That’s the question, isn’t it?
Before I dive right in and give you my two cents on this one, I’m going to forewarn you that what I have to say isn’t cut and dry. It doesn’t necessary fall neatly into black and white, yes or no. And most importantly, only YOU can decide if, when and how you want to sleep train your baby. I know, I know. Everyone says this! But that’s because it’s absolutely, totally, unequivocally TRUE. The unfortunate part is that if you’re anything like me, you may not entirely understand and appreciate this right away. It took me some time to settle into my new reality where…
- I’m a mom.
- I make important and critical decisions every single day.
- There are no right and wrong answers. Ever.
- I don’t have to (and I shouldn’t) listen to anything or anyone else except my own motherly instinct.
What kind of “sleep training” are we talking about here?
Everyone has a different idea of what “sleep training” is. Are we talking about cry it out (CIO)? “Ferberizing” or the Ferber Method? “No tears” approaches? Something that falls between the two?
What does “sleep training” mean to you?
Before you start or try any kind of method on your baby, you need to answer this question. But it’s more than just what is sleep training…
What are you trying to achieve?
This is a farrrr more important question to answer. If you do decide to “train” your baby to sleep, you need to know what kind of results you’re after because you wouldn’t be considering it if you were satisfied with whatever sleep habits your baby already has, right?
We all have a different idea of what a “good sleeper” is. To some moms a good sleeper is one whose longest straight sleep run is five hours and who wakes up for 1-2 feeds a night. To other moms, a good sleeper is a baby who sleeps 12 hours straight through the night with zero wakings. And for some moms, the time stretch makes no difference at all but they’re more concerned with whether or not their baby can fall to sleep on their own (without incessant rocking, singing, snuggling, etc.).
You’re considering sleep training your baby. Why?
This may be even more important than the last question because it forces you to dig a little deeper.
Okay, so you want your baby to sleep better. Yeah, who doesn’t? But you’re a parent now. And do you know what that really means? It means you’re forever changed. It means that you now have someone else to care for and to make decisions for other than yourself – and you LOVE that person more than you love yourself. It means that you relinquish all your personal wants, needs, priorities and conveniences to those of your kid.
It’s not about you anymore. It’s about them.
You want to sleep train your baby because if he or she were a better sleeper that would be a whole lot better for YOU! You’d have your sleep back. You wouldn’t have to wake up multiple times through the night. And you wouldn’t have to go to sleep at 9pm to feel rested the next day.
I’ve got news for you.
Being a parent is horribly inconvenient. But you chose this role. You were excited to have a baby and to start a family of your own. Along with that come adjustments and sacrifices. Some big, some small. All significant.
So then, is sleep training your baby the right choice if the primary reason you’re doing it is to make your life more convenient.
“But my baby will be healthier if he gets a good night sleep.”
Yeah, I’ve heard this one before. Sounds good. Makes sense. Yes, we all need sleep to be healthy and to feel good.
Does this take priority over tending to your baby when he tells you he needs you? Babies’ only way of communicating with us is by crying. If she’s crying, she needs something. She’s scared, uncomfortable, sad, in pain, overtired… she’s something. And she needs you to help her.
And you’re going to sit back and say, “Oh, he’s just manipulating me. He knows I’ll come if he cries but he doesn’t really need me. I’m going to let him scream bloody murder until he falls asleep so he knows how to do it on his own.”
You know what else? Lots of times this extended, excessive crying even leads babies to puke because they’re crying SO HARD! What!? Are you serious? And CIO advocates then say, don’t worry, it happens, just go in, change them, put new sheets on the bed, don’t make eye contact, put them back down and walk out. WOW. So now, parenting, which is one of the closest and most special bonds that exists between people on this earth, has become a detached, disjointed, cold and heartless interaction.
In business terms…
How can we compare baby sleep training to business? Think of how you would go about training a new employee.
Would you neglect, abandon and leave them to figure out how to perform new duties on their own? Would you expect them to single-handedly learn key aspects of your business that you’ve lived and breathed for years? Would you block out and ignore their pleads and cries for help in their first days, weeks and months on the job?
A good teacher, coach or trainer is…
Learning how to sleep is a skill just like any other. Mastering a new skill takes time. It’s a process. And it’s one that calls for a caring, respectful and motivational teacher.
The “pros” and “claims” of sleep training in a CIO way.
- Your baby might master the skill of falling asleep on his own
- It works fast (usually within a week or so)
- Other than listening to your baby cry, it’s easy (as in, it doesn’t break your back, it takes up less of your time in the room with your baby, essentially, it’s a “hands-off” approach)
- You’re teaching your baby sound sleeping patterns which are important now and throughout her life
- Kids who complete the training may be less likely to throw tantrums before bedtime and to wake their parents through the night, and may be more likely to settle within 10 minutes at night
- Parents who complete the training may experience less stress, better overall mood and improved interactions with their children
The “cons” of sleep training with extended periods of crying.
- When a baby is highly distressed, the stress hormone cortisol is released, and in excess, this kills neurons which may lead to negatively affected brain development
- Stress early in life can be associated with a poorly functioning brain and stress response system later in life, which in turn, can lead to various disorders
- Studies show that babies actually learn to self-regulate in the company of their caregivers who tend to them when they cry – if they’re left alone to cry, then learn to shut down when faced with excessive stress
- In a baby’s first year of life, trust is being established, with you, with the world and with themselves – if their needs are dismissed or ignored, they learn that their relationships and the world cannot be trusted which can lead to low self confidence, feelings of mistrust and a general emptiness
- As a caregiver, if you learn to ignore your baby crying, this may inadvertently make you less susceptible to your baby’s more subtle signals of need or distress
- Studies show links between a caregiver’s responsiveness and most, if not all, of their baby’s positive outcomes including intelligence, empathy, lack of aggression or depression, self-regulation and social competence
- If you leave a baby to cry, yes, they’ll eventually stop crying but not because the problem was resolved but because they gave up hope that you’ll come to help them – this can lead to a detached baby who is less responsive, appears depressed and who lacks empathy
- The parent-child relationship is all about the parent being there for their child – leaving your baby to cry without comfort or response damages the relationship that you’re working so hard to build
- Children whose parents are not consistently sensitive and responsive often suffer from insecurity
- It doesn’t always work, AND, even if it works the first time parents often need to retrain with CIO over and over again (after travels, after teething, after milestones and growth spurts)
Why I didn’t do CIO.
Many studies show that there is no correlation between later-in-life consequences (such as those listed above) and whether or not children were sleep trained with extensive crying.
Having said that!
If there is even the slightest chance that I am putting my baby at risk of developing any of the risks listed above, then why and how, could I do that? In the world I live, I wouldn’t be able to call myself a good mother after that.
I simply CANNOT listen to my little prince cry for more than a few minutes. Not only do I strongly disagree with it, but I am physically, emotionally and mentally incapable of doing it.
I’m a strong believer that if it’s easy, it’s probably…
- Not the right choice
- A cop-out or a pipe dream
- Not going to work
And if I don’t feel right about something then I know there is no way I’ll be able to see it through, execute it successfully, or live with the guilt of having made a poor decision that I knew in my gut wasn’t a good one.
What I DID do and am still doing.
Just because you don’t want to let your baby cry it out alone, doesn’t mean there’s nothing else you can do to help him establish good sleep habits!
In my case, with my little prince, here’s what I do before every nap and bedtime:
- Do quiet play about 15 minutes before I think he might go down (in other words, no Jolly Jumper, no dance offs and no high pitched, over excited talk)
- Walk into his room and close the door
- Talk to him, tell him it’s sleep time
- Turn the fan on (I’m a big fan – pun intended – of white noise)
- Sit down in our rocker and read him a book (or two or three)
- Get up and close the blinds or turn out the light
- Sit back in the rocker and offer the boob
- Sing a silly song I made up as I walk him to the crib, lay him down slowly and put him in his sleep sack
This last step with the song is a brand new addition to our routine! Before that, I used to read a book above his head in the crib but lately it seemed as though this was almost exciting him too much, so I’ve switched to the song. I know he loves when I sing to him despite my horrid excuse for a voice so it makes sense.
Now, sometimes this works beautifully and within a few minutes he goes to sleep without a fuss. Other times, it doesn’t work at all and he needs me to pick him up, rock him, cuddle him and be with him. (Which I remind myself is so precious, so special, and so temporary, and therefore, I relish in it.) Sometimes he does long stretches between feeds. Sometimes he sleeps right through the night. Sometimes he wakes up often. There is definite progress but there are also so many uncertainties…
But there are a few things I’m sure of, and they outweigh what I’m unsure of.
I’m sure our routine will change again soon.
I’m sure he’ll need my help going to sleep many a time over.
I’m sure it won’t be easy.
I’m sure that eventually, he’ll be able to go to sleep on his own EVERY time.
I’m sure I’ll always be there when he needs me.
I’m sure that I’ll never regret being a super sensitive and responsive parent.
I’m sure it feels right.
I’m sure that one day, I too, will sleep soundly again.