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The Key to Successful Sleep Training

What factors influence whether or not sleep training is successful?

What makes one mama’s sleep training experience so different from another – even when those two families have a pretty similar situations (babies who are the same age, weight and sex)?

Why is this?

In talking with moms who tried sleep training on their own, and looking at the families I’ve worked with, I’ve boiled it down to 15 factors.

3 are out of your control:

  • baby’s temperament- the easier the temperament, the easier to sleep train…generally (but not in all cases)
  • baby’s health – if your baby has reflux or some other condition that makes him uncomfortable, it’ll affect his sleep (sleep training is definitely still an option, but it’s best to get those physical issues under control first)
  • whether he gets a cold, earache, new tooth or starts a new milestone smack dab in the middle of sleep training – it’s Murphy’s Law that something unforeseen will pop up when you’ve finally decided to do this! (One thing you do have control over is not scheduling pediatrician appointments with vaccines during the training – if possible, do them before or after the training.)

But in looking at the successful cases where sleep training couldn’t have gone any better (easier. faster.), I boiled it down to 12 reasons why the experience went so well.

All of the moms who are successful with sleep training share these similar attributes or circumstances:

1. A “can do” attitude
When moms have the attitude that this is the best thing for their family – for the baby, for themselves, for the relationship with their husband – it just works better. The process is smoother and their “can do will do” attitude gets the job done.

When moms are skeptical and doubt it’ll work, progress is slower and it makes them want to give up.

Remember, babies can pick up on your mood. If you’re anxious about sleep training, your baby will sense it.

2. Are comfortable with the method
Most moms can’t handle full-on CIO. Don’t worry, I can’t either! But sleep training and Ferber are not synonymous – there’s a lot of middle ground!

But any method you choose for sleep training will involve some crying – if there was a secret recipe for magic fairy dust to make this a cry-free experience, I would gladly share it with you. When you’re changing the familiar (read: easy) way for a baby to fall asleep, she’ll protest when she has to be an active participant in the process!

So the moms who understand that crying is unfortunately part of the package and know it will be temporary have better success.

3. Squelch the what ifs
It’s always a good idea to get the green light from your doctor that your baby is ready for sleep training.

Moms who find out at their 4 or 6 month appointment that their baby is growing well, at a good weight and doesn’t have an earache or any other issues that might cause problems have the best success.

Once you know the sleep issues aren’t caused by anything medical and that your pediatrician says it’s ok to start sleep training, it’s much easier to focus on teaching healthy sleep skills and getting rid of that worry factor.

4. Have a great support system
When husbands are fully present at the consultation and an active participant in the process, it just works better.

If a husband or other caregiver is against the idea of sleep training, one of two things will likely happen: they’ll thwart your efforts and not follow your instructions or (and?) make you feel guilty about “doing this”.

If your husband isn’t on board, this process will be so much harder. If you’re sure this is best for your family, sit down in a quiet moment and ask what his reservations are and what suggestions he has for remedying the situation so everyone can start sleeping again.

5. Make sleep a priority
Teaching your baby to sleep isn’t a finite length of time – it’s a mindset to make healthy sleep a priority. When babies sleep in the crib  (instead of going to Costco during naptime) and have an appropriate bedtime, they’ll learn how to sleep faster.

These moms understand that this frequent nap schedule only last a short time and soon they’ll be down to 1 or 2 naps when they’ll have a longer chunk of time to get out and see friends, plan playdates or attend baby classes.

They know that getting their baby to learn how to sleep early on will be so much easier than waiting until their little one is a toddler.

But because there are always exceptions, they know that for the truly important stuff – baptisms, weddings, best college friend who you haven’t seen in a year has a layover, or a well-deserved afternoon out with the girls – they make accommodations and don’t deprive themselves of any special events.

6. Thrive on consistency
Kids learn best through repetition and babies are no different. Consistency is important to show what you’re trying to teach your child and make it easier for him to practice those skills.

Moms who set aside a couple of weeks for the sleep training process – no trips, no day-long events or relatives visiting when you’ll be obligated to play hostess and schlep them around town – have the best outcomes.

This is especially important when both parents work and baby goes to daycare. Getting into the groove of training will take a few days, so the best scenario usually includes taking off two personal/vacation days so you can start over a long weekend. If you have an in-home nanny who is ready and able to follow your instructions, this isn’t as important, but a 3 day weekend is helpful.

7. Have a clear goal (and a “prize”)
When a mom calls me and says, “Our pediatrician has given us the green light to start sleep training and we know she’s ready to sleep through the night – what do we need to make that happen?” I know it’ll work.

If a mom says, “I think he’s ready to start sleeping in the crib, but maybe he still needs to sleep in the swing…or on me…or maybe I should just wait a few more months because he might start taking longer naps on his own…” I know it won’t work very well – that mom doesn’t know if she wants to do it. As a sleep consultant, I only help moms who want to work with me. I shouldn’t have to convince you that your child is ready to learn how to sleep through the night.

And with attaining any goal, the successful mom has a reward in mind when they cross that finish line – a relaxing vacation with the baby, hosting a dinner party with friends or just being able to stay snuggled up in bed all night with her husband. The prize doesn’t matter – it’s just nice to have something to look forward to.

8. Celebrate small successes
Moms who realize their baby won’t be sleeping 11-12 hours on Night 1 get it – and instead they get excited about the baby steps. If a baby falls asleep on his own for the first time or in fewer minutes than the previous nap, or had one less night feed I’ll often get an email that begins with WOOHOO! because those moms have realistic expectations. It’s slow and steady, not a race to the finish.

9. Keep a sleep log
Sleep training is an investment of time and money. Moms who put 100% into the process will keep track of times – how long the baby was awake, how long it took to fall asleep and length of sleep – right down to their baby’s mood right before they were put down for a nap.

These moms know we can only see progress and adjust timing or methods if they keep up with their sleep logs.

10. Turn down the baby monitor
These moms don’t have a baby monitor turned to high on the bedside table – when the baby is next door, just 10 feet away. They know that every time their baby makes a peep – or cries – in the middle of the night, it doesn’t necessarily mean they need to jump to the rescue. (but if baby does need them in the middle of the night, they’ll know!) They realize that babies make lots of noises in their sleep and need to be given the opportunity to practice self-soothing before they can be expected to sleep through the night.

11. Break the association with _____
Sometimes moms don’t see the harm in feeding a baby to sleep or popping the pacifier back in umpteen times each night…and those moms are perpetuating that association cycle.

Moms who realize that their baby needs to go from Point A awake to Point B asleep without “that thing” will have a baby that learns faster.

12. Don’t start during a stressful time
It’s really difficult to start sleep training the weekend before you come off maternity leave, when your husband has just lost his job or when your mother-in-law has just announced she’ll be coming to visit for an extended stay (unless you have a fabulous relationship with her – then she may be helpful!).

Successful moms know that their full attention needs to be at the task at hand, not worrying about logistics or finances or what to do to keep relatives entertained!


Please share this with your friends if you found this post helpful!


Photo credit: | privilege

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