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

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 

Posted on

Newborn Sleep: Expectations vs Reality

When I began my parenting journey 4 years ago, I really could not have prepared myself for all of the changes I was set to experience.

I thought I was ready.. I really thought I was. I had always LOVED working with children, and I really thought I was ready for my own. Although my experience at the time with babies was slim to none, I still felt confident that I would be able to crush this mom thing just as I had crushed many of my other goals in my (then) 28 years of life.

When July 2013 came along and I felt like I wasn’t exactly “crushing it”.. I started to spiral down a little hole. Lucky for me I found lots of people who pulled me out.. but the negative self talk is something I still remember to this day.

I really thought I would have it all together, and everywhere I looked it appeared that everyone else certainly did. Why was I such a fail?! Hint – I wasn’t a fail. I was just a new mom, and my expectations were different than the reality of life at home with a new infant. Had I actually known what to expect, I probably could have let a lot of those ridiculous expectations go, and just enjoyed my baby more.

I had certain expectations when it came to preparing for my new baby. I would need a nursery, yes. Of course. Because she was DEFINITELY going to be sleeping there from (almost) day 1. I would need a beautiful crib, with a safe non-toxic mattress, and some sleepers of course. Little shoes. Cuz.. baby shoes are adorable.

Swaddle. What.. what is a swaddle? Maybe I will get one of those swaddle-type blanket things but.. I probably won’t be needing that… that just seems like another “bad habit” I am going to have to undo at some point. And a soother – pacifier – whatever you call it.. I DEFINITELY won’t be needing that! Have you seen a toddler with a soother?! How silly does that look?

I prepared myself for the birth of course. People told me it would be painful. I read some books on French parenting, because supposedly they are doing it better than us over there.. and I read, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” because well.. everyone else was reading it. But I am pretty sure I skipped the chapters on baby sleep, not because they weren’t important, but I just figured.. my baby will sleep. I see babies sleeping everywhere all over town. Obviously babies just sleep when they are tired and we will go about our day in the way we always have.

I certainly won’t be one of those parents who change their whole lifestyle for their offspring! Those people are LAME.

Right?!

Wrong. Haha.

One of the things that I think nearly killed me as a new mom was how different my expectation of parenting was from my reality. I literally expected that babies just sleep when they are tired. And while this is true for some… I had a crash course in infant sleep when I found myself with THE world’s crankiest (I still believe), most over-tired, highly sensitive, colicky, newborn, on my hands.

I was introduced to Dr. Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s pretty darn quick. Swaddling, shushing, side-lying nursing, and holding, the shuggling, and sucking were all so helpful in calming the little fusspot that was my new baby.

I learned about swaddle blankets, pacifiers, baby wearing, and awake windows. I learned about white noise, dark rooms, miracle sleep suits, and safe co-sleeping. I learned about late nights, early mornings, room sharing, husband sleeping on the couch, mom sleeping wherever she can get a few minutes in, and baby wearing. I learned to trust my gut. 

And then because I had a new baby who DID not sleep well, you can probably guess what I was bombarded with next, right?

Yup. Sleep training.

Controlled crying. Cry-it-out. Extinction. Gradual Retreat. Camping out. Sleep training in all its glory was every place I looked. I started to take books out of the library that promised 12 hour nights by 12 weeks, and felt like a total loser when I could not stick to the strict schedules they recommended. 

And my goodness I was desperate for sleep, but I just couldn’t seem to get my daughter the sleep she needed. How come so and so can get her baby to sleep at a restaurant, and I can’t even get this baby to sleep in my arms?! Hint – babies have different sleep personalities. What?! They do?

And I felt crushed.

I think most people reading this today know how all of this turned out for me. It led me into a place I never imagined I would be – coaching families every day through their children’s sleepless nights in a way that feels good. No controlled crying. No cry-it-out. No extinction. Love, understanding, and nurturing around infant sleep. Trying to line the stars up so our babies sleep well, but never forcing a round peg into a square hole.  And this led to the birth of my workshop as well..

I want new moms to know what they are up against. I want you to go in feeling like you have given all of this some thought before people start shoving the – YOU NEED SLEEP pamphlets into your diaper bag. Let’s connect around the topic of infant sleep and get you thinking about it with a level head, an open heart, and a clear mind.

Don’t get caught up in the expectation versus reality downward spiral. Let’s level the two out, and have you feeling empowered, ready, and supported in your baby’s sleep journey.

Join my workshop and learn about all of this and SO much more in the comfort of your own home. It is going to be such a rewarding experience – I know that.

You can get your seat to the workshop, and read more about it, here.

I look forward to being your host.

XO

Lara

Thank you Stacie-Lynn for the beautiful baby mama photos as always.