Home Parenting TipsBabyBaby Sleep Tips The #1 Reason Sleep Training Fails – It’s Not What You Think

The #1 Reason Sleep Training Fails – It’s Not What You Think

by Natalie Nevares

In this guest post, Natalie of Mommywise, shares what she’s learned over the years the top reason sleep training fails. If you’re ready for your baby’s sleep to improve, here’s what you need to know!

When I was a new mom in 2004, I was exhausted and determined to sleep-train my firstborn at 8 weeks old. I know that’s bananas, but my pediatrician gave the green light, I had read all the books and methods, and I was beyond ready to sleep again. I had a plan and contingency plans. But when my plans didn’t work, I was truly shocked. I’m a smart person who is used to succeeding at most things. I had done so much research.  Why didn’t sleep training work for us? Why was my baby still up crying at night? I could go on about all the reasons why sleep training fails but today I’ll share the #1 reason I know from over 12 years of helping families sleep train their babies in their homes.

Sleep training your baby is exceptionally challenging. If you’ve been reading and following sleep training experts online or trying different sleep training methods, you know what I mean. There are so many theories and methods, all promising a sleeping baby in the end. But frankly, most of these theories and methods don’t work because of one fundamental reason – fear of crying. 

Culturally, we think crying is bad. We associate crying with pain, sorrow, and trauma. As parents, we will do whatever it takes to quiet our baby’s tears. Of course we do, it’s natural and normal! But no matter how much we try to stop it, sometimes babies just need to cry. It’s their only form of communication and crying often means, “I’m tired, I need sleep!”

Some tears are inevitable with sleep training, but many of the sleep training methods you’ll find are branded for parents who want to avoid Cry it Out sleep training methods. Brands like the No Cry Sleep Solution, “Gentle” sleep training, the Chair Method, and the Sleep Lady Shuffle – all these methods mislead parents to believe that they’re going to avoid tears while sleep training. But it’s just not true – all babies cry when they’re learning new sleep skills, no matter what method you follow!

baby boy in brown button up shirt
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Why is sleep training not working for my baby?

If your goal is to avoid tears while sleep training, you’re going to get stuck, and there will be more tears than you expect. Perhaps you tried sleep training with intermittent checks, a la Dr. Richard Ferber. What happened? Let me guess. Every time you went in and out of their nursery, your baby cried harder and harder until you gave in and ended up soothing your baby to sleep. Or maybe your baby eventually fell asleep crying, only to wake up crying 40 minutes later. There are SO many tears, most parents give up at 3 am and either soothe their baby back to sleep or end up with the baby in their bed because they feel terrible about letting their baby cry for so long. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone! 

“What happens when sleep training doesn’t work?”

I know from my own personal experience that when sleep training doesn’t work, we blame ourselves. We feel guilty, and defeated, and worry that we’ll never sleep again. We may try a few different sleep training solutions, but repeated failure makes you feel even worse. If this is you, here’s my suggestion: take a break from sleep training and do whatever you need to do to get a little extra sleep before you try something new. All of you probably need a break!

“Is it really okay to let my baby cry?”

When we explain to parents that all babies cry during sleep training and there’s really no way to avoid it, the most common question parents ask is, how long should we let our baby cry? The answer isn’t so easy because you have to first allow your baby to cry without jumping to shush their tears out of habit or fear. From there, you have to study your baby’s body language and voice and try to rationally assess if they actually need something from you, or if their cries are just normal learning how to self-soothe cries. If the latter, then you can try giving them more time to settle.

What I’ve learned over the years about crying and sleep training comes down to this: all crying is not bad. Allowing your baby to speak when they’re tired and frustrated isn’t harmful. The short-term discomfort with crying during sleep training is an opportunity to get to know your baby, understand their habits and needs, and learn how and when to respond to them thoughtfully when they need something from you. 

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nancy william March 11, 2023 - 7:40 am

It’s great to see someone addressing the misconceptions around sleep training for babies. It’s understandable that parents may want to avoid their baby crying, but sometimes it’s necessary for their development and well-being. Thank you for sharing your personal experience and expertise on the #1 reason why sleep training fails – the fear of crying. Your insights will surely help many parents navigate the challenges of sleep training and ensure their little ones get the rest they need.

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