The Most Common Baby Sleep Training Methods

Amber LoRe - Sleep Consultant / Pediatric sleep consultant / Updated Jan 12, 2021
Baby laying down awake in crib

Once a family has decided to sleep train, the next step will be to determine which method to use.

Here’s the good news: once they’re developmentally ready, most children can learn the skill of falling asleep independently, regardless of the chosen method.

The not-so-good news: if the strategy that’s chosen isn’t a great fit for the child and/or parents, many families will give up before progress is made and assume that sleep training isn’t going to help them.

 These gentle techniques involve slowly weaning away from helping your child fall asleep (usually over a couple of weeks or more) until they can fall asleep independently. This tends to be the preferred method for parents who want to avoid tears as much as possible, and don’t mind the process taking longer.

 It might go something like this: A parent normally feeds their baby to sleep, so they start the process by helping their child learn to accept rocking to sleep instead. From there, the parent starts to reduce the amount of movement until the baby gets used to falling asleep while being held, without movement.

Then the parent can progress to putting the child in their crib while awake, but staying close by to pat or stroke the baby until they’re asleep. Once the child gets used to this, the parent can work on removing their touch, and eventually their presence, as a sleep association. 

 The Ferber method is often mistakenly referred to as “cry-it-out,” likely because the baby is left for periods of time and crying is expected. However, with the Ferber method and its variations, parents tend to the baby in set intervals and attempt to calm them before leaving to try again.

The Ferber method focuses on gradually longer time intervals: on the first night, the parent visits after 3 minutes, then 5 minutes, then every 10 minutes until the child is asleep. Each night thereafter, the intervals get longer. 

 Similar methods use a static interval and encourage visits after every 10-15 minutes (for example) until the child falls asleep on their own. Some parents will pick their baby up to calm them while others will keep them in their sleep space. In some variations, parents have the option to remain in the room rather than leave. 

 This method is preferred by parents who want faster results and are comfortable with allowing their baby to cry for finite periods of time.  

 The extinction method involves leaving a child to fall asleep on their own without interventions to console the child. This method is often preferred by parents who want a fast solution but find that check-ins to calm the child tend to upset the child more than if they left them alone.

This method should only be used when all of the child’s needs have been met - the child has been fed, is dry, is not in physical discomfort and is developmentally able to fall asleep without help. We recommend the use of a video monitor when using this method to ensure that the child remains safe throughout the process.

When it comes to sleep training, it’s important to understand that time and consistency are essential parts of the process. We’re talking about learning a new skill. Just like we wouldn’t expect our children to master shoe tying or bike riding immediately, we’ll want to give our kids time to learn while understanding that there may be some bumps along the way. If we begin with a method that takes into account the temperaments of the family members, we’re more likely to see the family stick with it and see improvement.

If your first attempt doesn’t go well, you’re not doomed! Keep in mind that families can always start out with one method and then progress to another if needed. The key to success is ensuring that the child eventually gets practice falling to sleep on their own.

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