My team and I do quite a few Personalized Sleep Plans™ every week, but we can give you the best of plans and it doesn’t mean anything if you and your baby are not ready for it. Here is a 10-point checklist to determine if you and your baby or toddler are ready for sleep training.
1. Your baby has preferences. Babies will learn early that some things feel good (e.g. being in mommy or daddy’s arms) and what doesn’t (e.g. dirty diaper). They instinctively learn to cry to get a clean diaper or be held, if they need the comfort. At some point, though, a need can become a want. Your newborn will likely have limited self-soothing abilities or she will be great at sleeping, but then has her 4 month old sleep regression and suddenly has sleep problems. At some point you will be convinced your every-two-hour-eater is genuinely hungry or needs the comfort. Eventually, you will start to wonder if she really needs it as much as wants it. After all, maybe the only reason she “needs” it is because that’s all she’s ever known, not that she can’t sleep without it.
2. Your baby has the ability to learn a new way to sleep. There is a difference between babies who can and can’t learn to self-soothe. Experts will disagree far and wide at the “right” age, but all situations are different. The key here is whether you believe that your baby has the ability to learn a new way to sleep.
3. The timing is right for your baby. Many will agree that a 6 month old can learn to self-soothe, but does that mean it wouldn’t be better for YOUR family to wait until she’s more like 12 months? Maybe. It depends on the baby, their temperament, what they’re going through and a whole host of other factors. You know your baby best and need to figure out the right time for your baby. And, keep in mind that you can always try, take a break, and try again, if you doubt your timing after you start.
4. The timing is right for you. There is a big difference between hearing your 16-week old or 6-month old fussing or crying versus hearing your 11-month old. Even still, it is different hearing a baby cry or your toddler saying “Mama!” or “Dada!” Whether you use a no-cry method or a crying one, there is bound to be some uncomfortable moments. Are YOU ready for some rough days and/or nights? Are you able to deal with it getting harder for a few days before it gets easier?
5. Does your baby actually have a sleep problem? Sometimes, expectations are actually to blame for a baby’s “sleep problem.” Is your 8-month old breastfed baby still waking up once a night to eat? For many, that is A-OK and age-appropriate. My boys nursed once a night for their first year. All babies are different and sometimes you just have to adjust your expectations. Once you lower your expectations and stop comparing to your baby to your neighbor’s, it does wonders for your outlook.
6. Decide you need to sleep train. Maybe you can’t go on waking up every hour to put a pacifier in the baby’s mouth or even if you have appropriate expectations and you don’t have a true “baby sleep problem,” you need to decide that you need to sleep train. I’ve had clients who are surgeons and getting up once a night is just brutal months and months later, so maybe you need to sleep train to get a full night’s sleep. Similarly, some clients experience more health problems, difficulty functioning, or post-postpartum depression. I recently had a client tell me she didn’t understand how sleep deprivation could be used as a form of torture until she had a baby. I totally relate!
7. Do you have the time and commitment? One thing that’s difficult about my job is setting appropriate expectations about how long sleep training will take. Some are frustrated three days later that changes aren’t happening fast enough. I thank the books for that who make you think that it’s a “3 days and you’re done…FOREVER” type of process. For some babies and toddlers, sleep training means you are changing habits as long as two or three years old! Results are simply not always over night (though some are!). Granted, most will have at least some success within 1-2 weeks that helps give you the boost you need for the long haul.
8. Are you ready to be consistent? Along the same lines, you need to be ready to be 100% consistent. Waffling or changing strategies hourly or daily can lead to more crying and frustration on both you and your baby’s parts. Similar to how diets don’t work, because you need a “lifestyle change,” sleep training should not be seen as a crash diet. You need to be consistent both short-term and long-term. Are you ready?
9. Can you be patient? Particularly if you are using a no-cry sleep training method, you need to be prepared to be patient. Just like your baby won’t learn to walk or talk in a day, you can’t expect him to learn any new skill in one day.
10. Make a plan. Whether it’s one of our personalized sleep plans or you make on your own, have a plan. Decide what your goals are and how you will achieve them. Monitor progress and tweak the plan. You don’t just decide to be a doctor one day, it takes planning. Sometimes a curve ball is thrown that you didn’t anticipate, so you’ll tweak the plan. If your first plan doesn’t succeed, try try again.
Bonus: Do you have support? Sleep training can be very emotional and draining and, if you lack confidence, the best of plans will fail. It really does help to have support whether it’s a spouse, friend, message board, or us, having someone you feel accountable to “check in” with can help keep you going. I have one client now who simply lacks the support at home, so we are her support, and happy to do it.
I hope this article has helped you decide whether you are ready to tackle the sometimes very emotional task of sleep training or has given you the “ok” to wait. Only you know what you live day in and day out. Trust your instincts and they will take you far.
If you’re looking for ways to get your baby or toddler into a healthy sleeping routine, please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.