Well I am not going to come right out and say sleep training is bad. I know some parents feel they have no other options but to sleep train, and some parents really believe in it and swear it saved their sanity. That's fine and I really believe in doing what you need to for your family, but for me personally, it's not my thing. This is my opinion. I am not a sleep expert and I just want to share my thoughts for other new moms who may be going through sleep hell. Let me give some background..
My daughter was an okay sleeper from the beginning. Being the first baby I didn't really know what to expect. Do babies really sleep through the night at 8 weeks (ha!) and what is sleeping through the night? I don't know about you but for me that is sleeping from maybe 10 PM to oh say 8 AM, okay maybe 6 AM would be nice? It's not the crazy baby definition of 5-6 hours straight!
Well, my baby girl did start sleeping about 5 hours straight sometime around 8 weeks or so and I thought I was so lucky. It wasn't that bad, I would nurse and get her back down quickly. She slept right next to me in a bassinet. Sometimes when I was desperate she slept with me. The sleeping 5-6 hour straight thing lasted from about 8-12 weeks and then we hit the 3-4 month sleep regression. And, her sleep changed, and it never really went back to normal. From then on till oh maybe 9 months her sleep was erratic. When my daughter was around nine months her pediatrician suggested I let her cry it out. I didn't know better and I decided I better try it. Well, it was hell. She screamed getting more and more frantic no matter what I tried and I could not take it. I decided I was fine nursing her to sleep since that was quick and painless and so be it. Around that time I did some research on sleep training and decided I was better off following my instincts and I would deal with it however I could. Eventually she did sleep better and is an awesome sleeper now.
My son also slept in a bassinet right next to me. I am a big believer in keeping your babies very close at night. I thought I was really lucky this time because he started sleeping 7-8 hours straight at night by about two weeks. Yep, I was in newborn baby sleep heaven. And I didn't worry about waking him to eat because he was nursing like crazy for hours before bed and gaining tons of weight. It was awesome, I was so happy. And, then around four months he had the dreaded sleep regression. And he never really went back to sleeping so great either. In fact his sleep got so bad around 6 months or so that I wondered if I had really screwed up. Maybe babies do need to self soothe? He was waking every 30m - hour some nights and the only way to get him back down was nursing and that didn't always work either. I was starting to think my daughter had been the good sleeper after all. But the thing I noticed is that usually there was something going on. A growth spurt, teeth (my son got 8 teeth between 6- 9 months), some kind of major development or milestone. And I would notice once it was done he would sleep better but then a week or two later the crappy sleep would start again.
Sleep training is not for me
So, what did I learn or draw from all this? Well I did a ton of research when I was having problems with sleep with both of my kids and I learned that sleep training and cry it out are not for me. Now when I talk about sleep training I am referring to the many techniques out there like controlled crying or extinction. I am not talking about leaving your baby for 5 minutes or maybe even 15-20 while they fuss, grumble or maybe even cry a little and then pass out.
I am not going to say whether sleep training is harmful or not. I know there have been studies and reports published on it and you can find those easily on the internet. There have been studies saying sleep training is absolutely fine and will not harm your baby in any way. There have been studies that say crying it out it raises cortisol levels and is unhealthy for the baby. As I said I am not going to declare one right or not because I really do not know.
My main goal in writing this post is to tell the new mom who is going insane dealing with sleep issues to follow your instincts. Do what you feel is best for you and your baby, not what some book tells you or even what your pediatrician tells you. When I tried to let my daughter cry it out at the recommendation of my pediatrician it went against all my mama instincts. I love my pediatrician, I really do, and I still see her but you know what I found out? She doesn't have children. She is a great doctor, but I think it would be easy to tell someone to let your baby cry it out when you haven't actually gone through it. You know what I tell my doctors now if they ask how my kids sleep? I tell them "just fine" and move on to the next subject.
Reasons sleep training and cry it out are a bad choice for me
I carried my baby in my womb for nine months, to then expect him to just be alone and cry to sleep seems cruel to me. Even once they are a little older, our babies need us. We are their whole world and it's my job as a parent to be there for for my children night or day.
When and why did we come to this expectation that we don't have to parent at night? I mean we attend to our child's needs all day long and then at night we expect them to be alone and soothe themselves? It feels selfish to me.
I don't believe in self soothing. I just don't. Now don't get me wrong, I think a baby can learn to soothe themselves but I am not going to teach it or try to force it. My son started sucking his thumb around four months and would sometimes do that to go back to sleep. If they figure it out great, but I am always going to offer to nurse if that's what they need.
I also don't really believe in the put down drowsy but still awake theory. I nursed my babies to sleep and it was great. Why wouldn't I use this tool to put my baby to sleep? Once they are ready, they do actually figure out how to fall asleep. My toddler goes to sleep on her own. But I nursed and rocked her till I didn't need to anymore. Sometimes I still rock her to sleep although usually she wants to get in her bed herself, and she definitely doesn't need it to fall asleep.
I don't believe that letting your baby cry it out teaches them an important skill of how to fall asleep as some books suggest. What other skills that your baby learns are painful to him and cause him to cry hysterically?
I am not sure how we got to this place as parents where we think letting our kids cry, soothe themselves, teach themselves to sleep became so recommended by many doctors and books. The amount of books and sleep experts out there is staggering. If there was a magic bullet I think it would have been figured out by now.
Many other countries do not rely on sleep training or cry it out. Many co-sleep safely and have been doing it for ages. I am sure cavemen/women were not letting their babies cry it out. This western influence towards teaching our babies they must be independent is a relatively new way of parenting.
There is no way I believe that nursing your baby to sleep is bad or a bad habit. We are biologically programmed to breastfeed our babies and for our babies to fall asleep nursing. How could this be bad? How could this teach a bad habit? Your baby will not be breastfeeding to sleep as a teenager 🙂 Try not to worry too much that you are doing something wrong. (And I only feel entitled to say this because I have already done the worrying myself).
Forcing our babies to night wean or go all night without breastfeeding may harm the breastfeeding relationship. We were designed to feed at night and there are reasons that nursing at night is good for your baby.
As adults we wake up sometimes, go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, maybe we are even hungry. If it's okay for us why do we expect our babies to sleep all night?
Personally, I found that with both of my kids I felt more comfortable feeding them during the night if needed up till about 12 months. Even then I would do it if they wanted but both of my kids started sleeping much longer stretches around that age and I didn't do anything to force them there.
So for the new mom freaking out because her baby is waking up every hour
Don't panic! I know it's hard, really really hard. The first year of your baby's life is filled with many milestones, advances and developments. A baby sleeping through the night is not just a goal to be attained. The first year has highs and lows and your baby might sleep great some days and then go through a phase of waking all night. Don't feel you have to sleep train or cry it out because your doctor mentions it, or your neighbor tells you so, or some other mom on facebook brags about how her baby is sleeping 10 hours straight. It saddens me when I hear new moms worry so much that they are doing something wrong. It's hard to hear a mom say "when I rock him he goes right to sleep but I can't because the pediatrician told me not to. I need to put him down, why won't he go to sleep on his own?"
And I know the feeling of despair when you are going through sleep hell and waking all night long and so exhausted that you cannot function. If you need help, get help. I've been through it and it's definitely not easy. There were times I thought I was losing my mind and couldn't take another minute.
There are some great sites out there with info on how to help your baby sleep or get more sleep. This link has some great ideas to help:
For newborns, I really believe in and recommend The Happiest Baby on the Block book which has great tips that can help you get more sleep.
And, if you have to sleep train or believe in it and works great for you then that's fine too. This is all my opinion and with anything parenting related, I really feel we have to take what works for us and leave what doesn't. I know moms who swear by sleep training and say it saved their family. I am sharing my opinion for the moms worried they are doing something wrong or that they should be doing something differently. Follow your instincts, you know your baby the best.