The good news is that there are “no tears” methods for sleep training. These methods offer a more gradual and gentle approach, encouraging parents to offer comfort right away when their child cries.
When can I start sleep training? It’s normal for your newborn to eat and sleep on an irregular schedule. When your baby reaches 6 to 8 weeks, it’s a great time to start establishing a comforting bedtime routine. Before you start, make sure that your baby is old enough for sleep training. By four months of age most healthy, full-term babies are able to sleep through the night.
Is there anything I need to do before I start sleep training my baby? The first step is to see your pediatrician to make sure your child doesn’t have any medical problems that interfere with sleep. Next, keep a sleep log for at least a week detailing how your baby goes to sleep (e.g. rocking, with a bottle), how long he sleeps, how often he wakes during the night, if, when, and how much he eats during the night, and any other details that help you get a clear picture of the different factors affecting his sleep.
So what is the “no tears” approach? There are several different strategies that fall into the “no tears” category. Three of the more popular ones are by Dr. William Sears, Kim West, and Tracy Hogg.
Pediatrician William Sears, author of The Baby Sleep Book, suggests a child-centered approach that is dictated by the baby’s needs and doesn’t try to fit the child into a one-size-fits-all approach. He advocates for helping your baby learn to sleep in his own time and focusing on a healthy attachment between you and your child through co- or shared sleeping, rocking, and nursing your baby to sleep, and other things that comfort your child and help him make positive sleep associations.
Kim West, also known as The Sleep Lady, is author of Good Night, Sleep Tight. West’s method is focused on both the child’s and parents’ comfort and tolerance levels and is based on slowly weaning your child off of needing your help and presence to go to sleep. She recommends putting your child down when he is drowsy but not yet asleep, and then going through the “Sleep Lady Shuffle”.
The shuffle starts with a three day practice of you sitting next to your child’s crib, encouraging your child to go to sleep using short phrases (e.g. “sshhh”, “it’s time for sleep”), and patting or stroking him intermittently. If your child gets up, don’t try and force him to lie down. Simply use encouragements. If your child is inconsolable, pick him up until he’s calm then start the process over again. If he wakes during the night, return to the chair and begin the process again until he’s back to sleep.
After three days, move your chair closer to the door and use more verbal rather than physical reassurances. Once your child has gotten comfortable with this, move your chair closer to the door or just outside the door in the hallway but still within eye sight. The process continues until you’re able to put your child down drowsy and he puts himself to sleep.
Tracy Hogg, registered nurse and author of Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, agreed with Dr. Sears on many fronts but believed using “props” like feeding, rubbing, and rocking ran the risk of making the child dependent on those things. She suggests you should go to your child when he cries, comfort him, then put him back down as many times as needed.
Which approach is best for my baby? There is no one method, “no tear” or otherwise, that works for every child or every parent. Consider your parenting style, your baby’s temperament, and what you’re comfortable with when deciding which approach to use. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to sleep training. It may work best for you to combine methods, creating a system that works best for your family. Dr. William Sears, author of The Baby Sleep Book, says, “Be prepared for one style of nighttime parenting to work at one stage of an infant’s life yet need a change as he enters another stage. Be open to trying different approaches. Follow your heart rather than some stranger’s sleep training advice, and you and your baby will eventually work out the right nighttime parenting style for your family.”
Sleep training can help your child establish healthy sleep habits that will stay with him throughout his life. It can also save your sanity and restore your energy and focus. Follow what feels right to you, and both you and your child will benefit.