Erin Evans PhD MPH ALM and Meg Casano BSN MA
We read a really sad exchange of messages on a popular parenting/baby site the other day. We know the mom who was shamed is not alone and we wanted to reach out to her and others like her to say:
You’re tired. You’re tired of bouncing your baby on a yoga ball 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 tired of not feeling up to getting out of the house and going to play dates and enrichment classes. 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 have a chronic illness of your own, you don’t have any help or family nearby, you have twins or two or three other young children, you have post partum depression or anxiety, you have cracked and bleeding nipples… you are desperate for sleep.
You’re also tired of other parents judging you, shaming you, and saying “why don’t you just co-sleep?” “How could you ever let your baby cry?” Or worse, “someone should call child protective services on you for letting your baby cry!”
Well, here’s a little secret for those moms 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-nurse 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 moms. Some parents just can’t sleep with a baby in the bed. Some get anxious – even panic – knowing that the AAP doesn’t support bed-sharing and worry about the risks of suffocation and SIDS that have been shown to be associated with bed-sharing. In addition to all of that some parents are just not able to co-sleep due to having a sleep disorder or having to take medication that makes co-sleeping risky. Would we like the AAP to come out with safe co-sleeping guidelines? Absolutely! But, even if they do, co-sleeping still won’t work for everyone. So, the shaming has to stop. The most important thing is that your baby is getting well consolidated sleep; less important is how you make that happen.
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 not true at all. Similarly, in some circles “Ferber” is a dirty word, yet nearly the exact same strategy written up by clever marketers and packaged as “gentle” is accepted as such. 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 crib, but it also could be a co-sleeper or a spartan 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.
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 the Ferber 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. In these cases it’s always best to check with your pediatrician or our blogs on reducing night feeding and schedules for guidance.
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 we 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 we support you too!
So, for that mom who was shamed – we’d like to publicly show our support for YOU! Your sleep training wasn’t going exactly as your hoped and you sought advice and guidance. That IS the definition of good parenting. We hope you will visit us on Facebook and leave a message on our wall the next time you get stuck.