Our baby sleep expert, Dr Kate Johnson, busts all of the common sleep training myths and teaches you the basics.
It’s time to stop judging each other’s parenting choices
As is all too often these days I read a really sad exchange of messages on a popular parenting/baby site the other day.
A mum was asking for alternative ways to help her baby to sleep and what she received was a barrage of angry opinions about what a terrible mother she was for letting her baby cry.
“You should just….”
Instead of other parents judging you, don’t you wish someone would just say that they understand how tired you are!
You’re tired of rocking your baby six times a night in order to get her back to sleep.
You’re tired of having your baby cry in your arms even when you are making every effort to sooth and comfort her.
You’re tired of seeing little bags under your baby’s eyes and seeing her making sleepy signs all day long.
You’re also tired of other parents saying “why don’t you just co-sleep?” or “How could you ever let your baby cry?”.
You’re tired of not feeling up to getting out of the house. You’re tired of dreading bedtime and being frustrated, even feeling angry, with your child.
You’re tired of not being an empathetic spouse due to the difficulty in emotional regulation that comes with months of sleep deprivation.
Maybe you don’t have any help or family nearby, you have twins or two or three other young children, you have post-natal depression or anxiety, you have cracked and bleeding nipples… basically you are desperate for sleep!
Co-Sleeping is not always the answer!
Well, here’s a little secret for the mums who think they have THE answer: not all babies like to co-sleep.
When they do, it is glorious. You just pop your baby into the crook of your arm and sleep-feed as needed all night. That’s beautiful and wonderful, but some babies will climb onto your neck and practically suffocate you during the night.
Some will keep waking up all night long despite the closeness or want to stay latched on which can be painful for some mums. Some parents just can’t sleep with a baby in the bed. Some get anxious – even panic – worrying about the risks of suffocation and SIDS that have been shown to be associated with bed-sharing.
The MOST important thing is that your baby is getting well consolidated sleep; less important is how you make that happen.
Doesn’t Sleep Training mean I have to leave my baby to cry hysterically?
A common myth about “sleep training” is that you have to shut the door and virtually abandon your baby in order to teach her to sleep on her own. That’s just simply not true at all.
Similarly, in some circles “controlled crying” is a dirty word, yet nearly the exact same strategy written up by clever marketers and packaged as “gentle” is accepted as fine.
Here’s the thing: peer reviewed, scientific research HAS NOT SHOWN that there is one single “right” way to sleep train; in fact, there may be many.
Sleep training is simply teaching your baby that the place you want her to sleep is the right place to sleep.
That place could be a cot, but it also could be a co-sleeper or a mattress on the floor right next to you.
When you teach your child to sleep you don’t have to dump her in her bed and run away, you can sit with her and comfort her as she learns, you can even pick her up if that helps her feel supported.
Or, if you feel you disrupt her ability to fall asleep, you could step out of the room and give her some time on her own.
As long as your baby is old enough to do what you are asking her to do, as long as all of her needs are met and as long as you have made a plan which you will implement thoughtfully and with purpose, you are a good parent.
Sleep Training should have timelines
It’s important to note that sleep training in any form shouldn’t be endless. You should think about your strategy and give yourself milestones.
A typical child will take about three days to begin to learn a new way of doing things. If you decided to do some form of the controlled crying method and your baby wasn’t showing at least some sign of learning by about the fourth day (things won’t be perfect after four days, but it should just be clear that your baby is learning), then it’s likely you are trying to solve the wrong problem.
Your baby might need a different schedule or feeding pattern.
If you are lucky enough to have a baby who will just cuddle up with you and co sleep happily and you both enjoy it, that is wonderful and I support you.
If that just isn’t you, then please know that you are not a horrible person for wanting teach your baby the skills she needs to learn to sleep independently and I support you too!
So, for that mum who was shamed – I would like to publicly show my support for YOU! Your sleep training wasn’t going exactly as you’d hoped and you sought advice and guidance. That IS the definition of good parenting.
Kate graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) in 1997 and a Ph.D. in 2001. Kate has since worked, lectured and written extensively about sleep and done further study in the field, including undertaking Postdoctoral fellowships in the Human Sleep and Neuroscience Programs at Stanford Research Institute and the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.