Kids’ Health Questions: Should I Sleep Train My Baby?

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Question: What is “sleep training” and should I do it? Isn’t it cruel to ignore my baby’s crying?

Sarit’s Answer: Sleep training is a pretty divisive topic, as most parents know. There are two camps: those who say you should let your baby “cry it out” and get used to sleeping alone, and those who think soothing your kid every time they wake is the better option. Each family has to decide which choice makes the most sense for them, but once you decide on a path, stick with it. Consistency is the most important thing, no matter which road you choose.

Sarit Shtivelman

Sarit Shtivelman, MD

Babies are generally ready for sleep training after four months — before that, they actually need to wake up frequently to eat. But after that, sleep training is fair game and it can help establish a sustainable schedule that keeps the whole family sane. I recently met a mom and dad who both had super stressful jobs and were exhausted from waking up twice a night to feed their 6-month-old. When they learned that their baby could sleep through the night without needing to eat, they felt better about sleep training and were so relieved when the whole family started to sleep better.

You’ve probably heard of the Ferber method, the best-known sleep training technique. It involves putting your baby in bed while they’re awake and leaving them alone for gradually longer periods of time – even if (and when) they cry. The ultimate goal is to not enter the room at all so your baby can successfully lull themselves to sleep for the night. You’re teaching your child to self-soothe — a great life skill! And if you’re worried this makes you a neglectful parent, don’t be; despite common misconceptions, research shows it’s perfectly safe to sleep train and doing so definitely doesn’t induce post-traumatic stress.

The whole process should take about a week, but it can be tough for everyone in the house. That’s why everyone at home should agree on a start date and be prepared for some sleepless nights. Just don’t pick a week that’s particularly hectic or full of meetings and school projects.

Yasmin’s Answer: I just had a conversation with parents today who asked me if their child was going to need years of therapy from sleep training – I’m asked this all the time —  and the answer is “no!”

Yasmin Nibbe

Yasmin Nibbe, MD

My simplest parenting rule is this: set clear boundaries. Putting a baby in charge of anything – eating, sleeping, whatever – is a lot of responsibility for someone so small. They look to their parents for guidance and they will learn literally anything you teach them. Babies are incredibly smart and I truly believe that even very young kids understand what you’re saying. So if you tell them, “mommy is going to sleep and that means you have to sleep in your bed all night long,” they’ll understand. Clear boundaries are truly the best gift you can give your child — they make them feel secure and safe in knowing that everyone is following the same set of rules.

It’s also important to give your child their own sleeping space as soon as possible. They should have their own bassinet immediately, and eventually their own crib in their own room. They probably won’t like this at first — after all, they’re used to being cozy and comfy in mom’s womb for nine and a half months. But they’ll get used to it quickly — babies can learn anything in three days!

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