sleep training

A Guide to Baby Sleep Training

baby sleep training

Sleep training is a notoriously contentious subject among moms, and the decision to sleep train or forgo it entirely is a very personal one. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to solving sleep struggles, and what works for one family may not work for another. But, when we break down what sleep training is, it is simply conditioning your child to fall asleep in a specific way. In that sense, everyone has been “trained/conditioned” to fall asleep with a specific set up. Some adults prefer to sleep snuggled up in a fluffy blanket in a cold room, others sleep better in warmer temperatures, others may only be able to fall asleep with the TV on, etc. We all have our preferences and own way of falling asleep. 

When you’re severely sleep-deprived and Googling “what is sleep training” in the wee hours of the morning, you will discover that "sleep training" is an umbrella term that refers to a spectrum of approaches to help babies learn to fall asleep by themselves. With so many different approaches, parents have such a hard time processing information overload, unsolicited advice, outside pressure, and deciphering their natural instincts, that many just end up doing nothing!

Although it seems like sleep should be a very natural and intuitive thing (since it’s a biological necessity for all of us), many new parents would argue that it is the exact opposite. Sure, babies spend a lot of the time sleeping (or not), but they may need to learn when to sleep (day versus night) and how to fall asleep. Unlike the constant nourishment, movement, and sound that lulled your baby to sleep in the womb, the outside world is full of temperature fluctuations, unexpected noises, and other disturbances that can prevent your little one from sleeping soundly. 

That’s why your little one relies on your assistance to soothe them to sleep at bedtime and comfort them when they wake in the middle of the night. It’s impossible to spoil your baby, and all that comforting is exactly what they need to grow and develop. However, as they grow older and no longer need round-the-clock care, sleep training is a helpful tool to teach your baby how to sleep without the assistance and props, and keep you rested and sane!

My goal is to make infant sleep more approachable. I always add a disclaimer that if what you are doing is working for everyone involved in the family unit, then there is absolutely nothing you need to change. I encourage you to dive into what is working for your family, what you may want to tweak/change, and focus on that! I’m a certified sleep consultant who absolutely does not follow every single “rule” for baby sleep. That’s because I know what works for my little ones, and if I did have an issue, I would troubleshoot it.

In this blog we will cover the following topics:

  • What is Sleep Training
  • Preparing for Sleep Training
  • Sleep Training Methods
  • How to Make Baby Sleep at Night
  • Newborn Sleeping Patterns
  • How to Transition Baby Out of Swaddle
  • Sleep Regression Ages
  • Should you hire a sleep consultant to help you with sleep training?


What is Sleep Training

sleep training

Sleep training is not synonymous with cry-it-out or night weaning, although a different path does not guarantee a tear-free experience. I cannot guarantee your little one will not cry while being rocked or bounced to sleep, just like I cannot guarantee that they will not cry if you put them down in their sleep space and walk away.

Sleep training is not:

  • Neglectful
  • Damaging to your attachment
  • Withholding food from a hungry child
  • Ignoring their cues
  • Putting them on a schedule

If crying is a big trigger for you, and you constantly feel like you have to stop the tears, then I encourage families to dive into what the root cause of that trigger is. Otherwise, we can be curious about what their tears are communicating to us and how we can support them through those emotions.

It does not mean (and I do not advocate for) leaving your child to cry it out for endless amounts of time. You do not even have to do timed intervals (aka Ferber/controlled crying) if you prefer not to. There are many middle-of-the-road options, including some that are hands-on, so you do not have to feel like your choices are either to “cry it out” or suffer/be a martyr until your little one finally figures out how to sleep.

I encourage you to dig deep into what your motivation is for your current situation. If it is because you truly enjoy it, then stick with it! If it is because you do not know what other options you have and are against “sleep training” because it feels like that means hours on end of crying, then we can set the record straight that sleep training does not have to be that way!

Preparing for Sleep Training

sleep preparation

 Instead of asking if your child is ready for sleep training, we may need to ask if YOU are ready for sleep training! Because, really, the most important parts of sleep training are consistency, commitment, and follow-through. You can do very gentle, hands-on methods from Day 1 (I didn’t even “formally” sleep train my two youngest because of the habits we had in place very early on).

Here is something to consider: 

From 0-6 weeks, you are in survival mode. Get everyone the sleep you can while practicing safe sleep habits.

From 2-4 months, you can start really focusing on establishing a healthy sleep foundation.

From 4 months on, you can begin “formal” sleep training, if desired. 

If you are planning to do CIO or Ferber, then you would typically wait until 4-6 months of age before beginning those methods. Other hands-on methods can begin much, much earlier. And, don’t worry if your child is older though! It is never too late.

Other things to consider when making a plan for sleep training:

  • Am I really ready to make changes? What is the motivation behind changing? Peer pressure or for improved sleep for my family?
  • Is my schedule clear or are there trips coming up very soon?
  • Is my partner on board?
  • Have I researched the methods I'm comfortable with and how to implement them?
  • Do I have a written plan in place so that I’m not winging it?

Once you’ve decided that you are ready to do this, clear it with your pediatrician so they can advise you on an appropriate number of night feeds for your little one. Don’t forget that bedtime and naptime routines can be implemented from Day 1 (and research supports that)!

How do you know if sleep training is the right choice for your family? Consider your child and how they are currently acting. If your baby is constantly cranky and overtired, it's probably time to look into helping them become a better sleeper. If you are suffering as a result of sleep deprivation, whether that is physically, mentally, or emotionally, then sleep training could be the right choice for you. You can also always wait and see if poor sleep habits are something your child will grow out of.

Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to obesity, behavioral problems, learning issues, and more later on in life. Sleep deprivation in adults can  lead to similar issues, and has even been shown to play a role in postpartum anxiety and even depression in parents.

I know that it can feel difficult figuring out the right choice for your family, but know that we all want the best for our children and no one goes into sleep training without their child’s best interests at heart.

Things you can do before formal sleep training:

Sleep Training Methods

First and foremost, do your research! There is a lot of information about sleep training, and much of it is controversial or contradicting. However, just like making any important decision, your choice to sleep train (or not sleep train) should be informed by your own reading, research, and inferences. No matter what method you choose, there is no evidence of harm with any sleep training method.

Remember that sleep training takes time, commitment, and consistency (just like building the habits they have now, it takes the same amount of effort to form new ones). Make sure your partner is on board and on the same page regarding sleep training, and is an active participant in the process—if possible. Having two people involved can be a great help to the process!

Once you choose a method, you may be surprised to find out that really sensitive children need less intervention or a very, very, very slow approach, whereas a more flexible one would do well with any method you choose.

Baby sleep training no tears methods


    sleep training method

    These methods aren’t really “tear-free,” but instead just very hands-on and referred to as “gentle.” I prefer to call them “gradual” methods because you are just making very small or gradual changes. Here is a summary of the “No Cry Sleep Solution” by Elizabeth Pantley.

    1. Set a consistent bedtime and waking time and stick to them. This is important for conditioning your child to sleep.
    2. Set times for regular, daily naps.
    3. Develop a regular bedtime routine that is peaceful and will help the child wind-down from the day. The routine can include a bath, story time and dimming of the lights.
    4. Begin to use the “Gentle Removal System” or the “Pantley Pull Out” to teach the child to fall asleep on his/her own without needing a bottle, the breast, or a pacifier. This includes waiting until the child’s sucking has slowed, and he/she is relaxed and sleepy – but not asleep.  Then, remove the bottle, breast, or pacifier.  If the child begins to cry, replace the nipple and repeat the process until the child falls asleep after removing the nipple.
    5. Place the child in the crib after he/she has fallen asleep.
    6. When the child cries, he/she is picked up and comforted until the crying stops and then put back into the crib. Use the “Gentle Removal System” if using a bottle, breast or pacifier to soothe the child.
    7. Steps are repeated whenever the child cries. 

    Some other gentle sleep training methods include pick-up, put-down and shush-pat. Another gentle option would be the sleep lady shuffle, also referred to as camping out. This is a great toddler sleep training method. Here is how to implement that:

    The camping out method involves putting a chair or camp bed next to your child's bed and gradually removing the chair as your child begins to fall asleep alone.

    • On the first 1 to 2 nights, the parent sits in the chair/camp bed until the child falls asleep.
    • On the next 2 nights, the parent moves their chair or camp bed a meter away from the child's bed, and the same process is repeated
    • Continue this process until your child is able to fall asleep with the chair/bed and parent outside of the bedroom

    Remember, this is sleep time, not play time! If your child tries to play with you, calmly tell them it is sleep time and say you will only stay in their room if they lie down and go to sleep. If they continue to try to play, leave the room for a short time (1-2 minutes). When you return after this short time, tell them again that you will only stay if they lie down and go to sleep.

    Overnight, if your child wakes up, you need to return to your chair/camp bed and stay there until they fall back to sleep again. Camping out can take between 7-21 nights to work.

    Another popular option is the Ferber method. Ferber is also called graduated extinction because you work up to longer and longer periods of waiting before you respond to your child. There are a ton of different intervals available on the internet. To execute this method, set your time for the designated amount of time for that interval, go into your child's room, say their sleep phrase, then leave. Simple! You continue doing that until they have gone to sleep. You can modify it by staying in the room, picking up to soothe, etc. You can make any of these methods your own.

    How to Make Baby Sleep at Night

    sleep training

    The keys to sleeping through the night are caloric intake, an age-appropriate schedule, and the ability to fall asleep unassisted at the beginning of the night. 

    You want  to make sure they are capable of getting in all of their ounces of breastmilk and/or formula in the day, instead of needing calories at night. If they are short on day calories, they will make up for it at night. 

    You also want to make sure they are not sleeping in too late, staying up too late, taking the appropriate number of naps in the day, and not overtired from too much wake time.

    The ability to fall asleep unassisted at the beginning of the night starts with implementing a sleep training method like any of the ones mentioned above. Falling asleep on their own means they have the ability to connect sleep cycles subsequently during the night. Sleep training does not take the wakings away, they just eliminate the need for you to help them get back to sleep, as they have the skills to do it on their own! If they have a need that is preventing them from doing so, they will most definitely let you know.

    Sleep Regression Ages

    sleep regression

    Common sleep regression ages include:

    • 6 weeks
    • 3-6 months
    • 8-10 months
    • 12 months
    • 18 months
    • 24 months

    Most families want to know if sleep training will “stick” or if it is something they will constantly have to do over and over again. I actually look at sleep training as a lifestyle change in how we respond to our child. So, while it is not a “one and done” type thing, it can create habits that last so long as you maintain those boundaries around sleep. Of course, this does not mean you can never help them, especially with extenuating circumstances like an illness! It just means that habits form lightning-fast (which is both a good thing and a bad thing sometimes) and if new habits are formed that you do not want to sustain, then it can take a few nights to break those.

    When it comes to sleep regressions, we don’t want to assume they need more help than they actually do. It can be tricky when they are learning new skills, but the most important thing is to continue supporting them when they ask without overhelping!

    To read more about sleep regression in babies, check out that blog that breaks down each one by age!

    Should you hire a sleep consultant to help you with sleep training?

    sleep training consult

    The decision to hire a sleep consultant is a personal one that is entirely up to your family. There is so much advice available on the internet that it can be hard for an overwhelmed, sleep-deprived parent to sort through it. Sometimes families need the accountability of a sleep coach in order to follow through and keep them on the right track! 

    The reason why sleep training can fail from one baby to another is because every baby is so different. Some babies are heavily reliant on sleep props. Others can’t sleep in a room that’s too warm. Some may not be getting enough daytime sleep, and others might be getting too much. Of course, it could be any combination of all of the above or the many other sleep challenges that babies might experience.

    In short, sleep can be a complicated issue and it can take an outside perspective to peel back all of the layers. Or, maybe you just want to make sure that you are truly setting your child up to be successful at this without putting any undue stress on either one of you! No matter what you choose, you can find success!


    Ashley Olson is a certified pediatric sleep consultant, owner of Heaven Sent Sleep, and passionate about helping new parents, experienced parents, desperate and sleep-deprived parents form healthy sleep habits for their children.

    She has over 3 years of experience in working with families and has completed over 150 hours of coursework plus continuing education related to infant and toddler sleep. The focus of her work is on fostering a routine that grows your bond with your child while improving their sleep habits. She specializes in custom sleep plans and one on one support in changing sleep practices!

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