Really tempted to put this in the pets & animals category
January 20, 2010 10:53 AM   Subscribe

How important is sleep training for a 6-month-old baby that already sleeps pretty well, but can't go to sleep on her own?

Mrs. Gnutron and I have an outrageously beautiful 6-month-old daughter.

She tends to sleep pretty well. She goes to bed in her crib around 7-8pm with little fuss. She's usually up once a night for a feeding around 2am, then back asleep until 6-7am. Maybe once a week she will sleep straight through the night. Lately it has become obvious that the middle-of-the-night feeding is purely for comfort and pleasure, so we are reducing and/or skipping the night feeding. She naps fairly well during the day.

Here's the issue: she can't go to sleep on her own, she *must* be held and/or rocked until she dozes off or reaches the absolute brink of sleep, then she can be put down in her crib. The majority of sleep training info we have been reading seems to indicate this is Not A Good Thing. And it's probably what's keeping her from sleeping through the night, since when she wakes up, she's unable to soothe herself back to sleep.

So we have been looking into some sleep training practices and none of them really seem to work for us and our baby. "Cry it out" doesn't work for us. We're not that type of parents, and baby will escalate from whining to hysterics in just a few short minutes. Like full-on screaming and wailing. Another book has recommended sitting by the crib to soothe her and periodically moving farther away from the crib....that doesn't seem to work either, she just gets more stimulated by our presence, picking up her head to look at us and grabbing the crib rails. "Time checks", putting her in the crib and coming back every few minutes to check on her and soothe hasn't worked either. She just cries when we're gone, and when we go check on her she gets more stimulated by our presence rather than soothed.

Obviously, we would like her to start sleeping through the night a little more often. Should we be focused on sleep training her now to get her falling asleep on her own? Is this dependence on us for sleep something she will 'grow out of' and learn to sleep more soundly and independently as she gets older? I don't mind holding her until she sleeps, and sleep training at the moment seems somewhat futile and painful....but I don't want to be setting myself up for an even huger world of hurt if we have to sleep train her a few months down the line from now.

Experiences and other sleep training strategies are most welcome. Whew. Thanks.
posted by gnutron to Human Relations (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is a very loaded question, and in my experience if you ask 100 parents you will get 100 different answers...but...IMHO, based on the fact that your kid already has GENIUS sleep habits (waking only once per night, sometimes sleeping the night through), please consider that your precious precious baby is a mere six months old and you should not be doing anything approaching sleep training at this point. She is a tiny mammal sleeping all on her own. OF COURSE she needs your assistance to sleep. Assist her by being with her and doing what she needs, just as you currently are.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:02 AM on January 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You are going to get a bunch of advice about this here and in the world at large. I'd like to weigh in and say that raising children is not a science. We raise our children in many different ways, and many different ways work well. And 'techniques' that work for one kid and one family will not necessarily work for other kids or their families. Personally, I tried several different methods for tring to get my kid to sleep through the night and the one that worked best was waiting until she got older.

In general, I think kids benefit from consistency (but keep in mind that like most people with an opinion about child-rearing - I don't have studies to back up even that very general piece of advice) so, based on opinion not 'fact', I urge you to do what feels most right for you and your partner, especially what allows you to show your child affection and love (which I'm pretty sure are the most important things to impart to your child) and be consistent about your method, whatever it is.
posted by serazin at 11:05 AM on January 20, 2010

Best answer: She will grow out of depending on you for falling asleep. But relish these months! Hold her! There's nothing more dear than a baby sleeping in your arms.

We didn't have our daughter cry it out, and we feel that it was the right decision for us. (Kids are all different, of course.) She is two and a half now, and there are no battles over bedtime, and she does not fear the dark. Is this because of our ever-so-slow transition? I can't say for sure, but we think so.

Also, keep in mind that a child's ability to sleep soundly matures over time. At your daughter's age, ours didn't sleep soundly, either. There is some speculation that sleeping lightly is a good thing for babies who are still in the SIDS-danger age range; perhaps an evolutionary adaptation. Sucks for the parents, though.
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:07 AM on January 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

First, get the No Cry Sleep Solution. I will not be the first to recommend it.

Second, realize that all of the different "solutions" aren't perfect... read a bunch of different books and websites and come up with what works best for your family.

Third, CIO at 6 months is crazy. You're right.

Fourth, IMHO 6 months is a little young for not doing the 2am feeding. If she needs it, I say give in. Consider sidecarring the crib to give your wife a little peace. My large 14 month old still needs to get up at night if he's sick.

Fifth, while AskMe rules, I find that the advice given in LiveJournal's Parenting101 community to come from a much wider range of parents and parenting experiences. The sleep tags alone should be helpful.
posted by k8t at 11:08 AM on January 20, 2010

I don't know your child, so I can only give general advice. Here is my general advice, based on what I have read and what worked for my family:

- Keep in mind that it takes several days for a baby to adjust to any single change, and that you need to make changes very slowly. So, if your pre-bed routine includes 5 things (hypothetically; diaper and pj change, story, rocking, falling asleep in arms, placement in crib), you should change only 1 thing at a time, and keep a span of several days in between changes. Put another way, don't expect success (even within a few days) with a switch from Method A to Method B. You have to gradually switch to Method B, giving time to adapt to each change.

- For my daughter, for the time in her life when she was allowed to have baths, I gave her a lavender bath about 30 minutes before bedtime. Personally, for me, lavender oils/lotions/tea really help me sleep, and my daughter always seemed calmer and sleepier after her "spa time".

- You probably already have ruled this out, but is it possible your daughter has some reflux? If she does, she might get a tummyache lying flat in her crib, and thus vastly prefer the positioning in your arms. My daughter was much more comfortable falling asleep in her crib, once we started using a sleep positioner like this one. It did two things: raised her head a bit, and gave her body a snuggled feel.

- My understanding is that from here going forward, it will only get harder to change habits and not easier. Bite the bullet now, if you choose to work this issue. But, also realize that every baby is different and becomes ready to self-soothe at different times. Your wonderfully gorgeous daughter is no less wonderful if she is not ready to do that yet, nor does it reflect poorly on your skills as a parent. As others have said above, baby sleep is a loaded question with antithetical ideologies (i.e. Ferber/cry it out, co-sleeping, etc., as you seem to have discovered). There's no one perfect trick.
posted by bunnycup at 11:09 AM on January 20, 2010

Best answer: Are you sure you actually have a problem here? I submit that you would probably be happier parents if you tossed the books in the trash. "Sleep training" is a novelty, not some sort of necessity. Rocking your baby is a Good Thing, as is putting your toddler to sleep with stories and cuddles and so on.
posted by kmennie at 11:12 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding the recommedation for a sleep positioner, for the same reason bunnycup gives. This really helped our daugher stay asleep longer.

Another thought - it is normal and even good for a baby to be distressed at being alone. In their little minds, it signals a problem when the caregiver is missing, even if there really isn't a problem. This is the age where out of sight means you disappeared forever. Until the child learns object permanence, it seems cruel to make them scream and cry until they fall asleep from exhaustion, in total despair that their parents are gone. To me, it makes more sense to wait until they understand that you are just in the other room, no panic necessary.

And when you get woken up night after night, remember, This Too Shall Pass, and sooner than you think.
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:18 AM on January 20, 2010

Best answer: We were in the same boat as you well past the first year. We tried everything from No Cry to Ferber - seriously tried them - but nothing really worked until she was ready, which just took a really long time. Trying the training techniques was probably necessary for our own sanity, and may have helped her get there in the end, but accept that they may not work in the short term for your child, and that's normal. Her sleep will get better (and sometimes worse, but mostly better) throughout the first years of life.

At some point everything will come together, but it may take a year or two longer than you think or hope. Try changing things when you want/need to, but also be willing to take a break from "training" and go with what works.
posted by mbrubeck at 11:19 AM on January 20, 2010

I'm sure it is possible that some six-month-olds can be put down*, "sleepy but awake" and fall asleep on their own. My son certainly was not like that. We didn't get any consistent through-the-night sleep until he was at least a year old. And I worried too that we were Doing It Wrong as everyone and every book will have you believe. If I had known that eventually everything would work itself out, I would have worried much less.

She gets up once a night but otherwise sleeps through? That is pretty great for six months old. I know older babies than that who wake several times a night.

*talk to someone who has more than one child about their experiences. every baby really is different.
posted by pinky at 11:21 AM on January 20, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your input so far. It is *really* helpful to get some perspective from other parents and adults.

@bunnycup & knowyournuts: don't think reflux is the issue. she actually prefers sleeping on her belly. in fact, she doesn't sleep on her back at all anymore. once she learned to roll over at @ 3.5 months, she immediately starting flopping from her back to her belly and sleeping hours longer at a stretch.
posted by gnutron at 11:38 AM on January 20, 2010

If you're "not the kind of parent" that can let a baby cry, you may just end up being the kind of parent that has to rock your baby to sleep until she's a teenager. OK, maybe not that bad, but seriously... you're not being heartless when you don't rock her to sleep every night. When it's right for you and the child, stop rocking. When she gets upset, go in and comfort her, let her know you're there and you'll be there, but resist rocking. Stand and hold her as an intermediary step if you must, until she's calm, then put her back down. There is a happy medium between giving in to every little tear and being stone cold heartless. Give her the comfort she needs, and the structure you need.

Every child is different - our second is a polar opposite of the first in almost everything - so when and how you do transitions like this depends on the individual child. But you as a parent have to actually be the parent.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 11:42 AM on January 20, 2010

Best answer: I raised three babies.

If it's not broke, don't fix it. They don't stay babies forever.

I want to cry when I read about some of these folks and their "sleep training." I can't help but wonder if what they are really training their children is that when they are in distress no one will be there for them.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:44 AM on January 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: By the way, the "how to raise a baby" pendulum swings widely back and forth-in my day it was definitely heresy to let a child cry it out. Please trust your own instincts with your child. Every child really is different, and a parent is the only real expert on any particular child.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:46 AM on January 20, 2010

Best answer: It sounds like you tried some of the typical techniques without much luck; personally, I would just go with what she's doing right now and try again in a couple months.

As another alternative, she can learn to soothe herself to NAP and then transfer that skill to nighttime sleeping.

My sleeping-11-hours-with-one-waking baby just became a waking-every-two-hours nightmare at 8 months, from a combination of gas and teething, I think. I'm so sleep-deprived I'm having trouble telling. :) So everything will change every few weeks ANYWAY and maybe if the sleep training isn't taking right now you can try again after a future change.

But I'm a pretty laissez-faire parent, I kinda roll with it and do my best and don't worry too much about ideology or theories. If my son were unable to fall asleep without rocking and later on that became a problem, well, I'd cross that bridge when I came to it. I can only cope with so many crises at once, and needing to be rocked to sleep wouldn't be high on my current list of crises. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:54 AM on January 20, 2010

Best answer: Yes, the majority of sleep training books will disagree with rocking your baby to sleep because they want you to "train" your baby to sleep. Kids will sleep. They've been sleeping for thousands of years. It may take them a little while to grow into it but they'll work it out.

It sounds like your baby is sleeping really well! If you're really not happy with the middle of the night feeding you can try what's called a "dream feeding" before you guys go to bed--rouse her just enough to eat and put her back down but know that that might mean she wakes up earlier in the morning.

I rocked and held my son. He'll be two next month and our bedtime (and naptime) routine consists of snuggling up for stories, a prayer and singing. Sometimes he passes out during the story, sometimes during the songs, but he's always already asleep when I put him down. I've never really regretted it--those are precious times with him.

But your kid may be different. And you guys may be different. Do what is best for all of you.
posted by wallaby at 12:00 PM on January 20, 2010

On reflection, I wanted to add one thing -- whatever you decide to do (rocking to sleep, crying it out, scooting away, whatever), make sure both parents can live with it. I think that's really the only important, non-negotiable point about sleep training or lack thereof. I had been working hard to establish consistent nap times, so that I could plan to run errands and things and make appointments and take mommy and me classes and know when Baby would be asleep; my husband preferred to let him just doze off when he dozed off. We had to come to a meeting of the minds on that because Hubs was undermining my consistent nap times and Baby was getting confused and overtired by having two different parental management strategies instead of a united front.

So as long as you both don't mind rocking him to sleep, I say more power to you. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:16 PM on January 20, 2010

Best answer: I agree that at 6 months, a single night-waking is wonderful, and therefore suggest you subscribe to the If It Ain't Broke theorem. I also wanted to point out that at 6 months, your little one has not yet reached the typical age of "separation anxiety" (around 8 months IIRC), and so if you were to sleep-train, you would probably have to do it all over again once separation anxiety hit. I am not a fan of CIO anyway, but to me this a practical (as opposed to emotional) reason why there's no point sleep training this early anyway. Enjoy your little one and all the snuggles!
posted by Joh at 12:31 PM on January 20, 2010

St. Alia of the Bunnies said, "I can't help but wonder if what they are really training their children is that when they are in distress no one will be there for them."

I strongly agree with that because of my own experience. My two older sisters hated me from my earliest memories. I never told my parents about how abusive they were to me because even at 4 years old, I can remember feeling like I shouldn't bother my mom or dad, and feeling like I was all alone....I had no one to go to. I never did understand why my sisters hated me, and when I was in my thirties and trying to establish a relationship with my oldest sister, I asked her why they had hated me -- was I pest or something? She said no, and said she didn't understand herself why they had hated me. Then she said, "All I can remember is feeling like you had ruined our happy family (I was the third child), because you cried all the time." When she said that, my mind immediately returned to when I gave birth to my first baby, and my mother tried to convince me to let him cry it out (I just couldn't do that, thank God). She said that he needed to cry and be independent and it wouldn't hurt him. Then I remembered reading in a parenting book that babies learn to trust their parents when their parents respond to their cries. I believe that because my well-intentioned and otherwise loving mom left me to cry a lot as a baby, I learned that I was on my own.

Who among us would want to be ignored if we were distressed and alone, crying and helpless? Who among us would treat a friend like that? Why do these "experts" tell us to treat our babies like this? There is ample evidence that responding to babies' cries will make them more secure and eventually, more independent -- not spoil them.

Incidentally, my third child was extremely high-need; he would hardly even sleep without being in my arms. I knew enough by then to meet his needs and make him feel secure, and by age 4, he was my most independent child. He's now in his early adulthood and is doing fine!
posted by onemorething at 4:56 PM on January 20, 2010

I wasted my money completely on a crib; my son hated it and cried whenever I tried putting him in it, and I was doing the getting-up-at-night to rock him and hold him until he fell back to sleep, several times, which left me seriously sleep-deprived. As a single mother this was not good. At the time I had a very close friend who was from another culture, who said "Why don't you see if he will sleep better in bed with you?" She thought it was outlandish that anyone would think it was "wrong" or would somehow "spoil" an infant to co-sleep with a parent or parents. I began taking him into bed with me and found that this worked IMMEDIATELY and that we both slept soundly, and moreover, when he woke for night feedings he barely made any noise (since he felt me nearby), and I simply rolled towards him without fully awakening myself, and let him nurse himself back to sleep. Nighttime nursing ended at around a year, if I recall, and then we both simply slept the night through.

This did not harm him in any way; when he was about 2 1/2 he said something like "I a big boy now, I sleep in MY bed" and that was that (the first night in his "big-boy bed" he asked me to sit with him and hold his hand for a while, by the second night a story, hug, and kiss was sufficient).

He's had no dependency or "mama's boy" issues; he's now 22 and a graduate engineering student 400 miles away.

A little cross-cultural research will show that co-family sleeping is still the norm in the majority of the world. And "let them cry, show 'em who's boss" type of so-called "sleep training" is indeed considered outlandish and cruel in much of the world. Why would anyone prefer to be in a power struggle with a baby, than to just have peace and harmony in a family bed?
posted by RRgal at 7:58 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think that this is such a personal and individual subject, so I'll just add what's worked for us. Our daughter is now 21 months, and we began as co-sleeping parents for the first couple of months. My mother-in-law was staying with us for a while, and began putting our daughter in her crib for naps when we were away... and gradually we found that she slept much better there. We found that swaddling aided the process and helped her sleep for longer stretches. Gradually, she moved to her bed for the night and began sleeping through the night at 3.5 months.
We still rocked her (for naps and bedtime) until around six months. At six months, we began just letting her go to sleep on her own for naps, which moved into bedtime quickly. She never "cried it out"- I think that she was just ready to fall asleep on her own. She's been self-soothing by sucking on fingers for as long as I can remember, and also has a favorite blanket. She sometimes protests when we leave- now asks for cuddles or another story- and also tends to talk to herself for a while before sleep.
I don't think it's necessary for you to let your baby cry it out- just watch her cues, establish a bedtime routine, and soon enough she'll be able to go to sleep on her own. Enjoy this time... sometimes I miss the cuddle-to-sleep routine with my now very independent girl.
posted by mrstrotsky at 8:27 PM on January 20, 2010

If you can stand another anecdote of experience on family bed vs. cribs:
I like what we did; it worked really well for us and our kids. When we put our babies down for a nap (after they were asleep), we put them in their cribs, and we did the same thing when we put them to bed for the night. However, when they woke up in the middle of the night to nurse, we brought them to bed with us, where they stayed for the rest of the night. After they were old enough to be in cribs instead of beds, they were free to come and climb in bed with us if they woke up in the middle of the night, and they would usually stay for the rest of the night.

I liked it this way because my husband and I got a couple or several hours of sleeping just with each other, and then we and the kids got the rest of the night sleeping together -- which my husband I and enjoyed as much as the kids. I feel that all of our needs were met in this way, and no one was deprived. This had the added benefit of the kids waking up to go to the bathroom before they climbed in bed with us -- we had a couple of kids who would wet the bed if they spent the whole night in their own beds.

Another major benefit is that we did not have to force the kids to sleep in their beds when they got older -- it was a natural progression for them, and their beds and bedrooms were cozy and secure places for them to be. I have seen some parents who liked the family bed for a few years, but then as the kids multiplied and grew older & bigger, they wanted the kids out of their bed and it caused a lot of stress and upheaval for parents and kids. That must be hard on kids and confusing, to have been trained to sleep with their parents all night every night from birth, and then suddenly kicked out of the bed before they wanted to be.
posted by onemorething at 6:41 AM on January 21, 2010

As others have suggested, sleep is a topic that parents have so many different experiences with that it's nearly impossible to figure out what's normal or expected not to mention that every parent will approach the topic from a different perspective and with their own set of biases and thoughts.

I'm going to offer a different perspective from what a lot of people have already posted. Babies can be sleep trained and it doesn't have to be the traumatic, horrifying, mentally scarring, trust-destroying procedure that all the arm-waving Dr. Sears fans say it is. It may not be something that you want to do or perhaps even that your daughter is capable of but it certainly is a possibility, but you have to want it to happen.

My daughter, with some loving, attentive help from her parents, was sleeping from 7pm until 6am at 5 months. At 19 months now, she still is happy, secure and confident in her own abilities to put herself to sleep in her crib every night. She is awake when we say night-night to her, kiss her, sing songs with her, and quietly leave her with her nightlight on. She's usually asleep within 5-10 minutes of this, having maybe talked to herself quietly for that time but usually she just drifts off on her own.

Folks who are opposed to sleep training tend to talk about how they think the sleep trainers are doing it just so they, as parents, can sleep more and that the parents' sleep comes at the expense of the child's mental health, attachment to their parents, future happiness, security, and on and on. It's no wonder that parents who have used sleep training techniques are disinclined to discuss their experiences. We're made to feel like bad, selfish, emotionally empty parents by other parents who really have no basis for this. I've found that people who are critical of sleep training have a very misguided notion of what it is when done correctly and also have little understanding of the science of sleep.

Furthermore, I would suggest that parents who do not help their children learn how to sleep could be considered just as self-absorbed and inconsiderate of their child's need as they accuse the sleep trainers to be. Eventually all (most?) kids will sleep on their own. For some, this could be at 6 months and for some this could be at 4 years. The people I know who chose not to sleep train seem to have kids who sleep through the night unassisted by about 3 years old. In my view, it's my responsibility to teach my child lots of different things. Good sleep habits are among them. I could have waited her out but we decided that we wanted our child to sleep more at night and that we wanted her to be happy doing that. Yes, it meant that we got more sleep at night, too, but there is definitely something to be said for well-rested parents. We all function better with a good amount of uninterrupted, calm sleep. Sleep training for us, was not simply put the baby in the crib, walk out the door and put earplugs in. It was a very gradual and incremental process. I would not teach my child to swim by throwing her in the pool and I did not teach my child to put herself to sleep by anything similarly abrupt and frightening. I won't lie and say there were no tears along the way because there certainly was but I also knew the difference between freaked-out terrified cries and just plain angry, this-isn't what-I-want cries. She cried when I wouldn't let her chew on the electrical cord, too, but it's my job as a parent to show her what appropriate behavior is and she may not always like it.

Some may say that babies at 4-5 months have no way of understanding what's going on or of learning. I would suggest otherwise and was constantly amazed at how clearly she understood things. Babies are actually a lot smarter than we give them credit for. They are amazing creatures whose capacity grows every single day.

On the other hand, you may not want her to go to sleep on her own, and that's totally fine but be aware that this may actually be disrupting your child's sleep. I'm always amazed at how often the reason for rocking a child asleep is because the parent LIKE doing it, Sure, it's awesome to snuggle and hold your sleeping child and to watch them fall asleep but I don't always agree that it's in the best interest of the child, especially if you're not there when they wake up every time. It's confusing and strange to fall asleep in your daddy's arms and then wake up in a different room or a different bed. I'd freak out, too. Far better, in my opinion, is to give the child the confidence and ability to fall asleep on her own, knowing that if something bad happens, you will come to them but merely waking up in the middle of the night, is not one of those bad things.

Personally, I think if you can't ever listen to your child cry, then sleep training won't work for you. It's a philosophy that you can choose to follow. However, if you think at some point you're going to want to do some sleep training, I firmly believe that 6 months is plenty old enough and that it will just get more difficult as you child gets older.

And lastly, I will say the dreaded word: Ferber. You may disagree with his approach (though it worked perfectly for us) but the first couple of sections in his book are incredibly interesting and illuminating. They're about sleep in general: the way sleep evolves in infants and the cycles we experience as we sleep. There may be other books that explain this but I know this one and it's east to read and informative. It really helped me understand sleep generally and I really recommend it, if only for that reason.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:56 PM on January 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

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