When most moms (and dads) think sleep training, they think it will involve intense crying for hours. Place your baby in the crib, close the door, and don't return until the morning. Is that sleep training? Yes. Is it an approach I help my clients with? Only if they ask.
As parents, we never like to hear our baby's cry. It can be incredibly triggering, even more so when it involves sleep. When my oldest daughter was born, she happened to be an amazing sleeper, but when she cried for other reasons my senses heightened like nothing I had ever experienced before. Full on mama bear came out to 'protect' her from whatever was making her cry. Fight or flight is what happens in our brains.
Along came my second 2 years later. She tested me, and still does, in every aspect of motherhood. She wouldn't sleep anywhere but on me or next to me touching her. I slept on the couch for the first 4 months, FOUR MONTHS, with her on me or next to me. I joked that if she could crawl back inside of me, she would.
Was it safe? Nope.
Did I know it wasn't safe? Yep.
Did I continue out of survival? Yep.
Am I grateful nothing bad happened? Absolutely.
Would I do it again? Nope.
At 4 months, I was run down, tired, beat up. I realized I couldn't continue to function like that, while having a toddler and an infant. Sleep training began.
I knew cry it out, or the Ferber method her, was not an option for me. While I got used to her cries, I still couldn't tolerate hours of crying. I began sleep training her with a way that was comfortable for me. Was there crying? Yes. Was it hard the first few days? Yes. Did I quickly realize that the cries for trying to sleep were different than the cries for hunger or pain or out-right discomfort? Yes.
Our children will cry for the rest of their lives. They will cry when they learn to crawl. They will cry when they learn to walk. They will cry out of frustration when they are trying to use a fork. How do you approach those cries? Do you swoop them up, hold them, and don't encourage them to try again? Or do you reassure them and encourage them to try again? Sleep training should be viewed in the same manner. Is there crying because your child is trying to fall asleep? Absolutely! Knowing the different levels of crying will help understand when your child is trying to fall asleep.
When speaking about sleep training, I often say your baby is trying to fall asleep! I say it to parents all the time during the first few nights of sleep training. Your baby is learning a new skill! Just like any new skill, it can be frustrating but they are trying! When sleep training, holding your firm boundaries around sleep is vital to your sleep training success. If you are interested in more content about sleep training, including some tips - follow me on Instagram.
Let me break down the levels of crying for you.
Whining / Whimpering
This is when you place your baby down for sleep, and they make some low whining or whimpering cries. It's not extreme. Most of the time you would hear this cry and not feel that your baby is in immediate need of anything.
Continuous Crying (Active Crying)
When your baby is continuously crying, they are crying without a break in the level of crying. This is when your baby is trying to fall asleep but does not quite understand yet how to. This is the most common crying during sleep training. It is active crying while they are trying to get used to the new sleep situation.
Hysterical Crying (Active Crying)
Hysterical crying does sometimes happen during sleep training. If I were to put this on a scale of 1-10, this would be a 10. This is the hardest cry to hear as a parent. You want to immediately rush in and help them. While this cry is the hardest to hear, your baby is learning a new skill and it can be incredibly frustrating for them. Babies communicate through crying. Adults communicate through words, and even screams or obscenities. We do respond to hysterical crying, using the soothing technique decided upon when working together.
This is where your baby is truly beginning to understand how to fall asleep independently. This will vary between continuous, hysterical, whimpering and no crying. They are trying to soothe and fall asleep. When your child has reached varying crying after hysterical crying - you can be reassured you are seeing progress!
How to cope with crying while sleep training
- Deep Breaths
Taking deep breaths will relay to your brain that neither you, nor your baby are in immediate danger.
- Wear Earplugs
While it may not completely eliminate the sound of your baby's cries, it will lessen the cries so you can focus on other coping mechanisms.
- Show yourself Compassion
Treat yourself how you would treat a friend.
- Positive Affirmations
"I am okay. My baby is not in danger"
"My baby crying does not mean I am a bad parent"
"My baby can express frustration and still love me"
"I can feel anxious and still deal with the situation"
- Remind yourself that you are not doing this to your baby, but FOR your baby
Giving your child the gift of independent sleep far outweighs the short amount of time you spend sleep training. You are an amazing parent for seeking help and wanting the best for you and your child. Sleep is vital to our well-being as humans. Sleep helps your child grow. It helps your child's body heal. It rejuvenates their body.
While there are many methods to sleep training, most, if not all, include some trying cries and some protesting cries. Understanding the difference and supporting your child through the skill of independent sleep is vital for your and your child's well-being.
There is no one size fits all method when it comes to sleep training. Each baby and toddler is different. I used 4 different sleep training methods with each of my 4 kids. When working with me, I create a sleep plan that is individualized to you and your baby. I meet you where you are to create the best plan for your family. I support you through the tough moments and the moments of joy when they fall asleep, take a good nap. Progressing from the constant worry about your child's sleep to the weight being lifted off your shoulders is priceless.
Imagine waking up from a full night of rest. No waking, No rocking. No pacifier pops.
Imagine predictable naps. No hit or miss. No constantly being nap trapped.
Imagine a happier baby.
Imagine a happier mom.
Imagine a happier dad.
The possibilities are endless when you, your partner and your baby get the rest they need.
If that sounds dreamy to you, book your free 20-minute sleep assessment call. Let's talk about your sleep struggles, your vision for sleep in your house and how I will support you with my 5 step, one-on-one, program and how it will benefit everyone in your household!
Wishing you restful sleep,
About Danielle: Danielle is a Certified Pediatric Sleep Coach and founder of The Restful Haus, where she helps families 1:1 with their children ages 0 - 6 years old. She is a New Jersey native and currently resides in Colorado with her husband and 4 daughters (ranging from 22 months to 7 years old). She enjoys spending time with her family, the Jersey Shore, music, traveling with her husband + kiddos and on the rare occasion, sitting down to read a murder mystery book.