How to Choose The Right Way to Sleep Train Your Baby

Not all babies need help to sleep at night, and not every parent agrees with “sleep training,” but if you and your baby are struggling with lack of sleep, you might like to look at some options and see what sleep training actually entails.

You can improve your baby’s sleep, and what is more, if you get it right, your baby will benefit even more than you will. After the age of 6 months old, if they are not sleeping well, it is unlikely that he or she will be able to improve their sleep without your help.

Basically, there are two main methods of sleep training and both of them, if consistently applied will usually work.

These two sleep training methods are:

  1. Controlled Crying: Leaving your baby to cry to sleep, with you returning to reassure her or him at specified intervals.
  2. Gradual Withdrawal: Remaining with your baby as they learn to settle to sleep alone, and then gradually moving away.

There are lots of books available on babies’ sleep; some claiming to have a new and failsafe solution to all of your problems. The truth is that all sleep training methods are really variations on the two approaches above.

Controlled Crying

Suitable for:

Healthy babies of six months or more, and for parents who are able to allow their baby to cry it out. It is an effective option for families needing a quick solution to their baby’s sleep problem and it usually works within 3 nights.

Not suitable for:

Younger babies; those who are unwell, or have special needs. It is not an acceptable method for parents who can’t leave their baby to cry.

Gradual Withdrawal

Suitable for:

Babies of over 3 months. This method is especially good for babies with ongoing medical or developmental difficulties. It will suit parents who don’t want to leave their babies to cry.

Not suitable for:

Parents in need of a speedy solution.

Parents who are unable to commit to sitting beside their baby for lengthy periods during the night.

For sleep training to be really successful, you also have to look at other factors than just how your baby settles to sleep. For example, if you teach them how to fall asleep alone in their cot at the start of the night, and then bring them into bed with with you for a morning feed followed by a snoozy cuddle; they may wake up lots of times in the night waiting for this to happen!

An example of sleep training a 10 month old baby using either method:

The Problem:

Your baby is in the habit of feeding to sleep at the beginning of the night. Because of this, he or she wakes several times during the night needing shorter feeds to re settle. They no longer need night feeds for nutritional purposes, but instead, are feeding as a sleep cue.

Prepare:

  • Introduce a consistent bed time routine which will familiarise them with other sleep cues other than just feeding.
  • Feed after the bath, but do not allow them to fall asleep over the feed.
  • Before placing him or her into the cot; briefly look at a picture book together or have a spoken goodnight ritual. This will both ensure that they awake when they go down and also break the close feed/sleep connection.
  • Choose your sleep training method.

Controlled Crying:

  • After placing your baby into the cot, kiss good night and then leave the room. Leave them to cry for 1-2 minutes before returning briefly to reassure, reposition them and speak calmly and softly to let them know that all is ok. Spend no more than a minute with them and then leave again, even if they still cry.
  • From then on, go in every 2 minutes until he or she has gone to sleep. Each time you go in, you should engage with them let them know by the tone of your voice that everything is ok. Make sure that you are not in the room with them as they go to sleep.
  • When the cries subside there is no need to go in but throughout this process you should keep a close eye on them, either through a monitor or looking through a semi open door.
  • During the night, if your baby wakes up, you should go and check on them and then provided that they are ok, go in every 2 min as you did at the start of the night. Do not give a night feed. The first feed of the day should be after you’ve opened the bedroom curtains and brought them into the living room.
  • After 2-3 nights they should be sleeping through the night.

Gradual Withdrawal:

  • Step one: [Approximately two nights] Place your baby into the cot and remain beside him or her until they have gone to sleep. You can give as much eye contact and physical contact as they need to settle. If they are standing in the cot, you can hold them as they stand; stroking/cuddling/patting etc. You should speak calmly and reassuringly, but its best not to get them out of the cot or feed again. They will cry because they are used to being fed sleep, but don’t worry; you are constantly beside them to reassure and to make sure that she or he comes to no harm.
  • Step two: [Approximately two nights] Once your baby becomes comfortable about falling asleep in the cot and is no longer dependent on sucking to sleep, you need to withdraw some of your physical contact, but not leave them alone yet. Remain beside the cot; cut down on contact a bit and make sure that as they enter sleep, you are not touching them.
  • Step three: [Can take up to two weeks] Move your chair a little further away from your baby’s cot each night until you are outside the room. Do this in tiny stages, so that your baby has time to get used to the change.
  • When your baby wakes in the night, go to them and do not offer a feed but instead, replicate the contact that you were giving at the start of the night.
  • The first feed of the day should be given in the living room

Important Points:

Sleep training should ALWAYS commence when you first put your baby to sleep. Having them fall asleep in your arms or over a feed at the beginning of the night and then starting it when they first wake up is too confusing and difficult for them.

When you re settle your baby during the night, use the same approach as you did at the beginning of the night. I.e. going in at 2 minute intervals if you are using the controlled crying method or returning to sit beside them if you are using the Gradual Withdrawal Method.

Top Tip: Do you want a gentler solution that works within a week?

There is no reason why you can’t combine the two methods. Start off with the first two stages of the Gradual Withdrawal Method as “groundwork” and then move on to the Controlled Crying Method.

By child sleep expert, Health Visitor and author, Andrea Grace

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About The Author

Andrea Grace
Child Sleep Expert, Health Visitor and Author

I have worked in the field of child health for 25 years and during this time I have helped many hundreds of families to overcome their children's sleep problems. My interest in babies and children's sleep originated from having my first baby, who was a truly terrible sleeper. At the time, there was very little advice available apart from just leaving them to cry and I just didn't have the heart to do that - especially as he suffered from eczema and allergies. As my family grew, my confidence in handling my babies' sleeping grew too and this very much helped with my work as a health visitor. In 1996, realising that baby sleep was the main concern for most parents, I set about the task of understanding and researching as much as I could about baby and child sleep and started an NHS sleep service in Muswell Hill, North London. Here my experience, knowledge and expertise grew and in 1998 after the birth of my youngest child, I became one of the the UK's first independent sleep specialists. Nowadays, my work is recognised by leading paediatricians, child psychologists and health journalists.

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