If you’re a new parent and you’re ready to trade in your baby for six uninterrupted hours of shut-eye, sleep training may seem like a magic bullet. But much like politics at a family reunion, the old “cry it out” debate can be quite the hot-button issue with the parenting crowd. Here’s what you need to know before you take the plunge.
Preparation can take months
It seems as easy as pie. You just take a tiny baby human, plop her in a room alone for 45 minutes…and you’ll have a good sleeper in no time. Not exactly. Most sleep experts (chief among them Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child author Marc Weissbluth) advocate prepping your child for weeks or even months before you actually begin official sleep training. What does this mean? Encouraging your baby to go down “drowsy but awake” even for naps, establishing a ritualized bedtime routine and setting up your baby’s bedroom for success. (Think: black-out shades, white noise machine, the works.)
It’s not a onetime event
As with everything kid-related, sleep training is a journey, not a destination. Getting through the initial few days is a huge hurdle for sure, but setbacks are inevitable. Be ready to continually “re-train” after traveling, teething, growth spurts, regressions, Mondays, Tuesdays…the list goes on.
It may work on your first child but not your second
We know one mom (OK, we are that mom) who successfully sleep-trained Kiddo #1 to the point that he was sleeping up to 11 hours straight by age one. Kiddo #2? Same training, same external stimuli…still up every four hours at 17 months. The crux? All kids are different, and your by-the-book approach may need to be tweaked based on the needs of each child. (Kiddo #2 required a dream feed in order to make it through night, in case you were wondering.)
It could put a strain on your marriage (or bring you closer together)
Looking for a way to test your relationship? Put two sleep-deprived parents in a room and add a screaming infant. Oh, and nobody’s washed the sheets in at least three weeks. One new mom we spoke to recalled, “We were living in a one bedroom apartment, so my husband had to listen to our crying daughter, while holding down his crying wife so I wouldn’t break down and run to her! We ended up sleeping on the couch in the living room for months so we wouldn’t be as tempted to cave. We learned a lot about each other.”
You still might have to wake up to nurse
You sleep train so you can sleep through the night, right? Wrong. While training may help your child learn to self-soothe, in the beginning many infants still need to eat in the middle of the night in order to up their caloric intake. Feel like you’re failing by getting up at 3 a.m.? Don’t. Most sleep experts classify “sleeping through the night” as making it to around six hours.
Your neighbors might hate you
To you, this is the most important crusade of your entire adult life. To Joe and Julie next door, you are the worst thing to happen to the building since the basement flood of ’07. Before you begin sleep training, explain the situation to anybody who might hear your child in the night, and offer solutions to help them through it. (We know one couple who gifted their neighbors a white noise machine along with fancy sleep masks and ear plugs.) And if all else fails, never underestimate the impact of an “I’m sorry” bottle of rosé.