No cry, gentle and traditional sleep training, what's the difference?

No cry, gentle and traditional sleep training, what's the difference?

No cry, gentle and traditional sleep training, what's the difference?

When it comes to sleep training one of the biggest discussions we have with all our clients is understanding the difference between these 3 kinds of sleep training.


Often, parents have some big misconceptions that need to be cleared up before we can make a good decision on what approach is best for their family.

Is one way better than the other?

The biggest misconception is that one way is the best way, and anything else is a compromise.

If you've chosen to sleep train, the best way is the way that suits your baby's temperament, and your parenting style. I am a FIRM believer that there is no best way.

Does gentle mean no cry?

The term no cry I believe has really set people up with some big misconceptions. Originally, I didn't believe Elizabeth Pantley, who wrote the book "The No Cry Sleep Solution", meant your baby wouldn't cry. She means you can choose these gentle options, which don't include any cry it out.

But more modern interpretations of this concept, without reading the book, have led people to believe it's possible to sleep train essentially in silence.

That is what no crying means. Your baby will be silent.

This is a BIG ask for any baby at any time of the day let alone during a period of frustration, big changes and tiredness!

Gentle sleep training in my opinion means being responsive to your baby during the sleep training, usually straying in the room so you can be an emotional support during this time of big change, and be physically supportive to aid your baby while they learn to self settle.

Gentle sleep training doesn't mean silence, or responding to every whimper and cry so your baby never really cries.

It is back rubs, bottom pats, cuddles, nursing to calm, laying down, sitting next to, shushing, talking, all these things and more.

But also allowing your baby to express their frustration, acknowledge they are crying because this is a BIG change, they are tired, they're annoyed at you for changing things, it's upsetting you won't nurse to sleep like you did last night.

All these big feelings are ok and we don't need to panic and silence baby.

This is gentle sleep training.

So what is NO cry sleep training?

I don't like doing a lot of this sleep training myself, as it takes a LONG time.

Unless you have an angel baby with a very easy temperament (in which case you probably won't need to hire a sleep consultant!). This approach can take 4-6 weeks.

This is 4-6 weeks of a lot of work from Mum or Dad, and I find by the time people reach out to us, they are at their wit's end and don't have the energy for 4-6 weeks of sleep training.

This is gently weaning off old associations, habit stacking in new associations, and gradually teaching the baby to do more and more of the settling themselves.

It's very inconsistent because often the thing that will stop the crying quickly is the association we are trying to wean off. This is what makes it take so long. But it is do-able, and sometimes it's medically necessary, hence why I do use this approach.

What about traditional sleep training?

This is more based on quickly letting your baby learn to self-settle without the sleep association they are dependent on. This might be feeding to sleep, rocking, holding, patting, a dummy, or even driving to sleep. 

Traditional sleep training is things like controlled crying, cry it out, camping out, and gradual withdrawal.

There is still emotional and physical support from the parents, but there is less. It's less frequent, spaced out, gradually removed, or controlled by time.

This structure around support and comfort means babies quickly learn to settle themselves as they're given more time overall to try and settle in for sleep.

However, this is only true if this approach suits the baby's temperament. In both gentle and traditional sleep training, if sleep does not improve, it probably is not the best for that family.

Pro's and Con's?

No cry sleep training the pros that it's VERY gentle, so if someone is very uncomfortable with their baby crying, or medically their baby can't cry, it works well. 

Cons - it takes longer than the other approaches, is very inconsistent, and has a high drop-off rate for these reasons. 

Gentle sleep training the pros include parents are comfortable as they enjoy being responsive, baby is given time to adjust to these big changes and baby is comforted frequently. 

The cons are that it can be overstimulating when a baby is trying to relax and sleep. It is more nuanced than traditional sleep training, so it often needs a sleep consultant's input to help parents navigate. Usually, it takes longer than traditional, and therefore, overall crying can be more than traditional. 

Traditional sleep training the pros are that it's simple to understand and follow through with. It's usually quick, evidence supports its effectiveness, and parents like that they can still be responsive at intervals. It's less stimulating, and this can aid in sleep onset time.

The cons include having to listen to your baby cry while not being in the room. Lots of parents struggle with this. It doesn't suit every baby, and every parenting style. 

Ages and stages?

Gentle and no cry sleep training can be modified to work with younger babies compared to traditional sleep training.

Because you can be super responsive and more wean off an association rather than rely on a lot of self-settling ability, you can start these approaches in the 3-4 month window. They just look different compared to when you would use them in the 6-9 month window.

Gentle sleep training gets harder the older a baby gets due to how stimulating it is, and how inconsistent it can be. 

9-12 months is one of the last windows I see much success with really gentle approaches.

After this, you are dealing with a very physical mini toddler, or a full-blown toddler!

Traditional sleep training can't be started as early as gentle sleep training because we are relying on your baby's ability to self-settle to sleep. This "usually" doesn't kick in until 4-6 months. But traditional sleep training methods see us through successfully until your toddler moves from their cot to a bed. We do have to modify them for things like sitting, standing, and walking, but they do still work well.

If you want some more help with sleep training and are unsure where to start. Our sleep consultants are skilled in helping parents navigate these differences and work out the best fit for their family. 

Our guides have quizzes and flow charts to take you through the process of using temperament to match a sleep training approach and understand where to start.

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