Okay, so I have been at this sleep coaching thing now for a few years, and over and over I hear parents tell me over our initial call, "we have tried everything" and "nothing works". And in reality, these parents have tried a lot, however they commonly are making the same mistakes.
Trust me, I get it. My first child I "sleep trained" on my own by scouring the internet, reading books and asking friends (and strangers for that matter). Everything I was told seemed contradictory and people has VERY strong opinions on the matter. The entire time we were working on sleep I kept thinking "there has got to be a better way". This thought ultimately led me down the path to become certified in sleep coaching, but that is a story for another day. The point is, it's no wonder that it's difficult, the whole thing is confusing.
So, I am here to discuss some of the most common mistakes I see parents making when it comes to sleep training their babies and children. Not to make parents feel bad about their mistakes, but rather to help them continue on their sleep training journey and see success.
So here we go...
Not being ready. It is so important for both parents to be ready when making sleep changes. It is always a concern of mine when one parent is ready to embark on sleep training and the other is against it. Things will be much smoother, when everyone is on the same page.
Not having a plan ahead of time. Without a clear plan of action, it is easy to second guess yourself. This leaves a lot of room for inconsistency and confusion leading to frustration. You need to know exactly what steps you will take when your child wakes in the night, otherwise you may be feeling overwhelmed about if you are doing the right thing at 2:00 when your baby wakes up crying. This lack of confidence will no doubt be picked up by your child and if you aren't confident in your actions, your baby will likely feel insecure in the changes as well.
Picking a sleep training method that doesn't fit your parenting philosophy. Cry it out isn't for everyone. Camping out isn't for everyone. Again, if you don't feel secure in your methods, it is going to be next to impossible to follow through. Don't pick a method solely because it worked for your friend, make sure it feels right for your family.
Not giving it enough time. Changes take time and consistency. Many times parents try something for a night or two, don't see significant progress, so they ditch the plan and try something else. Imagine you decide to eat healthy for a day, get on the scale and you haven't lost any weight so you then decide healthy eating doesn't work? Yeah, it's kinda like that.
Drowsy but awake. I know there are sleep trainers and influencers out there who preach drowsy but awake. If this works for you baby, great! However, I find that this tends to stop working well for many babies after the newborn stage. Parents are then left wondering "why does my baby wake up 45 minutes after I put them down" or "why do I need to rock my baby back to sleep 2 times during the night still"? If this is you, it's time to transition from the "drowsy but awake" method to the "wide awake but able to fall asleep independently" method. If your baby depends on you to get them drowsy, you have already done half of the work for them to get to sleep. That means when they wake up in the night, they may very well want you to recreate that drowsy for them again and again.
Not working on night and day together. I believe that in most cases, sleep training should include night training and nap training at the same time. Expecting your child to learn a new way to fall asleep at night but then allowing them to continue to sleep with assistance during the day is no doubt confusing for the child most of the time. They don't understand why sometimes they are fed to sleep and other times they are made to fall asleep on their own. This confusion is likely going to led to more protest in the form of crying.
Not following age appropriate wake windows. An overtired baby is going to struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep. A baby who does not have enough sleep pressure (not enough wake time) will struggle to fall asleep or will wake up after a short sleep. Know appropriate wake windows for your child's age (there is a free download on my website home page).
Ditching the plan due to travel, illness, teething...Parents often tell me they stopped the plan because their child was teething. Well, hate to break it to you, but your child will be teething until they are at around 2 years old. Other common complaints are that their child got sick, or they traveled, therefore they brought their child back into their bed. While there are times when you may need to be flexible in sleep, completely going back to where you were before sleep training will leave you... well, where you were before sleep training. Especially if these exceptions are made early on in building sleep skills. While teething, illness and travel very well may require some extra support and comforting for your child, it is important to not go back to relying on sleep props to help your baby to sleep in these instances as much as is possible.
Hopefully this helps you to avoid pitfalls in your sleep training journey. If you read this thinking "great Marin, I know what not to do, but I still don't know where to start", then let's chat about your baby and discuss how I can create a plan of action for your family.