Okay, so as a former mom zombie I want to talk about an important topic that seems to quickly start heated debates in any online mommy community. Sleep Training. Yes, I said it.
When I started experiencing a little sleep regression with my daughter at 9 months I decided to revisit baby and toddler sleep remedies and started doing research on some things I had forgotten. (I had not done any previous sleep training with this great sleeper but I sleep trained my son with a gentle approach at 15 months)
With two busy children, a husband, and an online business, my research often means searching google lol. But this time I took out the books and even talked to a few reputable people. This allowed me to really take some time to re-learn the ins and outs of sleep training.
My sweet boy 3 years ago!
So combined with my experience training two children and some extensive research, I decided to take on the challenge of a sleep method guide that covers it all. This is THE ultimate guide for baby and toddler sleep training methods. I have arranged the sleep methods starting with the most gentle and ending with the least gentle.
We will cover every single sleep training method and I have outlined what you will be reading below.
So let’s do this. This post is for the new mother that happens to have an alert child, for the mother who’s first child slept well but the second is completely different, for the father who is trying to get a routine right for the best restorative sleep, and for all the caregivers that just NEED SLEEP.
I believe that one of the best things that we can do for our children is to make sure everyone gets sleep, including both the parent and the child. (See what I did there? lol) I know I have handled many stressful situations better when I’m not running on fumes for such an extended period of time. So in other words, I don’t believe sleep training makes you a bad person.
Disclaimer: I am listing all methods without necessarily recommending a particular method, because, babies are different. The sleep shuffle method worked well for my children, but may not for others. Take a look and figure out what is best for you! But I do believe in helping children to sleep well at a young age and there is a lot of research about babies and sleep to support it.
10 Toddler Sleep Remedies
Here is what we will talk about in this article:
Is It Really Time to Sleep Train?
Your Baby’s Personality
Eliminating Issues Prior to Sleep Training
No Cry Sleep Method
The Pick-Up, Put-down Method
The Sleep Solution Method (Routine Rich)
Sleep Shuffle Method
Ferber Method (Cry-It- Out Modified)
Extinction Method (Cry-It-Out)
1. Is It Really Time to Sleep Train?
I think most of us can agree that being a mommy can be such a tough job on its own. That’s why it is so annoying to have to deal with unsolicited judgement and advice from others regarding when our babies or toddlers should or should not be sleeping through the night and how we should be facilitating the transition. This guide is for parents to be able to make their own decisions about when and how to start sleep training (if at all) based on all of the information that is available.
Is The Timing Right for Parents?
In other words, will you be able to handle some tears, or being a uncomfortable? This is where preference comes in. Some parents, especially the second or third time around, are able to handle hearing the cry of a 12 month old at night (whether they will be soothing them or letting them cry for a little is another topic), but they may not be okay with hearing the cry of a 5 month old in the middle of the night for more than a few minutes. What are you comfortable with?
Do you have the physical time?
Contrary to what many people seem to expect, sleep training can actually take some significant time. Whereas many parents would like to see better sleep in a few days, it can often take multiple weeks to see the desired effect. Taking that time at night for a couple of weeks or longer may need some extra thought if it will interfere during your daily routine and responsibilities.
Do you have support?
I can’t stress this enough. Find some support from anywhere that you can. Whether its a significant other who can take turns with you, or a family member, friend, consultant, or even an online community member that can just offer encouragement and accountability. Help can be sole difference in successfully sleep training your child.
Is it the Right Time for Baby?
Although sleep training can occur at anytime, there are windows that may produce better results. Take a look below at some of the great suggestions from the baby sleep site!
4-7 months (after the 4 month Regression)
This window may be one of the most optimal times to start sleep training for many reasons. For one, at four months your baby has moved out of the infant stage (some say closer to 3 months, I say 4). Infants develop the ability to self soothe between 4-6 months of age. Also, at this stage your baby is starting to develop more mature sleep patterns and they are hopefully getting through the 4 month sleep regression that many babies experience. In addition, at this young age unwanted sleep associations will be easier to break. Lastly, babies of this age group aren’t yet trying to jump out of the crib, or pulling up or sitting up whenever they don’t want to go to sleep.
The 11-16 month window (After the 8-10 month Regression)
This isn’t as ideal of a time to sleep coach as the 4-7 month window, but if you choose to bypass that one, this is the next one to try. Similarly, your baby is past the sleep regression that happens at 8-10 months.
Even when taking into account the occurrence of sleep regression (only one of my children had them) there is still no perfect time to sleep train. Some say not before 4 months and others say not before 6 months. I suggest talking to your baby’s pediatrician and get their thoughts based on the size and development of your baby, as well as temperament and eating habits.
2. Personality and Sleep
I actually enjoyed reading and did a review of The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight. There was some great sleep training advice, in my opinion, and I actually ended up utilizing it successfully. Kim West provided a host of additional information that was valuable as well.
If you have an alert, strong willed, or spirited child, I can attest to the fact that personality may interfere with sleep patterns. Kim West offered great advice for these wondrous babies.
From The Sleep Lady: 4 Tips For the Alert Child
Watch and take note of their schedule. An alert child may be able to play all day but may also become overstimulated and not able to settle down for a nap or bedtime. Time before bed should be more soothing. I actually have a play list that I turn on in the evenings to help calm my children.
Ease them into sleep by sticking to a well-planned sleep routine for naps and bedtime.
Baby massage could help your child relax for bedtime. There are many sources on the web that will provide tips and how-to’s.
Keep the room cool, dark, and comfortable (soft sheets and clothes).
3. Eliminating Potential Issues (When Not to Sleep Train)
I thought I would touch on a list of things to tackle or at least address before starting with sleep training. My advice is not to sleep train before the following:
Before age 4–6 months of age. (Depending on what methods and ideology you decide on)
When you have visitors (especially those who may distract or overstimulate baby, judge, give unsolicited advice, or interfere)
Right before a vacation
When your child is suffering from a sickness or teething
When your child is working on another developmental task such as potty training or learning to walk
Immediately before or after a new sibling is born
Too many outside distractions are present. Examples include a child sharing a room with a sibling. I would even recommend that the other child be moved to the parents’ room or another room for a week or two to facilitate training
Switching baby to another room. (My personal opinion, but I would allow the child to get used to a new room before tackling sleep training if that’s the end goal.
4. Night Weaning
At 9 months when my daughter was waking during the night, her pediatrician asked me to consider giving my daughter water instead of milk. She explained to me that my daughter’s stomach would produce acids in preparation for the milk during the night if she is expecting milk during that time. She went on to say that as long as she was getting adequate calories during the day, she should not necessarily need food at night.
After 4 days of “night weaning” by giving water instead of milk, my daughter started sleeping through the night and WAKING UP HAPPY with no crying. (I did give her milk upon waking).
I guess this can almost be considered a form of sleep training, but the difference is that I did not “coach” her to learn how to sleep. Unlike my son, she was a little more natural at teaching herself to fall back asleep when she awoke throughout the night. I do want to mention that I do put my children down awake so I’m sure that helps the process. You will see putting down awake as a first step in almost all sleep training methods.
In my research, I have discovered that according to many pediatricians, authors, and scientists, many children don’t need calories at night after six months. Of course breastfeeding moms may still want to find some workable alternatives to keep supply up for daytime feedings, but many pediatricians give the okay to wean in this time-frame.
How to Encourage Less Night Feeding
This can include anything from teething, room temperature, allergies, reflux, other digestive problems, and any other illnesses. Watching for the cues and acting fast can make a huge difference while night weaning. You may even need to put weaning on hold for a bit.
Maximize baby’s nursing during the day so that calorie intake requirement for the day is achieved before bedtime. This can included increasing feedings near bedtime and also dream feeding. With dream feeding, you will nurse or feed the baby right before YOU go to bed (even if baby has already gone to bed), so that you get a longer period of sleep before she wakes again. Be carefully not to allow the baby to fully awake. keep it dark and quiet.
Substitute milk for other comforts. Just be sure not to introduce another sleep crutch. Examples include a soft back rub, getting the child a drink of water, and even sshhing or singing if it doesn’t stimulate your child.
Have your partner comfort your baby when she cries at night
Gradually Eliminate Feedings, One at a Time
Gently soothe and comfort your baby when she wakes to feed, and explain that it’s time to sleep, not eat. If you try to eliminate feedings and your baby cries inconsolably for several nights in a row, go back to your normal routine and try again in a week or two.
5. No Tears Method
Elizabeth Pantley discusses this method in her book titled The No-Cry Sleep Solution, and the often quoted pediatrician, Dr. William Sears, devotes a chapter of The Baby Sleep Book to critiquing cry it out methods. Contrary to other’s opinions, these two, and many others like them, believe that cry it out techniques can give your child negative associations with bedtime and sleep and are not necessary.
Sleep experts who support sleep training methods say it is not traumatic for babies to cry alone for short periods of time with frequent check-ins. And the end result is a well-rested, happier child. They say no tears sleep strategies may cause and over dependency on parental comforts, not allowing the ability for baby to learn to self soothe.
So this is where preference and gut feeling comes in. Many different reputable doctors just have differing opinions, so we can choose what we subscribe to based on our own research efforts.
Can My Baby Sleep Train Without Having to Cry?
Many moms just don’t like the idea of having their baby cry at night for any extra amount of time and that’s completely okay. Some may feel that there are better ways for sleep training without putting extra stress on the baby, or maybe they have tried a method involving crying and it just didn’t work. Some people, like me at various points, just don’t like hearing a crying baby lol.
The great thing is that every child is different and finding a method that works for your child is really all that matters.
Professional Tips for the No Cry Method
Bed Time On Early Side
Putting your baby or toddler down to sleep between 7-730 pm is an “ideal” hour for adequate rest. Ideal doesn’t mean the only good time, however. Although this time will and should be adjusted depending on many factors, such as how old they are or how much hey sleep, I do generally try to stick to this time frame. Use black-out curtains to help your children sleep longer and deeper as well.
Consistent Bedtime Routine
A bedtime routine allows the child to predict when bedtime is near and better prepare themselves for the transition. In the span of about 30 minutes, a bath, feeding, book, and song is a great practice to experience a more smooth transition to sleepy land.
Make sure that baby doesn’t fall asleep on the breast or bottle. Any feedings should be at least 10 minutes before falling asleep. Just like adults, babies naturally wake up during the night and ideally should be able to get themselves back to sleep like we do. But if they fall asleep on the bottle or breast, ,it is more likely they will expect the same conditions when falling asleep again.
Stimulation During the Day
There is a delicate balance regarding stimulation. Especially for young babies, stimulation such as reading, tummy time, and outside play is needed for learning and development and can allow the child to become tired enough to sleep well. However, it can have an undesired effect on sleep if they are routinely being overstimulated (you can tell by crankiness) or stimulated just before bedtime.
Try to provide calories during the day, so that less calories are needed at night. Allowing babies to eat with minimum distractions and encouraging older babies to eat more solid and complex foods when the timing is right can have a great affect on night time hunger.
Temperature and Clothing Make sure your baby is not too hot or too cold.
There is a rule that says “Never wake a sleeping baby”. Well, sometimes it may be necessary to promote great nighttime sleep. After reviewing how much sleep your baby should be getting due to age, make sure that your child’s naps are not so long that they interrupt nighttime sleep. I usually try to allow my children to get through at least two sleep cycles for most naps and then wake them, unless they have moved on to one nap, in that case they sleep for 2.5 hours. Also keep an eye on how close the afternoon nap is to the desired bedtime.
This gentle method is called the “middle of the road” by Tracey. Some may find the method confusing for the child but others have found that it’s a very viable sleep training method.
With this method, you go through your bedtime routine and lay your child down awake. If there is no fussing you leave the room. If you’re child begins to cry to a point that you are not comfortable with, you follow a stop and listen approach. If your child continues to get worked up, you return to the room and pick them up for a minute or two to settle them down and then lay them back down awake. You repeat this process until your child is settled and sleeping.
This process continues until your baby eventually goes to sleep, and that may take a while. So just be prepared for it with patience and understanding It can be a frustrating cycle for parents, and it’s very important that you are calm and quiet when you pick your baby up to comfort them.
Keep in mind that the cycle of picking up and putting down may be too stimulating for some babies. Instead of relaxing them, they find the process disruptive, which can have the adverse affect of working your baby up. So make sure to look out for cues.
A Few Tips for Success
Ensure your child is on a great sleep routine and bedtime is age appropriate.
Start with a soothing wind down routine and implement it before you begin the sleep training part.
Make sure you as the parent are well-rested before you begin!