What’s the Right Age to Try Sleep Training?

sleep training

Sleep training. Ohhh, the dreaded sleep training. Now, I know some people are completely opposed to it, and I respect that. I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to do it either. I believe first and foremost, parents need to do what they feel is in the best interest of their child and their family. I also believe that every child is different, and what may work for one baby may not work for another, even in the same family. Sleep training may not be the best choice for you. However, for those of you out there who are barely getting a wink of sleep, cannot function normally, and have a child who is completely unhappy due to lack of sleep, this post is for you.

Sleep training is such an in-depth topic, and there are hundreds of “experts” out there who claim they know the perfect method of sleep training. However, I don’t believe there is a right and wrong way. Ultimately, I think you need to read as much as you can, and then go with your gut instincts as to what you feel is best.

I’m no expert by any means. I am just a mom with a baby who wasn’t able to fall asleep very well at nighttime. I can only tell you how our experience went with sleep training. Naps were a breeze. My son would sleep very well in the daytime. However, when that “witching hour” came upon us, it was serious cranky time. We tried to put him to bed at a certain hour each night, and each night it got pushed back further and further. The screaming got louder and louder. It didn’t matter if we were holding him, rocking him, putting him down, etc. He was clearly unhappy and unable to put himself to sleep.

Our doctor recommended sleep training at 2 months of age. Most doctors recommend it at 4 months. My son was extremely tiny, and I did not feel he was ready for it at 2 months, so we met on middle ground and tried it at around 3 months. It was right around the time when he was growing out of his bassinet in our bedroom, and we were ready to move him to his crib. So I figured, let’s get this all over with now. Some people sleep train just for bedtime. Others sleep train to eliminate nighttime meals. Our son was only waking up once to feed, and I didn’t think he really needed that meal anymore since he wasn’t eating very much at that time, so my husband and I decided rather than go through sleep training more than once, we would sleep train for all of the above.

The sleep training method we chose was to close the door and not go back in until the morning. The “cry-it-out” method if you will. Note there are MANY different ways to sleep train. This was just our choice. We kept a monitor with us (along with a glass of wine) to make sure that he was okay and not in any trouble. I made sure he was bathed, changed, fed, sang to, (our normal routine) and had everything he needed before putting him down to sleep, and then we walked out. It was excruciatingly hard, I admit. My son was not happy. But for us, I felt that it was the right decision. He was crying in my arms anyway, so I thought why not let him try to figure this out on his own.

Babies this age don’t really have separation anxiety, so this was another reason we decided to try it young. As they get older, it can get harder and harder because they realize mommy and daddy have left them, and they get scared that you will never come back. It’s definitely still an option when they are older, but I heard many stories from parents who say it’s much harder then when they can stand up and throw themselves around in the crib. Some parents use the check-in method for sleep training, but for us that didn’t really work, and seemed to only make him get angrier each time.

We were told it would only take a few days. Again, every child is different, and that certainly wasn’t the case for us. Our son stopped crying for the nighttime feed after two days. However, he cried at bedtime for about two weeks. They were some of the most painful weeks, because I hate to hear my son cry, but I knew he was okay, and he just needed to figure out how to sleep. Although he cried at bedtime, he did wake up every morning with a smile on his face when I went in to get him.

After two weeks, our son was completely happy to go to sleep on his own. We would put him down awake, say goodnight, and he would smile back at us and go to sleep when we left without crying. He slept for 10 hours every night without waking up, and he still sleeps very well today at 14 months old. Mom and Dad definitely got some of their life and sanity back knowing there was a routine and a bedtime in place. We have kept up a routine and a consistency for the most part, and he understands and now enjoys the process.

That being said, I think sleep training is never really over. There is no magic fix forever. Babies grow and change rapidly. They go through milestones like crawling and walking. They start teething. The have growing pains. They get gassy. They start to have separation anxiety. Remember, they are human just like you and I, and we don’t always have perfect nights of sleep either. They will go through periods of regression where they wake up and cannot go back to sleep, and you will think all the sleep training was for naught.

Each time this happens, I choose to assess the situation and the cry. Sometimes I would let him cry himself back to sleep. Other times, I felt that he needed my husband or me and we would go back in. I think you just have to decide what you feel is best. Most times, the situation would resolve itself in about a week’s time, and he would be back to sleeping on his normal schedule.

I believe there’s no exact age that’s best for sleep training–though definitely speak to your health care provider. Training too early can interfere with breastfeeding and very young babies are not ready for it. I think as a parent, you should do what’s working for you, and by that I mean what’s working for you right now. Because what’s working right now will change often! Those babies like to keep us on our toes. I can say that sleep training our son at the young age of 3 months did seem to work very well for us and our family, and it has made each period of sleep unrest and regression that much easier to get through. Good luck, and happy sleeping.