Sleep training! I’ve learned this week it’s a very controversial topic. I myself am an open book and so I’ve raised the issue in all of my mom groups without much thought.
Immediately I could feel the side-eye coming through the screen. 😒
Some women started private messaging me.
“A lot of the moms in here don’t believe in sleep training, but here let me share with you our experience!”
Words I’ve received directly from other moms: “I don’t believe in sleep training.” Or my personal favorite, “I think sleep training is damaging to the baby.
It’s been a bit shocking to me, tbh. For instance with breastfeeding, we’ve come a long way from shaming mothers who are either unable or choose not to for whatever reason. And at least with breastfeeding, the benefits are more widely agreed upon; with sleep training, the research is much less consistent or conclusive. There are lots of different experts sharing lots of different opinions on sleep training – and as is the dilemma with most parenting debates, you can find a study to prove anything.
I actually hadn’t thought much about sleep training or whether or not we would do it. As a parent, I lean heavily into a holistic and natural way of doing things: Co-sleeping. Breastfeeding. Baby-led weaning. When I was pregnant, I even thought I would try elimination communication (infant potty training) after watching a woman who lived on a homestead on YouTube talk about the benefits.
For some parents who share a similar parenting style, sleep training may not fit into the plan. But as it turns out, hippie moms sleep train, too! A message from a friend of mine when she learned I was sleep training:
Godspeed my friend! While we are all about natural, respectful parenting practices, we are hard-core about sleep training. It’s so important!
To keep things simple, by sleep training I am referring to the “cry it out” method, which is exactly what it sounds like – allowing the baby the cry until they learn to put themselves back to sleep. There are lots of variations that are a bit gentler, where you go in to soothe the baby every so often and do this in a more gradual manner. But my understanding is that all methods involve allowing your baby to cry for some period of time.
Opponents of sleep training feel that this is damaging to the baby, that the baby may feel abandoned, that a young baby should always feel that their needs are being met. These are the basic arguments, though I’m sure there are others.
Surprisingly I didn’t do much (any?) research on sleep training before beginning. Violet was about to turn 4 months old, which is the age many babies experience the infamous “4-month sleep regression” – a bit of a misnomer as it’s more of a developmental step forward than a regression. It seemed as if this so-called regression had started for us earlier, closer to 3 months, and to summarize: Her sleep had gone to shit.
She was now waking up at all hours of the night, and our usual tricks of bringing her into the bed with us or playing paci-pong were no longer working. But what pushed me to the edge was that her naps also started falling apart. I was finding it increasingly difficult to do my sleep dance with her, which consists of cradling her in my arms and rocking her in a figure-eight motion that looks (and feels) a little like hula hooping. Physically it was becoming harder, but also it just wasn’t working like it used to.
We were both sleep deprived, and something needed to change.
And so, on a random day, after a random (shit) nap, I decided to start. Not on a whim necessarily, but on a feeling.
For the next nap, I was going to zip her into her Merlin suit and place her into her crib, in her own room, curtains closed and white noise on – and that was going to be the new routine.
It worked almost immediately! She cried for 15 minutes the first time, only 5 the second, and from that point on went out almost instantly every time I put her down. Her naps were longer, too – for the first time in months, I found myself having to wake her up after 2 hours. 🤌
At that point I started researching, and learned that most of the “experts” do not recommend to start sleep training with naps. Focus on nights first, was the unanimous call. Yet starting with naps worked for us.
As new mothers so often we want a clear answer, to be told what’s right, or what to do. But I am reminded again and again: No one really knows anything. As mothers, we are the experts.
We’re still in the midst of our sleep training journey, and I won’t tell you that it’s all been easy. Yes, we have to listen to our baby cry sometimes.* Some moments are harder than others, and there are still moments when I question what we’re doing. But overall sleep training has felt like the right thing for us.
I read somewhere that as a parent who is sleep training, you’re providing a safe and comfortable environment for your baby so that they can learn to sleep. I like thinking of it this way. Doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone, but it’s what feels right to us.
Maybe this is how we can start talking about sleep training amongst each other? Or any other parental debate, for that matter.
“That doesn’t feel right for us,” is a perfectly lovely way to say it, don’t you think?
Now I just need someone to come and sleep train me. I am so used to being up at all hours with her that I find myself awake even as she sleeps. Tips!?
*For anyone who may be exploring sleep training, I just wanted to add that as a mother or parent you can tell the difference between types of cries. There is a cry I call the “bloody murder” cry that is very different from what we have experienced sleep training. Every baby is different, of course, but I didn’t want to scare anyone away from trying!