A Gentle Approach to Sleep Training

sleep training, cry it out method, gentle sleep training

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What you need to know about child development and child neuroscience when deciding how to “sleep train” your baby:

I am writing this post to share my method of “sleep training” that I created based on some fundamental concepts of child development.

What is the cry it out method?

I have had numerous people tell me that they sleep trained their child by putting their child in their own room and “let them cry it out” or “turned off the monitor and didn’t come back until the morning”. These people have explained to me the great successes that they have had with this method and that their child is sleeping through the night after doing these things.

A note to cry it out advocates:

If you are one of these people and are reading this post, I appreciate you caring enough to share the ways that have helped you and your baby get sleep in hopes of helping me as well. Every mom has the right to their own choices & methods of parenting. With that being said, I am going to explain why I have chosen to not use the cry it out method.

Child Development concepts I used to create a sleeping plan for my baby:

Child Development Concept #1: The most important lesson a baby needs to learn in the first year of life is that the world is a safe place and that their needs will be met.

  • If babies needs are met promptly, they learn that they are loved and worthy of love
  • If babies needs are not met promptly, a baby learns that they are unworthy of care and that others are not to be relied on for help and support.

Child Development Concept #2: Babies need warm, consistent, prompt, and reliable caregiving

Child Development Concept #3: The caregiver must be the external stress regulator for the infant so that they can eventually learn how to regulate/soothe themselves. Basically, a child must be deeply dependent before they can be independent.

Here is my no tears sleep training/gentle approach to sleep training:

When I brought home my baby from the hospital I slept in the guest room with my baby right next to me in a queen bed in the DocATot. I am a very light sleeper and do not roll in my sleep and so I knew I would not roll over on my child. I also made sure that the blankets were not anywhere near my child. If you take sleeping pills or are intoxicated in any way, co sleeping and bed sharing is extremely dangerous. Also, please read the Academy of Pediatrics Sleep Guidelines for safe sleeping. I slept with my face literally on the edge of the DocATot because I was terrified my child would stop breathing. I wanted to hear his breathing the whole night (I think I will be more relaxed about this on baby #2, maybe haha). This set up worked out great for me because I could meet my babies needs immediately. I swear mom hearing is like a superpower though, you can hear a whimper from miles away (it really is incredible). Also, once my husband when back to work (a short 1 week later- boo paternity leave stinks) he was able to sleep and be rested for work.

Once my baby started sleeping for longer portions of the night I was able to bring him into our room and had him in the Halo Basinette in the Doc a Tot right next to my bed. Now, my baby is in the bed with me in his own spot (and he is out of the swaddle and DocATot because he can roll over and I do not want him to suffocate on these items). I actually love having my baby in bed with me, it makes life SO much easier.

I support co sleeping and bed sharing!

Yes, I said it CO SLEEPING and BEDSHARING. It is important that you make sure that the bed is big enough for your baby to have their own space and you take precautions so that your child does not roll off the bed or get rolled onto. Bed rails, bumpers, and Swaddle Me by Your Side Sleeper are a good options. My favorite idea is turning a crib into a bed side car. See picture below that I found on pinterest, pretty sweet.

I’m not sure if this will work for me because my mattress is thick and it would not be the same height. If anyone has any suggestions on how to have a side crib the exact height of a very thick mattress and high bed please leave those suggestions in the comments below! 🙂

I know many people think that the baby needs to be in their crib and in their room at some point and at some point you may just need to “let them cry it out” or “turn off the monitor” and then they will be sleeping through the night in just a few times of doing this. Trust me, I have contemplated doing this many times when I just wanted my child to “sleep through the night”.  However, I can’t bring myself to do this for several reasons.

Crying it out method pros and cons:

First of all, I am aware that if you let a baby cry it out and turn off the monitor you will eventually achieve the outcome you are wanting (for the child to stop crying and eventually go to sleep). In psychology this method of behavior modification is called “extinction”. People who tell me that this method works are right… BUTTTTT…there is a major BUT…. BUT what if what you are teaching your child is that their voice does not matter, that their needs will not be met, that the world is not a safe place, that when they need comfort no one will comfort them. What if they cry so hard and for so long that they start to dissociate. Dissociation is a typical response to threat and it is a form of freezing-as in the fight, flight, or freeze types of fear responses. Dissociation is when someone shuts down mentally and emotionally in order to survive. Some babies even cry so hard they puke..which is the ultimate fear response. What if you are creating stressful mental associations related to sleep that could last the person for a lifetime? Think about how many people have trouble sleeping as adults, as well as how many people have trouble with dysregulation, children diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety disorders, etc.

Benefits of co sleeping & bed sharing:

When you look at sleeping practices around the world, the US is one of the few countries that believes in putting their child in the crib in their own room. Many other countries and cultures co sleep. If you think back to hunter gatherer days (I love evolutionary psychology) a baby would be right with a mom in the hut and would not be sleeping in a separate room. I just don’t think that we were created for such distance from our caregivers. I think all signs point to the fact that we should be close to our young (in the daytime and the night time) and meet their needs promptly and consistently.

How long do I plan on co sleeping or bed sharing?

I am confident that eventually my child will feel safe enough to sleep alone. I will pay attention to my child’s cues and when he seems ready I will encourage his independence. I anticipate when I do make the change of having my child sleep in a separate room, it will be a transitioning period and I will be sensitive to his needs. Right now, it is working for me and my baby. I am able to lay down with him and put him to bed early and then I can leave the room and watch him on my Nest Camera until I am ready to go to bed. Some nights my baby sleeps a good chunk of the night and other times he wakes up a few times. When my baby whimpers I am able to put the pacifier back in his mouth to see if this calms him and if it does not then I can feed him if I think that he is hungry. I believe that babies can sleep for extended periods of time during the night but I do not think that they should be expected to sleep all night every night. This is because babies often have regression periods where they are having changes in their development. Babies may wake up in the night when they are having a growth spurt and are hungry, when they are teething, sick, etc. and bed sharing makes it so easy to be able to meet their needs swiftly and get both parties back to bed.

My goal is to share how I believe co sleeping and bed sharing is beneficial to the caregiver and the baby and not to shame anyone about their sleep training methods.

If you used this method and you seem to be having no problems with your child’s behavior I’m sure that your child will be fine. However, if you are struggling with your child’s behavior and it seems that your child is struggling with regulating/calming themselves down, it may be that you need to make some repairs in your relationship with your child. Many moms have told me that they have done the cry it out method or the turn off the monitor method but they felt so bad about it and hated hearing their baby cry. I encourage you to listen to your gut and that motherly feeling you experience you when you hear your baby cry.  Crying is actually a helpful tool that babies use as their way of communicating that they are: hungry, tired, or needing emotional comfort and attention.

Now with all that being said, I reserve the right to change my mind and change my “sleep training” methods as I navigate momhood, but as of now, I feel like I am doing what is best for me and my child with child development and child neuroscience concepts in mind.

2 thoughts on “A Gentle Approach to Sleep Training

  1. I have a 13 month old, and we bedshare most of the night, we try the crib (which is in my room) and we are struggling. I don’t mind bedsharing but also don’t want to go to sleep at 7:15 when she does. She has never been a good sleeper and keeping her in bed with me works best. She really just does not like the crib. I can lay her down in the bed and do something super quick but I get nervous of leaving her there. How do you make sure your child doesn’t accidentally roll off the bed when you are not in there? Just watching on the monitor?

    1. Hey Sarah! Thanks for reaching out. So I need to do an updated post about this but we currently have our king bed on the floor (like a montessori floor bed) but we bedsore. It works out great because I rock my baby to bed and then put him in the bed. The room is toddler proof so I can leave the room and go to sleep in with him whenever I am ready. Hope this helps!

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