Can Sleep Training Potentially Hurt My Baby?

Can Sleep Training Hurt My Baby in Any Way – Mentally or Physically?

New parents usually experience a plethora of issues and roadblocks when it comes to the subject of their baby. One of the most common dilemmas and questions are – what will happen if I don’t respond to my baby’s crying when I’m sleep training them? Which is the best and/or safest sleep training method that I should use?

Most parents hear somewhere that it can cause distress or even mental harm to their baby, so a lot of the time, they try to avoid it at all costs. Others simply cave to the crying, and attend to their babies immediately. Regardless of the meaning/reason behind the uncertainties of sleep training, it’s a very popular and widely debated topic.

Is sleep training your baby potentially harmful to them?

Both people who oppose and support sleep training try to address the validity behind if sleep training is actually harmful or not. With the rising scientific evidence behind it, we can finally address this topic with facts, instead of misinformation, rumors, and flat out lies.

So, the question of the day – Does sleep training potentially hurt your baby in any shape or form? Does it at all disrupt your parental bond that you poured your blood, sweat, and tears to create? For the answer to any of the above questions, let’s start by covering what exactly sleep training is, and what it involves.

What Is Sleep Training?

Sleep training, otherwise called “sleep teaching”, essentially is a methodology that parents can learn that can help their baby learn get to sleep & stay sleeping – eventually by entirely themselves. If sleep training is successful, the baby doesn’t have to depend on his or her mother/father to fall sleep. In simple terms, the baby should be able to fall asleep and remain asleep all through the dead of night without the intervention of their parents.

Now, the real question…Is sleep training harmful in any way to my baby? Research from the past, as well as present research, confirms it isn’t detrimental to babies at all. What is important, however, is that whatever sleep training methods used – how well or unwell your baby adapts to it depends on how exactly the parents implemented the training.

One thing that parents can do is let their baby cry for short periods of time without tending to them. However, long-term crying or crying indefinitely could make the baby experience very high levels of stress according to Kimberly Schneider who is a pediatrician at the Indiana University of health.

Instead of completely ignoring them, parents should check on their babies in brief intervals until they are no longer crying/in distress until they fall asleep. Not only does checking in on the baby bring you peace of mind, but it also eases your baby because it tells them that you were still around them and watching over them.

Despite everything said above, which sleep training method is the best and most effective method that parents should be using?

Sleep Training Method Approaches

There are two core sleep training methods that parents can take advantage of. What these two methods are:

  1. Gradual extinction – This method is commonly known as the Ferber method, created by Richard Ferber. A more common name that parents might be aware of is the “Cry It Out” method.
  2. Bedtime Fading – What bedtime fading entails is putting your baby to sleep when they show signs of tiredness. The advantage of putting them to sleep when they appear tired is that they have a less likely chance to try to deny bedtime or fight it. If parents choose this method, then they have to discover what their own baby’s natural sleep period is.

Gradual extinction means that you’re going to have to not run to your child every time they start crying so that they can hopefully learn to soothe themselves to fall sleep on their own.

Here are some pointers you should know about bedtime fading:

  • Establish your baby’s natural sleep rhythm/time: an easy or simple way to do this is by making a note of the time that they start feeling sleepy – as well as noting when they’re falling asleep on a daily & nighty basis and determine from there what time is their natural sleep time.
  • Building consistency around your child’s natural sleep each night: once you finally determine when your baby starts to fall sleep naturally, by being consistent every day and turning it into a ritual, you’ll be able to engage with them prior to that sleep. By doing so, you’ll be able to ready them for bed as best as you can, which should help them stay asleep throughout the night longer.

  • The freedom to move their bed time to an earlier time: once you start to consistently make their nighttime rituals, your little one will be able to start associating these activities and interactions with sleep, which means that you can gradually start to move their bedtime to an earlier time and to a time that’s better suited for you and your family. Start in low increments of just 10 minutes prior to their natural sleep and continue that for a set amount of time. As they begin to adjust to that change, you can continue doing this until you’ve hit the sweet spot for their bedtime.

You absolutely need to be consistent and keep these activities to a daily basis before bed. If you keep doing this over time, your child will start to associate all these activities with bedtime which will help them fall sleep and stay asleep longer. Not only is this more effective in keeping them asleep and getting them to sleep, but it helps encourage them to actually look forward towards bedtime.

Remember not to rush things when you’re trying the bedtime fading technique. Quality is the most important part to this, and you want to try to put in as much effort as you can and be consistent until you’ve reached the bedtime that you feel will benefit everyone in your household.

Which method is the best method?

I know that as a parent, you’re desperate to find out what’s best for your child. You’re probably wondering, which is the best and most effective method for sleep training my baby? However, the answer isn’t as simple as that. Various research has suggested that there is no single method that is better than the other. Some babies might prefer one method over the other, and the way that some parents implement one method over the other are likely reasons why there is no universally agreed upon method that is superior to the other.

Even the American Academy of Sleep Medicine states that both methods can be effective at helping babies sleep more efficiently and helps develop a healthy sleep pattern for them. They also state that consistency is extremely important, which is what I’ve been saying over and over, simply because it’s 100% true!

According to Kimberly Schneider M.D., she states that establishing a steady and consistent routine early is extremely important and essential to developing a baby who sleeps well. She says that six months old is the ideal time start sleep training. The great thing about both of these methods is that both of these methods can begin gradually and develop over time depending on the amount of effort you put into them.

What are some of the things to consider before starting a sleep training method? Below are a few pointers that you should definitely take a note of.

Useful Tips on Sleep Training Your Baby –

  1. Above All Else, Ask Your Pediatrician: I can’t stress this enough. Before you decide on anything, or aren’t sure about anything 100% regarding your baby, contacting your pediatrician is one of the best choices you can possibly make. Not only can they provide you with helpful information, but they can determine if your baby is healthy or not, and can help you rule out other factors that might be disrupting your baby’s sleep. Plus, they might even give some tips about sleep training them!

  2. Be Prepared for Anything: Establishing sleep training for your baby can be mentally and physically tolling for everyone in your household. Be prepared for just about anything. Make sure that you and your spouse/family are on the same page and are ready to support each other through the thick and thin that sleep training and parenthood entails.

  3. Establish Routines: Not only can establishing routines be beneficial for sleep training methods, but they can help make things easier in general. Make sure that you include peaceful and suitable activities associated with bedtime. By doing so, you’ll let your baby know that bedtime can actually be quite a great thing for them. This will help them sleep better, as well develop their own routine which will help them and your family sleep better.

If you’re trying to sleep train your child when they aren’t healthy or have other underlying issues, it will certainly not be as effective. Make sure you rule out any other potential issues from your pediatrician first like I mentioned previously.

Sleep training a child can offer numerous benefits. It’ll help your child develop their own sleep pattern while they are still growing up. There are different sleep training approaches that you can choose from that best fits your child, as well as one that ideally works for you, your spouse, and your schedule.

Regardless of what method you decide to use, you need to remember to learn to be gentle and patient. You won’t see results overnight, and it’s easy to get frustrated. If you choose to go with the gradual extinction method, it’s suggested that parents should check up on their baby with physical, as well as verbal reassurances to ensure they are well. A good time for them to do this is in short intervals of around 10 to 15 minutes until you know that the baby finally fell sleep.

Do you have any concerns about any of these methods or sleep training your baby? Have you tried one method over the other, and prefer one way? Or maybe you’ve even tried both and still prefer one method? I’d love to hear from any parents! Comment below and let me know how your baby sleep training is progressing!

About the Author Elizabeth

Hi everyone, I'm Elizabeth. My beautiful daughter Alice keeps me awake occasionally...but when I'm busy and can't sleep, I post parenting tips and different ways you can get your baby to sleep soundly through the night, and even naps!