Ask the Experts: Sleep Training

A baby's cry
is a baby's language,

designed for the survival of the baby
and for the development of the mother.

It is the only way babies have
of communicating their needs.

The key is to learn how to listen.
~ Dr. Johnson
[developmental psychologist and friend of Dr. Sears]

By Dr. Linda Folden Palmer


Please help! I feel so alone! Everyone keeps telling me to use some version of the cry-it-out routine to teach our three-month-old to sleep. It just feels so wrong and insensitive! We have been cosleeping since he was born. He seemed to be sleeping just fine until he was about two-and-a-half-months-old. Now he awakens much more frequently, and it seems to take longer and longer to put him down for naps and for the night. Now he's screeching and screaming for up to an hour each time we try to put him to sleep. We rock him until he's asleep which is physically quite tiresome for us now! I can't help but think we're doing something very wrong, but I don't want to believe that cry-it-out is the answer! I should also mention that we live in a studio apartment, so cry-it-out would be almost impossible. Are there methods of sleep training I can use that don't involve leaving him alone? Or is it true—against my instinct—that it's necessary for him to cry and self-soothe?


Self-soothe sounds so peaceful. Or is it falling asleep from sheer exhaustion and eventually learning that your parents are not always there for you? How frustrating that must be when one is helpless themselves; and this learned attitude can backfire when they are teenagers - a time when you want them to trust and confide in you.

Babies are designed to nurse to sleep, and nurse back to sleep during night feedings snuggled up next to mom. (Babies can be nursed with a bottle, too.) It sounds as though this isn't working? Or has someone convinced you not to do this? Don't worry, this fussy waking is common and it will pass.

Do make sure you aren't having unrealistic expectations about how early baby should fall asleep or how many hours a day he needs. When we hear these reports of babies sleeping for 14 total hours a day, it usually means they're in their crib for that long, whether crying, sleeping, or staring at the ceiling.

Desiring rocking is also a deeply embedded instinct. It sounds as though your baby really needs this. Yes, it can get very tiring. In the absence of aunts and light-sleeping grandparents conveniently accessible around the village, some of us learn to cheat, and I think it's okay as long as baby and parents are both getting what they need, like some sleep and comfort. Electric swings, vibrating chairs, and well-timed car rides can all be effective for many babies.

Make sure that baby is not fussing out of discomfort. Is he gassy? Rashes? Watery or mucousy stools? He could simply be intolerant to some foods in your diet (cow's milk, nuts and soy are the three most common culprits). If you're sure this is not the case, then know that this is just a phase and do what you can to find the time and energy to help him sleep. They are tiny for such a very short time. You will be missing these days much more, and much sooner, than you think. Please follow your instincts and your heart. They're there for a reason.


For more on 'sleep training,' 'crying it out' (CIO) and 'controlled crying', see:


*The No-Cry Sleep Solution
*The Baby Sleep Book
*Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering
*The Baby Bond
*Natural Family Living
*The Baby Book
*The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost
*Baby Matters
*Attachment Parenting: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding & Nurturing Your Baby
*Primal Health: Understanding the Critical Period Between Conception and the First Birthday
*The Attachment Connection: Parenting A Secure & Confident Child
*Attachment Parenting: Instinctive Care for Your Baby & Young Child
*Mothering Magazine


Excessive Crying Harmful to Babies

Being Wise to Babywise [advocates for CIO, 'controlled crying' and 'sleep training']

The Dangers of Leaving Baby to Cry It Out (CIO)

Crying It Out Causes Brain Damage

Dangers of Your Baby 'Crying It Out'

The Cons of Controlled Crying

Healthy Infant Sleep

Should Baby Soothe Himself to Sleep?

Sleeping Through the Night

The No-Cry Sleep Solution

Biological Imperatives: Why Babies Do Not and Should Not Sleep Alone

Where Should Babies Sleep at Night? A Review of Evidence

Sleeping Like a Baby

10 Reasons to Sleep by Your Baby

Breastfeeding, Nightwaking: Protection from SIDS

Solitary or Shared Sleep: What is Safe?

Babies Not Designed to Sleep Alone

Baby Sleep: A Review of Research [with links to articles]

Train Up a Child in the Way He Should Go

Primal Love & Mothering

Night Time Parenting: A Practical Approach for the Reduction of Attachment Disorders and the Promotion of Emotionally Secure Children


Co-Sleeping vs. Crib Fact & Statistic Sheet

Baby Sleep Institute and McKenna Library of Research

To connect with other parents and get in on Sleep Forums:

1 comment:

  1. Can you help us? We have been co-sleeping for eleven months now, except there is little sleeping! Every two hours (sometimes less, rarely more) our baby wakes up fully and he is a screamer! We have tried different methods to get him to stay asleep, but nothing works! We are exhausted and angry and sad and often ready to CIO. Even if he is latched on to me he still stirs every couple of hours (he just doesn't wake and scream). I cannot sleep with him latched on for long. No matter how many pillows I use, it hurts my neck and back and I cannot sleep enough to survive. Some nights he won't sleep but wakes constantly (every half hour) and screams for hours, even though we ARE HOLDING him, cuddling him, rocking him, singing to him, anything we can THE WHOLE TIME. He arches his back, writhes around and will not be comforted (the only comfort to him is nursing). Husband has done everything he can to take the baby (since the beginning!) and help him/us sleep. Baby has primary attachments to both of us. Why oh why can't he sleep? We have done everything! He is healthy, no illnesses. We can't even figure out when he is teething because he always acts like babies do (as other people describe it) when teething. We know he is not manipulative or a monster, but sheesh! It feels like we have a little monster. We don't ask much, but can we please get a four hour stretch? Then a waking, a nursing and another four hour stretch? Please???? Can you give us advice?



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