3 Things Sleep Training Doesn’t Do

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When parents come home from the hospital with their new baby, all of the preparing they have done gets put in place immediately.  Without any practice runs.  And, no matter what parents have read or bought I think there’s an overwhelming feeling of “I have no idea what I’m doing!”  Now, you have to keep a whole human being not only alive, but thriving!

The problem with books and blogs is that it talks about babies…in general.  Or ONE parent’s experience with ONE baby…

Your baby – although they are mostly just eating, sleeping, crying, pooping, or a combination of these things – is their own person.  They’ve got a personality and temperament that you are going to spend a lot of time trying to figure out.  Mostly, through trial and error.

In the first few months, a new parent is going to talk about eating, pooping, crying, and sleeping a lot!  As a sleep consultant, I answer a lot of questions about the last two things.  In my experience with sleep training babies of many different ages, I can say a few things about both:

1) Sleep training DOES NOT cause damage to a baby

When pursuing a sleep training plan, parents’ first question (usually) is “How much will my baby cry?” No on likes to hear their baby cry, but it’s going to happen when you’re making changes to your baby’s sleep.  The amount of crying depends on how overtired your little one is, and their personality.

This issue was not always so heated.  Thanks to studies cited in The Baby Book, Dr. William Sears’s Attachment Parenting theory claimed that sleep training was not only ineffective, but could cause neurological harm to a baby due to large amount of crying.  However, the studies he cited were ones that pertained to babies suffering from colic – continuous crying for more than 3 hours a day, and babies who were neglected by caretakers and crying out for help.  Later on, researchers at Yale University claimed that their studies that were used in the book were misrepresented.  They said their studies were “not referring to routine, brief stressful experiences.”

Fortunately, later research studies by Dr. Anna Price of the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, and the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that the babies in the studies had NOT suffered any of the long-lasting side effects Dr. Sears wrote about.  In fact, the AAP study concluded “Both graduated extinction and bedtime fading provide significant sleep benefits above control, yet convey no adverse stress responses or long-term effects on parent-child attachment or child emotions and behavior.”  So, to dispel the myth: sleep training will not cause any neurological/psychological damage.

2. Sleep Training DOES NOT happen without a bit of crying

I am convinced that there is no way sleep training can happen without a little crying.  Even in the most gentle methods, YOU ARE teaching your baby a new way of sleeping, and chances are the one way they can communicate their frustration is through crying.  And that is okay!  Parents actually have to let baby say what they want to – we can’t stifle them because it makes us uncomfortable.  I find that funny – we can’t let baby cry, but as soon as that child has words of speech we want them to express themselves clearly and be open with us.  So, in conclusion: baby is crying to tell you their frustration, but you have to hear them out.  May take a while, but if you stick with what you want to change in your baby’s sleep it is only temporary.  The end result of a great night’s sleep for everyone is worth it.

3. Sleep training DOES NOT break the “attachment bond” between baby and parents

I have now taught well over 60 families sleep training programs for their little ones.  And, I can tell you I have had some babies who cried a lot, some babies who cried a little bit.  What I can say is that not a single family found that their bond with their child suffered.  At the end of the process, their little one was the same bright and happy kid they started off with.  But, just much better rested!  If this is something that you’re concerned about when sleep training your baby, make sure to spend even more time cuddling, snuggling, playing, during the day time.  Baby never minds getting a little extra attention from mom and/or dad 🙂

Sleep training is not always the easiest process, and that’s why having a consultant to tell you what to do, and support you during the most challenging nights can be so important.  But, if you are ready to take the steps to get your baby sleeping more independently, I hope that you can read this knowing that it can be an incredibly rewarding and empowering experience.



1. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/4/643

2. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/05/21/peds.2015-1486