I had another discussion today in the usual echo chamber of “anti CIO” parents. The same tired arguments (see what I did there?) came out, and the clucking and tsk-ing over parents who are so mean and selfish as to do something so horrible to their sweet innocent baby. Unfettered judgment like that immediately makes me see red, and so when I see red, you get a rant. Here is a whole lot more words than necessary about why sleep training is not what it’s made out to be – so many, in fact, that this is going to be a series instead of just one really long post.
1)Anti-sleep training articles fundamentally misunderstand what’s going on when a baby is sleep trained.
There’s a huge misconception that sleep training means flinging your baby into the crib, letting him scream until he throws up, and letting him lose all faith and hope and trust in people meeting his needs. That they fall asleep not because they’re learning to fall asleep, but that they’re so exhausted they just pass out. And then they don’t cry because they’ve learned it’s futile and no one is coming to help them and probably a tiger is going to eat them or something?
Trust me – I have sleep trained hundreds of babies. THIS IS NOT WHAT HAPPENS. Babies have habits, and often their HABIT – not their need – is to fall asleep with an adult’s help. By trusting them to be smart enough to fall asleep on their own, and facilitating and supporting that, we are meeting their NEEDS, and creating new habits. When I put a baby down awake and they cry, I’m listening to them, watching them, and seeing LEARNING take place. I’m not watching babies cry themselves into exhaustion over and over again. Most of the time, they’re very calm when they eventually fall asleep, after winding down from their initial upset. That’s why I call my method the “figure it out” method.
Another common misunderstanding is that sleep training means “is in a deep sleep for 12 hours” and “no one actually does that!”. I completely agree that no one sleeps through the night! But when you wake up, you flip your pillow to the cool side and go right back to sleep. You don’t call your mom to come over and rock you (unless you’re that dude in Love You Forever – I super hope that guy never brings dates home #awkward). A sleep-trained baby doesn’t sleep for 12 hours. They cycle through sleep and wake up occasionally just like we do. But they’re able to put themselves back to sleep, swiftly and easily! They don’t need to call you to come in and do it for them. I daresay they like being able to sleep uninterrupted, too.
Also, all of these articles include a picture of a screaming newborn. No one is trying to sleep train your 2 week old.
#2 Anti-sleep training articles only look at one tiny part of the bigger picture.
A baby isn’t the only member of a family. There are also parents – one or more, sometimes siblings, caregivers, grandparents. Anti-ST people take out a magnifying glass and ONLY look at how sleep training might affect the baby, not taking into consideration the needs of anyone else in the equation. If the baby waking 10 times a night means parents aren’t sleeping, the parents are SUFFERING. If bedsharing means the baby sleeps great but YOU do not, you are suffering. If parents are spending so much time trying to get the baby to nap that they’re unable to spend time with their other kids, those siblings are SUFFERING. And really, do you think an exhausted parent is really being the best they can be for the baby anyway?
I’ve had parents come to me physically ill, worried about their ability to keep their jobs, driving so exhausted they risked an accident every time they got behind the wheel, resenting and regretting having kids. Lack of sleep can really exacerbate mental health issues, especially in postpartum parents. Even if the issues aren’t that major, parents want their identities back. They want to eat dinner with their partner or watch a TV show or read a book. Sleep training gives you your LIFE back.
And while we’re on the subject, these conflicts can sometimes occur within a family as well. If one partner (usually the one not getting up all night) is so concerned that the baby NEVER CRY, then they are not seeing how much their partner is suffering EVERY DAY. Open your eyes!
What’s worse here? A few nights of a bit of crying, or months on end of physical and emotional difficulty for the whole family? And who are YOU, anti-sleep-training critic, to decide whose needs are most important?
#3 Anti-sleep training articles don’t consider the effects of sleep deprivation on babies or adults.
“Sleep training makes babies produce adrenaline and cortisol and that’s not good!”
You know who else produces a lot of adrenaline and cortisol? TIRED BABIES. Sleep-deprived babies. Exhausted babies. The number of babies (and adults!) I meet who are extremely sleep-deprived is staggering. Sleep is as fundamental of a human need as food, and babies need many, many hours of it.
Have you ever heard of a “high needs baby”? They’re often the ones parents don’t want to sleep train because they think the baby needs constant attention, holding, co-sleeping, etc. But what if I told you that many of those babies are just EXHAUSTED, and once their bodies get used to getting more sleep, they become much more easygoing and much HAPPIER?
Listen – if your baby and you are getting plenty of sleep without sleep training, that’s great! But that is NOT the case for many families.
There was a post in an attachment parenting Facebook group from a mom who was DESPERATE for sleep. She was beside herself. You could tell she was in tears writing it. One of the suggestions offered to her was “Put on the TV and let your baby crawl on you while you nap on the floor.” HOW IS THAT BETTER PARENTING THAN SLEEP TRAINING YOUR BABY?!
Please, PLEASE let’s stop torturing parents and babies by making them think sleep deprivation is an acceptable, even necessary, sacrifice.
(Yes, I said torture – sleep deprivation IS an international torture method for a reason.)
PS – if you want to know more about sleep deprivation, I loved this podcast (look past Joe Rogan. I promise it’s good.)