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Why Sleep Training Isn’t Working

why sleep training fails

Most parents have already tried sleep training by the time they reach out to us. Many have read all the books and blogs, purchased every Taking Cara Babies program, or tried implementing multiple sleep training methods with no success. Some have even paid other sleep consultants, but ended up right back where they started, often in far worse shape.

These parents come to us feeling defeated, worried that their baby just can’t be sleep trained, and that they’ll never sleep again. And honestly, those feelings are 100% valid because every previous sleep training attempt – for lack of a better word – failed.

So why do most sleep training attempts fail?

With over 16 years of teaching parents and babies sleep skills in person and observation, my team and I can now break down why most sleep training attempts fail. Here are just a few of the most common reasons:

1. Sleep training books, methods & plans

All the sleep training books, blogs, methods and pre-packaged plans are confusing. They either contradict one another, are impossible to implement when you’re exhausted, or they don’t tell you what to do when the plan isn’t working!

Pro tip: Your baby is a human too, not a math problem with a linear solution. There is no one formula or method that works for every baby! The only thing that will ever work is to observe your baby, factor everything from your baby’s personality and developmental phase (including all of the things that didn’t work), and then tailor your approach for your baby.

2. Trying to avoid or stop tears

Why? We are conditioned to believe that all crying is bad. We as parents associate our baby crying with sadness, pain, illness, hunger, and more. . We’re taught to jump if our baby cries, and to do whatever it takes to make it stop. We shush, rock, bounce, use pacifiers, bottles and boobs—anything to make it stop. But there are so many other possibilities as to why your baby is crying. A lot of the sleep training books out there (e.g. Pantley’s No Cry Sleep Solution and myriad sleep training methods marketed as “gentle”) tell you to do a zillion things to do in order to stop your baby from crying. Yet maybe your baby yelling is their way of saying “Hey leave me alone! I’m tired and I need to sleep!”

Pro tip: Do less. When you do a zillion things (i.e. go in and out of your baby’s room for timed checks, to shush, pat, etc.) it’s extremely confusing for your baby. It also makes your baby cry harder and longer!

Crying is a normal human behavior, and it’s your baby’s only form of communication. If you jump to shush your baby out of habit or fear, you miss the opportunity to observe your baby’s body language, hear their different voices, and then respond to their genuine needs.

3. Confusion about “drowsy but awake”

Most baby sleep books, methods and programs tell you to put your baby down “drowsy but awake,” but what does that really mean? It sounds fairly straightforward, but drowsy is a subjective word! Does drowsy mean half asleep, or half awake? If a baby’s eyelids are drooping on the bottle but their eyes pop open for a second after you put them down, are they awake or half asleep?

Pro tip: Awake is the key word. In order for a baby to learn to sleep independently, they need to learn how to fall asleep from a wide awake state. Putting your baby down awake gives them the space to learn how to self-soothe, whether that be sucking their thumb or holding a blanket.


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