What Is Baby Sleep Training & Is It Safe?

There are numerous concerns when it comes to sleep training which we’ll explore throughout this article. However, it’s important to recognise that not all techniques are about leaving your baby to fend for themselves and not all come with attached risks.

For example, sleep training can involve the simple creation of a consistent bedtime routine. There are ‘no-cry’ techniques too – gentle, soothing practises that gradually build up your little one’s ability to sleep without you nearby. On the other hand, there are more contentious techniques, like ‘cry-it-out’ also known as the extinction and Ferber methods.

What’s most important is to recognise the difference between contentious methods and more gentle sleep training which is often considered wise and even recommended by health professionals:

Many sleep experts suggest ‘gradual retreat’ as a no-cry method of sleep training. Put your baby down to sleep while she’s drowsy but awake. Instead of leaving your baby’s room, stay by her cot until she falls asleep, patting and stroking her whenever she needs reassurance. Over the course of a few nights, gradually move further away from her cot until you find that your baby can fall asleep without you being in the room with her.

However, there are risks associated with sleep training, especially if started too early. Generally, advice centres around three concepts:

  1. Do not encourage your baby to sleep for longer than is recommended, including both in terms of total hours per day and the duration of each sleep phase.
  2. The aim of sleep training is to encourage your little one to sleep alone. While this is a skill that we all need to learn, it isn’t something we should learn before we are ready. Research into SIDS risk factors identifies that babies who sleep alone, especially under 6 months, have a significantly increased chance of SIDS compared to those who sleep in the same room as a parent.
  3. Longer phases of sleep during the night reduce opportunities for breastfeeding. This is not recommended as it can reduce a mother’s milk supply.

If you have any doubts or concerns about your baby’s sleep routine, speak to your GP or health visitor. You must also stick to NHS Safe Sleep Guidance:

  • Place your baby on their back to sleep, in a cot in the same room as you, for the first 6 months
  • Keep your baby’s head uncovered – their blanket should be tucked in no higher than their shoulders
  • Place your baby in the ‘feet-to-foot’ position, with their feet at the end of the cot or moses basket
  • Don’t let your baby get too hot or cold
  • Don’t share a bed with your baby
  • Never sleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair
  • Don’t smoke during pregnancy or breastfeeding, and don’t let anyone smoke in the same room as your baby

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