process. You need to be committed to the process and have the energy and resources available now to successfully see this through. Short term patience is also needed. You must be prepared to sit by your baby for the 40-60 minutes it might take them to fall asleep.
Imagine the emotional turmoil your child is going through as you move them to their own room and teach them to self-settle. You need to ensure that you provide security by showing calmness throughout this process. Be the anchor or the rock in this time – don’t be part of the turmoil. Children are very good at sensing anxiety, frustration and sadness and these emotions at bedtime will not help your baby to settle quickly and can really hinder your success.
Be confident in your approach and remain calm, knowing that you have made this decision for yourself and your family, and it is the right decision, now is the right time, and you know what you are doing (fake it for a few days if need be!).
Making the decision to sleep train (or not)
Often parents who have followed ‘attachment parenting’ philosophies struggle with the idea of sleep training and feel their decision is selfish or wrong, and that they will damage their baby.
You can be confident with gentle sleep training that there is no time when your baby is crying and distressed for long periods; there is no opportunity for an attachment rupture as you never leave your baby’s side while they are upset.
You are being supportive and responsive both emotionally and physically and your baby’s cries are just communication, not distress. They are telling you they are tired and unhappy and confused as to why anything is changing, but they are not fearful or abandoned or panicked. You are right there with them.
Sleep is a biological necessity!
If you are struggling with your decision to sleep train, I am positive that it wasn’t a decision you came to lightly, and even Dr Sears (the pioneer of the attachment parenting philosophy) recognizes in his books, that for some families bed sharing and room sharing doesn’t work and this is ok. He also discusses various forms of CIO such as cry it out in arms (done with dad) and how to change a baby’s sleep associations over time.
Dr Sears, James Mckenna and Elizabeth Pantley, all agree that children and families need sleep, it’s not a want or a luxury – it’s a biological necessity. They all agree that if your situation is no longer working for your family you need to change it. No one expects you to go through years and years of sleep deprivation or for you to be unhappy as a mother or wife due to your sleeping situation. You are NOT selfish to want or need more sleep for yourself or your family.