I LOVE this question and the conversation that comes with it. I hope by sharing my experience it will help some tired mamas out there that are struggling and thinking that sleep training isn’t working for them to feel encouraged and to know that independent sleep IS possible!
First off let me start by saying that I’ve been an NCS ( Newborn Care Specialist) and sleep coach for 12 years now and worked with hundreds of families and I can honestly say that I can count on one hand the number of times that sleep training hasn’t worked. ( And I don’t even need ALL FIVE fingers!) Let’s look at some of the reasons why sleep training doesn’t work and how to resolve it.
Reason #1. You don’t have a clear plan
You don’t have a clear plan that involves all the moving pieces that are involved in a comprehensive sleep training plan. One that you can implement confidently and with consistency. This alone will cause you to second guess yourself at every turn and throw in the towel if things get tough and your baby isn’t progressing as you had hoped. You will start to feel REALLY insecure about your decision to sleep train and start doubting yourself in a HUGE way. Your baby senses this lack of confidence and protesting increases. Increased protesting causes you to rescue your child and stop the training rather than stay on the plan and simply pivot. Tweaking the plan at some level is something that you need to know how to do.
This is the parent that has read some books, watched some Youtube videos, and read some blog posts and is going to try and do it on her own. Unfortunately, there are usually pieces missing from the sleep training puzzle, and those pieces, depending on what they are, can cause sleep training to fail.
Reason #2. Your timing is off for naps and bedtime
Your timing is off for naps and bedtime which will result in an overtired baby. This is one part of the puzzle that many parents miss. An overtired baby will PROTEST like crazy when laid down to sleep. Most parents keep their baby up for WAY too long as a general rule. This makes for a sleep disaster!
Reason #3. Your child needs a different method than the one you’re using.
Your child needs a different method than the one you’re using. There are several sleep training methods and there are SEVERAL factors to consider and understand BEFORE beginning sleep training. One of them is your child’s overall temperament, another is your child’s age and how long the prior sleep habits have been going on. The third is the parent’s overall beliefs and values surrounding sleep and parenting in general.
A co-sleeping 9-month-old is going to need a different method than a 5-month-old who’s never seen her parents’ bed. You also have to consider mom and dad’s (but mainly mom’s) ability to cope and overall disposition/mental health. This will play a large role in how the baby takes to sleep training. A baby that is in a home that has practiced attachment parenting and now mom has hit a wall and is desperate for sleep, is going to need a method that takes things VERY slowly. You’re going to have to make small shifts over time to get the baby used to independent sleep.
If that attachment style parenting is also coupled with a more sensitive or high-need baby, well now you’ve got yourself a situation that 100% is going to require a seasoned sleep consultant to guide you. This support will ensure that you can come out on the other side successfully. Deciding to attempt sleep training on your own in this situation is a recipe for failure. This is where having a guide is the difference between a total fail and a total success! It simply takes longer for these babies to adjust to new routines but progress is possible and long-term success can be achieved.
Reason #4. Your baby has an underlying medical condition that has not yet been diagnosed.
Your baby has an underlying medical condition that has not yet been diagnosed. While this doesn’t happen often, it does happen. The silver lining is that if you’re working with a sleep coach she can advise you to see your ped for a referral to an OT for an evaluation if your child is old enough. When working with an expert we have enough experience with what’s “normal” that it can allow other issues to come to the surface and be addressed much sooner than if you didn’t have that second set of eyes.
MY OWN experience with sleep training failure.
I have two sleep failures that come to the top of my mind when I think about my past 12 years working with families. And BOTH failures happened in the first 3-4 years as a sleep coach. The commonalities that both these babies had was that they were both in families with attachment-style parents, and one was VERY high need. Here’s why both of those were failures for me at the time. I did not take into consideration the disposition of these babies and how SLOW the sleep training needed to go. The advice I gave was not right for those individual babies and their prior sleeping arrangements along with their temperament made for babies that would need many weeks or months to adjust to independent sleep. Those babies needed a method, that at that time I was not educated or seasoned enough to give.
So what do you do if sleep training ISN’T working??
First off, I would suggest reaching out for a free call with me. If I can give you some tweaks to implement I am happy to do that! Sometimes some small tweaks are all that is needed to help your baby turn the corner. If you need more comprehensive changes I will give you your best options for how we can work together.
If you’re NOT going to reach out for help then the NEXT best thing to do is to STOP what ISN’T working, And continue with what IS working. Go back to your base method of supporting your baby to sleep in a way that doesn’t create resistance. You don’t generally have to throw in the towel on ALL positive sleep habits. Just stop doing what isn’t working right now. Doing a RESET can sometimes be necessary until you have time to regroup and figure out the next best step.
I hope you found this guide helpful and if you’re a momma that has tried sleep training and it failed please know that YOU are not a failure! Most times it is simply a lack of information. LET THE GUILT GO! Your child will not be in counseling when they’re 30 because sleep training failed. And don’t be afraid to try again when you’re more equipped!
I would love to help you try again if you’ve not had a successful sleep training experience in the past. Reach out to me to book a call and let’s get your family moving towards healthy independent sleep!