Many parent can relate to broken nights and the effects of sleep deprivation. For some, it only lasts for those first few months and for others it’s ongoing and seems to get worse not better. We’ve often reverted to Google in the middle of the night, trying to make sense of a wakeful baby and some have even debated the idea of sleep training. The very mention of it can strike fear into our hearts and spark off furious debates between fellow parents. Sleep training is a very personal choice. It is not right for everyone and no one should be made to feel they should or should not do it. I think where it gets confusing is the conflicting messages and the difference between researched based facts, opinion and belief. We have outlined some of these below, to help give clarity to any parent deciding if sleep training is right for them and to dispel the myths.
Myth – Babies do not have the ability to sleep through the night
Fact – We do not expect newborn and young babies (under six months) to sleep through the night. We all naturally wake several times a night so it is normal for your child to frequently wake but if they have the ability to self settle, you can feel confident, they can repeat that at night. Research has shown that babies have the ability to self settle from 5 weeks and start to link sleep cycles together. If they do this early on, they are more able to sleep for longer stretches at 3 months (five hours or longer).
Myth – Sleep training means you baby cannot feed at night
Fact – Sleep training should be done holistically and the needs of each child are considered. Some babies do still need a feed at night and that’s okay. It is the difference between a feed because it is needed and not as a means to get them back to sleep.
Myth – You must stop breast feeding if you are sleep training
Fact – Absolutely not! Breast fed babies do not sleep any worse than bottle fed babies. The difference is they often associated feeding with going to sleep so we need to change that association. However, this can be done alongside feeding – it is not one or the other.
Myth – Sleep training will harm my child/is dangerous
Fact – This is the one that most parents worry about and so many are surprised that there is not any evidence based research to support this. Sleep training is only appropriate for behavioural sleep problems. It will not work if there is a medical reason that your child is not sleeping (reflux/intolerances/ear problems etc). It has not shown to cause long term effects and the longest ranging study, done over five years shows there wasn’t a difference in the children who had been sleep trained with those who hadn’t. The study that is often banded about, that your child will learn not to cry because you don’t respond to them was one based on an orphanage and about children with a lack of physical and emotional care. You cannot compare this to a loving home environment where a child’s needs are being met in the day.
Myth – I want a no cry sleep training method
There aren’t any sleep training methods that guarantee a no cry solution. If there was, it wouldn’t be a secret and we would all do it. No one wants to listen to their child cry. Crying is normal and to be expected. You are making a change to how your child sleeps and they have every right to tell you that the change is rubbish and they don’t like it. This does not mean it is bad, it’s just different. For many parents this is the first time they have had to say no and really mean it, but it won’t be the last time. Crying can take you to a dark place and our instincts kick in to try and make it stop. Try to look at it from a different perspective. If you’ve looked at the whole picture, you know your child is well and loved and are just resisting a change. This is a change made with love and you aren’t asking them to do anything bad. Allow your child to explore all their emotions, to work through them and to realise that it is okay. Crying is not going to break them and there is actually a really powerful lesson to learn that you can cry and feel rubbish, but the outcome was okay and importantly, Mummy and Daddy were there throughout.
Myth – The four/nine/eighteen month sleep regressions
Fact – Most parents have heard about the dreaded four month sleep regression, the nine-month sleep regression and there may even be another one around eighteen months. There is no evidential research to show that sleep regressions exist. The four-month regression is most likely due to your child’s sleep patterns changing to ones that will see them through to adulthood. Little babies need more deep sleep and around three to four months they start to reduce this and have more REM (light sleep). They are becoming more aware of the things around them and if they have been falling asleep in parent’s arms or whilst feeding, they are more likely to wake and want help. You child is constantly developing and changing and some of these developmental leaps will cause your child to question the world around them and push back against familiar boundaries. Typical reasons for this may be your child becoming more mobile (crawling and walking), language forming and starting a new childcare setting. Their world is opening up and they want to see if things are changing at home. Feel confident that your child can sleep well and be that steady presence that they need through an ever-changing world.
Don’t be afraid to question the information people (often well meaning) give you. Is it a fact or is it their opinion? No one should tell you that you should be or should not be sleep training your child. Look at your set up, is it sustainable? Is it a problem right now? There are all kind of different sleep scenarios and we always say, “if it’s working for you, it isn’t a problem”. And if it isn’t working…get in touch!