Awhile back, I decided to speak up about my experiences with attachment parenting. In short, I was led to believe that this style of parenting was the only way I should raise my babies. I then struggled with co-sleeping and baby wearing – many days, to despair. When I was finally emotionally ready to move beyond attachment parenting, baby sleep training seemed like a daunting task.
Sleep training my first was intense, but by the time baby #2 came along, I was good and ready. I had done my research and had experts on speed dial to help make baby sleep training a success without destroying all of us in the meantime. Whether it was because I was prepared or because I just lucked out with an easy sleeper, we were able to get my little one sleeping through the night by 9 weeks with very few tears shed.
Since then, readers and patients ask me all the time for baby sleep training advice, but to be honest, I certainly don't feel like an expert. So I was super stoked when Devon Clement, founder of Baby Sleep Club, agreed to answer some questions. Devon is a baby sleep training expert whose gentle yet fool-proof approach to baby sleep training instantaneously resonated with me – and I think you'll like it too.
Here's what Devon has to say to help take the fear out of baby sleep training…
Isn't baby sleep training bad for development, confidence, and bonding?
There’s a big difference between a few nights of brief crying while getting used to a new routine, and weeks of misery for everyone. Also, the baby’s age is a huge factor – my strategies for parents of a newborn are very different than those with infants or toddlers.
If we’re talking about age-appropriate baby sleep training, in my experience, families come out on the other side of the brief process with ALL members happier and healthier, and I’ve never seen a baby suffer long-term emotional distress from sleep training done correctly, with confident, loving parents. Most of the time, the amount of crying that’s involved is no more than has happened in the car seat while stuck in traffic, and no one suggests you not use a car seat!
Long-term research shows that there is no developmental difference between kids who were sleep-trained and those who weren’t. There are also MANY detrimental effects from long-term sleep deprivation that naysayers seem to ignore.
Families who are happy with the sleep they’re getting, no matter what that looks like, are generally happier all around and more emotionally healthy than those who aren’t. Moms constantly tell me that they have more patience and positivity for their baby once they’re sleeping well at night, and this is definitely best for baby’s long-term development and confidence.
How do you know when it’s the right time/age to sleep train your baby?
I have three red flags that tell me something needs to change:
#1 – Baby will ONLY fall asleep one way, typically while feeding
Nursing to sleep some or even most of the time is a lovely thing. But if a baby is completely dependent on it, it will be much harder to try anything new down the road. As babies get older it becomes much harder to move them while asleep, at which time a change in habits will be inevitable.
#2 – Bedtime is a “Three Ring Circus”
You nurse the baby, you rock the baby, the baby falls asleep, you lay him down… and he cries. So you start the whole process again. It can take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours before you can finally sneak away.
#3- Mom or Dad is unhappy with the way things are
It doesn’t matter how things are, all that matters is how YOU feel about them. If you want a change, you can make it happen.
As for age, there is really no right or wrong age – you can change unhealthy sleep habits at any age. The younger a baby is, the faster and easier the process will be. But typically, four months is the youngest I recommend a self-soothing approach. Once they’re standing up in the crib, it gets more difficult, and toddlers are a whole other ball of wax.
Can all babies be sleep trained?
You can always do something to change what’s happening. As a rule, I wouldn’t do a hardcore approach in babies with severe reflux, and of course you want to make sure your baby is feeding and growing appropriately before you eliminate night feeds.
Health concerns aside, parents must be emotionally ready. Many times, parents feel forced into sleep training by their pediatrician, friends, mothers, or the internet. If it’s not something you really want, it’s just going to be traumatic for everyone.
Is it possible to get babies on a sleep schedule without having them ‘cry-it-out’?
ABSOLUTELY. With my newborn clients, we start very early with minor things like falling asleep being held or rocked rather than nursing. Making sure parents understand babies’ developmental sleep needs is really helpful as well – a lot of people don’t know that sleep begets sleep, and keeping a baby awake won’t help him sleep longer – it usually has the opposite effect.
If you’re already past the newborn stage and you need to make a change, you can use a gentler method to teach good sleep skills – hardcore “cry it out” is very rarely the only option.
There are lots of experts and books out there on baby sleep training. Do you have a method or methods that you think work best?
The method that will work best for your family is a matter of choice – I’ve seen success with almost all of them. Where I think books and experts fall apart is in the implementation – it’s really hard to figure out what a book wants you to do at 2 am when you’re bleary eyed and “whisper fighting” with your hubby, and at that point, it’s easy to throw in the towel.
That’s why I created my group program – it’s not based on some magical secret method that works for every baby. But the ongoing support of my coaching and the camaraderie of your fellow moms in the program will help you stick with it and see results.
What’s the #1 mistake parents make when sleep training?
The #1 mistake is definitely giving up. If you say, “We’ll try this for 30 minutes and then we’ll try something different”, you are sending confusing messages to your baby.
Giving up midway will teach your baby that he needs to throw a fit in order to get your attention. If you can commit to the process for just a few nights, you will see a HUGE difference.
If you could give parents one pearl of wisdom to help get their baby on a great sleep schedule, what would it be?
Be confident in your approach. Choose something you feel good about. You will set the tone for the entire process – your baby will feel your confidence and respond in a more positive way. This is not sending baby off to war, it’s teaching him/her a valuable life skill.
When do you recommend hiring an expert?
As with anything else utterly necessary in life, whenever you feel unable to do it alone, it’s time to hire an expert. For some parents, the idea of starting is daunting. For others, it’s after they have tried 8 methods and can’t think of another solution. It’s much easier to get something right from the start than to struggle for months.
Devon Clement LOVES helping babies and moms feel confident and happy. Her work as a baby sleep training expert is a culmination of years of hands-on experience, observation, conversation, mentorship, and research, covering a broad spectrum of parenting styles. Based out of the east coast, Devon offers distance mentoring and support groups worldwide. Learn more at BabySleepClub.com.