You can guarantee that whenever there’s talk about babies and sleep, someone will always bring up the method of ‘crying it out’. Whilst this type of sleep training can be successful and in some severe cases it is appropriate, it is not the method I have chosen to adopt to help families achieve healthy sleep patterns for their babies.
Over the years I have tended to use other sleep training techniques with success. For me the most valuable part of the sleep training process is the initial meeting with the parents. This is because I make a point of learning a lot about a family and building a case study before I provide advice on which methods to implement. I make it a priority to learn more about the family unit and their day to day routines, as this enables me to tailor a program just for them which I feel is the most valuable and useful part of working with a personalized consultant.
During our initial meeting, I would ask them about their family set up, do they have support from family or friends? Do they have other children? Do they have to factor in daycare/school drop offs? Are they working, and if so, how often? Are they required to travel for work? Are they breastfeeding or bottle-feeding? I like to know the current feeding routine for baby as well as their parenting style. Will one or both parents be facilitating the sleep training? It even helps to know where baby sleeps, in their own room or with the parents or a sibling.
The more I know about a family and their lifestyle, the better equipped I am to develop a sleep program for their baby. In my opinion, if they are provided with a program made for them, it will make it easier for them to adhere to, which in turn increases the likelihood of success. For example, in Italy, if I suggested to a family to put their baby to bed at 6pm they wouldn’t see this as a possible option considering the late culture there and I would need to adapt my advice accordingly.
I guess that’s where I see the greatest difference between the service that I offer as a personalised baby sleep consultant versus sleep school. At sleep school they follow a more rigid routine often involving controlled crying, which can help many babies get into a sleep routine, but it really is a ‘one size fits all’ type approach. If your family does not fit into that box, it is likely not going to work or can cause anxiety for all. For some families, the idea of sleep training outside of the home is also an unusual concept. Sleep school advocates the fact that you go somewhere to learn a new routine with 24 hour support and then return home to implement it. To me, it makes more sense to train them in their own environment as this ensures continuity of the process whilst also giving the parents the confidence they need to learn how to look after their child when they are alone, not when they have round the clock support because in reality that is not going to happen every day.
I believe in a gentle approach to sleep training, as change takes time. My goal is to empower the parent so that they are confident to implement the new approach and maintain their focus on the end goal. Changing learned behavior takes time for both the parent and the baby. Often this process works better if it is gradual because it gives baby time to know what is expected. For example, if you have been feeding your baby to sleep to get them back to sleep during the night, you will need to gradually reduce the number of feeds so that your baby learns how to self settle and not use the feed as a sleeping aid. This change cannot be done abruptly without causing some distress to the baby and the parent. It can be done of course by leaving them to cry for long periods of time, or as a worse case scenario, but I believe if we are just trying to undo negative sleeping habits, there are other ways around this.
Learning the gentle approach to sleep training helps to give parents the tools to manage any sleep issues that might arise down the track. I teach parents the ‘pause’. It involves leaving baby to self-settle for a few minutes only. Babies need a chance to be able to learn this skill before a parent intervenes. They understand that you are there for them, but they soon realise you won’t pick them up immediately. This takes time to build the parents self esteem in order to know when to go to their child but once they have mastered this skill they are thrilled as they feel so empowered!
Sleep regressions seems to be less likely with gentle sleep training. With the ‘cry it out’ method, the training provided is not as flexible and the changes made are quick, which means they may not continue to work long term. Instilling confidence in the caregiver is very important and I believe this can only be achieved gradually.
As a parent, you want to consider all the options available when it comes to sleep training. After reading this, I hope it helps you decide which option will work best for your family.