Sleep Coaching Methods
If you’ve come to the conclusion that you need to do some sleep coaching with your baby, this post is a nice overview of your options. If you’ve not yet decided if this whole sleep coaching thing is right for your family, before reading further, check out my post Why Hire a Sleep Consultant.
Before we get started, I have some good news and some bad news. Let’s start with the bad news, shall we? No matter what method you choose to use, you should prepare yourself for tears.
It is inevitable that sleep coaching will include some tears, and I feel like I would be doing you a huge disservice if I led you to believe that ANY method can truly be tear free- unless you have the easiest going baby in the world or have the patience of a saint and use an incredibly long and drawn out process that takes months!
*If you've heard of the Fading method, it can be tear free but it can also take weeks and months of gradual work, patience, and consistency on the parent's end.*
The good news is that tears don’t have to equate to screaming for hours on end, abandonment, emotional scarring, and failed parenting!
Crying is a natural part of life, and while parents hate to see their children cry at all, it is good for them! Crying is your baby’s main way of communicating for the first several years of life. If your friend tried to shut you up every time you had an opinion, would you appreciate that? Would that foster a sense of love and caring? No. Same goes with your baby.
Crying is a way for the body to release pent up stress and a way for your child to voice their opinion. If you are quick to stifle the crying right away, your baby hasn’t been given the opportunity to show you how they feel.
If I’m starting to lose you already, I need you to check out this article, 7 Reasons To Calm Down About Babies Crying. Seriously, check it out and see if it doesn’t resonate with you. It is OK for our babies to struggle and to be frustrated. That is part of learning!
Bad & good news aside, let’s get down to business.
There are basically 3 categories of sleep coaching methods: Gradual, Intermediate, and Cry-It-Out.
So far I have found gradual methods to be the most widely asked for among my clients and that is OK.
The problem I’m noticing is that often the type of family that may think a gradual method sounds nice, is actually the family that will have more success with an intermediate method.
Here’s what I mean: A gradual method can take the longest to produce results but also requires the most consistency on the parent’s end. The parents need to be heavily involved and around the baby during the entire process.
If I get a high-stress parent who is exhausted, defeated, wants results quickly, doesn’t like crying, AND chooses a gradual method, this is a recipe for a DISASTER! Babies have mirror neurons- think brain cells which can be affected by the mood and environment around them.
If you are stressed out or have an attitude of, “This won’t work,” your baby picks up on that and mirrors your emotions. Because gradual methods allow you to be in the room with baby, you must be a parent who can exude calmness and confidence during sleep training. If you know that’s just not you, an intermediate method is probably a better option.
While gradual methods give the impressions of less tears, I find that this is just not true. In my experience, gradual methods take longer and can be more confusing to some babies which actually results in more crying.
While the baby may cry less before each sleep, he will also cry for many more sleeps before finally catching on to the new way of doing things. With an intermediate method, the crying may be more intense the first 2-3 nights but will often stop or significantly decrease after those first nights.
The final kicker is that gradual methods require unwavering consistency BUT they take longer to see results. The gradual method in and of itself is more confusing to babies. If parents are also going off script, it gets even more confusing.
And do you know what more confusion means for your baby? More tears. It’s way too easy for some parents to fall back into old habits every once in awhile when using gradual methods because, well, they are right there comforting the child anyways. “What’s just one more snuggle or one more time of nursing to sleep going to hurt?”
Now, this isn’t a knock on gradual methods. I have worked with several families who have used it and it’s gone beautifully. However, these were the right kind of families for the method. They were laid back, confident, patient, consistent, and most importantly, followed my instructions to a T.
If you’re considering using a gradual method. Stop. Take a step back. Throw out your preconceived notions and ask yourself:
“Can I be calm, confident, patient, and consistent even when my baby is crying right next to me?”
“Is my baby laid back, generally happy, and receptive to change?”
If you can honestly answer yes, then I think a gentle method would be a great choice! If you can’t honestly answer yes, then an intermediate method would probably be a better option.
Pick Up/ Put Down: Works best for babies under the age of 6 months but can be overstimulating for babies over this age.
This method requires that after laying your baby down awake you leave the room. If/when your baby cries, you can go to them and offer comfort, even going so far as to pick them up. Once baby has calmed in your arms then you lay them back down awake in their crib. These steps are repeated over and over until the child falls asleep.
Sleep Lady Shuffle: Works best for toddlers, especially if you are transitioning from your bed to their own or if you usually lay with your toddler as they fall asleep.
This method allows you to stay in the room in a chair next to the crib/bed. You can provide some brief comfort to your child but they are still in charge of putting themselves to sleep. Every couple of nights you move the chair further and further away from the crib until you are out the door!
Quick Checks: Works best for babies over the age of 4-5 months. Typically not recommended for babies under 4 months.
This method requires that after laying your baby down awake you leave the room. You only return to provide verbal reassurance at set intervals. Depending on the approach you take, it could be consistent intervals or progressively longer intervals. This method gives your baby the space to turn inward for self-soothing while also assuring them that you are not abandoning them.
Works best for exhausted desperate parents but not recommended for children under 4-5 months of age.
With this method, you would put your baby in their crib awake and leave the room. You would not return until time for their overnight feeding or morning if they no longer feed overnight. This method is very direct and to the point and for this reason usually works within a night or two.
Cry-It-Out is a method that I don’t talk much about and here are a couple reasons why:
1.Because of the straightforward nature and quick results, most families that use this method do not need help from a sleep consultant.
2. Cry-It-Out gives a seriously bad rap to sleep coaching in general so I try to separate myself from that approach.
*To be transparent with all of you, I personally used the Cry-It-Out method on my oldest when he was just 4 months old and I wouldn’t change it if I could. It worked wonderfully for our family at that point.
There is no scientific evidence that using a Cry-It-Out approach can have any lasting negative effects for your baby. In fact, there is plenty of research that shows babies who were sleep trained via CIO were just as emotionally healthy and attached to their parents as babies who were not sleep trained.