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Why I don’t practice controlled crying…

This blog was previously written and shared in February of 2017. But it is important, and central to the decisions we have made, and what we chose to do as a company. For that reason, we are re-sharing with a few updates. Enjoy.

I want to start this article off by saying both of my children have been “sleep trained”. Both of my children have experienced “controlled crying” to some degree. And really. They both seem relatively normal. Ish. 😉

It is not my mission in writing this blog to guilt anyone for the choices they have made in how they have gotten their children to sleep. Because I believe every parent is inherently good. We’re all trying our best. We make choices every day for our children and hope in our heart of hearts we are making the right ones.

But sometimes to know more is to do better. Right now I know more, and I am choosing to do better. In my own parenting at home, and with every client who trusts me to guide them in my sleep work.

I did not get to where I am today holding back. If you know me, you know I’m an open book. As honest as they come. I’ve made decisions I’m proud of, and some that bring me guilt, shame, and yes, even regret. And while this writing may make you feel a lot of “feels”, this was a story I felt I needed to tell to continue on in my business and propel it forward in a direction I feel most proud of, and confident in.

I remember the first time I questioned controlled crying. Like really questioned it. I believed it to be a good method to use to get a child to sleep when I had an infant. That’s because I REALLY needed to sleep. It worked. And I was grateful. I got my life back. A little piece of me I was really longing for.. lost in the abyss that is postpartum life. I began to feel like me again. I was also convinced that I had given myself and my child the “gift of sleep”, and that I had done a good thing by teaching my baby to “self-soothe”.

But then that little baby became a toddler. More advanced than their peers in the language department, they would love to talk your ear off. And when he turned two, he decided bedtime was the place to share all of his wildest dreams and deepest secrets.

My usual methods in getting him to sleep weren’t working. I could close the door, but immediately he screamed. And not just a little cry or whimper. A bloody murder scream. The kind I remembered from when he was a baby and we sleep trained him using the Ferber approach. But this time, he didn’t quiet down. She added another element to his plea. A “mama mama mama mama please don’t go!”.

That night I laid on his floor. Closed my eyes. And sang until he was asleep. I wondered what I had done wrong. What had happened. And why our sleep strategy was no longer working. The Ferber approach is supposed to be a 3 – 5 nights and you’re “done forever and for always” approach. What was happening?

And in true Lara form, this brought me to the library. Where I then checked out every toddler sleep book that exists, and began to dive a little deeper.

Had I been prepared for what to expect, I would have been ready. There is a sleep “regression” at age two with the burst of language development, the evolution of true fears, and some residual separation anxiety. A normal, healthy, and natural part of my toddler’s childhood that I was trying to close the door, separate myself from, and ignore. And this strong-willed (and highly sensitive) kid was having none of it.

I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it. And it made me question everything. Why was it appropriate for me to walk out of the room on my crying baby when he was but 7 months of age and barely had object permanence? But, as soon as he had words it felt wrong? Had he not always been trying to communicate something to me?

Of course he had. That’s biology. Human infants communicate to their caregivers through tears. This is the only way they can get their needs met. Sometimes this is a cry for a diaper change, a tummy to be filled, or pain from an ear infection. And at other times a cry may mean; please stay with me, I need you near. Our children communicate both physical and emotional needs.

Now I am not an advocate for NOT allowing our children to cry. In fact, I encourage quite the opposite. I believe that we should meet all of our children’s needs, and then if there are some tears to be had – fine. They should have them. This is part of a normal, healthy emotional release, and you can read more of my thoughts on crying here. But, I believe tears can be in the arms of a loving caregiver, or the presence of a parent sitting beside, hand on chest, telling their child they are there for them. Or in my case that night, singing “on top of spaghetti” at the top of my lungs because I really had no other way to get that child to sleep.

I’ve learned a lot in my work with families. I’ve always attracted a “gentler” crowd, and through families asking for something totally different, I learned a lot. People wanted to move slower. They wanted to connect more deeply with their child. And they wanted options. Caring as much as I do about the clients I serve, I tried to find these for everyone who asked. And in doing so, I found myself a whole new repertoire of skills.

But still, I offered controlled crying as an option. Since no concrete research based articles on sleep training proved it was bad, or harmful to infants (or so I thought), I carried on.. business as usual. Doing what 90% of other child sleep consultants do. Convincing families that their children NEED to sleep. And that I would be the one to get them some.

But then came along baby #2. And damnit. He was more difficult than the first in the sleep department.

I promised myself I wouldn’t worry. I wouldn’t stress. “You’ve got all the tools to fix this Lara” were words I repeated often, and as a result I relaxed.

I relaxed a lot. I gave myself a chance to just “be” with my youngest. To listen to him. To feed him more than I thought I should in the middle of the night. To respond to him with pick ups, cuddles, love and contact at any hour of the day – with far less restrictions than Ferber would ever allow. And dog gone it, the child began to sleep. In his own time. In the comfort of my presence. Without “negative sleep props or associations”, with room for “healthy tears and emotional release” in the presence of his loving caregivers – he began to sleep.

Now to say I got to this place on my own would be a complete lie. I confided in the sleep coaches I was most curious about.. and they taught me a lot. One of my good friends suggested I take Bebo.Mia’s Infant sleep Educator course and I signed up almost instantly. I felt drawn to the promise of seeing sleep through a lens different than the one I was used to viewing it from. And I was excited to see what this new education would do to my practice.

Some of the learning was hard for me. These people actually had the science. The science the greater half of the sleep training community chooses to ignore. And the science I needed to give me my “why”. The reasons why I personally no longer practice controlled crying forms of sleep training in my home, or with my client’s babies.

This isn’t to say I won’t get you more sleep. I absolutely will do that. But I hope you will find a pace that feels right. A pace that feels more natural. Good, and supportive for everyone involved. With permission to touch, stroke, make eye contact, and feed at times where these things are necessary.

I learned that year that a lot of what we hear about infant sleep is a lie.

Firstly, babies cannot “self-soothe”. Babies cannot regulate their emotions. They are born with a seriously underdeveloped prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that does regulate our emotions (Cozalino, 2010). And to be honest, most of us have not fully developed the neuro pathways for self regulation until age 24. Therefore asking a baby to “soothe itself” is really quite a preposterous ask.

Babies are born wired to survive. They are designed to survive the first year at all costs. And their biology ensures that this is so. For this reason, they are hardwired to their parents as well. Parents are physiologically wired to respond to an infant’s cries (Narvaez, 2011), and to be honest, we don’t yet know enough about the longterm effects of ignoring an infant’s cries in order for me to comfortably ask a family in my care to do this. We do know enough about forming secure attachments for me to err on the side of caution on this one.

Considering that sleep is also where we are most vulnerable (Aldort, 2011), it only really makes sense that a child might need the support and loving presence of their caregiver to trust the transition to the sleep state, and go to this state peacefully. We know that teaching babies and young children is done through example (Cozalino, 2010, p.70). And teaching a child to sleep is surely no exception.

When we look back on the Behaviourist Theory that dominated psychology in the 1950s, it is easy to see why we developed infant sleep practices that ignored a child’s primal needs. The North American view at this time was that infants should be seen, and not heard, and that parents should not be inconvenienced by the demands of their children. And sadly, we see this having residual lasting effects in today’s parenting practices, and many of the sleep training approaches offered as a “quick fix”.

But since the 1950s we have learned a lot about infants. We have learned a TON about the brain. And we know that although children cannot remember specific memories before the age of 3 (Mate, 2002), these memories are stored implicitly in the brain and will re-surface when similar experiences take place as those that did in the child’s earliest of days.

Thanks to Developmental Psychology and Attachment Theorists such as John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, we know that babies are born social creatures. We know that positive early experiences in a child’s life help to hardwire the messages “I am understood” “I am worthy” and “The world is safe” (Cozalino, 2010). And I believe we are on the edge of a paradigm-shift in the world of sleep consulting.

All of the sleep training studies that exist are inconclusive. They do not account for all of the variables we would need to see to know if it is truly safe to sleep train a child using a controlled crying approach. Bebo.Mia asked us to look at these studies, and look at how someone supportive of sleep training took the information and blogged about it in a positive light. While someone who was against sleep training took that same study, and blogged about it negatively. Inconclusive at its best, I believe.

Lastly, ask anyone who sleep trained their child this way if the process felt good. I know that many people choose cry-it-out as an absolute last resort. I also did this. But had I known there were other ways to achieve more sleep, I certainly would have chosen them. Had I known that picking up my baby would not “undo all of the crying to this point” I would have picked them up.

I also know that new pathways in the brain are formed every day, and that the brain is incredibly plastic. For this reason, I know I can go ahead with my own children each day and form healthy, happy attachments, and awesome early memories for them, despite their prior sleep training experiences.

What I have learned about being a mama is there is always something to feel guilty over. But, the very fact that you are worried about being a good parent is usually enough to prove you are in fact one, and your children are going to turn out just fine. Or at the very least.. Just messed up enough that they are interesting at a dinner party.

I choose everyday to lead my business with the heart of a parent. I know the visceral response you feel when your baby cries. And I want you to act on this instinct. This instinct. This intuition. It is there for a reason. And I believe it should not be ignored.

I want you to look back on the experience of getting your child more sleep with a smile on your face, resting assured that it was the absolute best thing you could have done for your family in that moment in time. And that you took the most caring, most thoughtful, and most supportive road you could have taken to get there.

So yes. My approach will be this way moving forward, and my courses do not consider controlled crying as an option. I can get your child and your family more sleep. This is true. But you’ve got to be on board with doing things a little bit differently. With sometimes having to completely reshape everything you think you know and believe about infant sleep. With getting creative. With exploring the relationship you have with your child now, and for a lifetime.

And if you are open to this – then yes, I’d be honoured to be your guide.

XO

Lara

Aldort, N. (2011). Naomi Aldort on sleep: YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oelT2QM5Tk

Bebo.Mia. (2017). Infant Sleep Educator Module. Toronto, ON. Retrieved from www.bebomia.com.

Cozolino, L. (2010). The neuroscience of psychotherapy: Healing the social brain. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company

Narvaez, D. (2011). The Dangers of “Crying it Out”. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/morallandscapes/201112/dangers-crying-it-out

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Can you train a baby to sleep? Should you?

I always like to dive into topics that are constantly on my mind, but might be a bit controversial too. Maybe I’m bored. Ha! Not trying to stir the pot. But, if no one talks about this stuff… how will we ever make change? Am I right?

In the mom world we know the question is always – to sleep train, or not to sleep train?

Sleep is a normal biological function. We are all born with the ability to fall asleep, and stay asleep. Although when it comes to babies, it doesn’t always feel this way. And truthfully, sometimes in an attempt to “help” our babies sleep, we take away some of this natural ability from them. Oops!

Sleep is something that DOES mature over time. An adult’s sleep cycles are different from that of a newborn baby. And a newborn baby’s sleep cycles will differ from their 6 month old little buddy.

Newborn babies sleep very lightly, and very erratically, for good reason. They have to be able to come out of sleep quickly and easily. They are designed to survive the first year of their lives at all costs, and for this reason, nature made their sleep super eventful, and far less peaceful than an older child’s will be.

With every week that passes, every month that passes, a child’s sleep matures. Sleep IS largely a developmental milestone. Sure, there are things we can do to hurry it along. And sleep training is one of those things. Heck! The sleep coaching I do is also one of those things and I would not consider it sleep training. But for the most part, every family will have a child who sleeps through the night before their 5th birthday, regardless of any sleep training, coaching, or shaping that is done.

And even then – if you take one baby of one particular age, and compare it to a baby of the exact same developmental age and stage, their sleep would be much like comparing apples to watermelons. Sure, they’re both fruit! But, in my mind, they are entirely different. And no two babies will ever sleep the exact same. Sleep training or not.

So.. if sleep is a normal biological function.. Can you train a baby to sleep?

I suppose the answer to this question is… yes. Sleep is the outcome of most traditional forms of “sleep training”, but what exactly was achieved through that training process is highly debated.

When you “sleep train” a baby, you are often asked to do things that feel pretty unnatural. Ignore your baby’s cry, don’t touch them, or pick them up, or offer them a sip of water. You are training them for a half marathon after-all! Oh no wait.. Sorry.. We are training them to sleep in their beds, without physical human contact or connection, for 11 – 12 hours. Are they actually sleeping that whole time? Good question! Studies have actually shown that babies who are “sleep trained” wake up the same number of times per night as their non sleep trained counterparts, but they no longer signal for attention. This might be because they have learned to put themselves back to sleep, or it might be because they have learned no one is coming. It really depends what was done or not done in achieving the returning to sleep part of the sleep training. 

I think of us as in a relationship with our children for a lifetime – 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. So I do worry about what happens to that relationship when a child’s physical and emotional needs are largely ignored overnight.

Now, I will say.. I am not “anti” sleep training. I personally do not subscribe to any kind of controlled crying or ferber sleep training. You can read my personal story of why I don’t use controlled crying here, if you are curious. I will say I definitely used to “dabble” in these methods – but realized they were not for me a little more than a year ago.

But I think the more important question here is; should you sleep train your baby?

I do believe it is important, as parents.. That we always put the “oxygen mask” on ourselves first. If you are suffering so greatly from sleep deprivation – perhaps sleep training is the right answer for you. But, I would ask you to explore a few other options as well.

Might there be another way to reach your goals, without changing the way your child sleeps? Might there be another way to change the way your child sleeps, without any formal sleep training?

  • Is your partner helping you with the responsibility of putting baby to bed?
  • Do you have support during the day?
  • Are you chatting with a diverse group of parents each day? Not just those who sleep train, OR those who don’t?
  • Have you spoken to your doctor about your sleep concerns?
  • Are you trading off with your partner in the middle of the night to both get some rest?

In a previous blog post I talked a bit about sleep personalities. Just like you and your partner likely have different sleep habits, and personalities, our babies do as well. And if you’re interested in reading more about sleep personalities, check that one out here.

But I think the thing I find the MOST interesting about baby sleep is… how impatient we can be in waiting for our children to sleep through the night.

You wouldn’t be upset with your baby if they didn’t crawl by the time they were 9 months, would you? Would you be frustrated if your child took til 17 months to walk? What if they hadn’t babbled their first word before age 1?

We are SO patient as parents in waiting for all of these other developmental milestones to occur.

We know our children need to put the building blocks of these skills together. Their little brains are firing so many synapses! Their muscles are growing and strengthening, and eventually they will get there. But with sleep – we just can’t wait! And I know it might sound contrary to what I do for a living that I am proposing that we wait to see this milestone happen too.

Aren’t you a sleep trainer, Lara?

No. Actually I am not. Have I wrote a blog post on that one yet? Haha. I feel like I did once upon a time. 

I want families to know that there are alternatives to sleep training. That sometimes the resolution to your child’s very sleep “issue” is within you to discover, and it might be very unique. If you’d like some examples of things I might do to help a family achieve more sleep, check this post out here. 

But, sometimes the answer truly is – more time. And please, no sleep training of babies younger than 6 months of age at the very least. They are just not ready for the “push” that will accompany any form of sleep training, shaping, or coaching. 

If you want help to explore the other options that exist – book a discovery call with me. It is an opportunity for us to get to know each other better, and see if I am part of the solution you are seeking. 

Ultimately, please know you are doing the best you can with the tools you’ve got at this particular time. And really, that is okay! This post is not meant to guilt or shame anyone – just hoping we might all take a little look and see things a bit differently than perhaps we normally do. 

XO

Lara

Thank you as always to Stacie-Lynn Photography for this beautiful photo… interestingly, the mama here, Karly, is a talented mama and the owner of Mully’s Handcrafted. 🙂 

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Is sleep training the magic ticket for mom’s anxiety?

I’ve been wanting to blog about this for a while. But it is such a sensitive subject, I have struggled to figure out how!

I would say I was inspired by my friend and colleague Lauren Alysha Heffernan of Isla-Grace, and her post on “Wake Windows and Sleep Schedules”. She addresses an issue, that many of us in the sleep coaching industry have been somewhat ignoring. And one that is so important for us to bring attention to.

The “too lazy did not read” of this post is… Sleep training will not eliminate your postpartum depression or anxiety. 😉

Now, it may give you a focal point. A place to put your attention. A subject to think about and busy your mind with. All of those things happened for me when I was experiencing postpartum anxiety with my daughter. And it may decrease your depression and anxiety for a little while. But, it also may not. And in fact, it also might make it worse. Something very few people talk about. 

I remember telling my sleep consultant at the time, “If I could just get this baby sleeping… I am sure my anxiety would be so much lower.”

Now, if I had a dollar for every time I have heard that line since… I would probably have $50 or so. 😉

I ask every family that I work with, “is anyone in the family experiencing anxiety or depression?”. 90% of the families I work with reply. “Yes”. I then ask, “has it been diagnosed by a medical professional?” And 75% then answer, “No”.

In our consultation I always ask why this is… and many parents say that they are certain once their baby starts sleeping better, they will no longer experience these levels of depression or anxiety.  

Now, there might be some truth to this.

We know that lack of sleep is certainly related to a decrease in overall mood, and mental wellness. Experiencing regular, repetitive sleep deprivation is certainly met with increased levels of clinical depression and anxiety. We know that babies and toddlers deprive us of sleep! So making the correlation that regular sleep disruption, night wakings, and insomnia, rob us of our mental health… is a fair one to make! And one that can be statistically proven as well.

But the relationship between sleep, and postpartum mood, is a very complex one. Add in the hormonal changes, and HUGE mental shift in becoming a new mother, or mother for the second or third time, and you’ve got a bit of a crazy cocktail.

Now in Lauren’s piece, she draws attention to a new mom’s obsession with awake times, scheduling, and finding the best possible sleep schedule for their baby. She asks mothers to consider what type of person they were prior to having a baby, and how this might be presenting itself in their parenting. Were you someone who was high achieving, who set goals and could easily achieve them with the right methodologies and practice? If yes, you will likely find a lot of comfort and solace in a baby sleep schedule. *Hint – this was me at 5 months postpartum with my daughter*.

But, what about when your baby does not follow that regular predictable schedule that all other babies seem to be able to follow? It can make you feel like a total failure. *Hint – this was also me at 7.5 months postpartum*. And I have actually had moms tell me they cannot work with me because they were unable to follow the awake times I was asking of them in our consultation without feeling defeat. (Of course, I can almost always tweak things to help them feel some level of success). But, this is anxiety at work my friends! And it is a scary hairy beast! Not one to be ignored. And bringing attention to it BEFORE sleep work, can actually improve your baby’s sleep, while improving your mental health! More on that to come.

Did you know, a recently published study in The Journal of Early Child Development and Care found a positive correlation between the use of infant books that promote strict routines and increased levels of maternal depression, and decreased levels of self efficacy? (Please don’t hand your new mom friends Babywise… yes I might get some backlash for that). But it can feel like you are trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. And often new moms can’t handle this level of pressure! Heck… many experienced mamas can’t handle it either.

Now some level of sleep training, or sleep coaching, or sleep shaping, or whatever route you so choose, may help your family get more sleep. And as a result, you might start sleeping more.. And you might find you are better mentally fit to work through any remaining feelings of depression or anxiety you are experiencing. Or, you might find that yes… poof.. They are gone with the wind!

But I can tell you – for many, sleep coaching is not a magic ticket out of anxiety.  

I have worked with MANY families, and with every family I have worked with.. I have been able to increase the amount their child does sleep. But I can tell you, this doesn’t always mean that mom and dad begin sleeping well. For some, the anxiety and depression remains just as high as before we started. And for many, this is a defeating moment as well.

Now I have a sleeping baby, and I can’t sleep?! What the f*ck is wrong with me now?

Or their baby starts to sleep, but they are still analyzing every movement their baby makes in the night. Obsessing over every little detail, because it brings some level of comfort and confidence to analyze and problem solve. Two habits leftover from a successful pre-child adult life, and leftover from having a baby who DOES NOT SLEEP.

Now what I will tell you, is working on getting your anxiety or depression medically diagnosed and supported, can actually help your baby start to sleep better.

Hey now, what now?! Working on my own mental health might actually help my baby sleep better? Even without any form of sleep coaching or behavioural intervention?!

Yes.

Yes, it may!

You grew that baby for 10 months. It is connected to you on a cellular level, and it feels every feel in which you feel. Now, I am not trying to say you are projecting your anxiety on your baby (although a few of you might be nodding along now going.. Um… yup.. I’m totally doing that..), but what I am trying to say is.. If you are anxious about your baby going to sleep, they know that. If you are holding and rocking your baby in arms, riddled with anxiety about it going to sleep, it will feel that anxiety, and then also become anxious about transitioning from awake to asleep, and then not sleep, and the negative feedback loop continues!

But the good news here… making small changes to your own mental health and well-being, may help baby go to sleep more easily. It may help your expectations become a bit more realistic, and as a result, you might even enjoy that little 14 pound cutie a little bit more than you already do. You are feeling the love, baby is feeling the love, and bada bing bada boom.. Baby’s sleep improves.

Now, the intention of this blog is NOT to guilt anyone who did sleep train their baby in direct response to the anxiety they were experiencing. (I’m raising my hand here guys.. I was that girl!). And if sleep training did help alleviate all of your postpartum stress or woes – good for you, more power to you!

But, the purpose and outcome I am hoping to achieve here is that no new mother will put all of their “eggs” into the “sleep training” basket. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

Take care of YOU first, and baby will follow. 

If you do need some postpartum support, and you are in the Vancouver area, I recommend the Pacific Postpartum Support Society as your first touch point.

Thank you to my girl @stacielynnphotography for the beautiful photos you see here. 

XO

Lara

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The Baby Sleep Dictionary A to Z

If you are thinking about hiring a sleep coach of any kind… you have probably spent some time perusing websites. In the Vancouver area, you have a lot of different options for sleep consultants, and I know at first glance.. We may all seem the same.

Recently, I joined a family in their home at bedtime. Prior to working with me, they worked with another consultant. It turned out that it was not a great fit on both sides, but what I learned when I was with them was that it was the keywords used on this person’s website that swayed them. Holistic, gentle, guided, etc etc.. But, the approach they received was quite different than what they expected.

Lucky for me, they watched a ton of my videos, read all of my blogs, and decided they would take a chance on me! And so far, I think… so good. 😉

What I thought might have helped these new parents, was having the words that commonly appear on infant sleep coaches sites, defined. So.. voila! A new BLOG is born.

Attachment friendly – the sleep coach is claiming to have an understanding of attachment theory, infant mental health, and emotional wellness. This consultant should be familiar with the stages of healthy attachment, attachment theory, theorists, and developmental psychology. They will likely be familiar with attachment parenting as well, and what is important to attachment parents.

Behavioural Modifications – essentially anything that is done to change a child’s natural sleep behaviours. This may include sleep training, or sleep learning, or sleep shaping. But may also not involve all 3. You’ll read more about these methodologies below.

Breastfeeding friendly – this consultant will respect your wishes to continue breastfeeding during the day, as well as, at night. They will ask you about your breastfeeding experience and wishes for extended breastfeeding or feeding to natural term. You may be lucky enough to find a consultant who is also IBCLC certified, or next best, a lactation educator.

Certified Sleep Consultant – this person has completed some kind of sleep certification process. These vary widely in nature. A franchise may “certify” all of their consultants so that they appear to be more professional. All the consultants whom have the same certification as myself, have come at sleep consulting with a variety of different backgrounds and experiences. Just because someone is “certified” in the same certification as another consultant, does not mean they practice sleep coaching in the same way. 

Controlled Crying – leaving a baby alone to cry, in intervals of 5, 10 or 15 mins, most commonly. Touch, eye contact, and connection are extremely limited on checks. May also be referred to as the “Ferber” method, or “The Sleep Wave”.

Cry-it-out – crying until sleep ensues, alone, or with checks at timed intervals.

Developmentally Appropriate – will choose methodologies that are “age appropriate”. Different consultants have different views on what is developmentally appropriate. Some believe feeding at night can end at 4 months of age, others believe that all infants can sleep thru the night by 6 months, and will encourage your baby to do the same. What is deemed “developmentally appropriate” may differ from the family’s wishes, but also may be supportive of a family’s wishes.

Extinction – crying alone, until sleep ensues, no exceptions. Often this requires closing the door at 7 pm and not entering a child’s room again for 12 hours.

Ferber – Used as an adjective to describe controlled crying approaches. This behavioural modification process was popularized by Dr. Richard Ferber. The method is most similar to controlled crying as defined above. Baby cries with check ins from their caregiver, at timed intervals, which lengthen.

Gentle – a buzzword at best. What you see as gentle, may be very different from your consultant’s viewpoint.

Gradual Retreat – This is the act of sitting beside your baby while they learn to fall asleep independently. They will cry. You comfort them with key phrases, and some occasional touch. Baby is not left alone to cry, but may also not be responded to physically or emotionally depending on where you are in your plan, and who created it for you! The place you sit moves further and further from your child’s crib with every few passing nights.

Holistic – This is the belief sleep does not exist in and of itself, and that lack of sleep is a family issue, rather than a child issue. A holistic infant sleep coach will look at all aspects of nutrition, timing, family relationship, etc., in determining best solutions to help your family sleep more.

Infant Sleep Educator – A person who works solely as an ISE will not do any behavioural modification. Rather than seeing your child’s sleep as a “problem” to solve, they will look for solutions to help you as a family function better. They will help you find the goal that exists behind the goal.

Parenting to sleep – helping your baby ALL the way to sleep in some way, shape or form. Rocking to sleep, holding to sleep, dancing them down, cuddling, or patting. 

Respectful – This consultant is claiming to respect you, your child, and your wishes for your relationship with your child.

Responsive – This consultant is expecting you to respond to your child at night. To respond to their physical needs, and their emotional needs, no matter the hour of the day. You will get to go into your child if you feel it is necessary.

Self Soothing – A popular claim that is made is that babies must learn to “self soothe” in order to sleep through the night. Depending on your definition of the term, this may or may not be possible. I think of self soothing as defined as; being able to calm the self, or regulate emotion – two things infants are not capable of doing. See this blog, here. 

Sleep Learning – fancy word for sleep training 😉

Sleep Shaping – May also be another fancy word for sleep training, but also may be the idea of modifying your child’s sleep, nudging them along, rather than making abrupt changes. This is most commonly what I do. I will nudge a child towards more sleep, when they appear ready to make some changes, and parents feel calm, and collected about what they are doing.

Sleeping thru the night – the idea that your child will sleep all night, with little to no interference needed by you. Sleeping thru the night may be defined by some consultants as 5 hours of consecutive sleep, while others may claim to help you achieve 11 – 12 hours of consolidated nighttime sleep. 

Sleep Training – Most commonly this is referred to as modifying the way your child sleeps using behavioural changes. The most common sleep training techniques are controlled crying, or gradual retreat.

Sleep Wave – This is another sleep training technique that has gained more popularity in the last year. This is similar to controlled crying, or the Ferber approach, except the timed intervals never exceed 5 mins.

SLS (Sleep Lady Shuffle) – a term coined by Kim West, the certified “gentle sleep coach” herself. The technique in her book is a gradual retreat form of behaviour modification. Moving further and further away from your child, as they are able to fall asleep more independently essentially.

Timed checks – Once again, another way to say controlled crying, ferber, sleep wave, etc.. etc.. 😉

… and I am sure there are more! If you want to comment with one you have heard, and I can update the post.. I would be happy to. But these are the ones that I see most commonly. 
 

And as always, thank you to @stacielynnphotography for supplying me with oodles of cute baby photos to support my blogs. <3 

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The Myth of Self Soothing

This topic of conversation is getting a lot of attention these days from what I can see. Everywhere I look people are discussing whether or not infants can self-soothe. Some sleep consultants are speaking out saying infants very much can do this for themselves. They have seen these behaviours with their own eyes, and believe that this is a natural development infants need to make in order to put themselves to sleep.. While some bloggers, or natural parenting experts, question how a baby could be possible of such a feat.

Can a baby self-soothe?

I think this largely depends on what your definition of “self-soothing” is.

When I first heard the term “self-soothing” my initial reaction was.. Okay.. so my baby has to learn how to soothe, or comfort, herself. If I am always doing this for my baby, then she will never have a chance to do this for herself. What about when I am not there to soothe her? For example; when she is on the playground, or when she is at daycare. What will she do in the moments where she is scared or frightened, and has to figure this out on her own?

I’ve noticed that some people don’t share this exact definition with me. Some people are talking about the very specific behaviours babies develop in order to put themselves to sleep. I’m talking about an infant sucking their thumb or fingers, sucking on the inside of their lip, or rubbing the corner of their blankie on their face to go to sleep. These are all behaviours I have seen infants do before they go to bed at night. This is often what I refer to as self-settling behaviour. And I put an emphasis on seeing this develop through infancy, toddlerhood, and the preschool years, through parents cued care in response to their children’s needs, or emotional expressions.

Certainly some infants come out of the womb sucking their thumbs and fingers. But others do not.. And they will pick up some of the above behaviours while their parents are teaching them to “self-soothe” through some particular form of sleep training. Sometimes I believe an infant is strengthening a skill we have already seen them do from birth, but it is something they have not been relying on consistently to put themselves to sleep. And at other times I think they develop a way to fall asleep quickly from a place of stress, because they are not being comforted by their caregiver, and their body is eliciting a fight or flight response.

When it comes to sleep, and sleep science.. It is very difficult to find any conclusive sleep training studies that are valid and meaningful. Most are flawed in some way, shape or form, and it is not every day that a parent hands over their baby and gives a professor permission to let them cry-it-out without some form of parental response. Often data numbers are low, or external variables have not been fully accounted for when conclusions are made.

Therefore, I have used brain anatomy to determine where I stand on this debate. I look at our brain, and the field of psychology, in determining whether or not a baby is actually able to comfort itself; as my original definition of self-soothing demonstrates.

We know that babies are born with a developed hippocampus and amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory. The hippocampus allows us to store long-term memories, and together these parts of the brain function within the limbic system. This system is responsible for us developing fight or flight reactions in stressful situations. Infants are born with the capacity to feel fear, and distress, and they are able to elicit fight or flight reactions as necessary for their survival.

In order for us to truly regulate our emotions and thus, “soothe the self”, there is a very important part of the brain that needs to fully develop. This would be the prefrontal cortex. This brain region allows us to develop complex thought, make decisions based on those thoughts, and moderate our social behaviour. Babies are not born with a developed prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is actually not fully developed until we are in our mid to late twenties.

Based on these facts alone, I do find the definition of an infant self-soothing to be quite confusing, and somewhat misleading. If we, as their parents, are barely capable of thinking rational thoughts at times… how can we expect that this is what our babies are doing when they are left alone to cry?

I realize that this blog is likely to ruffle some feathers, and that is okay. I suppose I am opening myself up for some healthy debate on the subject. Or, if you have another scientific finding I have not included in coming to my conclusion here, I am all ears.

When I work with families, I am often helping them move from co-sleeping, to independent sleep. It is not to say that a change in behaviour does not evoke some feelings in our babies. It very much does. But I believe our children can learn through watching us every day. They learn self-settling behaviour through cued care, and this means, watching how a parent does make an effort to comfort their crying infant. Sometimes this means crying in a parent’s arms, sometimes this looks like a parent holding their child’s hand, and sometimes this is mom or dad sitting beside baby saying, I am here for you.  

I ask the families that I am working with to be there for their babies as they express the emotions they are feeling, and this is very hard for some families to do. Of course it would be easier for us to walk out the door and lean on the idea that we are teaching our babies a positive thing by having them “self-soothe”. But ultimately, is that what we are teaching them here? That is a question only you can answer for your family.

I am not writing this to guilt, or shame anyone. Both of my children have endured some form of sleep training whereby I thought I was doing them a service in teaching them independence from me, and how to put themselves to sleep without any sleep props or sleep associations.

But ultimately, I do believe our babies need us. And usually if we dig deep, we can find a way to be there for them in some way, shape, or form. Sometimes we just need the right support ourselves, to get us to that place. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have that when I needed it most.

XO

Lara

Photos seen here shared with permission from the beautiful and talented, Stacie-Lynn Photography.

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STOP Shaming Tired Moms

If you’ve been following me a while you probably know that I am not your average baby “sleep trainer”. I actually try to achieve as much sleep as possible without initiating any formal sleep training.

Ultimately, I work with families and we shift behavior, yes. I have been known to nudge a baby or two to a better night’s sleep. But I want the process to feel more natural, more normal, and in-line with a baby’s unique temperament, a family’s unique needs, and their desire for a strong attachment with their infants.

Every time I do a consultation I ask families a variety of questions. One I ask the most often is..

Why does this have to change? Why is your current scenario one that is not sustainable? Why do we have to make some changes here today?

I let parents blurt out whatever is in their heart at that given moment.. and I hear a lot of different things.

“We are not sleeping. We are not functioning. We are not able to be the parents we hoped we would be because of this lack of sleep.”

“If something doesn’t change soon we are going to lose our patience and we are just going to let her cry-it-out, which is something we don’t want to do.”

Most often, it is the parents wanting to make a change so that they can parent the way they had imagined. So that they can move on from sleep being the ONLY focus of every day, so that they can begin to lift above the cloud of sleep deprivation and enjoy their baby more.

But sometimes, they are worried about their baby too.

“I’m worried she is not getting enough sleep for her physical and emotional development.”

“I know he is supposed to be getting more sleep than this, and I feel like we are doing him a disservice because we can’t get him to sleep more than he does.”

“We are worried that his body is not getting the rest it needs in order to thrive.”

“We are worried that she will be behind her peers if she doesn’t begin to sleep well.”

Now.. I am not here to say that sleep is not important.

Sleep we know is very important.

Without sleep, our bodies do not restore and recover. Our cells regenerate in our sleep, and we rid our bodies of toxins to make space for new connections in our brains.

But here is the thing… almost every single baby I have worked with is thriving. THRIVING. They may wake up 5 – 7 times per night. They may take 2 x 20 minute naps in a day. But you know what, these babies are THRIVING.

They are weighing in at amazing weights. They are healthy. They are whole. They are reaching all of their developmental milestones right on cue! They are reaching new heights, babbling new words, and creating connections each and every day before their parents’ eyes. And they are securely attached to their caregivers, and loved beyond measure.

Yet somehow these parents have been made to believe that their children are inadequate? That their child is not thriving because they are up more than 1 or 2 times a night to tend to their needs? And that they are failing because they are not getting them the calculated number of hours of sleep as recommended by some book, or some blog somewhere that may or may not know the first thing about their infant.

So. Can we stop?!

Can we just stop this mom guilt, motha f*ckin shame?! PLEASE!

I’m on a rant. It is true.

But I want the world of “baby sleep professionals”, wherever you may be, to stop selling your packages by guilting parents into believing they are screwing up their children.

Yes. I am probably going to get some backlash on this one.. but I really can’t take it a minute longer.

I tell every parent I meet this – Yes I want your baby to sleep more.. but that is because I want YOU to get more sleep. YOU are the one who is not thriving here. YOU are the one who is tired beyond what you can take. YOU are the one who feels like you are barely making it through the day.

But LOOK at your baby!!!!!!!

Are we looking at the same baby?! Because the baby I see here right before my eyes is a happy, healthy, beautiful, interesting, dynamic, chubby, cute, and securely attached little infant. Your baby is perfectly fine – and somehow she is getting the sleep she needs.

Yes, she may be on your boob all night. But – that girl right there.. she is looking pretty damn rested. Ha! It is YOU who has the bags under your eyes. (Okay.. so.. I don’t say the last part, but.. you know what I mean!)

I come at this honestly, friends.

As some of you may know if you’ve been following my stories on instagram, my son has a slight developmental delay in gross motor development. It is very small – and I won’t begin to pretend for a second that I know about the struggles other moms face as they work through their children’s physical and emotional delays.

I look at my son, and I also see a beautiful, thriving, 14 month old, baby boy. He may just be learning to crawl. His legs give out beneath him every time he tries to stand, and his core strength needs a little work. We are hoping he will have a 6 pack by next Christmas if we keep up with his regular physio schedule. 😉

But here is the thing. My baby. He sleeps.

He lives with me. He never had a choice! Ha.

The kid sleeps 11 straight hours at night, and takes 2 x 1.5 hour naps each day. That is MORE than the average 14 month old.

Could I get him more sleep if I tried?

No. I really do not think I could possibly get him any more sleep than he gets currently.

If I did get him more sleep, would he have been more likely to meet his previous gross motor developmental skills on time?!

No. I really don’t think that has had anything to do with it. The kid has slept very well most of his life.

He is who he is, and I love him dearly for that.

But he is going to do things when his body is ready and prepared to do so. I will be right there cheering and nudging him along as best I can, but ultimately, it is his body’s choice when he will walk.

And to me. Sleep has very little to do with the equation.

So celebrate your babies for all they are my friends. The sleepy ones, and the sleepless wonders. They are perfectly designed for you. And they are thriving.

XO

Lara

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Sleep Training Regrets and Mom Guilt Mantras

I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on my business… Recently I was feeling very overwhelmed by it all. And truth be told, I even considered throwing in the towel! Don’t worry.. I’m not going anywhere. I’ve been meeting with a fabulous business coach, getting my head on straight, and figuring out just how I want this all to work for me! But it certainly hasn’t been without low moments. The entrepreneur life is tough.

As a sleep consultant I become extremely emotionally invested in the families I work with, and sometimes that can all feel like too much on top of my own, already emotional spirit, and my own family whom I care very deeply for.

When I started Heavy Eyes Happy Hearts Sleep Consulting 3 years ago my mission was pretty simple. I wanted to help families get more sleep. I wanted to see more people enjoy their time with their new baby, feel less stress and anxiety, and explore parenting as a well-rested, family. And I wanted to give those families a choice in how to do this. Always, a choice. And I believe for the most part I have been able to do this.

It is no secret that I worked with a sleep consultant when I had my first child, and this experience did change everything for me. It moved me beyond the cloud of depression and anxiety I was under, and I began to really love my daughter. Wholeheartedly. Excitedly. Love her. After a full night’s rest I would greet her in the morning happy to see her. And at the time I believed the decisions I had made to sleep train her were absolutely the best decisions I could have made for my family. And I told myself I would have no regrets. But alas, I do.

Something about that decision never felt quite right to me. I was so incredibly desperate for sleep in that moment that I literally would have done ANYTHING for it. I felt like I had tried everything in the process, and if this person had of told me that in order to get more sleep I needed to tap dance up and down, on the roof of a car, dressed like a monkey in a clown suit.. I would have done it! As ridiculous as that sounds. I truly would have done it.

So I “ferberized” my baby. Yup. I put her down to sleep, I walked out of the room listening to her cry from down the hall, and returned at set intervals. 5 minutes. 10 minutes. Even extending to 20 minutes. It broke my heart, but I did it. I was told that this was the only way I could have a sleeping baby, and so I followed through as best I could.

There were no other options presented to me at the time. Nothing. No SLS, no camping out, no gradual retreat, no pick-up put down, no parenting to sleep. Nothing. I did not even know other options to get your baby to sleep existed beyond rocking her for 1.5 hours, or controlled crying to teach her to “self soothe”.

The problem for me now is that I know so much more than I did then. Every day I am learning more. Every day I am a better sleep coach than I was the week before. And so, I look back on that time and I really do regret some of the parenting choices I made around my daughter’s sleep. If only babies came with a manual! Argh.

Mom guilt is the real deal. 

We all experience it. If I didn’t experience it as a result of sleep training my child, I would have just experienced it in another form. I also have guilt over banging her head on the car door while getting her into her car seat. Forcing her to use the potty before she was 100% ready, and leaving her to cry in the night only to find out the next day that she had a double ear infection. UGH. I am no perfect mom, that is for sure. And I certainly wouldn’t feel right portraying myself as such.

But one of the things I have had to do is come to terms with the mom guilt. Come to terms with the decisions I have made in parenting; including the way I sleep-trained my daughter. And I know I am probably not alone. So here are some of the things that have helped me.

Some Mom Guilt is Good

Guilt doesn’t feel good. It is an emotion that is hard to sit with. It causes us to look inward, to self-reflect, and to right our wrongs. I can tell you if controlled crying sleep training felt great to me, I would have never had a reason to look elsewhere! I would have never had a reason to learn what other sleep methodologies exist, and I would have never found bebo.mia., who offers a highly scientific, research based, approach to infant sleep.

I’ve always liked self-reflection. I have always found it has propelled my business forward. I have felt it has propelled me as a human forward, and without these gross feelings I would never have a reason to look at what’s not working, and why this is so.

I have learned from all my “mama guilt moments”. I have become a better parent as a result of these moments. And in the process, I believe, a better sleep coach as well.

Parenting is a Journey

To know more is to do better. I know more than I did in 2013, and so I choose now to do more with that knowledge I have. If I can parent in a more instinctive, more connected, more conscious way – I am going to do it! And by golly. I am doing it. I love the way I am parenting this little girl now. I look in her eyes each day and know we are in this together. I know my heart is at the focus of all of the decisions I am making now, and I know I am strengthening our bond each day as a result of the knowledge I have now.

Exercises To Help Move Beyond

One of the things I have done is written a letter to my daughter. I have apologized (specifically for the time I let her cry then found out about the double ear infection). I have written this as an apology to her. But also as a promise that from here on forward I will always come when she asks, and she can trust that I will be there for every difficult conversation. I haven’t given her this letter yet. But perhaps some day I will.

Positive Affirmations

One thing I do is set reminders to tell myself the following few things every time these regrets pop into my head.

All of the parenting decisions I have made to this point were done with the best of intention.

All of the parenting decisions I have made to this point were made out of love, with hopes of doing what was right for my family, with the knowledge I had at that point in time.

I can never be a perfect parent. But I will have perfect parenting moments.

Every day is an opportunity for increased connection with my child.

I can’t go back and change what I did when I sleep trained my own child – but I can help other parents make decisions that they feel more comfortable and confident about.

I hope that this blog may be helpful to someone out there. If only for you to know I am not a perfect parent, I have regrets too, and some days the guilt gets the best of me. But I know now that this is just all part of the journey. I am a good mom. My family loves me. And I know I am parenting with heart.

XO

Lara

PS – In case you are unaware, I no longer practice controlled crying forms of sleep training. I made this shift over the past 6 months, and I am very happy supporting families using other methodologies. This post is not meant to place any blame or shame on any one. I trust that those who have decided to sleep train their child with a controlled crying approach have come at this decision in a way similar to the way I did 4 years ago. You are the expert on your child, and I know for some families this may actually be the best fit.

Thank you to Astrid Miller Photography for capturing me and my daughter so well.

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Please stop telling people to Sleep Train their baby!

Does everyone like swiss cheese?

Have wobbly knees?

Their dog have flees?

Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s chat about this for a moment.

Confess to some poor mama at the grocery store that your baby doesn’t sleep, and wait for it…. Wait for it… “OH! You HAVE to sleep train! It worked AMAZING for my two boys.”

And there you have it people. Everything that is wrong with society!

Okay. I am exaggerating. But please hear me out. You do not have to sleep train your baby. And you know what; it doesn’t work for everyone.

But Lara, “You’re a sleep trainer?” No. Actually. I am not. I am a holistic infant and child sleep consultant who seeks ways to normalize infant sleep, a family’s perspective, and has even been known to help a family wean a baby or two of nighttime feeding while continuing to share a family bed. Okay. I digress.

The point of this article is not to encourage you to sleep train your baby or not sleep train your baby, but to be wary of the information above for ONE very important reason.

Every baby has a different personality.

What?! Seriously, Lara?! They don’t all just poop, and cry, and eat?! You’re telling me MY baby may actually be very different from my best friend’s baby?! Or the lady at the grocery store’s baby?! Seriously?! I thought they were all the same.

You see how preposterous that sounds.

So why for the LOVE of… WHY are you all trying to sleep train your baby the same way?!

Please stop. Just stop right now.

And let me tell you why.

Because I am TIRED of helping families overcome a traumatic, horrible, awful sleep training experience. You might not know what that looks like. But, I do. Sometimes I get on the phone with a family and it takes every ounce of my being not to burst into tears alongside them while they express what they have recently gone through.

You are not a failure if you can’t sleep train your baby. You are not a failure if “controlled crying” does not work for you. You are not a failure if you can’t night wean your one year old, and you are especially not a failure if you can’t leave your child alone in a room to cry.

You are not a failure if your baby doesn’t sleep. Period.

You have a different personality from the lady at the grocery store, and so does your partner, and so does your baby. And so will your subsequent babies. Which I think is the hardest one for some parent’s to understand.

“But it worked beautifully for our older daughter.” Yes. Yes it did. But she may have been an EASY baby. You may have been set-up for success. You may have felt right about what it was you were doing because she responded so well to sleep training, and then you told all of your friends to also sleep train their babies. Guilty as charged!

Let’s compare Baby 1 with Baby 2

Baby 1 wakes up cooing in the morning. She looks around her crib for 15 or 20 minutes before signalling to her parents that she would like them to come get her. She nurses easily; has a beautiful latch, and pulls off cooing and satisfied. Her diaper change is a breeze. She lays on her back calmly watching her mobile. Gazes into her mama’s eyes, and says perfect little words. A breakfast of solids is served and she opens her mouth wide, enjoying every bite that is offered, and grinning from ear to ear as morning passes. This is an EASY baby. This may become the agreeable toddler at the playground. The teenager who drives cautiously with the music turned down. Or, the barista who serves you your coffee with a smile, a hello, and a perfect swirl on top.

Baby 2 wakes up SCREAMING. She has never woken up cooing in her entire life. Rage crying is more her style. She is loud and proud and doesn’t take no for an answer. She nurses. A bit of a struggle – as she actually has an undetected tongue tie that no one has yet to notice, and mom is feeling anxious and upset at the fact that their breastfeeding relationship is not going quite so well. Baby is laid down for a diaper change but will not sit still. She wriggles, and cries again, as she absolutely DETESTS the cold wet wipe on her backside, and feels threatened by the dog barking out the window. At her solids breakfast she throws things against the wall, is disgusted by her mom’s offering of prunes, and refuses to drink water from her straw cup. Dad leaves for work. Mom didn’t get a chance to kiss him goodbye because she was so busy attending to their high needs baby. Dad feels a little sad and disappointed. Their marriage is struggling now. This is a SPIRITED baby. This may become the toddler who can’t stand a tag in their t-shirt. The teenager who stands up for what she believes in, and as a result is thrown in the principal’s office. Or, the barista who tells you to f*ck right off when she can’t get your double mocha chocolate, 83 degree, half caf latte just right.

Would sleep training go the same for these two families?

No.

Do you think it might go really well for baby #1, and not so great for baby #2?

Yes. I think that is a reasonable hypothesis.

So please stop telling your friends to SLEEP TRAIN their baby.

Tell them this instead.

I love you. It get’s better.

(Maybe you should hire the girl from @heavyeyeshappyhearts). *Shameless plug*

XO

Lara

Thank you Hayley-Rae Photography for these pics of me and my beautiful “spirited” little girl.