Posted on

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

Posted on Leave a comment

My kid is a “crib jumper”… HELP!

You have spent the last several months encouraging your child to move; helping them fine tune their gross motor skills, build muscle and strength. A time may come, when your little one will utilize these skills for mischief, such as climbing out of their crib. A natural “test” for some, and a sign that they are becoming all the wiser for sure.

For most kids, between the ages of 2 and 3 is when they may attempt to “break out” of their crib. While this may seem challenging or fun to them, it can be incredibly dangerous as well. Neither of my kids ever tried this maneuver… although I wouldn’t put it past my little guy just yet (he is 23 months after all, and could very easily be scheming this up now for all I know).

If your child is a “crib jumper” make sure you’ve ticked off all of the boxes below.

Mattress Positioning: As soon as your child starts pulling themselves up or standing in their crib, move the mattress to its lowest setting. Some cribs can have their platform removed so that the mattress can safely be put right down on the floor. But, do ensure that there is no possibility your child will try to wedge themselves out any other way.

Crib Placement: Can you strategically put the crib in a corner against two walls? Would flipping your crib to put the front in the back, and the back in the front help some? The front of the crib tends to be lower, and the back higher. A change in crib placement might buy you a bit more time.

Sleep Sacks: Keep those sleep sacks on! If their legs are contained, they cannot get their legs far enough apart to climb out. If your child is resisting the sleep sack, ones with leg holes are available, and you can sew the leg holes a little closer together to make it more challenging to get legs up and over.  

Props: Remove any pillows, stuffed animals, or extra items from the bed. These can be used as steps or props to aid in their escape.

In spite of all your efforts, there may come a day when your little one does escape so it may be a good precaution to have a soft rug or carpet next to the crib to cushion any landings. Also, make sure that the rest of the room and surrounding area outside of their room is toddler proofed and safe. If you needed another reminder to latch that furniture to the walls – HERE IT IS!

If your child is repeatedly jumping out of the crib despite all of your best efforts, it is time to move them to a permanent mattress on the floor, or a toddler bed.

If you’ve trained your child to sleep in the crib and have relied heavily on the bars to keep them there, this can present its own very unique set of challenges you have yet to navigate. Many families fear this stage, and are unsure how to best keep their toddler with newfound freedom in their bed. I can definitely help you with that! I’ve navigated this journey with families whose toddlers advanced skills in crib jumping landed them in a toddler bed as early as 16 months. I would definitely not recommend moving this early to a bed if you can help it, but should you find yourself in this position I would be happy to use my knowledge and expertise to help you.

And to all of my toddler parents – I see you too. 😉 

XO

Lara

Posted on 2 Comments

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. 🙂 

Posted on 2 Comments

Should you sing your baby to sleep?

Over the past year my practice in sleep coaching has evolved. I am asking parents to respond to their babies. This means validating their baby’s cry, using touch while the little one learns to settle in a different way, and responding with voice, eye contact, and constant reassurance if the changes we are making are met with tears.

Babies are sensory creatures. We know this. And when you add in many layers of comfort and connection, sometimes you end up with an overstimulated babe who won’t be soothed by anyone!

This is a place of frustration I really try to help my families avoid.

One of the “things” I kept telling parents to do while settling their babies, was sing.

At the time I started to offer this advice, I really didn’t know why I kept suggesting it. It had worked well for me personally, but I really hadn’t stopped to think too much about why this was a success, and if there was any science behind it.

When my son Theodore was 6 weeks old I picked his “bedtime song”. This was a lullaby I heard at the library. One I loved.. And knew I wouldn’t bore of if I was still singing it 3 years later. When I put him to sleep in his crib through patting, and affirming touch, I sang or hummed this song on repeat. Like I mean, on repeat. Sometimes probably over 100 times.

The song itself is only 6 lines. It is an African lullaby from what I know. It addresses each person in the family. The mama, the papa, the brother, sister, and baby. Each is loved. Each is treasured and honoured in the song. And I love that about it. Every time I sing or hum this song, even if I am doing it for hours.. Or at 3 in the morning, I think about that interconnection. How the 4 of us are family, and how we will forever be connected at the heart.

There are nights where I probably hummed this little song for an hour straight. Patting Theo’s back, waiting for him to make the vulnerable transition from awake to asleep. Something I wanted to be with him to experience when he was just a little guy.

I was a tired mama, but somehow I never tired of this tune. I knew it so well, and I just kept humming. Low and steady. It seemed to flow from me almost effortlessly.

It became a source of comfort for me as well. The thing that I began to know as the last step that would eventually soothe Theo to sleep. Yes it took some time.. And my mind would wander. But the constant humming of the tune over and over on repeat became meditative for me.

Rather than worry about how long I’d been in the room, or how long this particular bedtime or middle of the night soothing session was taking me – I had my plan. I had my constant reassurance I wanted to offer, and it allowed me to remain calm. To have a focal point. To be in control of my actions when in the room with my son. And this allowed me to keep my anxiety very low as I responded to his needs.

I say often that we are connected to our babies on a cellular level. We grew them inside us for many months, and I believe they feel our feelings on the outside, just as they did when they were safe inside. Keeping sleep-time anxieties low while a parent attends to their child, just makes good sense to me. And if singing the same tune lets you do this, then I think that is something to honour!

What I started to notice with Theo, was that humming this tune was all he needed for middle of the night reassurance. We got to a point together where I could enter the room, hum my tune once, and leave. This really affirmed my belief in this technique. It was pretty amazing to see him soothe with my voice alone (sleep wizardry – I know).

What I was actually experiencing was a term researches have called, “synchronicity”. One study I found observed a mom and baby’s body heat, respiration, and heartbeat. The wavy lines she observed would begin to move together when mom began to sing a well-known lullaby to her baby. It was if they became one! The same effect was not necessarily present just from baby being picked up! But their brain and body seemed to join together over this familiar tune.**

I knew for months that Theo had been listening to my voice, getting to know it. But what I didn’t know was that this actually has a scientific definition in the form of vocal timbre. This is, “the resonance by which the ear recognizes and identifies a voiced speech sound, or connects with the distinctive tone of a particular singing voice.”

As I sang to Theo, he got to know me. He got to listen to my voice, and know me as the one who keeps him safe, warm, and comfortable. He began to recognize my singing as part of the safety in transitioning from awake to asleep. He got to know me as his “person”.

Every night we were communicating. Differently than if I was talking to him – I believe. He was able to pick up on the emotions that come in the form of sound. And I can tell you, if I was not singing… my emotions would have been all kinds of crazy in the times where I was unsure if he was EVER going to fall asleep. Although I may have been all kinds of worried, the emotion I was able to project was one of calmness, stillness, and love. This was largely led by the melodic tune.

The speed at which he fell asleep got faster with almost every passing night (there were exceptions of course). But having read what I have read now, there is real science behind babies soothing more quickly with sounds that are familiar to them.

Now I know some of you are probably reading this thinking.. Lara.. this is not exactly profound information! People have been singing lullabies all over the world, every night, for many many years!

And yes. This is true, friends. We sing our children to sleep for many different reasons. Some people sing because this is what their parents did before they fell asleep as children, and they want to recreate that love and comfort for their own babies. Some people sing to connect to different aspects of their culture through song, or to share a message or story passed down through many generations.

For me – it began as a way to keep my sanity while I ventured in the realm of responsive nighttime parenting.. But it appears, it was likely much more for my son.

XO

Lara

** More info on Dr. Anita Collins research can be found here https://www.thelullabyeffect.com/podcast.

Beautiful baby photos with thanks to Stacie-Lynn photography.