The Ultimate Guide to Baby Sleep Training Techniques
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The Ultimate Guide to Baby Sleep Training Methods: Finding the Right Method for Your Baby

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There’s no doubt, sleep training is a controversial topic. Some mamas swear by it, others avoid it at all cost.

If you’re reading through various sleep training methods and feeling just a little bit nervous right about now, let me reassure you: it is not some big, scary thing!

Sleep training is simply helping your baby learn how to sleep. HOW you sleep train depends entirely on you, your baby’s needs, your preferences, and the sleep training method you choose. As long as you follow the core foundations of newborn sleep and tend to your baby’s needs, you can’t go wrong.

This post goes over the top 5 sleep training methods, the key differences between these methods, when to start them, and the best resources to begin.

Sleep deprivation shouldn’t be the marker of new motherhood, Mama.So, let’s get right to it!

Welcome to my Baby Sleep Series!

If you’re just tuning in, this is the second post in my infant sleep series. Before you decide on a sleep training method, make sure you check out my introductory post: 5 Proven Ways to Get Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night. Without these key skills, you’ll be spinning in circles!

Before we begin, here are the other posts:

 

The Ultimate Guide: 5 Most Popular Baby Sleep Training Methods


This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase from one of the links I will make a small commission at no charge to you. I only recommend what I trust. Blunders in Babyland does not diagnose, treat, or give out any professional advice for any medical conditions. 

What is Sleeping Training and When Should You Start?

Sleep training is teaching your baby how to go to sleep on her own and stay asleep. That’s it. Unfortunately, like politics, sleep training raises a lot of eyebrows and vocal opinions.

Here’s what some people have said to me when I (shame-faced, apologetic smile) told them I have sleep trained my daughter:

“Oh, you don’t have to sleep train a baby. Just go with it!”

“Don’t worry about sleep training. Your baby will guide you.”

“You shouldn’t sleep train your baby until she’s at least 4 months.”

The issue is, I think most people relate sleep training to the Ferber, Cry It Out method. This is simply not true. Remember, sleep training is teaching your baby how to go to sleep on his own and stay asleep. Cry it Out (CIO) is only one of many sleep training methods. 

I believe there are three main approaches to sleep training:

  • No Cry Sleep Method
  • Fading Sleep Method
  • Cry-It-Out

In addition to these main techniques, there are several variations, which we’ll get in to in a minute.

When Should I Start Sleep Training

So, when do you start sleep training? Most people will tell you that you absolutely do not begin sleep training until 4 months.

I completely disagree! By the time my daughter was 8 weeks old, she was sleeping consistently 5-6 hours at a time through the night. My secret is this: I started sleep training the day we left the hospital.

Woah, wait. Before you back the heck out of this post, let me explain. You can apply the core principles of sleep training right from the beginning. Now, this does not mean that you’re going to leave your 2 day old baby in a room and let her cry.

PLEASE don’t do that.

But it does mean that you can focus on giving your baby full, satisfying feeds from the beginning (which is a very important part of sleep training). You can begin a bedtime routine immediately. Or, you can practice safe sleep immediately and start baby off in the crib.

ALL of this is part of sleep training.

When Can You Start Using Sleep Training Methods

So, if you’re a new mama preparing for your little bundle of joy’s arrival, there’s good news: Sleep training absolutely can–and should–begin immediately.

However, the correct starting age for various sleep training methods varies significantly. Below, I’ll list off the different methods of sleep training and the recommended start times.

Guidelines for Using Sleep Training Methods

Before we really dive into sleep training methods, I want to make sure that you know these simple guidelines.

  • Never try to sleep train when: you’re on vacation, your baby is sick, you’ve changed her routine unexpectedly, she’s overstimulated. Also, if you’re just coming out of these situations, allow your baby time to readjust.
  • Be consistent! If you read my introduction post, you know how fanatical I am about consistency. For example, if you’re trying to eliminate a sleep prop, don’t give in one night and take it away again another. This not only draws out the process way longer than it should, but it’s confusing for your baby.
  • Be Flexible! If your baby is going through a growth spurt and you have to feed him outside your regular feeding hours, do it! All of your progress will not be erased. Always tend to your baby’s biological needs.
  • Realize that babies cry: Babies cry A LOT. That’s okay. Crying is how your baby communicates his needs. This is where a lot of parents get nervous about sleep training and swear off certain methods. Whether you choose to use cry-it-out or no-cry methods, just know that crying doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing something wrong.
  • Record changes and methods in a sleep journal (OR my handy sleep troubleshooting worksheet). Okay, this isn’t a RULE but it is very, very helpful.

 

Baby Sleep Training Methods

No Tears Sleep Training Method: Pick Up/Put Down

This is my absolute favorite of the no tears sleep training methods and yet it’s highly unpopular. Why? It’s kind of tough to do and boy, is it a workout. The Pick Up/Put Down technique was developed by the Baby Whisperer, Tracy Hogg. Tracy believed that CIO is unfair to you and your baby. In addition, she theorized that it can break your baby’s trust in you. She developed this sleep training method to encourage independence without resorting to CIO.

When your baby cries, you pick him up. If he’s under 6 months, you employ the shush-pat technique (which is discussed in the book.) The instant he stops crying, you put him back down. If he’s younger than 6 months, you can continue the shush-pat technique while he is lay8ng in his crib; over 6 months, just keep your hand on his back/belly. If he starts crying again, pick him up. You repeat this technique for a very, very, very long time, until your baby is in a deep sleep (and you’ve had your daily work out!

Side note, this woman is my hero. Some of her techniques are…eh, unconventional, but The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems was definitely a life-saver for this new mom. Whether you choose CIO sleep training methods or gentle sleep training, I think you’ll definitely benefit from the practical sleep advice in this book.

When to Start Pick Up/Put Down

3-6 months is the ideal time frame. According to the Tracy Hogg, this technique shouldn’t be practiced until your baby is 3 months. Before that, PU/PD is too stimulating. However, you can start the shush-pat soothing technique whenever. After 6 months, the shush-pat method will probably become ineffective. However, you can still do PU/PD.

My Take: In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a huge fan of this technique. Once I got the hang of it, I was wildly successful soothing my daughter, sleep training for naps, and getting rid of the dreaded binky. Unfortunately, many people are not successful with the PU/PD method.

Here’s why:

  • Parents give up. It takes a while for your baby to get used to this method (and you!). The first time I used it, Cali cried for 45 minutes before fizzing out. I have no idea how many times I had to pick her up. The second time, it was about half that.
  • Parents don’t shush-pat correctly. For example, my husband does this cute hummingbird pat, which does not work with this method.
  • Their baby fights them and they give up. Your baby probably will push against you at some point. Put baby down, give her a second, and try again.
  • Parents get frustrated. When your baby is pushing away from you and screaming into your face, it is downright insulting. Sometimes you just need to walk away for a minute.
  • Parents are trying at the wrong age. Follow the Baby Whisperer’s guidelines.

At 7 months, we have sleep training pretty well under control. However, there are times when my daughter wakes early from a nap or has a bad dream at night, that I still use the basic concept of the PU/PD method. If you want to sleep train your baby but are worried about the crying, guilt, or fear abandonment issues, please at least try this technique.

Resources for Pick Up/Put Down

The Baby Whisperer Solves All of Your Problems: Sleeping, Feeding, and Behavior 

Secrets of a Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate with Your Baby (Although this book doesn’t go into the techniques I discussed, I found it extremely useful for implementing solid bedtime routines and understanding my baby.) 

Baby Sleep Training Methods and How to Choose the Right One

No Tears Sleep Training Methods: Gentle Sleep Training

If you’re a little hesitant about sleep training methods altogether, you can get your feet wet without practicing a CIO approach. This method is called gentle sleep training. Gentle sleep training emphasizes creating a sleep-friendly environment and positive sleep associations. The idea is that, over time, these sleep associations will naturally produce excellent sleep habits. There are several variations that you can try. Two of the most popular includes the methods found in Dr. Sears’s book, The Baby Sleep Book and the No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. If you’re into attachment parenting, the sleep training methods listed in these books are perfect for you.

Dr. Sears’ approach is to gently, slowly, gradually move your baby into the right direction of good sleep habits through plenty of nourishment. If it sounds like a long process, that’s because it is. Dr. Sears says that’s okay, and sometimes it can take a very long time to get your baby to sleep through the night. His big thing is attachment parenting, which focuses on developing a bond with your baby through constant nursing, responding to every cry, and plenty of snuggling.

Even if you’re not interested in attachment parenting, Dr. Sears’ book is a great read for new parents. His book goes over several great methods for developing healthy sleep habits and bonding techniques for you and your baby.

If you are into attachment parenting and want to use a more hands-on approach to sleep training baby techniques, check out the No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. Like Dr. Sears, she does not believe in letting a child simply cry it out. Instead, this gentle sleep training book goes into the mechanics of facilitating great sleep. Her method is very methodical, consisting of a 10 step plan, sleep logs, and several different variations of her no-cry methods.

When to Start: Any time! As I said before, you can start developing excellent sleep habits from the day you come home from the hospital. Pantley actually goes over several methods you can use to help sleep train baby as a newborn. If your baby is older, don’t fret. She actually has a few tricks up her sleeve for specifically older babies.

My Take: There are a lot of great concepts that you can take out of the no-cry methods that I think some of the hardcore CIO moms miss. I firmly believe that you should facilitate a sleep-friendly environment or any kind of CIO will never be successful. I think some parents jump to CIO too soon, before dealing with the heart of their baby’s sleep issues.

Having said that, I strongly disagree with Dr. Sears’ core ideas. I will never co-sleep (it’s okay if  you, I just won’t.) The concern of dependence is too great for me, especially when I know there are alternate, more efficient methods available.

I personally use many of Pantley’s suggestions for my bedtime and nap time rituals. However, I learned most of these techniques from On Becoming Babywise. If you think that attachment parenting is the best solution for your family, you can stick with Pantley’s or Sears. If you’re like me and the idea of attachment parenting and co-sleeping isn’t your thing, On Becoming Babywise is a great alternative read.

Books You’ll Need:

Baby Sleep Book: The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Rest for the Whole Family by William Sears

No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley 

Fading Sleep Training: Chair Method

What it is: If you’re squeamish about letting your baby cry alone, fading sleep training methods might be for you. The chair method is a fading sleep training technique, which focuses on gradually encouraging independence through gradual elimination. In this case, you’re gradually eliminating your presence. Basically, you allow your baby to cry it out, but sit in the room with him, just within his line of sight. As time progresses (every couple days or so), you move further away, weaning him from your presence.

For this idea to work, you need to strictly limit your interactions with your baby. As you can imagine, listening to your baby cry without being able to comfort her can be very difficult. The chair method also tends to take longer, with an average success time of about two weeks. 

When to Start: Once again, experts recommend starting a CIO method after 4 months. Several moms start sooner, at about 3 months.

My Take: I’ve never used the chair method. Neither I, nor my daughter, have the temperament. My presence is a catalyst for her. She will continue to cry until I leave and she has a time to herself that she can fizzle out. Plus, I definitely don’t trust myself not to get up and console her.

Having said that, this sleep training method could very well work for you. Just make sure of these things:

  1. Have a game plan, stick to it, but expect to make modifications based on how you and your child react.
  1. If you have a rolling, crawling, standing baby, be very, very careful about your interactions. It doesn’t take much for them to figure out that they just have to sit up for you to come get them.
  2. If you commit to this method, you’re committing to a longer success time. It could take around 2 weeks for any improvement.

Books You’ll Need:

Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West 

My Baby Sleep Guide (online resource)

Cry it Out: Extinction

What it is:

When people recommend “cry it out sleep” sleep training methods, this is usually what they mean. With Weissbluth’s Extinction Method, you put your baby in her crib, whisper your sweet nothings, and leave her until the next feeding time. She will cry–A LOT, probably–but as the training continues, she will cry less each sleep period until you have baby that perfectly sleeps through the night.

Make no mistake, this can be a very effective way to sleep train your baby. In many cases, this is also the fastest track to helping your baby sleep through the night. However, there are three things you should keep in mind if you’re thinking about using this method.

  1. The Cry it Out Extinction Method does not work for every baby and it definitely doesn’t work for every mom… Depending on your baby’s personality, the crying can escalate and go on for hours, resulting in vomiting, temporary fear of abandonment (research indicates that CIO babies do not suffer from long-term abandonment issues), and heartache for you.
  1.  Cry it Out responsibly. Get to know your baby’s cries. A baby’s cry from a dirty diaper is much different than a baby’s cry from regular Cry it Out. You must ensure that your babies needs have been met before you try Cry it Out.
  2. Be consistent. I know, I already mentioned that. But it’s important! You can’t try Cry it Out one night and then the next, try gentle soothing, and then expect to go right back to Cry it Out. If you truly feel like Cry it Out isn’t for you or your baby, there’s no shame in that. But, if you’re going to try it, be consistent.

When to Start:

Experts say not to start CIO sleep training methods until your baby is at least 4 months. I’m just going to leave it at that.

My Take: While I did let my baby do some light CIO before she was 4 months, it never went longer than 20 minutes. I would follow the expert’s advice and not follow a pure extinction regimen until your baby is 4 months. It’s too hard to tell what your baby’s actual needs are before then. 

We only tried the extinction method after our daughter was 4 months, during the worst of the 4 month sleep regression. It was very effective and it eliminated her random 3 AM habitual waking. With that exception, we’ve been able to successfully complete her training with other methods. Having said that, Pregnant Chicken has an excellent post on successfully using the extinction method.

Books You’ll Need:

Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child by Marc Weissbluth

Cry it Out: Check and Console

What it is: Also known as graduated extinction or Ferberizing, this method isn’t quite as hardcore as extinction. You put your baby to bed, leave the room, allow your baby to cry for a designated amount of time before reentering to reassure her. This tells your baby ( and yourself) that you haven’t abandoned her. As time progresses, you gradually extend the amount of time she is allowed to cry. If you have a baby that FLIPS OUT (headbashing, vomiting, coughing, etc.) during the extinction method, this would probably be a better fit for you.

There are three tips you should remember if you use this method:

  1. Decide on a set time and STICK TO IT.
  1. Always increase the intervals between consoling, even if it’s a minute. This includes moving on to the next day.
  2. Always be aware of your baby’s needs: for example, your baby has a massive “explosion” in the middle of a nap. That’s obviously a time when you would stop the sleep training to take care of your baby’s needs.

When to Start:

Once again, experts say that any CIO method should be done after 4 months.

HOWEVER, I believe that it is okay to let your baby fuss a little before that. This is a concept that I learned from On Becoming Babywise. While this book is definitely not a CIO training guide, it does mention that it’s totally normal for babies to fuss a little when you first put them down. I took this advice to heart and had great success putting Cali down for naps and bedtime in her crib right from the start. (I should also mention that the book tells you to attend a baby any time she wakes up crying from a nap or in the middle of the night).

My Take: The Check and Console is our preferred sleep training method. Any CIO sleep training methods is tough. Sometimes the extinction method works better for babies, other times, the check and console method is better. You’ll know if the check and console method isn’t working if your baby continuously starts wailing harder when you intervene. For example, although Cali does get angrier after I leave her the second time, she quickly loses steam soon after. With the extinction method, however, she would cry endlessly.

Books You’ll Need:

Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber 

Get on That Sleep Train

If you’re suffering from sleepless nights and draining days, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t give sleep training a try. I know that beginning sleep training can be difficult, especially when so many people are so vocally against it. As this post has hopefully shown, sleep training is not cruel. By sleep training your child, you’re stepping in and ensuring the success of a skill that even some adults don’t possess.

My charge to you is at least try one of these sleep methods. Stay with it for two weeks. Give it a chance to work. Then, move on to the next. But the important thing is, you need to at least try one.

I have one last thing to say, Mama. I don’t regret sleep training one bit, no matter what criticism people have given me. People have mocked me, writing off my commitment to sleep training as a typical “new mom” move. They’ve dismissed the hard work Cali and I have done, saying that I’m “lucky” and my daughter is “just a good baby.”

But you know what?

I get 8(ish) hours of sleep every night. My daughter and I are both ecstatically happy. We can attribute a lot of this to effective sleep training. If you make the commitment to sleep train your baby, you will most likely face the same criticism—but you can also benefit from the same results. You are doing what’s best for you and your baby and that is nothing to be ashamed of.

Good luck with your sleep training, Mama. And get some rest! 😉

If you’re a skimmer like me, here’s the recap of the resources for the sleep training methods in this post.

Gentle Sleep Training/No Cry Sleep Training Methods/Pick Up Put Down

The Baby Whisperer Solves All of Your Problems: Sleeping, Feeding, and Behavior by Tracy Hogg

Secrets of a Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate with Your Baby  by Tracy Hogg

No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantly

Baby Sleep Book: The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Rest for the Whole Family by William Sears 

Cry-It-Out Sleep Training Methods: Extinction & Check and Console

Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber 

Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child by Marc Weissbluth

On Becoming Babywise by Gary Ezzo

Fading Sleep Training Method: Chair Method

Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West 

Baby Sleep Training Methods Explained

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2 Comments

  1. These are awesome points to note. Am a first time time, with a three weeks girl. And am glad to learn these tips and when to apply them.
    Atleast now I know it is too early to commence sleep training(I had already started thinking of how to train my daughter to sleep, when she is only three weeks old, while infact from what I see, I should wait until when she is atleast 3 or 4 months)!?

    1. Hey, I’m so glad this post was helpful for you! That’s awesome that you’re researching this stuff now!
      Yeah, I tend to agree with the experts that any full CIO method should be started in that 3-4 month range. But, I didn’t mind letting my daughter fuss for a few minutes while she settled into sleep. That laid the framework for self-soothing (for us, anyway)! And, I believe that it’s never too early to begin awesome sleep habits(like a good sleep routine, making sure the baby stays awake for a full feed, etc.)

      Congratulations on your baby girl <3 <3

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