First of all, can we just take a minute to laugh hysterically at the phrase “sleep training”? It’s a seriously ridiculous and misleading phrase. As if you could “train” a child to sleep. “Control-all-the-circumstances-you-can-and-pray-like-your-life-depends-on-it” maybe. But if that kid decides they are not sleeping, “training” is futile.
That being said, I believe in sleep training.
“But you just said….?” Listen. I know what I said, ok? I’m tired. And we are not here to talk about me. Try to focus.
I have this book called Babywise. I got it before my oldest was born on recommendation from the woman who inspired me to want to be a mom myself. It was my bible. Even on my second child, I clung to that book like my life depended on it, reading it again and again in the weeks before she was born, pouring through it while I was rocking her back to sleep in the wee hours of the night. Two and a half months in and I still go digging for it, panicking if it’s not in the place swear I left it because my brain no longer functions at full capacity. I’m sure I subconsciously believe that if I read it enough it will just magically happen and that my baby will miraculously follow the exact expectations for each age level outlined in the book.
I guess I should probably take a moment to tell you what the book is even about.
It’s about a lot of things, but the primary message is a suggested parenting approach: “the Babywise method”. The Babywise method is not necessarily child-led (feed them whenever they are hungry) nor is it schedule-based (don’t feed them unless it’s time even if they are hungry) but rather a balance between the two. It uses both the guidance of the clock and cues from the infant to determine baby’s schedule.
The foundation of the schedule is this: feed, wake, sleep. And then the cycle repeats. This means that the baby sleeps, is fed when they wake up, and then has awake time before being put back to sleep. The reasons behind this are pretty solid. It may sound like we are talking only about feeding, and as parents we are often focused on how much nutrition baby is receiving. Which is good. But the hidden goal behind this strategy is to get baby to sleep well. To have long enough naps to complete the necessary rem cycle. Human growth hormone is released during sleep so for babies to grow and be healthy, sleep is beyond critical.
Here’s the danger that the Babywise cycle tries to prevent: if baby nurses them self to sleep or is tired at a feeding, they don’t get a full feeding. Which means they are hungry again sooner, which cuts into their nap time. Then when it’s time to eat again, they haven’t had a full nap so they are tired. See the pattern? Before you know it, you have an overtired baby who is fussy and can’t settle down, causing even more sleep disturbance. Getting enough sleep leads to full feedings. Which leads to better sleep. They are connected.
Sleep training starts with training the parents to understand the importance of sleep. To set up all the factors they can control in order to protect baby’s sleep.
(And I’m over here like, “DON’T EVEN TALK TO ME ABOUT HOW IMPORTANT SLEEP IS RIGHT NOW.”)
Ahem. Anyway, my point is that “sleep training” starts way before you actually start “training” (Lol) the child.
Ok. Fast forward to now (aka around two to four months of age). This is when “they” say that you can start “sleep training”. Except, as I mentioned, that phrase is filled with lies. If you focus on “sleep” as the measure of success here, you will probably give up. Maybe you will succeed, in which case woo hoo for you. But you might also fail miserably.
Here’s the thing: you’re not actually training them to sleep. You are training them to self-soothe. Sleep is just a benefit that results from acquiring this skill. And again with the training… It’s not so much training as allowing them to learn to self soothe. Because you don’t really have to do anything other than give them the opportunity to learn this. Their own body will react and produce the necessary hormones to calm themselves down.
Pretty neat, huh? And pretty important. Because if you don’t give them the space to learn to self-soothe, they won’t. Their little bodies won’t ever have to release that hormone. They won’t know how to. Can you imagine what a hard thing it would be to be a baby in this world and have to be learning all this stuff and taking in an overwhelming amount of information and not be able to chill yourself out when you get stressed? To be completely dependent on someone else to take care of your emotional needs, and not even have the ability to say what is wrong. All you can do is cry and hope they guess right?
Sounds shitty. It’s hard enough being a baby and a kid in this world. It’s our job to give them as many tools as we can to help them succeed. This is one of those tools: the ability to self-soothe.
How do we do this? Let them self-soothe. Put them down when they are a little sleepy, but not upset. Give them some space to just be alone. (Supervised from a safe distance.) Come back to check in every few minutes. If they fuss a little, let them. Go back, reassure them, and then step out of the way again.
Or maybe when you’re in the shower and they start to fuss, don’t do the naked-soaking-wet jump out to rush to comfort them. Talk reassuringly and finish your shower. Or if you’re cooking dinner and they start to fuss, talk reassuringly and let them be fussy while you finish your stuff.
Don’t rush to comfort them EVERY TIME they get a little fussy. Don’t teach them to be totally dependent on props like a pacifier either. It’s not going to hurt them to complain for a short period of time. They have to feel distress in order to learn to respond to distress. Period. They can’t learn it if they never have the chance.
Now, because this is the Internet and I don’t know you, a few seemingly common sense disclaimers because I like children:
1. It’s not going to hurt your newborn to fuss for a little while, but they can’t really start learning to self soothe until around two months or later. If you need to finish your shower for your sanity, do it. But little babies need to be snuggled and loved and comforted so that when it’s time to learn to self soothe you have a trusting bond that will be the foundation for learning. Bond first, training second.
2. No child should be left totally unsupervised. For any reason. There is a difference between giving your child space and neglecting them. Training means you are coaching from the sidelines, standing back to give them the space to practice. Not going to run your errands at Target and coming back hoping they got it figured out.
3. I could have sworn I had more of these. Now I’m tired and this is becoming a long rant. Love and snuggle your baby and don’t abandon them.
4. Oh and too much stress is not good. Baby doesn’t need to get completely hysterical or distraught.
AND I’m gonna stop you right there. This post is feeling more like a rant/know it all fest right now, which is not my goal. So LET IT BE KNOWN that I am in no way shape or form an expert in this. I am sharing what I have read and learned from others, a few shreds of common sense, and a teensy bit of my own experience. That’s it.
My little one gets snuggled a lot. She prefers to be held to sleep some days, and will literally wake up from the deepest sleep if you set her down or even stop the car at a stop sign. This last weekend, it became pretty obvious that we were rapidly forming some bad habits. She wasn’t getting solid naps because I set her down, and she was waking up in the night, not because she was hungry but because she wanted us to comfort her back to sleep. Not cool.
So today we started baby boot camp. I put her in her crib in her dark room for a nap. I laid her down before she was asleep. I checked back in every few minutes. AND SHE FELL ASLEEP. After a good uninterrupted nap, she ate well. So she napped better all day. In the evening I was rushing to get supper. She crabbed and fussed on the floor for a bit. I picked her up once, but I mostly reassured from a distance.
And tonight, she slept ALL NIGHT.
Tomorrow might be a totally different story. And I can’t promise that if you do this it will work so perfectly. It probably won’t. But for all the reasons listed above, it’s worth doing.