Sleep training is a very controversial topic and is not for everyone. Some of the original techniques that promote full-blown cry-outs gave the concept a bad name. That said, some parents implement these early methods with great success and swear by them. Thankfully, there are now many sleep training options for parents to consider which offer gentler alternatives to "crying it out."
Many health care practitioners do not advocate for any sort of sleep training before a baby reaches 4-6 months of age but if you are at a point where you are considering sleep training your little one, or think you might in the future, here we outline 10 different techniques. Each will require more research should you choose one, but at least you’ll have a taste for each technique. Above all, make sure you do what feels right. Nobody else knows your baby like you do.
9 The Shushing Technique
This is a technique developed and practiced by Tracey Ruiz, The Sleep Doula. As parents, we have all perfected the art of “shushing” and, with this technique, you can use it as a tool to sleep train your baby. She doesn’t recommend it for babies less than five months old.
With the “shushing” method, you put your baby to bed awake, and then stand or sit outside the room with the door open a few inches. (Another option is to lie beneath the crib.) “Shush” and talk to your baby for as long as they fuss. Do so at the same volume at which they are crying until they fall asleep. Repeat this process each time they wake through the night. It’s important that while your baby can hear you, they cannot see you. The idea being that your baby is reassured knowing you are there but isn’t relying on you to fall asleep--as in rocking, feeding, singing, etc.
As nights progress, you can move to intermittent shushing, where you shush and then leave for a few minutes. Eventually just a quick shush is all that’s recommended. Many have seen great improvement with this technique in just 2-3 nights.
8 The Sleep Lady Shuffle
This method is also known as “Camping Out,” “Disappearing Chair” or “The Long Goodbye.” With The Sleep Lady Shuffle, you begin by sitting very close to your baby (even rubbing their back) when you put them down to sleep. Progressively work your way towards the door, on successive nights, until you are out of the room.
Your child will likely still get very upset at the start of this training, but will be comforted by your presence. This method is touted as gentle and helps train your baby that they don’t need you to fall asleep. It’s best for babies six months or older.
7 The Shush-Pat Technique
The Baby Whisperer, Tracey Hogg, can be credited for popularizing this technique. It is particularly recommended for babies under six months. With this technique, you make “shush” sounds and pat baby firmly on the center of the back at a steady pace. You may need to prop baby on his/her side to implement this properly since most babies sleep on their backs at this age.
“Shush-pat” until baby calms down and continue to do so for up to 10 minutes afterwards. Step away and see if baby has fallen asleep. If not, you’ll need to repeat the process.
6 Pick-Up Put Down Technique
Tracey Hogg also advocated for this in older babies (over six months), saying it’s too stimulating for very young babies. The premise is, you put your baby to bed awake and if they fuss, pick them up. As soon as they stop crying, say a key phrase that you have chosen such as “It’s sleepy time now” or “Mommy loves you, night night.” Immediately after saying your phrase, put them down. If they start to cry again, pick them up and repeat.
One potential drawback of this technique is that it can be confusing to babies. They are crying to be held only to be put down immediately again. That said, many have used it.
5 The Fading Technique
With this technique, you begin by being very involved at helping your baby fall asleep but gradually fade your involvement away. So initially, you help your baby fall asleep completely but as each night passes, you lessen your involvement. An example would be rocking your baby. To start, you may rock them completely to sleep but on successive nights, you rock for a little less time each night.
This is a very gentle approach that will take some time to find success but it will definitely minimizes crying.
4 Extinction Method
Also known as Cry-it-Out (CIO), brace yourself for oodles of crying. This method was popularized by Dr. March Weissbluth, and for so long, was synonymous with the term sleep training.
With this method, you put your baby down awake, shut the door, and leave them to cry. It’s not easy and not for the faint of heart. Some parents bite the bullet and go for this approach but many are glad there are now gentler and proven strategies available to try. It’s counterintuitive to let your baby cry to the extreme. They cry because they need us.
3 Check and Console (Ferber Method)
This technique was made famous by Dr. Richard Ferber--this is why it is also known as “Ferberizing.” It is a very controversial technique that has sparked much debate in parents. But, contrary to popular belief, it is not the same as “extinction” where you shut the door and don’t come back. In a nutshell, caregivers are meant to put their baby to bed awake and leave them for gradually longer periods of time. It’s imperative that you watch the clock on this one. The idea is that baby will learn to self-soothe as you leave them for longer. Ferber suggests that you can start this approach with babies as young as 3-5 months of age.
During the “console” times, parents should pat and talk to their babies but not pick them up or feed them. Ferber provides recommended wait times based on a number of factors. You can expect a fair deal of crying with this method as well.
2 No Cry Sleep Method
This method was developed by Elizabeth Pantley, author and mom of four. Her method is a little tougher to put your finger on than some of the other methods we outline but she is a strong advocate of never letting your baby cry it out. She suggests making small changes to your baby’s routine over an extended period of time to alter their habits.
For example, if your baby falls asleep breastfeeding or with a pacifier, stop feeding or remove the pacifier before they are totally asleep. If they wake, go through it again. Another example is to create positive associations between your baby and their sleeping spot by spending time there together during the day.
She provides a lot of suggestions in her book “The No-Cry Sleep Solution” but we wouldn’t say her method hinges upon one particular thing. The nice thing about this method is your baby won’t be left to cry, but a drawback is it won’t work for parents who want fast results.
1 The “Do What Feels Right” Method
There are no rules that state parents must implement sleep training. Just because your best friend did it, doesn’t mean you have to. That said, many a weary parent gets to that point since sleep deprivation is so all consuming.
Ultimately, you must trust your gut and do what feels right based on what you know of yourself and your baby. There are many smart suggestions to help your baby along the road to self-soothing before you get to sleep training. These are great things to start soon after your baby is born to help set the stage. For example:
- Establish a bedtime routine
- Create a quiet, calm, and dark sleep environment
- Disassociate feeding from falling asleep
- Put baby to bed drowsy but awake
- Give baby a chance to settle
- Be consistent
If you have established these things and are ready to try a sleep training technique, make sure you do your research and make sure you and your baby are ready. Having a supportive partner who can participate is also very helpful. Above anything else, make sure you trust that what you are doing is right. The only way any method is going to work is if you feel good about it, are confident you can execute it, and have your family’s best interests at heart.