Sleep training is something parents often ask me about. Some families come to me having tried it and it hasn’t worked. Others are feeling really frustrated as the rest of their NCT group have babies who are sleeping well after doing cry-it-out and are feeling pressured to try it but feel very strongly against it.
Sleep training will mean different things to different people. It generally refers to leaving your baby or child to cry for a set amount of time, withholding any support or comfort. Conversely, gentle sleep coaching uses responsive strategies where a parent aims to meet their child’s needs at a particular time and is led by how well their child is coping.
But is there any harm to sleep training?
The evidence we have about sleep training leaves lots of unanswered questions. Looking at the studies that have been carried out, there seems to be no evidence of harm but equally there is not enough proof of no harm either.
In my eyes, just stopping whatever your child needs to help them regulate and get to sleep is not suddenly going to transform them into someone who can self-soothe and self-regulate before they are developmentally ready to do that. What we do know is that early, responsive, sensitive parenting promotes optimal development of the stress response system. We also know that securely attached children generally sleep better. Also, bear in mind that sleep training doesn’t always work for all families. It might work for a while but sleep then suddenly gets worse again. Something changes and if the root cause of the sleep issue hasn’t been addressed it can feel like you are back to square one again.
Sleep training vs gentle sleep coaching
As parents it’s natural to want to help your child learn new things. We are there encouraging them when they learn to crawl or walk and offer lots of opportunities to practice these new skills. The same process applies to your little one’s learning a different way to fall asleep.
Let me be completely clear here; feeding, patting, stroking or soothing your child to sleep is just normal parenting. These are not bad habits or crutches; this is the sign of a parent meeting their child’s needs. No-judgement here if you are rocking your child to sleep every night. As a parent you do what you have to do for everyone to get the most sleep. However, I am also well aware that sometimes this becomes unsustainable and something needs to change.
Babies will get used to how they fall asleep. If you have always rocked your baby to sleep at bedtime, this is likely to be how they expect to get back to sleep when they wake in the night. Expectations are usually set at bedtime. Just as with any other new thing, children need their parents to guide and support them if they are adjusting to new ways of going to sleep.
Gentle sleep coaching is a responsive way in which we can help little one’s get better sleep using developmentally and age-appropriate strategies. Your baby knows that you are there to fully support them as they adapt to different ways of falling asleep. Gentle sleep coaching will always go at the pace that your child is coping with and adapt to your child’s response and needs at any given time.