Can you sleep train a baby without leaving him to cry it out? Sleep training is a very controversial topic, especially when it comes to letting babies work it out on their own. Long range studies have shown that letting a baby cry at increasing intervals does not negatively affect future development; nevertheless, some families are not comfortable with these kinds of methods. What’s most important is that parents choose a model that aligns with their personal values and what they feel is best for their children. But will forgoing cry methods leave parents with no choice but to suffer from sleep deprivation for years? Maybe not.
You can help a baby develop independent sleep skills without shutting the door on them as they cry, but there are several very important caveats to consider if it’s going to actually work.
First of all, a “no-cry” method doesn’t mean there won’t be any crying. It means that there won’t be any ignoring the baby’s crying while leaving him alone. All babies cry sometimes, no matter what we do. Crying is one of babies’ main forms of communication. Parents who are uncomfortable with crying it out want to be able to respond to cries, and that is what “no-cry” refers to.
When it comes to sleep training, parents need to use one hundred percent consistency to be effective. Inconsistency is the primary cause of sleep training failures. The gentler the method, the longer it generally takes to work. So a method without crying it out will take an investment of time where parents will need to work hard and keep to their plan. This can be difficult, but it is important to understand if you’re planning to try gentle sleep training. A “hardcore” method works in 3-7 days, while a gentle method may take up to several weeks to pay off.
Getting the schedule (or wake times for babies under six months) right for a child’s developmental level and personal needs will go a long way towards helping any baby sleep well. The same goes for promoting independent sleep by putting the baby to bed while still awake whenever possible from the start. These efforts should really come first, no matter what sleep training approach you take.
For parents who are committed to responding to all of their little one’s cries, there are a few options. Crying in Arms refers to holding and comforting the child while helping them adjust to sleeping without rocking, nursing, or another sleep prop. Shush/Pat (Tracy Hogg) has the adult rhythmically pat the baby’s back while making a shushing sound. This approach is for young infants who can’t process both sensations and cry at the same time. If they’ve outgrown Shush/Pat, Pick Up/Put Down (Tracy Hogg) can instead be used. The adult picks up the crying baby and waits until he stops crying but hasn’t yet fallen asleep to put him down again.
Families who would like to stay gentle but are ok with minimal crying can use the Controlled Crying with very short intervals. With controlled crying, parents do leave the baby but return at set times to comfort before leaving again. The intervals can be set or they can increase incrementally.
A plan known as the Chair Method might fit into either category. With this strategy, the parent sits by the crib as the baby falls asleep and moves farther and farther away each night until they reach the door. The Chair Method can be considered no-cry because the parent never leaves the baby alone crying, but some will view this approach as low-cry because the parent does not respond directly to the cries.
So, is there a gentle way to help babies sleep? We can’t say a baby won’t cry, but we can promise that you can help a baby to sleep without leaving them alone. Gentler methods will take more time and require more patience and persistence, but they do work. Ultimately, families who aren’t comfortable with crying it out can help baby and parents get the rest they need.