Sleep training just means giving baby a gentle push to fall asleep in his or her crib independently. Baby wakes naturally throughout the night and if he or she needs you to rock, feed, shush or bounce him or her to go back to sleep, he or she's going to keep waking you up to do that. The idea is to get him or her not to need that any more. How you get to that point is up to you. A few (of many) methods:
Go with the flow: Jodi Mindell, the associate director of the Sleep Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says the quick-and-dirty approach is to put baby to bed while still awake but tired and then check on him or her periodically. Check as frequently as you wish—there's no magic number of how long to wait—but don’t do your usual rocking, feeding, shushing or bouncing. Within three to five nights, you're bound to see a dramatic improvement in the bedtime routine.
Be consistent: The thing that’s hardest for some parents is baby’s resistance. Baby may shed some tears about the change, but in order for the training to work, you may have to let him or her cry a little. When you check on baby, it's better do it consistently, rather than waiting until he or she really cranks up the tears. If you wait until then, you're showing him or her that if he or she screams really loud, you'll come. When you check in, just reassure him or her quietly and then leave—"It's night-night time. I love you. See you in the morning." We’re not saying you need to leave baby alone all night—it's too painful for everyone, and you’d worry about baby too much.
Use a timer: Richard Ferber, MD, associated with the “Ferberization” method of sleep training, advocates a similar but slightly stricter approach. After you put baby to bed, leave the room. Return at different intervals—5, 10 and 20 minutes, even if baby is crying—making him or her wait longer each night.
Hover at bedtime: Need a slower method? For three nights, sit next to the crib until baby falls asleep, then do three nights across the room, then in the doorway, and then in the hallway. The methods bring you to the same place; it's just about how quickly you want to do it.
Of course, what works for every baby is different. Here’s how a few Bumpies sleep trained:
“We did a graduated method of ‘cry it out’ where we checked on the baby every five to 10 minutes around eight months, and that seemed to work. He's 21 months now and sleeps through the night consistently. He still doesn't really like going to bed though.” —Maebb
“We did Ferber's method (going in at intervals to comfort) from his book Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems for naps at 4.5 months. I did straight ‘cry it out’ at night at 6.5 months. Both were relatively painless without hours of crying, and I would do it again.” —Flip-flops
“We did sleep training, but we always just let him lead the way. He would wake up often in the night, and we would feed him if we couldn't get him back to sleep by just comforting him. At four months he learned to roll to his stomach, and once he started preferring to sleep on his tummy, he slept much better. We slowly started pushing his nighttime feeding back longer and longer until he was consistently making it until 5 a.m.” —Linzee