Is Sleep Training Necessary?
Once and for all, for every momma who’s frantically scouring the internet at 3 am, desperate for rest but hoping to avoid sleep training with all her being – with no agenda (as in – I stand to make no money from convincing you that you must sleep train your baby) let’s real talk about the gut-wrenching question that (likely) ALL parents have at some point – is sleep training necessary? Will baby ever learn to sleep without training?
I struggled with the question myself for over a year (and that’s a really REALLY long time when you’re working on 2-3 hours of sleep per night!):
What if I don’t sleep train my baby?
Will I EVER sleep again? Will my baby be spoiled if I don’t sleep train? Is there anything I can do to get baby to sleep without training?
Well, a few years down the road from these questions, I finally have the answers – and I hope by sharing them with you, YOU will be able to figure out how to move forward in this baby sleep journey, without the black cloud of sleep training hanging over you.
Before I had babies, I firmly believed I would sleep train. I didn’t plan to leave the baby to scream, but I would do controlled CIO, no problem! I know kids who are sleep trained and it honestly looks amazing. Their parents put them down and they go to sleep. Why wouldn’t I want that too?!
But then I HAD a baby… and all the things I ever thought about being a parent went out the window. (Something about how it’s easier to parent non-existant children hypothetically than real children, right?)
The very idea of sleep training – of leaving my tiny baby cry for me for even ten minutes – made my heart ache. I KNEW it wasn’t for me.
But there was still the real problem of the fact that my baby didn’t sleep.
I was exhausted. Exhausted. On top of having a baby, I struggle with severe insomnia… so even when the baby DID sleep (which felt rare) I did NOT. If he slept for an hour at a time… that wasn’t enough time for ME to fall asleep.
What we were doing wasn’t working. Something had to give.
There were days I was awake for 24 hours. I put laundry soap on my clean laundry in the dryer. I made biscuits with baking soda instead of baking powder.
I also worried constantly that if we didn’t sleep train the baby, he might keep us up ’till he was 5 or 6 or 7… or worse. Maybe I’d be awake till he was a teenager and started going out with his friends?!
I read (on sleep training websites of course) about kids who still needed a ridiculous amount of help to sleep at 8 years old.
I always wondered to myself, is sleep training necessary? Will my baby learn to sleep through the night if I don’t sleep train?
But I just couldn’t do it – so we kept doing what we were doing EVEN tho it wasn’t working. I did all the things “right” for my baby to sleep – I fed him, swaddled him, and placed him on his back in his arm’s reach sidecar sleeper (a next-to-the bed sleeping surface for baby, to keep him near mom but not in the same bed as mom) when he was exhibiting sleepy cues. From the time he was born, I was careful not to nurse him to sleep. I’d lay him down awake so he could “learn” to go to sleep.
I never rushed to him as soon as he squawked. I gave him the chance to not need me.
But my baby just didn’t sleep well. He’d wake every hour, and he took upwards of 40 minutes to go to sleep for naps, upwards of two hours to go down at night.
Conventional wisdom tells us that SOMETHING must be WRONG if the baby is not sleeping, so then I got desperate and tried white noise, inclining the mattress, formula instead of breastmilk, cereal instead of formula, pacifiers, Tylenol, and every baby gas remedy under the sun. Oh, and I also bought FIVE different baby beds, because surely ONE of them would be the right one.
And yet my squishy baby still wasn’t an easy sleeper. (And, nothing was wrong at all. He was a very normal baby. Healthy. Some babies sleep and some babies don’t. Make sure you understand what is normal for baby sleep.)
Sleep training remained at the back of my mind. Always hanging over me. Like it was inevitable. I dreaded it, but I needed some rest.
Baby sleep, and all the should’s and shouldn’ts clouded my days. I felt like I was biding my time until I would be ok with sleep training. Maybe I would reach my breaking point, and then I’d be able to sleep train. Or maybe suddenly it would seem like I could reason with him, and explain why I was leaving him to scream. Maybe this would make it less heartbreaking?
One day when he was about 6 months old I decided, once and for all, to take sleep training off the table. I obviously wasn’t going to do it, so I was going to find a way to get through this tired season and help my baby sleep as best I could. I was just going to deal – however I had to.
I was not going to sleep train, and that was that.
We embraced co-sleeping and never looked back. It was the only way we could BOTH get to sleep.
I have never, not for a second, regretted co-sleeping. As time goes on and my babies become bigger and bigger, I’m actually GRATEFUL for the time we got to spend co-sleeping.
I am painfully aware that they won’t need us for long.
I love love this book, and any parent who is choosing to take sleep training off the table but NEEDS some rest should read it asap!
Do you really need to sleep train your baby?
If you don’t want to, you don’t have to.
I am over this culture of dictatorship we are living in when it comes to parenting.
There is nothing wrong with helping your baby sleep. People have been helping their babies sleep for THOUSANDS of years.
Cuddling, rocking, nursing to sleep are not “negative” sleep associations. That’s like saying kissing, hugging, communicating are “negative” marriage associations. (Spouses who like those things are terribly needy! Can you hear my eye-roll?!)
A baby who doesn’t sleep easily is only a problem if it’s a problem for you. If YOU can not DEAL with the way your baby is sleeping, then there is a problem.
The rules made up about baby sleep are ridiculous. They set unrealistic expectations for new moms. This is perhaps my favorite article busting some of the “myths” about baby sleep => http://www.pinkymckay.com/busting-the-bs-about-baby-sleep/.
There is an insane amount of pressure on new parents to get the baby “sleeping through the night” – for some weird reason. This wasn’t even a THING until the past 50 or so years, when it started being more common for mom to have to get up and go to work.
Mom needs to sleep… so baby needs to sleep too. This IS a harsh reality for some, and if there’s no avoiding it, you might want to sleep train for your own sanity. If I absolutely HAD TO sleep train for my sanity, I would do a no cry sleep training program and accept that it would take a while longer than CIO methods.
But if mom can cope with limited sleep, you do NOT need to sleep train your baby.
Note that there is also a ton of money to be made in sleep training. Those that say sleep training is necessary are generally those who stand to make a profit from it.
But what if you never sleep train? Then what?
Will Baby Learn to Sleep Without Training?
What happens if you don’t sleep train baby?
Here’s the truth:
Nothing horrible “happens”. Time just goes on. Your baby grows up and learns to sleep.
You might be tired for – at very worst – a few years. But more likely, you’ll develop your own sleep systems (like co-sleeping, or laying with baby till they are asleep etc) that work for your family and allow everyone to get as much rest as possible.
One awesome thing that “happened” for me when I decided not to sleep train was that I finally embraced the midnight hours with my kids and this is some of the most precious time I’ve spent with them.
Once I relaxed and accepted that we were just going to snuggle at 3 am if that was necessary, and stopped being so freaking stressed out about it, the BABY relaxed too. I do believe sometimes that I was stressing him out by being so stressed out.
Other people might judge you – “you need to teach that baby to sleep!” or “I don’t know anyone else who sleeps with their kids…” (B.S.- if your kid gets into bed with you a few hours any night ever, that’s still co-sleeping. Feel free to point that out to people.)
Eventually, your baby will learn to sleep. And this will all be a thing of the past.
When do babies learn to fall asleep on their own?
Or rather – when do babies sleep through the night without sleep training?
I wish this was an easy answer.
It is DIFFERENT FOR ALL BABIES.
Generally, breastfed babies wake more often (and for longer) at night than babies who are not feeding through the night.
For us, the squishy baby started sleeping three hour stretches at 6 months when we started co-sleeping, and by a year and half he was sleeping through the night. He is two and a half now and he sleeps SOLID for 9-10 hours and still naps for 2-2.5 hours per day. (He does go to bed late, but he sleeps in till 10 am. LOVE that!)
UPDATE – My babies both stopped waking every hour when we stopped breastfeeding – and within 6 months or so from there they started sleeping through the night. Both my kids slept through the night between 18 months and two years.
Related: What Time Should a Two-Year-Old Go To Bed?
My bad sleeper has become a great sleeper, without training! We still co-sleep, but only because I love to be close to him. We could easily put him to sleep in his own bed and leave if we wanted.
And all those sleepless nights? I almost miss them.
Resources for parents who don’t want to sleep train but need to get some rest:
This book is fantastic! I wish I had read it BEFORE I had my first baby. Check it out here.
You can also consider the Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit. I know people who have had AMAZING success getting their kiddos to sleep better with this thing!
Will baby be spoiled if you don’t sleep train?
Baby will be spoiled if you SPOIL him.
If you NEVER say no. If you ALWAYS do EVERYTHING in your power to stop the tears at any cost. If you don’t discipline. (And, FYI, I think that the vast majority of parents in our generation are failing here. So there’s a good chance your kid will be spoiled, yes. (I wish I could convince every parent I ever meet to read this book.)
But will it be because you didn’t sleep train? Because you chose to put their needs above your own while they were too small to even comprehend the difference between awake time and asleep time?
In the years where sleep training is an issue, generally 2 and under, your baby is not capable of being manipulative – and also, not NATURALLY capable of self-settling. Your baby NEEDS you.
You are not spoiling your baby by giving them what they NEED.
You will spoil them by giving in to their every whim and never carrying through with punishment when they are disobedient.
So, is sleep training necessary?
What I want you to understand is that sleep training is only necessary if YOU have to start sleeping through the night next week.
Sleep training is necessary if YOU as the mom or dad, cannot function on the sleep you’re getting.
Sleep training is necessary if you are so frustrated at your little baby that your relationship with them is being damaged.
But, if none of those things apply to you, if you can put your baby ahead of yourself, sleep training is NOT NECESSARY.
Your baby will learn to sleep eventually.
Just do what you need to do to cope for now if you don’t want to sleep train. For us, that was co-sleeping. I love love this book, and any parent who is choosing to take sleep training off the table but NEEDS some rest should read it!