Why you should Sleep Train your Baby & How to do it

Don’t we all want our babies to just sleep without us having to rock/bounce/shush/sing/breastfeed for an hour (sometimes hours!)?  Well, that’s how I felt, anyway.

I had one easy baby, one very colicky baby and another fussy baby.

I never knew anything about sleep training back when my kids were born, but as I look back I realise I actually did sleep train.

When our daughter was born we lived with Richard’s parents and did not have a room for the baby.  In my ignorance I rocked her to sleep every night because I didn’t want her crying to disturb my in-laws (I also didn’t think I could just put her down to sleep.) 

After 6 months we moved into our own house and I decided that I was done with the rocking.  So the first night I put her in her cot in her own room after kissing and cuddling her, and then walked out the room. 

Oh my. She cried for an hour and I felt terrible, but I knew that I needed to change the habit we had created of rocking her to sleep so I stayed away. It was hard! The next night I did the same, but she cried for less time and the third night she cried even less. Within a week she was going to sleep on her own. 

Then came baby no 2. He was so colicky that he spent a lot of time at night sleeping on my chest those first couple of months. (He seemed to do fine during the day). But as he outgrew the colic I began putting him down to sleep while he was still awake.

Baby no 3 was fussy but I made sure I didn’t make the mistake of rocking him to sleep either. As the kids grew older I never had to lie with them to get them to sleep. I had a fixed bedtime routine that we did every night and once they were in bed, they stayed there.  

It all boiled down to what I was prepared to tolerate, and for me, I just knew that bedtime needed to be a clear cut thing so that I could have time for myself – so I could be a better mom. 

This brings me to an important parenting principle:

You get what you tolerate.

Your child will meet your expectations.

  • What do you expect or want from your child with regard to sleep?
  • Do you expect him/her to sleep on their own? If so, when should they start?
  • Do you expect them to keep waking you for the next three years? When will you start changing this?
  • If you expect your baby to learn to go to sleep on their own, what are you doing now to work towards that?

For each parent it will be different, but my expectations were that I wanted my kids to be able to go to sleep on their own, without me rocking, shushing, or lying with them every night.

So that’s what I worked towards.   

What is sleep training?

Sleep training is teaching your baby to fall asleep without help from you.

The goal of sleep training

The aim of sleep training is for your baby to be comfortable falling asleep and sleeping for several hours through the night on their own. If they wake up, they’ll learn to self-soothe and fall back asleep.

Why is sleep training important?

Sleep training is important for a number of reasons:

  • It gives you time for yourself. As more children come along time becomes a precious commodity.  You want to be able to put your kids to bed and know they will stay there.
  • You get to sleep more! When you sleep more life doesn’t seem so overwhelming.  You can cope better with the crying, laundry, teething and all the other joys of parenting.
  • It gives you time as a couple.  Kids place a fair amount of strain on a marriage and having time as a couple is vital.  Take care of this relationship, it is the primary one in a family.   
  • It teaches a child to comfort themselves – an important life skill.
  • It teaches healthy independence from a young age.  

What are the negatives of sleep training?

Here are some common ideas about drawbacks to sleep training.

Psychological damage

You may be wondering if sleep training is going to damage your child psychologically or emotionally.  Search the net and you will find opinions on both sides.  I’m not going to get into that debate here, but from what I’ve read, those opposed to sleep training seem to be of the mind that babies know what is best for themselves and that because sleep training doesn’t feel good to a parent, that means it’s wrong.  

But good parenting isn’t about the parent feeling good. It’s about doing what is best for the child in the long run. Sometimes we have to not consult our feelings. As the parent, you are in charge, not your baby.  You decide what goes down.

It’s selfish

Some people argue that sleep training is selfish (benefits the parent only). But, what’s selfish about having time to do all those “selfish” things that help you be a better parent?

  • time to read your Bible in the evening
  • doing laundry
  • wiping up food and puke spills
  • washing dishes
  • maybe brushing your teeth or trimming your fingernails
  • planning the next day  

You’re depriving your child of comfort

Nope.  You hug and kiss and cuddle and comfort all day long. Your baby is getting enough love and cuddles during the day to satisfy those needs.

Related: Should you co-sleep with your child?

What is the most effective sleep training method?

Boiled down to its essence, it’s the one you are perfectly clear about in your head. So do your research, know what your expectations are, and then do what you need to do.

Before you actually sleep train there are a few things you should get down:

  • Be sure your baby is old enough (at least 3 months) but don’t wait that long to start.  Make independent sleeping your goal and take baby steps (‘scuse the pun) toward that.  
  • Don’t start any habits you won’t be prepared to continue later on – like having white noise (a fan), music, rocking, or breastfeeding.  Constantly aim for independent sleeping. 
  • Establish a daily routine.  When your baby naps regularly, eats at regular intervals, and has regular awake time she/he will be more restful and secure.
  • Establish a bedtime routine.  Supper, bath, brushing teeth (if they have any), story time, prayers, bed-time. Do the same thing every single night.  Babies learn by repetition and they soon learn to know what to expect next.

Now that you have that down, it’s time to put your baby to bed.



 For little babies you focus on drowsy but awake.  After 6 months make sure your baby is ready to sleep but still awake.  This allows your baby to do all the work of getting from sleepy to sleeping all by himself.

 There are a number of methods to try. (They all involve crying. But just because a child cries does not mean you are doing the wrong thing.) 

The Bible reminds us that crying isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

“Chasten (discipline) thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.”  Proverbs 19:18

Here are four sleep training options for you to consider:

Pick Up/Put Down

Pretty self-explanatory.  You put your baby down and walk out the room.  Wait a few minutes (you decide how long) and then go in and pick your baby up, comfort her and calm her and then put her back down. Do this at regular intervals, extending the time between each pick up. 

You could see this method as prolonging the inevitable. But give it a try.

Chair Method or Fading

You sit in the room with your baby while he is in his crib. No pick-ups.  Your presence is a reassurance that you are there. (Sounds like torture for the parent…)

Controlled Comforting or Ferber method

This method involves going into your baby’s room and comforting your baby.  You don’t pick her up but you can shush, pat, say comforting things, but only for 1 minute then you leave the room again.  Don’t wait for your baby to calm down, just reassure her (and yourself 😉 )

Extinction or Cry-it-out

This is the cold-turkey, rip-the-band-aid-off method. It’s fast and the pain is short-lived.

You put your child to bed and don’t respond to their crying and wait for them to fall asleep on their own. 

This is the method I unknowingly used and while it seems harsh it may work the quickest! It’s something like giving up chocolate – better to give it up completely than to keep having one less each day and gradually cutting it out.  In my mind this method is the shortest route to the goal.

When to start sleep training

I think this is a personal thing. Experts say wait until your baby is 3-4 months, but I believe each child will be different.

Prayerfully consider what is best for you and your baby.

When my cousin was born the Doctor told my aunt not to feed him at night, that he should sleep at night and he would make up with feeds during the day. So she took him home and didn’t feed him at night. And he slept through the night from the word go. He grew to be a solid, strong boy.

Sounds like a dream! But let’s be real – it’s probably not going to work for everyone. However, you can decide what you are prepared to live with.  

Begin with the end in mind – you are aiming for independent sleeping habits. Just keep working towards that.

Related: How to discipline your baby or toddler

For more on sleep training read:

The Basics

Science confirms

Sleep training

What are your thoughts about sleep training?  Has it worked for you? Did you try it and give up because it was too hard?

About The Author

Jennifer Lovemore

Jennifer has three grown kids and is married to her best friend, Richard. She started this website as a platform to help families, and specifically women, to take control of their lives and grow themselves spiritually, mentally & emotionally, and to discover their God-given purpose and live it out with confidence. She is a trained Life Coach and has diplomas in relationship counselling and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). She is a certified SYMBIS (Save Your Marriage Before It Starts) facilitator. She lives in sunny South Africa.

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