As a pediatric sleep consultant who has worked with hundreds of families, I’ve encountered many myths surrounding the support I offer and what the sleep training process involves. Here are just a few of those common myths and the truths that bust them.
Myth #1: “Sleep Coaches Make Babies Cry!”
Truth: Many of the exasperated parents who come to me for support are doing so because they are already experiencing a ton of crying. Their best efforts to rock and feed to sleep or even to cosleep are resulting in endless tears and frustration and very little sleep! These parents are reaching out to understand why and how to make it stop. Rather than “forcing” baby to cry, a sleep professional analyzes the timing and totals of sleep, the routines preceding sleep, and the sleep environment to eliminate the drama. We are helping parents set the ideal scene for sleep to unfold peacefully and without tears.
Myth #2: “Sleep Training Means Leaving My Baby to Cry It Out Alone.”
Truth: Learning something new is hard and if baby is learning a new way to sleep, yes, there will likely be at least a few tears shed as baby’s way of protesting the changes. There are, however, many ways to minimize, and sometimes avoid, tears and there are paths that allow you to respond to baby if not be present throughout the entire learning process. Sleep training, or sleep learning as I prefer to call it, does not mean your child has to cry alone without a response or support. You do not need an all or nothing, cold turkey plan! You can work toward your goals gradually, weaning off the support you provide as your little one begins to catch on.
Myth #3: “Sleep Training Means I’ll Have to Night Wean.”
Truth: This may depend on who you are working with. In my opinion, especially when working with a baby under 9-12 months of age, night weaning is not the goal at all. It is entirely possible to improve sleep and to build in overnight feeds while doing so. My goal with each family is to reduce night feeding to something that is reasonable for baby’s age, health, etc. and is sustainable for the parents. Even when total night weaning is a family’s goal, I often suggest they address the foundations of sleep and bedtime skills before attempting to reduce and eliminate overnight feeds.
Myth #4: “I’ve Tried Everything– Sleep Training Does Not Work for My Child!”
Truth: Every child can learn to sleep! Barring an underlying medical or developmental issue, your child can learn to sleep just as surely as he or she can learn to roll, crawl and walk. Nearly every parent that comes to me truly feels like they have tried everything and is surprised to see much better results with our plan. The keys to success is laying the ideal foundation, creating a plan your child can respond to, and implementing it consistently. Many parents who have seen little to no results are unaware of what these foundations are and how to align them or are doing something that (unintentionally) confuses their child, making progress difficult if not impossible. And many of us try too many things or simply throw in the towel before our child has had a chance to catch on.
Myth #5: “We’ll Just Have to Start Over as Soon as My Child Gets Sick”
Truth: Yes, there are obstacles along the way that can temporarily disrupt even the best sleepers. However, once your child masters this skill and is generally well rested, he or she will be able to approach them from a better place and recover more quickly. Sickness, teething, travel and more can cause our child to grow overtired and want more help to get to sleep and back to sleep. They do not cause them to forget how to sleep though! Much like riding a bike, they should be able to get right back on once they are well again. The trap many of us fall into is backsliding so far during the setback that we feel like we are starting from scratch. I encourage my families, once they’ve reached their happy place, to pack the tools they used into a figurative toolbox they can pull out and use again when setbacks arise. It is also important to have a conversation before setbacks arise about exactly what you will and won’t do. You can offer your child extra support while still being cautious to maintain the progress you’ve made. And then require them to get right back on that bike as soon as they turn the corner.
If you’ve been avoiding addressing your child’s sleep issues due to these myths, perhaps you’ll reconsider. Sleep is a learned skill and one that contributes to the sanity and happiness of the whole family. Much like the skill of walking, thought, your child needs the opportunity to practice and master it. Regardless of your goals and parenting style, you can take steps toward improved sleep in a way you feel confident in and comfortable with. Why not reach out about creating a plan together today?