Dr. Sarah Mitchell
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What You Need To Know About Sleep Training vs Sleep Teaching

What you need to know about sleep training?

Us Moms.... we've been keeping each other down by using the term  "sleep training."

We’re all desperate for easy sleep.  Consumed by the idea that getting your baby to sleep should be this easy, natural, instinctual thing.  I know because when I was going through this, I thought this too.  I didn’t think I’d have to work at getting my baby to sleep and I thought I could do it without any tears. I mean.. .he seemed to nurse and fall back asleep so easily those first few weeks… wouldn’t that just continue?  (Spoiler:  it doesn’t always)

The demand for easy sleep has developed a market of unsafe products.  Products such as the Fisher Price Rock and Play which was never marketed for “sleep” but was recalled due to over 30 infant deaths or the Doc a Tot which is not approved for safe sleep according to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines

Why is this happening to us? Why are we putting our children at risk like this? 

Sleep Training is an Out of Date Term 

We have villainized "sleep training" so much and are so worried about the shame around it that in our desperation we are using unsafe devices that help make sleep happen.  We are so hard on one another.  

"Sleep training"... it's an antiquated term.  It's out of date.  It's associated with the 1985 terminology that goes with Dr. Ferber's "Extinction" method where you leave your child alone in the room to cry at progressively longer intervals.  We need to stop using it and using the term “sleep teaching.”

The drive to sleep is biological, but the way we sleep is learned. 

Learned behavior really?  Yes really.

During the first 2 months of life we are inadvertently teaching our baby what sleep looks like. When they fall asleep at the breast, bottle or on us, that’s what sleep “looks like to them.”  And then when they start waking up to the world around them they protest being put down in the crib or they wake up at night and expect to fall asleep in that same way. 

We often refer to these external things that help your child to fall asleep as a “sleep crutch.”   Something external that your child relies on to relax themselves so they can drift off into sleep.

Sleep crutches come in 3 categories:

  1. Sucking - from a pacifier, bottle or breast - to drowsy
  2. Motion - being rocked or bounced
  3. Touch - being held or co sleeping.

Over time your child thinks she needs these things to fall asleep.  

Why Sleep teaching is better than Sleep Training 

Sleep teaching is so much more than leaving your baby to cry alone.

Sleep teaching is taking away these sleep crutches so that your child can develop the skills both you and I have.  The ability to relax ourselves into sleep from awake.  

But what people miss is that sleep teaching is also about setting yourself and your child up for success by knowing what is appropriate in terms of timing of sleep and night feeding.   You can do sleep teaching and keep night feeds.  Many EBF still need to eat in the night until 8 months of age.  

Sleep teaching IS about figuring out how to offer comfort to your child when you take away their known way of falling asleep.  They’re going to hate it because it’s hard.  It is hard for them to figure out a new skill.  Especially in the middle of the night, which is why you have to start at bedtime. 

Sleep teaching is about setting yourself up for success with timing of sleep and food needs, communicating change to your child and being able to be consistent with your messaging.

There will be tears.

Tears are your child’s way of expressing himself.  

The amount of tears is directly related to:

  1. Your ability to set your baby up for success with timing of sleep.  Putting your baby to bed too early or too late will result in more tears.

  2. Your ability to be consistent.  If you keep changing how you respond this is confusing to your child and will make it harder for him to learn. If sometimes he wakes and you feed him and other times you don’t, that’s confusing for him.

  3. Your child’s temperament.  I can give two parents the same directions and the amount of tears can vary substantially.  I’ve had kids who don’t cry at all with my methods, but 95% of them will cry to some degree.  But they ALL sleep better by the end. 

Sleep Teaching Tips

So if you’re thinking about Sleep Teaching here are 3 tips to remember for babies 4 months and older:

  1. Don’t start in the middle of the night, too hard for your child to learn something new in the middle of the night.
  2. Understand how much sleep your baby needs by downloading my sleep summary by age chart here
  3. Make sure you and your partner are on the same page.  Undoing habits that may have been around for months can be challenging, you’ll need support. 

Looking for more step by step instructions?  I teach all the important factors in considering which sleep teaching technique is best for you, timing of sleep by age, night feeds by food and support you along the journey in my private facebook group in my online sleep school Helping Babies Sleep School.  
You can be loving, attached, and well rested. 


Read More:

The 3 Reasons Why Your Baby Won't Sleep Through The Night

When Can My Baby Sleep Through The Night?


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