As the Chief Child Sleep Consultant at Parent Heroes, I’ve been helping parents who are tired and ready for their baby, toddler, or preschooler to become Super Sleepers and sleep soundly once and for all! With over 20 years of experience, you can say I’m an expert in babies and their sleep. My mission is to help parents cut through the noise of all of the conflicting information out there and explore what sleep training actually IS, and what it is NOT.
Here are 8 secrets that I’ve learned with my experience as a baby sleep consultant while helping hundreds of families get back the sleep they deserve to live healthy, happier lives.
It might be strange to think of sleeping as a skill that does NOT come naturally. As a new parent, you’re probably so exhausted that you pass out as soon as your head hits the pillow. However, no human being actually stays asleep the entire night, and that’s totally normal! Both babies and adults wake multiple times during the night to roll over or move around.
When a person is an independent sleeper, that means they are able to put themselves back to sleep from these normal nocturnal disruptions. Your baby, however, doesn’t have this same ability yet. They need to learn how to settle themselves into a deep restorative sleep, how to go back to sleep when they wake up, and how to learn healthy sleep habits. Until they do, they need your assistance. Sleep training will give your baby the tools and skills they need to sleep better on their own.
Just like you will teach your child lifelong healthy eating habits and lifelong healthy exercise — one day at a time, you’ll teach your child healthy sleep habits — one night at a time, and continue to encourage those habits that lead towards healthy sleep for life.
Almost every exhausted new parent has wondered about the pros and cons of sleeping training their baby. Will it work? What method should I use? And the big question: Will it cause harm?
I think sleep training has gotten a bad rap. Many times, when a parent hears the words “sleep training” the first thing that comes to mind is “Cry-It-Out” and the painful mental picture of a baby crying all alone in the dark — which must be painful for both the baby and the parents. However, research suggests that the practice of letting a baby cry for short intervals while learning to put herself to sleep is not inherently harmful —and does not cause long term emotional problems for the baby or disrupt the parent-child attachment bond [Rileychildren.org]. Prospective randomized controlled trials have demonstrated the short-term to medium-term effectiveness of behavioral infant sleep interventions (AKA sleep training), and The American Academy of Pediatrics has published this statement: “Infant Sleep Training is safe and effective,” based on a five-year study.
Two very important things to point out about the 5 year study:
With my years of experience, it is my belief that sleep training is not harmful and it will, in fact, be helpful to your family by providing an incredible protective effect over your entire life. Think of it as an umbrella to care for you, your child’s health and your marriage.
When parents are well-rested and relaxed they have energy and are capable of responding to their children with a warm, loving, and consistent approach. And, this is how sleep training can actually improve the parent/child attachment bond.
For those that are opposed to letting a child cry, but are frustrated by the lack of consistent sleep, there are other sleep training methods – like gentle sleep training, that don’t involve just leaving a baby in the crib to cry endlessly through the night. The most important part of sleep training is finding the method that works best for you and your baby!
Parents have to be comfortable when implementing a sleep plan and the sleep-training method, and there are many factors that go into finding what is right for your family, including the child’s age, temperament, and past experiences. Not all babies are the same. What worked for one baby may not work for another. Parent Heroes matches the method to the family. We use customized sleep plans based on your family values and the learning style of your baby, toddler or preschooler. For babies, Parent Heroes offers Pick up/Put Down, Timed Checks, No Checks, and the Chair Method. For toddlers/preschoolers we use Timed Checks, Silent Returns, Sleep Wave, and the Chair Method.
When you work with a sleep coach, we help you create a plan and training method that you’re comfortable with to keep crying to the absolute minimum for your child or baby.
Sleep training does not mean denying your baby food when they are hungry at night! Biological hunger needs are varied from person to person. It is typical to have up to one nighttime feed when a baby is 4-9 months old. Sometimes, when a night feeding is kept after this age, it can actually interfere, rather than help them sleep better.
After implementing sleep training, if a child is truly waking up due to hunger, then they should feed and fall immediately back to sleep by themselves for the rest of the night. When my clients begin working with me, their child maybe waking up every hour to eat. Parent Heroes can help you teach your child to eat less at night and sleep soundly!
Are you worried that if you sleep train that you will lose your milk supply? This is a really common concern and I am here to tell you that Parent Heroes wants you to meet your breastfeeding goals.
It all comes down to emptying your breasts of milk frequently and effectively. Once your baby starts sleeping longer stretches, you will use hand expression or the electric breast pump to maintain the appropriate number of let downs per day needed, as recommended by your Lactation Consultant.
My favorite resources for pumping education are:
As long as you send your brain the message of “breasts are drained of milk regularly” your body will continue to have enough milk supply while your baby is sleeping soundly at night. Rest assured, sleep training is safe for breastfeeding.
Another common misconception when people think of sleep training is that it means someone needs to stay in your home while getting paid to be there every hour while they teach your baby to sleep through the night. No home invasion is necessary!
Like myself, many sleep coaches work virtually via phone or video calls. My philosophy is that I want to coach you, so you can coach your child or baby. I’m there with you every step of the way, but I want you to have the joy from the “I did it” feeling you get when you teach your child how to sleep. Remember that proverb: if you teach someone how to fish? I don’t want you to depend on me and my skills to give your family sleep. I want to develop your skills to maintain this sleep practice.
At Parent Heroes, we start our clients with an evaluation form and a phone call or video conference consultation so we can curate all of the information needed so we can then follow up with a customized sleep plan designed to get your baby learning healthy sleep habits in the least amount of time. I make myself available for follow-up coaching support, through call, text or comments on the shared sleep log, so that your questions can be answered, spot issues and tweak the plan if needed for the best and fastest results.
I know it might sound counterintuitive, but a lack of sleep during the day can disrupt an infant’s ability to get a good night’s sleep due to overtiredness. An under-napped baby can get hyper and overstimulated, leading to tears and not enough shut-eye. I like to refer to a mental image of a sleep cup to understand this – the lower the amount of sleep in the cup, the harder it is to get to sleep. The higher amount of sleep, the easier it is to sleep.
The best strategy for an overtired baby or toddler is implementing a consistent naptime routine. To fill up the sleep cup, look at your baby’s or toddler’s 24 sleep needs. Babies under 12 months of age need around 14 -15 hours of sleep in the 24 hour period. So to fill up the sleep cup babies typically sleep 11 – 12 hours at night.
Think of it as a circle with arrows pointing clockwise. If your baby can break through the short naps and have a long nap and wake up feeling rested, then the next nap becomes easier. If the daytime naps are good, there will be less crying at bedtime. When your baby falls asleep easily at bedtime it helps them have a long stretch of sleep at the beginning of the night. When they sleep well at the beginning of the night, they have fewer night wake-ups. When they have fewer wakes ups at night, they tend not to have an early morning wake up. And so the pattern continues into the next day.
I want you to realize that if the current nap is hard, it’s likely that the quality of sleep has been poor or not restful in the previous 4 hours so that it is making the present nap even harder than normal.
So to ensure your baby’s sleep cup isn’t getting too low on sleep, be sure to help them get better daytime sleep.
It’s never too late to sleep train! You can instill healthy, maintainable sleep habits in your child at any age. Personally, I think sleep training before age 18 months is easiest on the parents and child. That’s because this is before they enter the normal developmental period—the oppositional phase, AKA “the no phase”. The key is routine and consistency. The most common mistake parents make is failing to pick one approach and stick to it. The best method for any family is the one they can follow consistently, and if done, results can happen in as little as 2 weeks! Babies can see an improvement in nighttime sleep in the first 3-5 nights with the Timed Checks method. Toddlers and Preschoolers are more individual. Results may be seen in the first 4 nights, or it may take 2-3 weeks of practicing the new sleep habits to see your child transform into a Super Sleeper.
I hope that I’ve cleared up a few common misconceptions, and gave you some clarity on what sleep training actually is, and what it is not. Our mission is to help parents rock the sleep training experience. We believe that children can learn how to sleep, and become Super Sleepers! We coach parents how to transform their child’s naps and nighttime, so that your newly napping baby, toddler, or preschooler will lead to a calmer and overall happier family life. When you’re ready to get started, give me a call to see how I can work with your family to guide you to healthy sleep. Sweet dreams! ZZzzzz…
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