Why do people keep saying that parents HAVE to train babies to sleep alone as soon as humanly possible? When did this become the new RULE? I was not informed, were you? Don’t worry though, this is not an actual law. This is just one theory in parenting that may or may not stick around, but rest assured…. You don’t have to if you don’t want to.
Of course I understand WHY this topic is so huge, because…SLEEP!!! We all want it, and more of it! Hey, if you could tell one thing to your ‘before-you-had-a-baby-self’ wouldn’t it be “GO TO SLEEP!!!” I would say “Do whatever you want for a whole day, and then sleep all night, because it’s going to be your last chance for a LONG time!!”
The problem is, that the obsessive focus for new parents recently (just in the last 10-15 years really) has become totally focussed on SLEEP TRAINING. Unfortunately, this often goes hand-in-hand with ‘experts’ telling us to ignore our instincts to go to our babies and soothe them, and I don’t think that’s ok.
Don’t babies know how to sleep already? One of these ‘sleep experts’, Sarah Ockwell says “babies sleep so well in utero because they are in constant contact with the mother, they are well nourished (ie not hungry or thirsty), they are warm, they are surrounded by reassuring noises, they are in the dark, or any light they are exposed to is red-tinged and they are constantly ‘rocked’ by movement. It is completely unnatural to expect a baby to sleep without these things once they have been born. Expecting them to fall asleep alone in a cot/crib/basket/bassinet, expecting them to sleep to a parent enforced schedule (overriding their innate cues) and expecting them to sleep for the hours that adults deem ‘appropriate’ (most are anything but) is just plain wrong”
Hugging my baby, co-sleeping with my baby, rocking my baby, nursing my baby is NOT a ‘negative sleep association’ (that term makes me want to rip my hair out…) it is my choice as a parent. You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. You can do sleep training, that’s your choice. You can also choose to nurse your child to sleep for the next 3 years if you want. I really don’t care…. It’s your kid. But let me just say that if you’re feeling sadness, guilt, pain and doubt about ANY parenting choice (including sleep-training) then perhaps it’s your mother’s intuition kicking in telling you it’s not right for you and your family.
So why are others saying that you OWE it to your babies to do whatever you have to to make them learn to sleep alone, even if they have to make them cry? They even say that it’s ‘not fair’ to your babies if you don’t do it, and you’ll end up rocking your teenagers to sleep!! Often it is the people who stand to make money off this ever-growing ‘Sleep Training’ industry who say it’s the only way. It almost seems like they want you to feel bad for nursing or rocking your baby to sleep.
Now before you freak out on me, I ABSOLUTELY know that there are sleep coaches and consultants who are completely aware of the normal needs of babies, including feeding (even at night, GASP!) and the TONS of things you can do to help your babies to sleep alone. I am totally strict about bedtimes and naptimes (once my babies show me their own natural routine/needs) and I even bought a white noise machine for my 3rd baby and I barely leave home without it! I have had great conversations with some of these sleep professionals, and the difference I see is that they don’t try to bully parents into feeling that ALL babies need to be ‘trained’, or guilt someone into making their child ‘cry it out’ if they don’t want to. Instead they support those parents to do what feels right, even if it involves rocking/nursing/hugging to sleep.
To me the most important thing is that NO ONE should be telling parents that there is some kind of scientific reason that babies SHOULD be sleep trained. My kids all sleep. They sleep ALL night. I never let them cry, I nursed them all to sleep for ages, I did some co-sleeping with all of them, and they all learned how to sleep alone too. I personally never minded nursing them to sleep for months, and months (and months)… but when I did start to mind it, I tried something else. I gently taught them to nurse and then rocked them to sleep. After that worked for a while, I taught them that I would rock them until they were mostly asleep, and then put them in their crib and patted their back….. this is how we did it. It worked just fine.
Please don’t insult mothers and fathers by saying we are WEAK if we can’t handle the crying and that it’s the same as a 3 year old having a tantrum over chocolate. These are babies. It’s ok if they need us. This is not an imperative. Sleep training is a choice that desperate parents make because they’re SO FREAKING TIRED!!.. I get it. It works for many families. Just don’t tell us it’s the only thing that’s good for babies though… just don’t.
I understand that doing full on ‘cry it out’ may be a matter of life or death for an exhausted mother experiencing post-partum depression. It may be the only choice that you want to make, and that’s cool. I have worked with babies and families for the past 20 years (I AM NOT A SLEEP CONSULTANT), and I will continue to support and teach parents about what to expect from their babies and their natural developmental stages. I will continue to remind people why EONS of parents have warned other parents to ‘Sleep when baby sleeps’… because there’s not a lot of sleep to go around. It doesn’t last forever. I will teach new mothers about SAFE CO-SLEEPING so they know there are other options out there. I just don’t want to hear them say ‘I know I should sleep train but…’
The thing about parenting YOUR child is you are allowed to make your own choices that feel right for you. You are NORMAL if you choose to respond to them at night. Please don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing anything wrong. There is no ‘should’ (or ‘should not’) when it comes to nurturing your baby.
Angela Grant Buechner, BA, BScN, RN, IBCLC