What We Mean When We Talk About Sleep Training

sleep training definitions

To begin what will sure to be a much reviled series on Cry it Out I feel the need to get a clear understand of what we are (or are not) talking about. About 50% of the people who will read this are not from the US, are probably reading different baby books, and using different baby words (cot, buggy, dummies) so in truth we are not really speaking the same language.

Sleep Training vs. Cry it Out?

Sleep Training – Somehow sleep training has become synonymous with cry it out. Or at least I get this impression from emails that say, “We’ve been sleep training for 25 minutes and he’s still crying.”

Everybody with a baby has been sleep training since the minute the baby arrived on the scene. Learning to sleep is a skill that we teach with swaddles, pacifiers, swings, nursing, white noise, consistency, and bedtime routines. All of these, collectively, constitute sleep training.

Unfortunately I think that “sleep training” has become the gentlewoman’s way to discuss CIO which is confusing to me (clearly I’m not a gentlewoman). But since the universe is not (yet) allowing me to define my own terms, I’ll have to accept that sleep training = cry it out.

FerberizingDr. Richard Ferber is the Director of Pediatric Sleep Disorders at the world-renowned Boston Children’s Hospital. But all anybody cares about is that on page #121 of Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems he lays out a chart of how often to go peek on your crying baby. He should just change his name to Dr. Cry Baby.

However for consistency of definition, Ferberizing means cry it out but with timed intervals of peeking. This is also called check and console or controlled crying.

Cry it Out – I’m going to use Cry it Out (or CIO) to mean letting your baby cry WITHOUT going back in to peek. So there is vanilla CIO (no peek) and Ferberizing (peeking at intervals). This may not be universally accepted on the Internet so you may find other people discussing CIO when they mean Ferberizing.

Attachment ParentingCoined by Dr. Sears of The Baby Book fame, attachment parenting conceptually means being a nurturing parent who strives to meet the emotional and physical needs of your baby in a loving way. Unfortunately the term attachment parenting has come to assume many other militant belief systems about nursing, co-sleeping, and baby wearing which has sadly led to a belief that you are either pro-attachment parenting or pro-sleep training.

I respectfully disagree. You can absolutely be a nurturing respectful parent who also employs cry it out as a sleep training technique.

Newborn Babies – Your baby is a “newborn baby” if he is roughly younger than 4 months of age. If your child is between 4-12 months of age he is a “baby.” Sleep training, cry it out, and Ferberizing are not tools to use with a newborn. I’m not an advocate of letting newborns cry and maintain that there are other more gentle and more effective techniques to help newborn babies sleep. So when I talk about cry it out and babies, what I’m really saying is 6+ month “older babies.”

Any other terms that need to be clarified? Stay tuned for more on this topic or keep working on cry-free sleep with these helpful techniques.

{Photo credit: Sleepfordays}


  1. LOVE the definitions. I also love your “respectfully disagree” statement. So true that you can be nurturing and yet be middle of the line with so many issues regarding sleeping schedules, baby wearing, etc.. I will definitely be returning to your blog.

    • Why thanks Abigail!
      I have to apologize – your kind comment skipped my notice so I only found it now (woops!).

      I noticed definition challenges when I realized I had so many international readers who, while we’re all speaking English, aren’t really speaking the same language ūüėČ Thanks for visiting!

  2. My son started sleeping 10-12 hours a night around ten weeks. I bragged about it one time and now I’m getting payback. He’s five months old now and a few weeks ago, he started rolling over (compulsively!), then he got a cold. After he got sick, he got his 4 month vaccinations. Meanwhile, we were trying to wean him off swaddling, since I found him face down in the crib while swaddled. All of this combined into a perfect storm to disrupt everyone’s sleep. Little guy is waking and seems angry he’s on his tummy, but IMMEDIATELY rolls over when put on his back. We’ve just let him sleep on his tummy, but it seems he is waking more and more.

    We have always put him down in his crib awake and left the room pretty promptly at bedtime (7:00 pm). He seems grateful to finally be left alone. But anywhere between 2-4:00 am, the circus starts. He’s hungry. We feed him. Then he’s pooped his diaper and he’s pissed. Change. Crying again inexplicably 30 minutes later. Hungry? Growth spurt? I tried to feed him but he only took a little. This goes on for 1-2 hours until everyone’s exhausted.

    He knows how to go to sleep on his own, without rocking, paci, or bottle. He’s slept like a champ in the past. He looks to me like he’s throwing a good old fashioned fit. Since he is five months, we don’t usually go CIO more than 5-10 minutes at a time. This kid’s crying can reach crescendos that are operatic. AND his face gets so mad and purple.

    His daycare worker tells me he is fighting sleep during the day. He may get three naps in, 30-60 minutes sometime between 9:00 am and 4:00 pm. He is still pretty good natured during the day, considering.

    Any advice on getting my sleep champ back? We may be giving him a bottle too close to bedtime, but we don’t intentionally put him in a food coma. I will work on that for now.

    Any other thoughts?

    • So basically nobody is sleeping from ~2:00 AM till morning (probably around 6:30 AM) right?

      Well I don’t know exactly why he is struggling at this time. At 5 months, 1 feeding a night is not an unreasonable request. And unfortunately I have yet to invest any mechanism to curtail nighttime pooping (corks don’t work, trust me on this). So I would continue to feed him and change his poopie diaper, even if it makes him angry.

      I don’t think the early morning shenanigans are related to the bottle at bedtime. I’m guessing that he’s gotten just enough sleep to screw around, and then does. So the question in my mind is – how do you convince him to stop screwing around?

      Option #1) CIO. Yeah he’s a tad young and often morning CIO goes poorly. But in my book, 2:00 AM still counts as “night.” So I would feed, change poop, and that’s it. I get that he’s turning purple after a scant 5-10 minutes. But I would be curious to know what happens after 45?

      Option #2) After his 2:00 AM feed, swaddle him and strap him into a swing. Turn on loud white noise. The swing will prevent him from flipping over which means the swaddle is OK. And temporarily he can’t get frustrated by the flipping thus working himself up.

      I would probably give #2 a shot for a few days (maybe 3-5) and see what happens? I think its OK to put him in the crib first (at bedtime and even after the bottle) and see what develops. If it looks like he’s going to sleep great! IF he’s up every 30 minutes than it’s the swing plan.

      Let me know what happens – OK?

    • I’ve been studying vaccine reactions and many women have found this to be one such reaction. Inconsolable screaming at night after receiving vaccinations. It is the brain swelling (encephalitis which is listed on the vaccine insert). How is your child now?

  3. This is a great blog with wonderful information. Thank you! My 12 week old little boy is giving me the exact same trouble my 3 year old gave me at the same age: he absolutely will not stay asleep at night for longer than 45 min, then he stirs, then works himself up to a cry (if not attended to abruptly), then he requires me to rock him back to sleep – which, to get him to stay sleep when placed back into his crib, can often take over an hour….just for him to wake and repeat in 45 more minutes! Up until about 8 weeks he was sleeping great: 5-7 hour stretch, then up to nurse every 2-4 hours (ebf). He didn’t require the lengthy rocking then – I would just set him back down and he’d drift off. I’m at a loss as to what to do. We’ve tried thousands of time to put him down less and less asleep (and more drowsy) so he can learn to put himself to sleep on his own, but he wakes completely up in protest every single time. I’ve got to conduct some sort of CIO, right? Please help me!!

    • I forgot to add that we use a swaddle and we’ve tried tummy sleeping as well. He still squirms himself completely awake. He won’t keep a paci in his mouth on his own. We use a white noise CD.

    • Hey Allison,
      I get your frustration – I really do. You’re exhausted, new baby requires a SON of soothing, AND you have a 3 YO running around who needs you too. This isn’t an easy time. In fact it’s a really really HARD time – transition, being there for everybody, sleep deprivation, etc.

      But basically your 12 week old is telling you he needs MORE soothing, not less. The fact that he could get by with less soothing at 8 weeks isn’t really meaningful. I mean I get why you might see this as a step back but it isn’t really. LOTS of newborn babies need TONS of soothing, so the answer is to give it to him in a way that works for you AND your 3 YO.

      Also many babies DO sleep better on their tummies. But as frustrating as it is, it’s never OK to put them on their tummies to sleep. Seriously.

      Sol….what to do?
      Read this:

      Do everything here:
      – LOUD white noise
      – ALWAYS swaddle for sleep
      – DARK room
      – SWING

      Yep it’s time for a swing. Read this for more tips on how to make this work for you:

      He loves being rocked. GREAT! That’s awesome information. Let’s make use of it!

      He’s a newborn. He’s not sleeping great in the crib. He loves being rocked. Well for a $100 investment you can give him the rocking he needs and free yourself up to get some sleep yourself. A worthy investment I think?

  4. I’d like a definition of ‘cry.’ Are we talking about the red-in-the-face, sweaty, tears, and vomiting cry that is really more like screaming bloody murder? Or are we talking about fussing?

    Also, a definition of check and console would be helpful. Does any baby really calm down when mommy/daddy come in and pat them in the midst of their screaming? What exactly are we talking about here?

    • Kim,
      Cry means cry. Hopefully your baby will lean more towards the “fussy” side of the spectrum but it’s also possible that it’s the angry screaming red faced vomiting scene too. In my experience the red faced screaming thing tends (not always) to result from dabbling – you’ve sort of tried this before but caved.

      You can read more about check and console here:

      Do babies calm down? Often they amp up. Which is one of the many reasons I’m not a fan of this technique. Also regardless of how calm (or not) your baby is when you go in, you leave relatively shortly (don’t stick around until they ARE calm). But the post I linked to has more to say about the pros and cons of these methods.

  5. I finally decide to sleep train my 5.5 mo dd last night b/c she’s been waking up frequently at night every 2-3 hrs.

    Just some background info, my routine for bedtime includes bath, pjs, then nursing to sleep starting at 8pm (usually she wakes between 8-9am). Usually she falls asleep quickly after nursing. She wakes after an hr or so and would need me to nurse her again to fall asleep. Sometimes she would sleep till 12-1am then will wake again every 2-3 hrs. I know that she’s associating falling asleep with nursing. And I swaddle her arms every night with the Anna and eve swaddle strap. Nap time she’s also swaddle and sleeps in swing.

    So last night I changed my routine and nurse her first then bathe, story, some rocking. I also did not swaddle. She fell asleep within 30 mins around 9:30pm with minimal crying then woke up an hr later. She cried on and off, fling her arms and legs, moved around in crib, and made cooing sounds. My husband went to shh and pat her several times. But she still didn’t fall back asleep and at midnight I nursed her. She was still awake when I put her down and I don’t think she slept at all after that. I nursed her again at 4am and 7am. Throughout the whole night I know that she didn’t sleep cuz I heard her move but she didn’t really cry. I dunno what to do if she’s not sleeping. Finally at 8am I put her in the swing and swaddle and she fell asleep and woke up almost 4.5 hrs later. Her schedule is totally messed up. She slept so much on the swing cuz she probably is so tired from the lack of sleep at night.

    How do I sleep train her at night then and break the nursing to sleep? Should I still continue swaddling arms while sleep training? Or should I wait till she’s 6 months? Will that make a difference? Maybe changing all the eoutine last night got her so confused she didnt know what to do and couldnt falla sleep. I’m so desperate and so lost. Please, please give me some advice and help. I really need it!!! Thanks!

    • Hi Niki I’m having the same promble my lo is 7 month last month I just let her cry it out and it worked until she got sick and now she’ll maybe take one 20 min nap in the day I put her down for bed at 7-8 by 10:30 she’s crying then up every 2 hours after that. So I’m just wondering if you found anything that helped you?

  6. Help!! Naps in the day are horrible! He just cries ans cries its hard to get him to nap and i know hes tired!! how do i comfor him?! hes also in his swing Should I have a sleep routine for day naps to?! bc at night I always give him a bath and swaddle him and put his white noise on! Sleeps great at night but naps horrible!! I put his white noise on for day naps but no baths and I still swaddle him! I also just recently started making him sleep on his own bc I’ve been holding him till he falls asleep and I heard that’s not go in the long run he also fights his sleep what should I do to make naps in the day not so bad!!

  7. Hi Alexis –
    Since you have some great definitions in here but asked if there were any other terms we needed defined I thought I would ask! I’m wondering exactly how you define *”drowsy but awake”* – Since that’s the key state for them to be in I am just trying to get it correct. Does that mean eyes need to be open? Or can eyes be shut and a little fussing/adjusting means you’ve hit “drowsy but awake?” For example, my four month old gets drowsy while nursing. He’ll go through spells of eyes closed interrupted by brief eye openings or mumblings. When he “spits me out” then I tuck myself back in and pick him up. He adjusts and moves his body around, sometimes opens eyes, and mumbles. Then I put him down in the swing and he usually adjusts himself around again (sometimes he goes down like a rock, but half the time or less). Is that drowsy but awake? Or is that “light sleep” already, and he needs to be even more awake? I don’t want him to have a nurse = sleep association, so we are trying to work away from that one while using your instructions for sleep training using the swing with our four-month old. He can often put himself down in it when totally wide awake, but other times when drowsy still can’t. Some nights we get a 5-6 hour block followed by a 3 and 2 hour block, but other nights he is up every 45-90 minutes. That may have been because we tried to mix in the crib too soon/too fast, so I’m sticking with the swing only for now until we get it stationary!

    Your website has been a great resource so far – and I especially appreciate your sense of humor when things just aren’t feeling that funny.
    Thank you!!!

  8. HELP! Ok so my little fuss bucket is almost 7 months. She hates to nap she will fight it tooth and nail and just become fussier. When she finally does go down its only for 20 mins tops. Bed time is at 8 and the nightmare begins i turn on her mobile doesnt work, i hold her and rock her doesnt work she kicks and screams. Once she is finally down, she sleeps for maybe an hour and its up and down every fifteen minutes untill aboyt 6am and then were all up for out day anyways. I keep her active but i dont over stimulate her. Im just so tired i dont know what to do

  9. HELP! Ok so my little fuss bucket is almost 7 months. She hates to nap she will fight it tooth and nail and just become fussier. When she finally does go down its only for 20 mins tops. Bed time is at 8 and the nightmare begins i turn on her mobile doesnt work, i hold her and rock her doesnt work she kicks and screams. Once she is finally down, she sleeps for maybe an hour and its up and down every fifteen minutes untill about 6am and then were all up for out day anyways. I keep her active but i dont over stimulate her. Im just so tired i dont know what to do.

  10. Thank you! Just, thank you. Love your sense of humor and tell-it-like-it-is writing style!

    Yup, I’ve been dabbling (and, as you know, that doesn’t work well at all!) and feeling guilty about all of it — the fact that I’m trying CIO at all AND the fact that I’m not being consistent enough AND the idea that because I’m trying CIO, I’m not providing “attachment parenting.”

    But, yeah, your “respectfully disagree” statement really resonated with me. So thank you! And, yes, I am resolving to start being consistent so that we can get over this hurdle faster and help my son learn to sleep on his own. And, yup, I’ll still continue to be the nurturing and loving parent to my amazingly-adorable 10-mo-old son that I’ve always been!

  11. Firstly, I’d like to say that I really do like this website – practical advice delivered in a way that is intelligently written and pleasurable to read – just what I needed when my little one has been less than cooperative on the sleep front (though he was doing what is normal for some babies, I think!).

    I just wanted to point out that there is another way besides those described above. Here, in Australia, the health and well-being of children under 5 years mostly falls to Early Childhood and Family Health Nurses (in the UK they’re called ‘Health Visitors’, not sure if you have them in the US), and the methods that they promote include ‘hands-on settling’ (for babies under 6 months or when all else fails) and ‘comfort settling (for babies 6-12 months); with techniques like ‘camping out’ and ‘gradual retreat’ for toddlers. Essentially, these methods aim to try to help babies to self settle, with reassurance and comforting from parents. They’re used in sleep schools (there are a couple of charitable organisations that offer day stay and residential programs), as well as suggested to parents who attend early childhood clinics with sleep problems.

    I’m not saying this as any criticism of other ‘sleep training’ methods, just that there are techniques that fall between ‘attachment parenting/sleep at all or any costs’ vs. cry it out or controlled comforting. There is some crying, but there is also the opportunity to calm and comfort the baby; which many parents feel they need to do. Our little guy is very willful, which made me reluctant to leave him to cry for too long because he will cry and cry until he can hardly breathe and then needs a LOT of help to breathe effectively and calm down. Comfort settling and hands-on settling were great for him, and I think are worth considering if you want/need to try something that is neither cuddling to sleep or leaving baby alone and crying. If you search for ‘comfort settling Tresillian’ or ‘comfort settling Karitane’ you will find more information on how to use the techniques.

    • I know this is two years old, but as the parent of a six month old who amps up the crying till she throws up EVERY TIME, thank you for giving me something else to look into finally!

  12. I have a 6 month old who I am start to sleep train now, however I still co-sleep and plan to for at least a few months longer. He is learning to fall asleep and self-soothe on his own in my bed currently, but will I have to do this again when I eventually move him to a crib?


  1. The Ferber vs. Weissbluth CIO Smackdown - Troublesome Tots
  2. 30 of the Best Blogs for New Moms | Newborn Care

Leave a Reply