As moms we are told from day one that we will never sleep again. There is definitely, a time when our babies are first born that they require around the clock feeds and diaper changes, however, that doesn’t need to last forever and at some point (much sooner than most people think!) it is time for everyone to get some sleep.
Sleep training continues to be a hot topic in the parenting world. I’ve never really understood why because if you have children and have lived through tortuous sleep deprivation, why would you not do whatever you can to get your baby to sleep so that you can sleep?
From what I understand, the argument against sleep training a child is that they will cry. And that crying will lead to stress and disrupt the bond you have with your child, and cause possible brain damage?
Here is the story I tell that gives some perspective:
When my first son was born, he didn’t like to sleep. That was really tough but on top of that He. Would. Not. Latch.
I was so desperate to be able to breastfeed I would have done anything. I certainly tried everything everyone suggested. I had a lactation consultant, joined the LaLeche League, had 2 visits to Dr. Jack Newman in Toronto (where on one horrid visit the nurse spilled the only bottle of pumped breastmilk I had ever created), joined every mom group there was and cried all day every day.
And guess who else was crying? Yep. My baby. All-day. Every day. Every time I tried to feed him he screamed his head off. It was painful and utterly devastating because I knew my baby was stressed and hungry and I couldn’t help him. I was barely a mom and already a failure.
All of the pressure and stress of breastfeeding my baby created a perfect storm for depression, anxiety, and quite frankly, a disdain for being a mother.
And in the middle of all of this, I found out I was pregnant. So, failing as a first time mom and now it’s time to do it all over again. Pregnant with a newborn.
It was at this time I decided to stop the torment of trying to get my baby to breastfeed. Formula was what was going to be on the menu for my baby. It almost broke me. But the minute I made the decision to stop forcing something that was clearly not working for us things started to get better. I was calmer. My baby was eating. Without a huge screaming fit. I started to feel like another baby on the way wasn’t a punishment for something I did as a teenager.
As I look back on this time in my life there is 1 thing that stands out so clearly to me. Not 1 single person told me I should give up trying to breastfeed my baby. NOT ONE. Everyone told me that breast is best and if I just kept at it he would nurse eventually. He didn’t. He cried. ALL. THE. TIME. He was hungry and not getting what he needed and I listened to what everyone around me said was best for MY BABY.
A few months down the road, baby #2 was soon to arrive, however, baby #1 never slept. He was up all night and barely napped. I was so tired and could not fathom how I was going to manage with 2 babies that didn’t sleep.
I would talk to anyone who would listen about my son’s sleep issues and I just kept getting really terrible advice. I tried everything, to no avail.
Eventually, I came across a woman in Vancouver who claimed to have a program that helped parents teach their babies to learn how to sleep. I have never been so skeptical. I was on maternity leave with a baby on the way and she was expensive.
Keep in mind, this was 11 years ago and I had never heard of sleep training. My husband and I knew that we needed to get sleep and she promised that she could help us. And she did.
The program was easy to follow and I saw results on the very first night. I did not feel that I was doing something harmful to my baby. I felt empowered because I was taking steps to improve the health of my baby.
A few years later I had the opportunity to become a sleep consultant myself. I loved the process so much and told anyone who would listen how hiring a sleep consultant improved my abilities as a mother. I wanted to share it with the world.
What I was not expecting was a huge backlash from a community that was telling me that sleep training was a sin and that it wasn’t healthy for my baby.
I couldn’t understand how something that made our lives so much better could be harmful. I had 2 small children who slept 11+ hours each night and took amazing naps. I felt better as a mother and my husband had a wife and children who were happy and thriving. It was heartbreaking to hear that others didn’t approve of our parenting decision.
It all came down to babies crying. This really was confusing for me because when my first son was born and struggling to learn how to breastfeed, he cried all the time. Every time I tried to get him to latch, every time he had to wait to eat because I wasn’t finished pumping, he was crying. No one ever told me that he was crying too much and I should just give him formula. Everyone said that I should keep at it because the benefits of him breastfeeding far outweighed the difficult time we were having getting there.
Those people giving me advice had the best intentions for my baby. And I agree with them. Breastfeeding is important. I also believe that sleep is important.
So why was it acceptable for my baby to cry for so long to learn how to breastfeed?
I can tell you that teaching my baby to sleep involved far less crying and resulted in my baby being calmer and getting the healthy sleep he needed. And that is just how my baby benefitted. The real gift of teaching my baby to sleep well was how I changed as a mother.
When I wasn’t struggling through a fog of sleep deprivation, I was more present for my child. When I woke each morning to happy babies who had a full night of sleep, I could take on the millions of other things we are faced with in a day as parents. I was better. I was calmer.
Sometimes as parents we need to understand that taking care of our children means taking care of ourselves so we can be at our best. We are much better parents when we have had a good night’s sleep.
I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to sleep train their babies. I am suggesting, however, that moms need to do what is best for them and their families and feel confident in the decisions they make.