Why Sleep Training Isn't Working
Families come to me looking for help with their child's sleep. Most of the time, they've tried some form (or all the forms!) of sleep training on their own and have not found success. Parents wonder if maybe their child is incapable of sleeping well or can't be sleep trained. That's not true. Every child over 4 months of age can be sleep trained, as long as your pediatrician approves. So here are the most common reasons why I see sleep training fail:
Inconsistency: This is by far the most common issue. If you aren't consistent you absolutely will not find success. If the method you're using tells you to check on your child every 5 minutes - check on your child every 5 minutes! Not 3 minutes at first and then 6 minutes and then 4 minutes. Follow the plan exactly! Consistency is so important each night too. When my oldest was first sleep training, I would try a method one night, it wouldn't work, try another method the next night, and so on. I never found success. Make a commitment to use your method for at least 7-14 days before you decide that it's not working.
Lack of Confidence: Your child will pick up on your demeanor around sleep training. Don't start the process thinking, "This is going to be terrible. I doubt it will work." Your child will feel that anxiety and feed off it. Have confidence in your method and your child. Your family can do this! This is important for all ages, but especially toddlers.
Giving Up Too Soon: We've all been there - you commit to a method that may involve crying. You meet all your child's needs and then put them to sleep. You listen to your baby fuss for 20 minutes, decide you can't take it anymore and go comfort them. You've just taught your baby that if they cry for 20 minutes, they will get what they want. I don't like to put a time limit on sleep training. Once you commit, you've got to stick with it until your child falls asleep or until it's time to eat.
Comfort vs. Reassurance: If you are using a method of sleeping training that involves "checks" on your child, remember those checks are just for reassurance, not comfort. I often see parents spend too much time in their child's room at check-ins. They're hoping to calm their child down before they leave. But your child is not learning independent sleep if you do that. A check-in should take 10-15 seconds and provide reassurance that you are there and it's time to go to bed. I often have families repeat a mantra during these checks to prevent overstaying. For example, "Shhh, mama's here. Time to go to sleep."
Interrupting Your Child's Soothing Process: When sleep training, it's important to listen to your child's cries. Is your child crying their "something is wrong" cry or are they fussing? Parents often hear any noise coming from their child and want to rush in. But frequently your child is learning to self soothe and fussing is part of their soothing process. If you run to comfort them, you interrupt their soothing process. Don't ignore the "something is wrong" cry, but do give your child time to soothe themselves.
Weaning Too Soon: I always defer to your pediatrician when it comes to night weaning. Most of us would like our child to go without night wakings as soon as possible, but babies aren't always ready when we are. Some 4 month olds can go all night without a feeding and some 6 month olds still need to be fed once. Trying to wean before you child is ready nutritionally will not go well. Make sure your child is getting enough ounces during the day and get pediatrician approval before you begin to night wean.
Continuing Night Feedings Too Long: On the flip side of the above issue, are families that continue to feed at night when it's no longer needed nutritionally. I usually see this in children 8-16 months who nurse or bottle feed for comfort at night. It is hard to reduce night wakings when your baby is getting fed every time they fuss. Even trying to reduce night feedings in older children can be challenging. It's difficult for your 16 month old to understand why she gets fed at some wakings and not at others. In those cases, I recommend night weaning completely.
Have you tried sleep training but haven't found the results you were hoping for? I can help! Reach out today for a free 15 minute consultation.