What is the Right Age to Sleep Train your Baby?
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I’ve seen this question asked plenty of times.
“What is the right age to sleep train your baby?”
I’ve also seen it answered in many different ways. Some say never, others say from 4 months onwards, and then many default to “ask your paediatrician”.
I have a different answer entirely, which isn’t really all that popular if I’m being honest.
However, I would urge you to hear me out before raising your eyebrows in horror. Interested in what I have to say about when to start sleep training your baby?
Well, keep reading.
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There is No Right Age
Yep, there’s no right age. There’s also no wrong age.
When and if you choose to decide to sleep train your child is entirely up to your discretion as their parent. I will be the first to put up my hand and say that I started sleep training my babies from almost day one.
I think the image that often pops into people’s heads when they hear that is essentially a brand new baby being left to cry for hours at a time.
That simply isn’t true.
In fact, for the first couple of weeks, unless my babies were just generally fussy, they didn’t cry much at all. Whether they were in my arms or not. Although to be fair, I also hold my newborns A LOT for a least the first 3 weeks. Mainly because who can resist?!
But, I do sleep train from very early on. For us, that doesn’t involve much if any crying, but even if it did, there’s actually no research to show that it would be damaging in any way.
Another misconception is that sleep training means weaning as well. This is also false.
In some cases, parents do wean and sleep train at the same time, but they are completely separate issues and can definitely be treated as such.
Listed below are two very interesting studies:
- Five-Year Follow-up of Harms and Benefits of Behavioral Infant Sleep Intervention: Randomized Trial
- Behavioral Interventions for Infant Sleep Problems: A Randomized Controlled Trial
While both have some flaws in their methodology, they are the best and most accurate sleep training studies that have been conducted in recent times. They were able to conclude that there were no negative results seen from sleep training methods being used.
The one study that is often thrown about to show the ‘damaging’ effects of sleep training was one that was conducted in an orphanage where babies were neglected and also left to cry for hours on end.
I think that we can all agree that an orphanage where children are neglected is a pretty stark contrast to a loving home where parents are working to meet the needs of their baby.
In short, there are no studies that can prove that sleep training is damaging. There are also no studies that can show that waiting until a certain age is right or wrong.
Yes, there are plenty of clinicians that have opinions on the matter, but none of those opinions are based on actual scientific studies.
Even with all of this information, parents may still feel uncomfortable about the idea of expecting a newborn to learn independent sleep skills. That is where my second point comes in.
Understand What Sleep Training Is
Sleep training is such a big subject.
It is also one that incites a lot of controversy. I feel as though this is because the definition of sleep training is very broad and often up to your own personal interpretation.
For some, sleep training is the same as the cry-it-out method. That’s it. That is all they think of when someone brings up the term.
Others realise that while cry-it-out is used, it is not an actual method. In fact, there are many methods that come under the banner of sleep training which use cry-it-out. However, cry-it-out is not in and of itself a sleep training method.
Just leaving your baby to cry for hours isn’t a method of any kind and I can understand why people take issue with that.
You can read more about the definition of sleep training in this post –> A Simple Explanation of What Sleep Training Actually Is
Most parents who make an informed decision to sleep train their baby don’t just leave their baby to cry. There is an actual method that is put into practice.
You’ll also find that almost all sleep training methods advocate for establishing an age-appropriate routine before attempting any form of cry-it-out.
And then you’ll see in the post that I linked above that sleep training goes well beyond just teaching your child to self-soothe.
Sleep training can start at day one by simply working on establishing healthy sleep habits. Those can be formed with flexibility and care from parents.
There is no one-size-fits-all.
If you can understand that sleep training can, in fact, be done gently and in a way that considers the individual needs of your baby, then the concept of starting it from birth isn’t all that horrendous at all.
Evaluate Your Child
When it comes to deciding on the right age to start sleep training, it really does come down to your parental judgement.
No one knows your child like you do.
Each family situation is different. Personalities are different, values are different. And of course, there are health needs that also require consideration.
Don’t take the opinions of others too seriously when it comes to deciding what is best for your child. This is actually going to apply to many parts of parenting.
Potty training, screentime, the transition from crib to bed, introducing solids…
All of these are subjects on which people have opinions on. Some of which are very strong. At the end of the day, the only obligation you have as a parent is to do your best with the information that you have.
If You Want to Start from Day One
So what if you do want to start from day one? What is the correct way to go about it?
Well, in my opinion, working on establishing healthy sleep habits is your first goal. How you decide to do that is completely up to you.
I’ve used them together as well as parts of other sleep training methods. And I’ve even tailored all of those depending on the needs of each of my children.
I have a post about how to start Babywise early here –> How to Start Babywise from Day One
As well as a post about how to be successful with sleep training –> The 3 Things You Need to Be Successful With Sleep Training
Another great resource I would recommend is actually a Facebook group called Respectful Sleep Training/Learning. You can find a lot of information about sleep training, the methods available, as well as support from other parents.
At the end of the day, I would love parents to be able to choose what they feel is appropriate for their child regardless of the opinion of others.
Scientifically, there is no right or wrong age at which to sleep train a child. Do I think sleep training a child is a good thing? Yes.
However, I also have no issue with parents who choose not to do so. We live in a free world and I would loathe the day when we’re forced to conform to one standard based on the opinions of others.
Sleep train or don’t. Start early or wait until later.
The decision is entirely in your hands and can be made with zero guilt.